by Susan McCarthy
Let’s face it, cleaning out a deceased parent’s home isn’t an enjoyable task, and it may be one that encourage procrastination. Here are five simple ways to clear the clutter of procrastination so you have the time and energy to make clear choices about what to do with your parent’s things.
If you don’t have a deadline imposed upon the task of cleaning out your parent’s home, then it’s easy for procrastination to sneak in. You find yourself thinking, “I’ll have more time next week or next month,” or maybe even, “I’m not emotionally ready to handle this right now. Waiting will help.”
It makes sense that you’re procrastinating. This is a big job. It’s probably not enjoyable. You may find yourself arguing with siblings and other relatives over differences in opinion about what to do with some (or all) of the things in the house.
This is an important project and will require more time, mental and physical energy, and focus than you may be able to estimate…or give.
While you may have a lot of physical clutter to sort through, procrastination creates mental clutter.
Why We Procrastinate
Beyond “this is just too horrible to even think about,” there are a variety of reasons that we procrastinate on a task. Chances are this isn’t the only project you’ve ever avoided. And when you think back to the tasks you’ve sidestepped, you may realize that they aren’t all big, unwieldy, multi-step projects. Sometimes I’ll avoid something as simple as a making a phone call for months and when I do it, I wrap up the call in five minutes.
So, why do we procrastinate on tasks big and small? In his book, The Productivity Project, Chris Bailey lists six characteristics shared by tasks we put off. The more attributes, the likelier it is we’ll procrastinate on a project.
If that list makes you feel stuck because emptying a parent’s home isn’t an enjoyable task, you can still change the things you need to do. For example,
Allow those ideas to inspire your thoughts for improving the tasks ahead of you.
Is Your Busyness Procrastination in Disguise?
You may be convinced that procrastination isn’t your problem. Sorting through a parent’s lifetime accumulation of stuff is a lot of work and what you really need help with is learning how to work faster. Since procrastination is about not doing stuff and you’re doing all the stuff, it may not have occurred to you that you are procrastinating.
How is your busyness procrastination in disguise? If you stay focused on urgent tasks and easy actions, then you may be avoiding the more important projects. It can feel satisfying to cross things off an actual or mental to do list. However, if you feel like things are getting done, chances that those entries ticked off your list were easy or demanded your attention in the moment.
However, if you find yourself doing a lot of other things while not doing a task or series of tasks that you carry over from one day to the next, then chances are that you’re procrastinating.
Five Ways to Clear the Clutter of Procrastination
One – Do the Most Important Task First.
Brian Tracy’s book, Eat that Frog: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time gets its name from something Mark Twain said about tackling the least savory (but, probably, the most important) task on your to-do list first.
It can feel very satisfying to knock through a lot of small tasks and get them out of the way. You’d think that would clear mental and physical space for the bigger tasks. But how often do you run out of time or motivation…or energy…for that bigger task?
Yes, those small jobs may need to get done, but it they aren’t your priority, then they distract you from what needs to get done. Treat them as filler tasks or do them when your energy is flagging.
Two – Remember, Planning to Do Something Isn’t the Same as Doing the Thing
I love to do lists. I’ve created detailed plans – with lists and charts – about how I’m going to get things done. And, then, I promptly ignore that plan I spent two hours creating. As Eat that Frog author, Brian Tracy says, “Many people confuse activity with accomplishment.”
Planning isn’t the same as doing. Yes, you should plan, but then you need to act on the steps you’ve outlined. Want a simple way to plan? Learn my PLAN technique when you get the free Empty the House Starter Guide.
Three – Figure Out which Task Would Have the Biggest Impact
So, how do you figure out which task is the important one to do if, ultimately, everything needs to get done?
There’s a variety of ways to figure this out.
If you have a lot of help, empty the attic or basement. Since these areas involve a lot of hauling and walking up and down stairs, the more people available to do this labor, the better. This doesn’t mean that everything will be sorted at the same time, so expect a bigger, but temporary, mess.
If you know of someone who would gladly take specific items, collect those things.
Since it can take more time to sell items, if there are things you want to sell, gather them, and then post them online, prep them for a yard sale, or take them to a consignment shop. If the items will stay in the house, give them a dedicated location that is clearly labeled so no one boxes up and carts away these things.
As you think or talk through the tasks to do, is there any single action that stands out as one that you should focus on? At the end of the day, which activity would help you feel that you’ve taken a step toward the larger goal or emptying the house.
Remember, the most important task of a day doesn’t have to be the one that requires six hours to complete. A call to a junk hauler or estate cleanout service could be your most important action for the day.
Four – Put Your Plan on Paper
If you tend to get distracted from the task you are working on, write it down. If you will be working in the home office, you could list some of the spaces to work on – bookcase, desk, file cabinet, box current papers and bring home for later sorting.
You can even break those areas down into little spaces – individual shelves or drawers. Completing each little space acts as a guideposts between starting and finishing.
Since you’re writing down what you want to work on for the day or in the current hour, you don’t need the distraction of a big list. Write your plan on a Post-it Note. If you can’t fit it on a 3”x3” sticky note then you may be planning to do too much.
Remember, list the task that will have the biggest impact if you get it done. Don’t clutter your list with small tasks (or put those on another list).
Five – Act on Your Plan Immediately.
It’s easy to say that you’ll get something done…next week. Unless you won’t be at the house until next week, focus on what you can do now as opposed to what you hope to do in the (near) future.
If you are planning for a future week or month, ask yourself if you could do that now or if you have a reason for assigning it to a future week. Knowing that next Saturday you’ll have an additional six people helping you is a good reason for scheduling specific tasks on that day.
On the other hand, if you find yourself listing a bunch of busywork, tasks that aren’t important, then you may be procrastinating on that other task. And even if you can't complete the task in the moment, can you identify one small action that will move you closer to completing the project?
Eliminate Mental Clutter
Being busy clutters your thoughts and actions with unnecessary distractions. Identifying your most important task of the day (and working on it) will give you a sense of accomplishment.
If you’ve been feeling like you’re busy but aren’t making progress in clearing the estate, consider if you’ve been using your busyness as procrastination. Check in to see if you’ve been avoiding the task that you know is important. If you have been, think of ways you can make the task less boring, difficult, and frustrating and focus on getting it done.
You’ll be glad that you focused your efforts.
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Hi, I'm Susan
Emptying my parents' overpacked 800-square-foot house left me popping handfuls of peanut M&Ms and doing a WHOLE lot of comfort-crocheting. The experience of sorting through mom and dad's stuff also encouraged me to become a professional organizer...so now I can offer techniques that work much better than chocolate.