How to Motivate Yourself to Start the Boring Household Chores You Avoid When Task Initiation Is a Challenge
by Susan McCarthy
Procrastination and task initiation aren't only a problem when it comes to working toward big goals. Oftentimes, you may find yourself struggling to start boring household chores, particularly if you're challenged by ADHD traits. Here you'll find ways to problem-solve your procrastination.
Let’s face it, few people probably like doing household chores. No matter how good a job you do, the task will need to be done again, sooner than you’d like. Household chores can feel thankless and reward-less … so, no wonder you avoid them, particularly if you have traits of ADHD.
However, it’s shifting the way you think about these recurring tasks where you can make the biggest changes in your motivation.
The way I see it, people who seem to enjoy household chores don’t enjoy the repetitive action so much as they like the results they get. It’s those results – a clear kitchen counter instead of one covered with the remains of making and eating breakfast; a tidy desk instead of one piled with the past three week’s mail; clean clothing hanging in the closet instead of sitting in the laundry basket – that they enjoy.
Chances are that you’d like those results too.
So, how can you reap the rewards of an organized home when task initiation, "just” starting, is a challenge?
Procrastination and Task Initiation
You should do a load of laundry … but you don’t feel like it. And, well, there are still clothes in your closet, so you should be okay … right? (Until the next morning when you’re scrambling to find clothing that fits; isn’t out of style, missing a button, or stained; and that’s appropriate for the day’s activities.)
The problem is, procrastinating feels rewarding the moment you decide to put off a task. You can spend your time doing something you’d much rather do. You don’t feel like you’re being punished doing a dreaded task.
The problem is that in the near future you’re the one suffering the decision of your past self (even if your suffering is connected to dealing with someone else’s displeasure).
How Routines Help You to Stay Organized at Home
I regularly writing about organizing, and not cleaning, because, although I’ll clean my house, I’m not going to win any awards for my techniques. Decluttering and organizing are often touted as ways to make cleaning your house easier and less time consuming.
But, also, there are cleaning routines that can help you to stay organized. See, tasks like washing the dishes or doing the laundry on a regular basis means that you return these items to use more quickly.
You don’t need to own extra socks or food storage containers out of the fear that everything you own is dirty and waiting to be cleaned. In fact, if you catch up on the laundry and you don’t have the space to put away all your clean clothing, that’s a sign that you have too much stuff which leads to disorganization.
While doing the laundry more often may seem to be a disadvantage, which are you likelier to procrastinate - one load of laundry or four? And which task will be quicker to complete - putting away one basket of clothing or staring at a mound of clean clothing that covers the surface of your bed?
Mundane cleaning chores (or, more correctly, doing mundane cleaning chores) can help you on your quest to get and stay organized.
How to Enjoy Mundane Household Tasks
To reap the rewards of consistently doing tedious tasks, you want to make doing those tasks more rewarding. However, none of the hacks listed below will help without the presence of a major component … you.
You need to choose to be a person who takes action instead of someone who focuses on how they don’t want to do these chores. Look beyond the boring action to the results you gain.
Yeah, ugh, reframing the task may not feel natural or particularly true in the face of your natural resistance but the more often you choose to choose the more likely you are to feel in control of the situation as opposed powerless in the face of your task initiation weaknesses.
If You Struggle to Start Tasks, First Identify the Problem
Focusing on the rewards you’ll gain by doing a task may still not be enough to get you started.
Break out the pen and paper and write down what you want to get done. (If you’re thinking about what you want to do, go get paper and pen. Writing things down clarifies your thoughts and makes them visual, giving you something tangible to manipulate.)
Look at what you wrote down and ask yourself, “Where’s the challenge?” (Or “What’s difficult?”) List your thoughts because this is how you’ll identify the true problem.
If you wrote down that your problem is getting things done, that statement is too vague to problem solve. If the laundry isn’t getting done, where’s the challenge? If you avoid cleaning the bathroom, where’s the challenge?
You may be facing different issues with different situations which is why you want to be specific.
If the issue is doing the laundry, where do you have trouble getting started? Do you delay putting laundry in the hamper? Do you pile dirty laundry in the laundry area, but struggle to start one load in the face of multiple loads?
You can’t solve a problem without first identifying the problem.
(Bored by the idea of making these lists? Try setting a timer. How many problems can you identify in 60 seconds? Or imagine you’re writing a piece of clickbait and give your list(s) fun, compelling titles … 7 Reasons You’re Not Doing the Laundry Today … And Will Ignore It Tomorrow as Well!)
What to Do When You Just Can’t Get Started
Now that you’ve identified the source of a challenge, you can better problem solve. Below are solutions geared to particular challenges. Give an organizing hack a few tries before deciding if you need to tweak it to make it work better or switch to another tactic all together.
Remember, your goal is to experience less stress by enjoying the benefits of completed tasks that keep you in control of your home.
Get Started on Boring Tasks
One. Gamify the chores. Layer a fun challenge over a mundane task.
Use a stopwatch to time how long it takes you to fill the dishwasher or hang your laundered shirts in the closet. Write down the time on a chart so you can try to beat this time the next day. You’ll probably start looking for ways to work faster and you’ll make the task for efficient and streamlined.
Two. Reward yourself for doing a task.
Maybe your reward for folding and putting away the laundry is that you can watch a favorite show while doing the work. Or plan to mop the floor right before the news comes on to give yourself an incentive to work quickly and get the task done without distractions.
Get Started on Difficult, Detailed Task
When you identify a task as “go through the mail,” “do the laundry,” or “clean the kitchen,” you can end up stuck because this isn’t a single action but many smaller actions. Those smaller tasks can end up jumbled in your mind until you identify the separate tasks and sort out the order to do them.
One. List the individual actions. Putting the laundry in the laundry basket is a separate action from carrying the basket to your laundry area. If the steps don’t come out of your mind in order (likely), write each action on a sticky note so you can see the steps and then rearrange them.
Two. Create a checklist of the actions and the order you just created. Unlike a to-do list where the goal is to cross things off the list, a checklist prompts you in what needs to be done in what order. When you feel overwhelmed by a task, look at your checklist for the next action you need to take.
When your attention is on that next action, you eliminate the overwhelmed feeling of having to do too much.
Push through Barriers to Getting Started
Remember, before you can resolve procrastination, you need to identify the barrier.
Maybe you’re hyperfocusing on an enjoyable task, so you don’t switch to something else that needs to get done. Consider setting an alarm in another room so you physically must get up and turn it off. Or have someone call you on the phone or step into the room and get your attention (and make certain you stop working on the task you’re doing).
You’re disorganized and you don’t have the materials you need. You can’t run the dishwasher without detergent, but you forgot to buy more. Stop forcing your brain to remember your shopping list! Writing things down is not a weakness, it’s an important productivity tool.
You just don’t have the time to do tasks. Overcommitment is a real issue. If you are moving from one commitment to the next without time to maintain order in your home, you will struggle and you may burnout … and then nothing will get done. (Been there, struggled with that. There’s no way to “catch up.”)
You’ll need to look for ways to eliminate or at least reduce commitments. Ask for help if you can. Consider temporarily hiring people to clean house or do the laundry.
You’re concerned with doing tasks perfectly. Here’s your permission slip to not try and live up to the ideals of Martha Stewart, your mother, sister, or best friend. Done is better than perfect.
A vacuumed rug is better than one that hasn’t been cleaned because you’re convinced you need to first sprinkle baking soda and dried lavender over the rug to freshen it.
Whatever your barrier to starting tasks, remember, you first need to identify the barrier before you can figure out how to get it out of your way.
Learn How to Do a Task You Don't Feel Confident Doing
It’s not your fault if you were never taught how to do a task. I remember my parents yelling at me for not doing a task properly even though they hadn’t shown me how to do it!
Seeing the result isn’t the same as learning the process.
Nowadays, you can go to YouTube and type in “how do I …” and learn your answer. If the first technique makes sense, use it. Don’t go crazy trying to find the best method. Done is better than perfect.
Create a Plan for Your Cleaning Routine
If you tend to wait to do household chores until the situation is dire, you may wish that you did chores on a more regular basis. A clear change to make here is identify when you’ll do tasks. This can mean not only choosing a day but a time when you’ll do particular chores.
If you’re balking at a stringent routine, keep in mind that having a routine eliminates indecision. No more, “Should I do this now or later? Could I just do this tomorrow?” The default answer will always be, “Meh, I’ll get to this.”
So, while creating a chore schedule isn’t fun, having that schedule saves cognitive fuel so you aren’t thinking about what to do and when to do it.
If you’re creating a plan, start small. If you’re anything like me, you’ll make a list of daily and weekly chores that will take an hour or more to complete … and then do none of them. The goal isn’t the chores chart. The goal is your consistent actions.
Be specific. Maybe you are bothered by the sight of a sink full of dirty dishes … which leads to dirty pots sitting on the stove and other used items piled on the counter. Walking into your kitchen in the morning fills you with dread at the sight of yesterday’s dishes.
You decide the one chore you’ll start with is putting everything in the dishwasher after dinner and running the load. In the morning, it’s easier to face putting away the clean dishes.
This isn't just about cleaning your house. The actions will help you to feel in control and improve your mental wellbeing.
Stick with this routine for a few days before considering adding another task. If you skip the task, return your focus the next day to this one action. Hang a chart in the room where you’ll do the task and mark off each day you succeed. Seeing this pattern of success will add to your motivation.
Also, make it obvious when you’ll do the task. For example, wiping down the toilet while the shower water heats up or tossing the junk mail the moment you enter your home with mail in hand.
When one task is consistently cued and gets done, you can fit in other tasks to your day. This may involve experimentation to find the time of day or prompt that reminds you to work on a task.
(And if you need to write out your full intention … what you’ll do, when, and where … know you are using an implementation intention, a tool of behavior change.)
Recap of Task Initiation Hacks
A lot of techniques have been mentioned here to help you get started on household tasks you tend to avoid. This short list recaps some ways to break through procrastination and get started -
Conclusion - Get Started Right Now!
Remember that your goal for doing household chores is so you can enjoy the benefits of having them done. You get to choose to do tasks that will make your life less stressful and help you to feel more in control.
Household chores like doing the laundry and washing the dishes actually help you to stay organized. You won’t need more food storage containers than will fit in your cabinet because you have so many sitting in the sink or tucked into the fridge with old food.
And the clothing you own can be limited to the storage you have (things fit in the drawers so you can avoid piling clean clothing on a chair or the top of a dresser) which will make your home look (and be) neater.
You’ll feel in control of your home. Doing chores won’t be left to the whim of emotions (“I don’t wanna do that” or "Ugh, I need to clean this disaster area right now!" but to the routines you’ve intentionally developed.)
And here's a little secret I haven't yet mentioned ... the skill of task initiation is transferable; it's not limited to household chores. However, practicing this skill on tasks around the house may feel less stressful than trying to develop it while working toward a major goal or project.
So, what can you start right now?
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Hi, I'm Susan
I'm a former teacher who became a professional organizer (and not because I'm a natural-born neatnik). I live with my husband and fluffy cat on a river in Massachusetts. I crochet, make handmade cards, and love reading young adult novels. Learn more about my decluttering journey here.