Moms and GTD (Warning, kind of grumpy)

Longtime readers know that I was once a big fan of David Allen’s GTD system.  But after a while, the whole thing started to stress me out.  I think there are things about the system that are useful, but they’re sort of common sense–doing one thing at a time, break big tasks into smaller chunks.  But in his books, Allen makes getting stuff done sound like it’s just a matter of clearing out an inbox and checking off things on a list.  The important thing is making the right list. Now that I’m home, both working and doing mom stuff, his system doesn’t really work for me.  For example, the other day, I put on my list “finish laundry.”  Yeah, stop laughing.  Because the laundry, as anyone who’s done it knows, is never finished.  By the time I’ve emptied all the baskets, at least one is full again and the cycle starts all over again.  On any given day, if I wrote down absolutely everything that needed to get done, I’d be completely overwhelmed.  And then, add to that the unexpected crap that comes along very very regularly.  Over the weekend, the basement flooded, which will entail a phone call to the plumber and lots of cleaning.  One kid is sick–Mr. Geeky is retrieving him from school as I type this.  And Mr. Geeky himself was sick starting a week ago, went to a conference last week, and then returned sick and laid in bed all weekend (I think the kid has this illness). We’re currently down to one car because we haven’t had time to repair the other car after the great icicle incident.  The part is in; now it just needs to be put in place.  And then there’s constant bill-paying, school paperwork stuff, managing insurance and wills and other grownup things.

And that’s just the house stuff.  I’m not even talking about work stuff.  It’s a good thing I’m being very low-key about my work because if I didn’t, nothing around the house would get done.  It’s kind of a catch-22.  I should put more time and effort into working so that it will pay off financially, but if I do, no one’s picking up the slack.  This became clear during the five weeks I taught a while back.  In part, of course, it’s because I didn’t insist on others picking up the slack.  I didn’t ask Mr. Geeky to do a couple of loads of laundry or have the kids straighten the living room.  And I didn’t do that because the class was so short and temporary.  I have a dilemma in my head right now because on the one hand, I’d like to eventually be working more (either full or part time) and on the other, I worry about what will not get done around the house.

I can’t believe we managed all this when we both had full-time jobs.  It meant, usually, that we either a) crammed it all in over the weekend and/or in snippets in the evenings and/or b) did less of it. We did have a housekeeper back then, which helped, but did not resolved some of the deeper disorganization issues.  She kept the floors and toilets and carpets clean.  But the papers piled up, and laundry didn’t always get put away, and we ordered out a lot more.  And I was pretty stressed about all that.  And I feel like I can’t return to working more until the house is in a position for it to run more smoothly and I’m increasingly feeling like I can’t get it in that position by myself.  No amount of list-making is going to help me to the hard work of getting it done.

Frankly, and I know I’m not the only one, I get discouraged about the fact that I can’t seem to keep things neat.  And when I got home on Saturday to find the basement filled with 4-5 inches of water, I felt even more discouraged. I stood halfway down the stairs and just said “Oh my God, oh my God” over and over.  And the cat was meowing from her perch in the window across the room, and I went and put on boots and trekked across the water and rescued her.  But then the dog showed up and she ran across the water and all my efforts were wasted. And then I got a broom and poked at a hole in the floor to check if it was clogged (it wasn’t) and then I took off my boots, which weren’t tall enough to keep the water out, so I took off my socks too, and Mr. Geeky was lying in bed, sick.  And I just thought, well fuck.  Yes, I really thought that.  The whole damn thing–the cleaning, the semi-maintenance of financial order, keeping kids and cats and dogs fed and cared for–seemed completely sysyphean.  And if I hadn’t been keeping it all together for the sake of everyone around me and myself, really, I probably would have cried.  Cried. Over housework.  Over the damn basement flooding.  But really, it was kind of the proverbial straw.

And now here I am writing about it instead of tackling the basement or anything on my list.  Because what’s going on in my head right now is a sort of defeatist mentality.  If I clean up the basement, which will take me all day, all the things on the list that’s been sitting around since Thursday won’t get done.  So it will be Tuesday at the earliest before I can tackle anything.  If I weren’t being defeatist, I might just think, well, maybe you’ll get the basement done and get to the list too!  Realistically (not even defeatistically), I know I can’t get the whole thing done today, and really, I’m planning to start within 10 minutes.  Because it’s a big job.  And somebody’s got to do it, and I am currently hating that that somebody has to be me.  Mr. Geeky? Working until 8 because he has a meeting at 4 at another university.  And this schedule? Typical.

All that is a long way of saying that yes, I still make lists.  I still try to keep some of the aspects of GTD in mind.  For example, making a plan for what needs to get done first in the basement.  But in reality, such an ordered system doesn’t work for me and makes me feel bad about what’s not getting done, especially when it comes to the “mom” part of my title.  I think that’s true of many moms.  I need something better.  And, then, I need a vacation.

8 Replies to “Moms and GTD (Warning, kind of grumpy)”

  1. I’m sorry about the basement. Nothing stresses me out more than floods.

    When I had my second child, I quit my job to stay home. My husband was working 16 hours a day, plus weekends, plus overnight. I was so, so sleep-deprived and overwhelmed with everything. I decided right then and there that I would no longer make any lists any more. Instead, I decided that I would wake up and make only 1 goal for the day, and do whatever I could to get it done. Most of the time, that goal was something as simple as getting a gallon of milk. I made it easy, and realistic, and I felt so good when I got that one thing done.

    Years later, I still have a similar system, though upgraded to reflect the fact that my life is far easier. I come up with three things I need to do — and I only try to do those three things. Yes, emergencies will come up, and sometimes those three things don’t get done. But I don’t feel as disappointed if I don’t get them done…because it’s only three things.

    Perhaps you can come up with a similar type of system — one that doesn’t put so much pressure on you? And what about having the kids do their own laundry? I’ve had my two older ones fold and put away their own clothes for the past several weeks, and I’m amazed at how much less stressed I am about laundry.

  2. Hello! New lurker here! Wow, just wow, I *totally* get where you are coming from… I have no answers but as a new mom (well relatively new, she’s 14 mos) and a super messy house, I go through this everyday. sigh… I wish I had some concrete answers… Though, I really like Anjali’s suggestion, I think I might just try that!

    Here’s hoping that the basement will magically clean itself!

  3. Sorry to hear about the flooding. I think it’s tough to get things done without even having kids (I do have the pets and the job, but no kids) so I can only imagine how much more complicated it is with more people (meaning, more free will and more opportunity for entropy). Hang in there.

  4. I mentally re-invested in GTD after having La Dudarina, while at the same time finding myself less satisfied with it. I still use a to-do list that keeps track of my professional tasks (and some personal tasks) but I am really not having any luck figuring out how to keep track of and move forward on home tasks. We need to renovate the basement because our house isn’t really big enough to have a good place space for La Dudarina; we got as far as getting some quotes and then I don’t know what the next step is supposed to be. We are always doing laundry. We need to have healthy food in the house for La Dudarina on those nights dinner food is not toddler-like enough for her. And on and on. And yes, lots of these tasks are repetitive, and on the one hand it would be nice to have some kind of repeating task set. On the other hand, I’ve found having repeating tasks set on my to-do list just makes them feel more exhausting and endless.

    So yeah. Laura, maybe your next writing project should be creating something GTD-like that is more relevant to domestic work or to parents!

  5. Oh, Laura. I’m so sorry about your basement.
    Your posts about work/home–and this one in particular–have got me thinking about where our ideas come from about work/home balance. Keeping a house/apt in order, if people are actually living in it, is no small task, yet we end up with these ideas that houses should be neat(ish) most of the time. Seems like a recipe for disappointment from the start. I struggle with it, too.

  6. Susan, I was just thinking that most of us are trying to manage a house in a way that used to be managed with the help of staff. Or children who came home to do their chores. Mine have so much homework that they only have time for a couple of minor things.

  7. I’m so with you! I came back home from running errands last year to find the master bedroom and bathroom flooded in 3-4 inches of water. Hubby was away, so my neighbour – the sweet, darling man! – came over at 10:30pm that night to help me get the carpeting and padding off. Think of it this way: It was the Universe’s way of saying you need to update the basement. HAs to be because we got new flooring in the bedroom, closet & living room, and got to paint the living room too!. Something we’d been talking about forever.

    As for GTD, doesn’t work for me either. I took the key points from his system – find a system that works for you and get it out of your head – adopted some of Zen Habits recommendations and for the most part that works for me. I refuse to get stressed about what has not been done, and raise a toast to whatever it is that got done. As in, I’m not getting stressed about the muddy paw prints on my living room floor, cleaning out the refrigerator, cleaning the windows, dusting, darn, what am am I doing here instead of “getting things done”! 😉

  8. I can completely understand where you’re coming from, as well! I started reading GTD a couple of years ago, and while I loved the ideas, I needed something more mom-friendly.

    I figured most moms would feel the same way, so I put together something called “Mind Organization for Moms” (essentially GTD for Moms), and it’s available on my website:

    Right now we’re offering it free to bloggers and those who share the site with 30 friends, so if you’d like to take a look, please let me know! Thanks!

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