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.