How I Trick Myself Into Doing Things I Really Don’t Want to Do

We all have ’em–those dreaded chores around the house that we just don’t want to do. We delay, finding other stuff to do that makes us feel productive while those “other” things wait, mocking us like the proverbial elephant in the room.

Okay, maybe I’m being a bit dramatic, but I thought it would be fun today to share a few of the ways I trick myself into doing those non-fun things I don’t feel like doing, but that really, really need to get done. Some of these sneaky tactics may be pretty obvious and ones you already employ, but hopefully, you’ll find a couple in this post that will come in handy the next time you’re faced with a not-so-enjoyable task.

 

1. Do Something You Enjoy While Doing the Dreaded Chore

When possible, I try to incorporate an activity I do love into the chore that I dread doing. Folding laundry is a great example. I tend to wash clothes and linens whenever I have a basket full so normally I don’t have a lot to fold at once. But for those times when I do, I’ll sometimes bring the basket into the office and watch a video on YouTube or Acorn while folding. I bet you do this, too–fold clothes while watching TV or maybe while chatting on the phone with a friend. I’ve found vacuuming and dusting are a lot more fun if I stick my phone in my back pocket, don my noise-canceling headphones, and vacuum while listening to a book on Audible.

3 Monitors Set Up for Desktop Computer

 

Listening to a funny book on Audible definitely helped me get through the chore of vacuuming up the gazillion acorns that fell and threatened to ruin my lawn one year. (Read more about that wacky process here: Erma Bombeck Would Have Loved This!)

 

2. Make It a Game

One of the things I least enjoy doing is unpacking my suitcase after a trip, especially a long trip where I wasn’t sure what I’d need, thus packed/overpacked a ton of clothes and stuff. I dislike the whole process of sorting through the suitcase, trying to figure out what needs to go in the wash and what never got worn and can be hung back up.

 

Then there’s the process of putting away the toiletries, the souvenirs, the shoes and finally, putting away the suitcases themselves. Ugh.

 

Away Suitcase with Tiffany & Co. Tote

 

To make the process less tedious, one trick I’ll often use is to make a game of it. I’ll tell myself, you can only do this chore (whatever the dreaded chore is) for 15 minutes, then you have to stop. The goal is to see how much I can put away during those 15 minutes! This tactic does two things: it makes the process fun because I’m racing against the clock to see how much I can get done in the allotted time I have, AND I know mentally that I’m only stuck doing this yucky chore for a period of 15 minutes, then I get to stop and go do something else, something I want to do that’s fun. Later in the day, I’ll play the 15-minute game again. I almost look forward to it when I make it into a game.

How I Pack my Suitcase for Travel

 

Another game I’ve played with myself when I’ve had a ton of clothes and stuff to sort through and put up after a trip is the “15-Things Game.” The rules of that game are, you’re only allowed to hang up or put away 15 things, then you have to stop and go do something else. You can make the number anything you want.

When you turn a dreaded chore into a game that has a limited time or end-time incorporated, not only does it make it less of a chore, but mentally it doesn’t feel so overwhelming because you know you only have to do that thing (whatever it is) for a very limited amount of time and then you’re free!

And here’s the really interesting part: when you limit yourself to how long you can work on a particular chore, you may find that you don’t want to stop once you’re into it. Often once I get started sorting through clothes and putting them away, I find it really hard to stop after 15 minutes or after a set # of items are put away. Sometimes the hardest part of any dreaded chore is just getting started! Sneaky how the brain works!

 

3. Plan A Reward for When You’re Finished

Another fun way to incentivize yourself to get a dreaded task done is to think of a reward you’re going to give yourself when the job is done. Once that suitcase is unpacked, I get to read that awesome book I just bought. Once the room is vacuumed and dusted, I get to watch the latest YouTube video by my favorite YouTuber, or I get to work on the new puzzle that just arrived today. If you have cable TV, maybe you get to watch the latest episode of your favorite show. (Book below is available here: Arriving Home.)

Arriving Home by James T. Farmer, New Release

 

 

4. How Do You Eat an Elephant?

We’ve all heard the saying, “How do you eat an elephant?” The answer is always, one bite at a time. Thankfully for the elephants, that’s just a figure of speech, but just the fact that saying even exists tells us that we humans have always been faced with big jobs that we didn’t want to do. Sometimes a chore we have looming over us can feel as big as an elephant!

 

One elephant I have to “eat” every year between the months of January and April is working on my taxes. Ugh. To get that job done, I start early, usually in January, and I break the process down into small bites parts–that way it doesn’t feel so overwhelming. Make it a game by limiting how long you allow yourself to work on each part and giving yourself some kind of small reward after each step is accomplished, also helps.

I’ve also used this tactic for getting all the shutters and windows in my home cleaned. I will make a list, writing down the name of each room in my home: Guest Room, Living Room, Kitchen, etc… Then I set a goal of cleaning the shutters and windows in one room each day, marking that room off the list once it’s done. That’s it–just one room per day. Anyone can do that, right?

Guest Bedroom Updates, Handbag Storage with Billy Oxberg Cabinets

 

That means every window and shutter panel in my home (excluding the basement) will be nice and clean in about 10-13 days, depending on if the bathrooms are counted separately. My bathrooms only have a single, small window so they usually get lumped into one of the rooms that I’m cleaning on a particular day.

Living Room, English Country Style

 

If I approached the job of cleaning the windows and shutters in every room of my home all at once, I don’t think I could even bring myself to start! But cleaning just 2-4 windows and 4-8 shutter panels (depending which room I’m working in) each day, yep–that is totally doable! So break those BIG, seemingly overwhelming tasks into small bites and you’ll be surprised how fast they get done!

New Drapes for the Bedroom, Dark Green Drapes, Worn Velvet

 

 

5. Hold in Your Heart the Vision of How Good It’s Going To Look and Function Once You’re Done

One thing that really gets me going on a big task is envisioning how great it’s going to look, work and improve my life once the task is done. That was definitely in the back of my mind when I was assembling all these cabinets for storing my dishware here in the garage.

Cabinets for Storage, Garage, Basement, Laundry Room, Home

 

I knew it was going to make my life so much easier, having the majority of my dinnerware, napkins, flatware, and decorative centerpieces all in one place where I could easily find/remember what I had available when I entertain or want to set a table each week for Tablescape Thursday. That vision definitely kept me excited and motivated throughout the process of assembling the cabinets. I also got a wonderful reward as each cabinet was built/completed by seeing it in place here in the garage.

Cabinet Storage Ideas for Dishware, Glassware, Flatware and Napkins

 

6. Eat the Frog First

Mark Twain once said, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”  There’s nothing worse than going through your day with some dreaded task hanging over your head. Have you ever noticed when you finally get that “thing” you’ve been dreading completed, how much lighter you feel? It’s like a heavy weight has been lifted off your shoulders. So, if you can, try to eat your frog (whatever it may be) early in the day so it’s done and off your plate! That way it won’t ruin your whole day by hanging out there, looming over you all throughout the day.

 

7. Hire it Out

If there’s a regular task in your life that you absolutely hate doing, if you can afford to, hire that job out. Maybe gardening is just not your thing. If you can fit it into your budget, pay someone to do that for you each week or month. Maybe you like some parts of gardening, but just not the mowing part. Hire that part out. Life is too precious and way too short to constantly have hanging over your head a task that you just absolutely dislike doing. If it’s not in your budget to pay someone to do the dreaded chore, refer back to suggestions 1-6 in this post.

A few years ago I needed to redo my foundation plantings. The quote I received for installing 10 Green Beauty  Boxwood shrubs was $1,000. No way I was going to spend that when I knew I could do it myself.

 

I broke the job down into planting two shrubs per day, keeping the others well-watered during that hot, very dry week. They were all in the ground at the end of 5 days and I knew they had been planted properly with holes that were dug plenty deep and wide. I added a couple of smaller shrubs (after my muscles recovered) a week or so later.

 

What are the sneaky ways you talk yourself into doing the not-so-fun chores that absolutely have to get done? Please share your tips and tricks because I would love some new ones!

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Comments

  1. I find if I get out of the house first thing in the morning, I am more productive. That could be doing my grocery shopping early, thereby missing the crowds, or it could be just a walk outside. Getting moving early on is the key. Perhaps the household task I find most unpleasant is cleaning the cat’s litter box. Ick! So I do that first, then it’s out of the way. I try to mentally divide housework into sections – perhaps taking on one room at a time. Lastly, and you mentioned it Susan, is I have two housekeepers. I would undoubtedly be a crazy lady without them. After they have left and the entire house is clean, it’s amazing the sense of calm and renewal I feel.

  2. Excellent post! I have QVC on the muted television while I work out with a YouTube video. I rarely buy anything from QVC, so there is no temptation to shop. Makes my workout a lot easier. I really like the tips you shared and hope to get started on cleaning my windows as you suggested.

  3. Good tips. I’ve never been a procrastinator but am not as energetic as I used to be. After years of whipping through just about any kind of project like I used to do, the hard part has been realizing it’s ok to break it up into segments. When I get a vision in my head I want instant gratification but alas, the mind is willing but the body isn’t lol. My winter project is re-organizing all the bedrooms. I’ve created a bottleneck but I’m determined to get it done…little by little. I find it helps to keep focused on the end result.

    Before the pandemic I had a cleaning company clean my house once every 2 weeks. What a treat that was! Once this mess is over it’s one of the first things I’m going to put back on my schedule.

  4. Susan, Please tell me how you clean your wood shutters and wood blinds. That is a job I should have done ages ago, but dread. Thanks.

    • I second the request to share wood blinds cleaning tips!

    • I only have the shutters on the two main floors of my home and for those, I shut all the louvers and open back the panels and wipe them down with a lightly damp rag. Then I go louver by louver cleaning each individual one. If my rag was a bit too damp, I go back and using a dry rag, wipe off the excess moisture, but usually that’s not necessary. That’s the only way I’ve found to get down into all the little groves/spaces around the pull rod where it attaches to the shutters. I basically do the same thing with the wood blinds in my basement but it’s an unfinished area so I rarely worry about those.

      You could probably use the brush on a vacuum cleaner but I would be afraid of scratching the paint on the louvers and there’s no way a brush is going to get down into all those grooves where the pull rod attaches to the louvers.

      If you do this often enough, you may only need to dust them with a dry cloth. It’s so humid here during the summer and during the winter I get some condensation occurring on the glass panes of the windows, so just dusting never seems like enough. That’s why I use a slightly damp rag to make sure I get them truly clean.

      Wish I had a fast trick to offer but the only way I know is just good old fashion elbow grease.

  5. Great tips – I can’t wait to adapt the 15-minute game to my closet soon! ๐Ÿ™‚ Hope you’re having a lovely week.

  6. Sandra Browning says

    Hello… I’ve been wondering about how you store all of your decorations and tableware when not in use as I know you have a lot of both. I need a solution like your cabinets in the garage. Would you share where you found them? Thanks.

    Sandy

    • I purchased the two with the drawers from Amazon and they were professionally delivered on a big truck with a lift, so they arrived undamaged. When I tried to purchase the other 4 cabinets that do not have drawers, Amazon ships those via UPS and they kept arriving chipped and damaged. My UPS guy told me they didn’t have the right equipment to move them around their warehouse and to load them on the truck without damaging them. ๐Ÿ™ After having to return them numerous times, I discovered Walmart also sells them and I purchased them there and had them delivered to a Walmart Market that’s only about 1/2 mile from my home. Then I picked them up one at the time and brought them home in the back of my SUV.
      Here’s a link to the ones without drawers: https://amzn.to/3nhxJGE Here’s a link to the ones that have two drawers: https://amzn.to/3Gmnet6

      If you order the cabinet with drawers, they should arrive fine. If you order the one without drawers and it arrives damaged, just do a return and have them pick it back up at your home and try to purchase them at Walmart or somewhere else. If purchased online, Walmart will probably deliver them, I just chose to pick them up. Also, if you do buy them, check over every piece before assembling them to make sure there’s no damage. Actually, the company that makes them would probably send you a new piece so you don’t have to return the whole thing if you do find a damaged piece. I think they do when things arrive with a damaged or chipped piece.

      If you plan on storing really heavy things on them (like dishes) you may end up having to buy replacement shelves at Home Depot, which is what I did. The shelves are supposed to support 30-35 lbs each (if I’m remembering correctly) but I found they bowed with that much weight, so I had shelves cut to the size I needed at Home Depot.

      Hope this info helps, Sandra.

  7. The number one thing I hate is putting away the Christmas decor. Thank goodness it’s only once a year! Most of it is sitting on and around the pool table, in big baskets, in our lower level family room right now. The way I get through it is to tell myself I will do one small thing and then once I get going I do more. It still takes weeks The other is cleaning the wood blinds in the main floor great room. I try my best to get my hubby to do them but if that fails I do one window at a time. We also have garden people to mow and keep the weeds at bay and an organic service to spray and feed the yard.

    • Jillian I enjoyed your comment about not enjoying putting the Christmas decorations away!! Believe it or not, I love doing that task!! In the near future I am going to be sharing some of my tips and tricks for that organizational task online.!! I’ll think of you this weekend as I “start” taking mine down.

  8. I have to admit that I am a dread doing it, but dig in and don’t know when to stop kind of girl once I get going. I started taxes today (I do ours and 4 others). All the files are transferred, but the information forms aren’t all in, nor are all the forms for filing available, so I had to abort that task. So, I started scanning all my 2021 remaining documents so I can shred the paper. I started doing that in 2019 when we downsized, and I’ve kept that task up (try to do it quarterly, but hadn’t touched it since the move this past fall). I undecorated Christmas all in one day and had to take a muscle relaxer that night because of how achy and restless my back and legs were. I have learned to clean in increments, and that has saved me a lot of aches and pains, but I hate every minute of it. My problem is I don’t like the way others do it since the friend I had quit, so I do it myself. Good post, Susan.

  9. franki Parde says

    You, lady, are a hoot!! It’s what we do!!! franki

  10. Elizabeth Roderick says

    Pregnant with my last son, 40 years ago, I set aside a day to clean out the closet in his room. It took me 15 minutes and I had nothing to do the rest of the day. I love folding laundry, I hate making the bed and putting all of those clean liners and cases back on 8 plus pillows. I tell myself I am blessed to have clothes and linens. That works most of the time.

  11. If I have a very messy or cluttered area to clean, I love taking a few โ€œbeforeโ€ shots on my phone. Next, I set a time or item limit, as you suggest. And then I get to compare! Itโ€™s usually pretty gratifying and motivates me for the next bit.

  12. I’m a lifelong “bite off more than I can chew” kind of gal, but with age comes just a bit of wisdom. Now, instead of getting overwhelmed by a mammoth task I’ve planned, I head off discouragement by employing Mark Twain’s philosophy as you’ve recounted. Getting the most difficult portion of the project out of the way first makes the rest of the task much more palatable.

  13. Breaking things down into smaller steps is the most successful approach for me. Also like to check off things on a list.

  14. I can certainly relate to doing x number of things a day. About every other year I have to put out new bags of mulch. So it’s 6 bags a day into the trailer behind the lawn mower and in 5 days it’s done. Doing jobs in small quantities helps with your health and well being. rls

  15. Oh my gosh, we regularly say “time to eat the frog’! It is a really great tactic , just start with the worst…and it gets better. ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. Has anyone heard of Flylady? She has a certain way of getting through clutter and chaos. I tried her way years ago, but I failed. I seem to be one who loves clutter until it is overwhelming and then I clean. But once clean things just don’t seem right and I’m back to clutter!! I like to be outside in the garden and that’s where I spend my time. I do think about hiring someone to help with leaf cleanup. I have brown leaves everywhere! Thanks for all the tips!

  17. What a timely article! I’ll try the 15 minute trick tomorrow!

  18. This is just what we all need, a great list of suggestions. I like to make myself continue on cleaning for two hours at a time and then reward myself with a cup of tea and watching a video on Amazon Prime or Britbox. Thank you Susan.

  19. I spend 30 minutes a day cleaning…not deep cleaning but running the vacuum, dusting, tidying, removing items that don’t belong, cleaning a mirror, wiping down countertops, cleaning shutters, windows in one room. I pick a different room each day (the one that needs it the most) or I do a chore through all the rooms, like tidying or running vacuum but I only spend 30 minutes total. I do whole house deep cleaning twice to three times a year and then I need to eat my cleaning one bite at a time.

  20. This post resonates with me as I look at the 50+ boxes i store my Christmas decor. Decided to relabel and get rid of a few items for fresh 2022 Christmas. Began yesterday and it will take me thru the weekend. You shouldn’t be doing a thing today…it’s your birthday! Wishing you all the best my friend. Big hugs, Teresa

  21. Loved this post Susan!! If I’ve never mentioned to you, I love your house, it is so pretty. That wall of storage in your garage is to die for!! And I love the photo with all the doors open and labeled for all to see!! I am very impressed how you planted your own bushes too!!

  22. Anne Shaheen says

    How fortunate I was to know Erma Bombeck before the rest of the country. And Phil Donahue too. Those were the good old days. Miss Dayton

  23. Great post. Got some ideas, and I also try to break up the chores, but with a glass of wine or a martini. I just hate doing chores.

  24. This is a great post Susan with amazing tips. Yes, giving yourself 15 minutes to do some chores makes it go better I have found. Or giving yourself a room to start with, etc…When young, I could go through the whole house (is small) and get everything done, including making 7 beds or changing out 7 bed’s linens. But with having an infant in my late 30’s, it was becoming harder and harder to get those 5 loads of laundry done a day, all the beds made or changed, etc…So I started having the boys do their own beds, fold their own laundry after I washed it, etc…Now I’m older and just am slow…period. lol So I definitely have to make some chores more manageable and I do that by using some of the tips you have listed here. I wish I could hire someone to come once a month to deep clean for me, but that’s not happening on my budget. Maybe someday. Anyway, I loved this post!!! Hugs, Brenda

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