Things I’m Not Very Good At: The Mundane Stuff

Self-employment has certain pitfalls (or benefits, depending on how you look at it), like the ability to lie around in bed reading the internet as long as you like, any day of the week.

In this morning’s link casserole, I happened across this great little piece of advice from Derek Sivers for getting through difficult times. It’s nothing revolutionary, but he does a great job of distilling down a few basic principles of happiness and productivity that are valid in the best and worst of times.

To summarize:

      1. Remind yourself that what is upsetting you is either something that already happened, or it hasn’t happened yet. In other words, BE HERE NOW. In other words, when you are actually eaten by a tiger you won’t be ruminating about it.
      2. Defer action. Don’t make decisions when you’re emotional.
      3. Say no to that which does not serve you. Clear out the people, food, activities, and clutter that don’t contribute to your health and happiness. “More fountains, less drains.”
      4. Focus on your mission or goal, whether it’s your immediate well-being (get some exercise) or a long-term plan (write a book).
      5. Do ALL the daily mundane stuff. You probably don’t want to, but it will make you feel better.

That last one in particular is a real struggle for me: Do ALL the daily mundane stuff. If you’ve ever seen my apartment on a typical day, you know this. Mundane things are… mundane. I will always feel that there is a better use for my time than washing dishes, and I’m right! But the truth is, I spend much of the time I save by not cleaning doing things like watching The Bachelor.

The true essence of mundane stuff isn’t mundane at all; it’s love. That may sound a bit hyperbolic, but think about it. Cleaning, showering, cooking, and doing your taxes are all ways that you take care of yourself (and your family).

I don’t have kids and I live alone, which means I can “get away” with certain indulgences that might not fly with others involved. Self-employment offers even more leeway. I can schedule my work whenever and wherever, as long as I get it done and show up for meetings.

It has been a rough year (or decade) or so. After my employment went away last July I scraped together some paying projects to get me through the transitional period. In October, a good childhood friend died suddenly and threw me into a pretty difficult emotional place. Not a good one for “marketing” myself. Just get through the winter, I kept telling myself.

My grandpa Frank (who was for all intents and purposes my dad growing up) passed away in January. This was expected, but it added another layer of sorrow to my baggage. Getting out of bed became a momentous struggle. But I got through the winter.

I more or less gave up on the mundane stuff. Eventually it gets done, or partly done, enough that I can function and not worry too much about being eaten by toxic mold creatures. Some mornings I wake up full of dread and self-loathing over not simply addressing the mundane stuff. And then I forgive myself.

Here’s the thing — and something I think that list of 5 is missing: difficult times are most often transitional times, and transition requires gestation. My therapist once accused me of “efforting” my way through things, which I think most of us do sometimes. In order to become yourself, you need time and space to simply BE. If that means watching bad TV or playing a video game or hiding your face in a pillow, that’s okay! It is part of the process, and being kind to yourself is more important than doing ALL the mundane things.

At the same time, the mundane things will get you through the transition. It’s the tiny habits and small efforts of self-care that pave the way. I always want to do something big, but the big things are made up of small steps. Some days feel totally unproductive, but when I look back over time I’ve made progress. I’ve succeeded in challenging pursuits and taken important steps. I have kept all of the balls in the air and kept going.

This week, I have been pursuing the somewhat unproductive pastime of implementing a “productivity system” — in this case a handful of apps that support different types of productivity. I’ll write more about how this works for me in another set of posts. I am only committing to opening the apps twice each day and updating completed tasks. Whether or not I do the mundane things, daily tracking helps me remember and hold myself somewhat accountable. Someday, all of my dishes will be clean… just maybe not today.

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