You sit down to work, but there’s laundry to sort, the lounge needs hoovering, there’s a pile of washing up next to the sink, you need to sort out a pile of things to go to the charity shop, and the kids’ toys are strewn everywhere. Instead of working, you start to go through bills on your desk, when you remember that the bathroom bin needs emptying and the sink could do with a wipe down. Sound familiar? If so, read on. This post is all about how to avoid doing housework or so called invisible tasks when you’re working at home. You’re going to learn five techniques that you can put into place fairly quickly, plus links to useful articles and resources. By the way, if you’d like a free chapter from my book on smalls steps time management, you can get it here.
Some of these tasks are known as ‘invisible work’: they need doing, but you forget about them when it comes to your daily tally of what you’ve achieved. Make a note of them all and cost how much you’d need to pay for someone else to do it and you’ll surprise yourself! If you want to read more on how invisible workload affects mums, take a look at this post from the Scary Mommy blog.
Should you go to work instead? Working at home means you are confronted by these tasks far more than you would be if you went out to work. Of course, one solution is to go out to work: ‘go to work’ in your spare room or home office and close the door firmly, or go to the library or a shared workspace. If this isn’t an option, or the advantages of homeworking outweigh the disadvantages, then the following tips are for you.
Five techniques you can put in place straight away
So how do you avoid spending time on housework – or on any other household chore – when you’ve set aside time for work. Here are five solutions.
Get other people to do it.
Let’s get this one out of the way first because it’s not an option for everyone. Firstly, can you earn more per hour in the time it would take to do one of these – cleaning, laundry, ironing or basic admin – than it would cost to pay someone else to do it? Remember, time is more valuable than money, because you can’t get it back! If this is true for you, get organised, ask for recommendations and hire in help.
Secondly, are you doing an unfair share of housework / admin? If so, have a frank talk with those you live with. Delegate and draw up a to do list together. Even slightly more help is better than nothing.
If you’re rolling your eyes right now at the thought of your family helping out, then you may be suffering from ‘mental load’. Check out this comic strip article from the Guardian newspaper and see if it resonates. You could 1) take the radical approach and stop doing it for a bit or 2) think of small actions you could encourage them to take – like put plates in the dishwasher or dirty clothes in the basket. For background on why women do more housework than men, take a look at this interesting article in the Financial Times.
Don’t call it housework.
Whether it’s laundry, hoovering, cleaning, washing up – or anything that usually gets categorised under housework in your head – don’t label it. Ditto with ‘admin’. Because 1) these categories are too generic to be helpful and 2) if you call it all ‘housework’ or ‘admin’ it sounds laborious or like the kind of repetitive drudgery you’re being forced to do, and tasks can become so routine that you do them like you’re a Stepford Wife, whether they are important or not.
You could trying thinking of laundry, for example, like this: ‘I’m cleaning these clothes so me and my family have something comfy / smart / gorgeous to wear next week.’ This is beneficial in at least two ways: it gives the task a positive spin and it makes you focus on what actually needs doing and what doesn’t.
Break it into small steps.
Let’s take laundry as an example. You could break it into discreet steps like this:
- Sort laundry.
- Put laundry in washing machine.
- Hang on line.
- Bring in from line.
- Do ironing.
- Put washing away.
Now ask yourself:
- Do you need to wash, dry and iron everything in the wash basket? Probably not.
- Could the rest of your family chip in? Could your kids sort the washing for you?
- Could you and your family do enough laundry so that everyone’s got what they need?
- Could you get help? Could you pay someone to iron the shirts, for example?
- Or could you fit in these discrete small step between the other things you do during your working day? For example, you take a break from work, go for a ten minute power walk, on the way back to your work space, you get a glass of water and bung the washing machine on.
For more on the small steps method, take a look at these posts, where you can get a quick low down on what involves and how to make it work for you.
Ask ‘when can’t I work today?’
Ask yourself when you can’t work. Let’s take laundry as an example again. So say you’ve picked your kids up from school, could they help you sort the washing? Even if asking them to help is too much of a tall order, you could still make a conscious decision to do chores when you can’t work. This could be: Monday pick kids up from school, hoover while their tea cooks. Or sort through post while Bobby is at his swimming class. Asking when you can’t work makes the time when you can seem more precious.
Do it on a deadline.
Your deadline could be real or you could invent one. Say you’ve got half an hour before you have to leave for an appointment: get ready now, put everything by the door ready to go. Give yourself 25 mins to tidy and hoover the lounge and set a timer. Don’t do any more than 25 mins. If you allocate time for housework and hidden tasks, and work to a time limit, you’re much less likely to procrastinate and it’s much less likely to encroach on your work time.
Some of the tools you’ll find this post on productivity resources, tips and techniques will help you to plan your time and avoid overwhelm. If you’re short for time, try the pomodoro technique first.
To your happiness,