Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Little Steps for Housework

In Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy Revised and Updated, David Burns writes about Little Steps for Little Feet, which is a technique for breaking down tasks into smaller, more manageable parts.

Housework Example
Burns includes an example applying Little Steps for Little Feet to housework:

"The wife of a political VIP spent years harboring resentment toward her husband for his successful, glamorous life. She felt her life consisted of an oppressive load of child-rearing and housecleaning. Because she was compulsive, she never felt she had enough time to complete her dreary chores. Life was a treadmill. She was straddled by depression, and had been unsuccessfully treated by a long string of famous therapists for over a decade as she looked in vain for the elusive key to personal happiness.

After consulting twice with one of my colleagues (Dr. Aaron T. Beck) , she experienced a rapid mood swing out of her depression (his therapeutic wizardry never ceases to astonish me). How did he perform his seeming miracle? Easy. He suggested to her that her depression was due in part to the fact that she wasn’t pursuing goals that were meaningful to her because she didn’t believe in herself. Instead of acknowledging and confronting her fear of taking risks, she blamed her lack of direction on her husband and complained about all the undone housework.

The first step was to decide how much time she felt she wanted to spend on the housework each day; she was to spend no more than this amount even if the house wasn’t perfect, and she was to budget the rest of the day to pursue activities that interested her. She decided that one hour of housework would be fair, and enrolled in a graduate program so she could develop her own career. This gave her a feeling of liberation. Like magic, the depression vanished along with the anger she harbored toward her husband.
My Key Takeaways
I like the idea of time budgets. I find that if I don’t carve out time for what’s important, it doesn’t happen. While I can’t use a timebox for everything, I find that for a lot of activities, I can set a time limit and bite off a reasonable amount of work to get done in that time. This has served me better than a “it will be done whenever it’s done” approach, which makes it too easy to bite off more than I can chew.

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