It was 3:30pm about a year ago. My husband called me because his car had smoke coming from the engine and he had called a tow truck. He asked me to pick him up from the repair shop after the tow truck dropped him off.
I told him I could pick him up but I still hadn’t decided what we would have for dinner (and to be honest, the boys were still in their pajamas). We were going to be a while and we’d have to pick up dinner on our way home.
From burnout to tackling the task at hand
For years, I was behind on everyday tasks. I didn’t have the capacity to deal with anything out of the ordinary. Case in point, when I had to pick up my husband from the repair shop at the spur of the moment, my kids weren’t dressed and I didn’t have a plan for dinner.
To be fair, I had three small children, was burned out and didn’t know where to begin.
As I began to wrestle with what I could do to pull myself out of the burnout, I committed to dealing with whatever was right in front of me. I call this tackling the task at hand. The task at hand refers to the task that is right in front of you – whatever you’re supposed to doing at the moment.
Now, the main reason I am able to get anything done most days is because I am committed to tackling the task at hand. I don't have to wait for the perfect moment to come along and I give myself permission to strive for progress not perfection.
Spontaneous vs. Anticipated Tasks
Tackling the task at hand seems totally doable. Then you realize that there are many tasks and people in front of you screaming (literally and figuratively) for attention and it is hard to know where to start.
I found that in order to tackle the task at hand, I had to acknowledge that there are two types of tasks I encounter during my day: anticipated (planned) tasks and spontaneous (unplanned) tasks.
I am able to anticipate many tasks each day. I suggest listing all of the tasks you anticipate doing every day. Write the tasks in the order you plan to do them without assigning hours of the day. I find it is easier to move from task to task without being distracted by a timetable. See an example of my daily task list here.
As you go about your day tackling your daily tasks, spontaneous tasks will come up. These spontaneous tasks may present themselves in the form of a car repair, a dirty diaper or accident, an appointment you forgot about until the last minute, or a sick child. Many of them are urgent and must be addressed immediately. They require that you stop whatever you are doing and this new, spontaneous task becomes the task at hand.
In the past, I wasted so much time trying to identify what I was supposed to be doing. I would get organized enough to tackle the task at hand when a spontaneous task would come up. This spontaneous task would throw me off enough that I felt as if I couldn’t start again. As I became more familiar with the tasks I could anticipate, the spontaneous tasks didn’t feel so jarring. I had enough of a routine that if an interruption required me to stop, I could go right back to what I had been working on prior to the interruption.
Back to the car repair story. Months later, my husband called and the same car had a flat tire that needed to be patched. He asked if I could pick him up from the repair shop again. This time, the kids had been dressed since breakfast and dinner was in the crockpot. We could head out the door in the next couple minutes and still have dinner at home as a family. I was grateful that I had tackled the tasks I could anticipate earlier in the day because I was able to respond quickly in the face of this spontaneous task.
Each day is different but I hope you are encouraged to tackle the tasks at hand in your everyday life. If you'd like to read more about how I created a daily routine, read How to get stuff done without losing your mind which includes a link to a podcast interview were I go into more detail.