Attack Those Nagging Tasks!

by Katy on June 8, 2017 · 54 comments

I recently spent a couple of hours attacking a collection of nagging tasks that normally don’t hit my daily routine. You know, all that finicky stuff that prompts you to think “I should really deal with that,” yet somehow never do?

Although no single task was impressive by itself, all together they added up to a worthy accomplishment.

I read the book Clear Your Clutter With Feng Shui a number of years ago, and I remember that the author wrote about how it drains mental energy to ignore something that should be dealt with. This premise stuck with me and has prompted me to both get rid of things and to keep a more organized home. (Although of course my motivation comes in fits and spurts.)

Here’s what I accomplished:

  • I installed a hook on my back porch to hang a large enamel bowl that’s normally in the way.

  • I emptied and then scrubbed out my laundry room wastebasket. It’s technically too big for the minor task of holding laundry lint, which means that it only gets emptied every 3-4 years. It was impressively filthy and I probably hadn’t cleaned it since moving into the house in 1997. (Fun fact . . . it was the pail from my 21-year-old’s diaper service!)

  • I thoroughly swept the basement stairs.

  • I picked up some broken flowerpot pieces and a mysterious sodden stuffed animal beaver from the backyard.

  • I threw my shower curtain into the wash to stave off encroaching mildew.

  • I weeded my parking strip and pulled out all the invasive plants.

  • I brought in my “Black Lives Matter” sign for a scrub down. Someone had pasted a conspiracy theory sticker on it, and although I’d removed the sticker, there were still a few stubborn stuck on bits. Nothing that some Goo Gone couldn’t handle.

  • I cleaned the mildewy cover from a throw pillow that sits on my front porch. This required that I snip out stitches and then sew it back up again, but the pillow in now fresh and delightfully mold-free.

The commonality of these tasks is that each one would nag at me with every glance. However, not one could actually be categorized as urgent. These were the things that dragged me down whenever I entered my house with an armload of groceries, but would promptly be forgotten. Tasks that made me feel like I could never get on top of my life.

My house is far from being featured on a minimalism website, but I now have a brief respite from that draining feeling whenever I enter my house or venture into my basement for a load of laundry.

Gretchen Rubin has popularized the idea of a Power Hour to attack ever present nagging tasks. She writes that “Nothing is more exhausting than the task that is never started,” which is along the same lines as the earlier Fengshui concept. I like the idea of a designated “power hour,” as it’s enough time to accomplish a number of tasks, yet not so long that it’s overwhelming. Plus . . . it rhymes!

I now feel a sense of accomplishment that might not actually be in balance with the admittedly small tasks that I checked off my to-do list. But with these chores behind me, I now feel ready to shift my focus to the big tasks that should be claiming my attention.

Do you agree that have multiple unfinished or simply unstarted tasks is a drain on your mental energy? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 54 comments… read them below or add one }

Bellen June 9, 2017 at 2:28 am

Yes, those little tasks that, in my household, usually require scrubbing are very annoying and I used to put them off.
Now, I designate a room/area a day Mon-Fri to clean and include one or two put-off tasks. By month’s end most of those annoying tasks have been done.
Typical tasks are cleaning the edges of the sliders where we put our hands to close them instead of the grip provided, wastebaskets in 5 areas, ‘welcome’ mats outside 5 doors/sliders, mildew on the struts of the pool cage, etc. I usually only designate about 30 min but a whole lot can be done.
Yes, I’m 70, retired, usually have the entire day to do what I want BUT cleaning is and never has been at the top of my list to-do list.
Have a great weekend.

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Linda M June 9, 2017 at 3:38 am

Yes, I agree! Bellen, I am also retired….seems I don’t get much more done than when I was working full time….as I have filled my time with other things. I find if I jot things on my To Do List I am more apt to accomplish them…just have to remember to put them on the list. And, I sure do feel better when they are done….they just jump out at me and nag me if I don’t. Usually takes less energy to do them than it drains from me seeing them oer and over. I try to make it a game and see if I can get as many done as quickly as possible once started….kind of like you did, Katy! Love getting that monkey off my back!

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karen June 9, 2017 at 6:35 pm

I agree I make a mental list and then promptly forget it. I am laying in bed at night and think, I forgot to do that and that. Tomorrow I will get up and write them down. Of course in the morning I forget. Vicious cycle.

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Susie's Daughter June 10, 2017 at 4:15 am

Karen – I finally found a good use for one of those notebooks that arrive in mail solicitation as it sits by my bed for just those list! I also write down funny things DS has said or thoughts for work as well. My favorite notes are the ones I write in the dark – slanty, handwriting mysteries…

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Susie's Daughter June 10, 2017 at 4:15 am

Notepads – I mean notepads!

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WilliamB June 9, 2017 at 4:06 am

I agree. My “nagging” category consists of the chores that take a disproportionate amount of effort or annoyance to get done. Feels so good to get them out of the way but there’s a reason I don’t do them often.

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Bettypants June 9, 2017 at 4:13 am

I completely agree with you on the small tasks being draining. I find it so satisfying to complete a few.

This week I installed the holder for plastic wrap, alum foil, etc on the inside of a cupboard door.
I moved our air compressor closer to a garage outlet and screwed in 2 hooks to wrap the air hose around.
Previous owner had stored a birch tree limb in the rafters of our garage. Why? I cut it up and added it to the yard waste pickup pile.
The wood thresholds on both our exterior doors were cream and super filthy. I found some exterior tan paint in the basement and painted them both. Much more friendly color for feet and dirt.
Removed the two random screws by the back door and relocated them to the opposite wall to hang my Ikea bag holder.

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Ellen June 9, 2017 at 4:17 am

I think we all have those items that seem to get pushed to the side.
Took care of one myself last night.
Pulled/cut down the weeds/tree growing out of my boarder planters, and my strawberry patch! Looks much better.
oh I did two, cleaned out my lint catcher(for the dryer) that is out side!
Makes you feel great when they get done!

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Jennifer June 9, 2017 at 4:24 am

I just started chipping away at some of the tasks I have been putting off, too. For instance, I started spackleing bothersome nail holes/ imperfections in my walls. Also, I use laundry lint to start fires in my fireplace in the winter so I save mine in a small decorative bucket.

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Bee June 9, 2017 at 5:01 am

You are inspiring me to make a list of odd ball chores that need to be done. Generally speaking, my life is fairly organized; however, there are always little things that need my attention. There are drawers that need to be cleaned out, window sills to be dusted, trim work to be touched up, and papers to be filed.
But the thing that I find the most distracting are the few clutter spots in my home — the garage, the laundry, and the office. These are dumping grounds and I have been trying to eliminate the “stuff.”

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Monica June 9, 2017 at 5:16 am

Sigh…if only my husband would get around to HIS list of ‘miniscule’ yet essential chores! My kitchen countertop is so piled up with reminder post-it to him I can’t see it anymore! Sigh….again…

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celina June 9, 2017 at 10:19 am

that is what mother day is for in this house…lol

On mother’s day we go by MY list of things to get done. The little stuff he usually sees as unimportant .. We can get lots done in a day of me pointing and him doing without comment..LOL

I’ve also started doing some of the small things myself…feels good…

I get so mad at myself and us as a family…these little things can drag on for a long time..(a humiliatingly long time) and take just a few minutes to do….

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Monics June 11, 2017 at 5:15 am

Great idea!

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Cynthia Huntington June 9, 2017 at 5:34 am

I love this post! A big part of frugality/non-consuming is taking care of what we already have, keeping our non consumer digs in best order.

I have a list…

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Teresa June 9, 2017 at 5:53 am

Wow, that was quite an accomplishment! I forget about those little “to-do” things until I notice them again (out of sight, out of mind), so I make long lists of things that need to be done and cross items off when done. When I look at the crossed off list I feel like I really accomplished something. When the list gets too long I move the undone items to a new list and start over. Thinking about all this… I would really like a maid.

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Denise June 9, 2017 at 1:42 pm

Maid? Aim higher: we need a housekeeper, Teresa!

To cook, clean, shop, do the ironing, take books and DVDs back to the library when we can’t be bothered. Weed the driveway. Wash the car, occasionally. Vacuum it out.

All done frugally and beautifully.

Sigh…I could sleep. In freshly laundered and ironed bedsheets. And she or he could bring me breakfast trays in bed. And ask me what annoying little jobs need doing. Like finding a way to stop toasters toasting unevenly.

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Kayleigh June 9, 2017 at 4:46 pm

You need to hire Alice from the Brady Bunch.

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A. Marie June 10, 2017 at 2:13 pm

Or Martha from The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. How would Mrs. Muir ever have found all that time for flirting with Captain Gregg if it wasn’t for Martha?? (And I’d love to know how Mrs. M could afford Martha on a free-lance writer’s salary. So would anyone else who’s ever worked as a free-lancer.)

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ouvickie June 11, 2017 at 5:02 am

I’m a list person, too. I would barely accomplish anything without my lists – they keep me on track and, like you, make me feel accomplished!

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susanna d June 9, 2017 at 6:01 am

I have a tendency to let all those little nagging tasks build up until they overwhelm me/annoys the heck out of me, and then I spend an entire day – or more – tackling them. Which I did recently, but once again those little piddly things are starting to add up.

It’s not that I don’t have the time to do these things. Rather, it’s that I don’t have the desire. I seem to go out of my way to do ANYTHING else. And while I’d like to say I’m spending all my time on big projects or working in the yard, that’s not true. We’re done with all the major stuff on the house remodel; what we’re doing now never takes an entire day. Outside stuff? This is the rainiest its ever been, the woods have developed ponds and there’s not a lot we can do. No, it’s that these things aren’t “fun stuff ” so I dream up other stuff to do.

I guess it’s time to add at least one of these little things to my daily “to do” lists. Starting today, with something as mundane as cleaning out my old purse. I recently switched from a giant purse (a friend of mine always referred to my purses as “suitcases”) to a much, MUCH smaller one (mainly to save wear and tear on my shoulder – giant, overflowing purses are heavy). Moved all the stuff I’d need to my new purse, and left the rest of the crap in the old one. Every time I see the purse on the closet shelf, I think “I really need to go through that purse and clean everything out.” Today I WILL.

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susanna d June 9, 2017 at 9:35 am

And the old purse is now totally empty, sitting back on the shelf waiting for those rare times that I need to carry more stuff with me than my new smaller purse will hold. An added bonus: I found $1.75 in coins in the purse (I have a bad habit of disrespecting my money by dumping change into my purse, where it falls to the bottom and, in this case, can be forgotten). Also found a package of gum, 7 benedryls and 5 lactaid tablets (all sealed), all of which will definitely get used. These aren’t necessarily frugal wins – rather, an embarrassing reminder of how being disorganized can cost money – literally.

On to the next little chore I’ve been trying to ignore for far too long…

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Katy June 9, 2017 at 10:52 am

Hooray for you!

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Denise June 9, 2017 at 1:47 pm

Yay. This has inspired me to make a “niggles” list and get started tomorrow morning (it’s 10.45pm in London as I type this, so I’ll allow myself the treat of reading all the comments on here before tootling off to bed.

And I’m with you on the sore shoulder issue: I’m also very short, so I look like a kid carrying a grown-up’s bag with my big bag.

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WilliamB June 10, 2017 at 8:04 am

Hurray!

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ouvickie June 11, 2017 at 5:10 am

I kept putting off cleaning out my purse, but it was nagging me because it was too heavy. I’d switched purses, like you did, so I didn’t think there was much in it to make it so heavy. Then I finally realized it was the loose change in one of the pockets where I put my money.
Holy cow, I think I had 3 lbs of change in my purse – probably $5 or more. I went through it all and now I have a decent amount of change in my savings jar. Found stuff is indeed frugal!!

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Katy June 9, 2017 at 7:00 am

Love the Power Hour concept! Re the font, it is definitely too small for me to read on my phone and pretty small on the computer as well.

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Jennifer June 9, 2017 at 8:49 am

I agree – but maybe for a different reason. All those little things that need to be done take up a lot of mental energy trying to remember that they need to be done. it is freeing to get them done and not have to think about it anymore.

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Jenzer June 9, 2017 at 8:58 am

How timely — I’m doing Power Hour at my work desk today. Right now I’m downloading electronic copies of documents so that I can throw away the paper originals that came in the mail. Next up is a small pile of documents that need to be scanned, and another small pile that needs hanging file folders created so they can be stored away in my filing cabinet. Each time I clean off a flat surface, I’m giving it a good dusting/wiping.

I look forward to walking in Monday morning to an uncluttered workspace. It’ll be a gift to my future self!

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Cindi June 9, 2017 at 9:09 am

Such a timely post. I have set aside today to do just this. So far this morning I have written a long-overdue letter to a friend, pruned my tomatoes, weeded the lettuce bed and balanced the checkbook. I have all the supplies laid out for a couple of mending projects — I am inducing myself to complete them by promising that I can listen to the baseball game on the radio while I work.

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Betty Winslow June 9, 2017 at 9:41 am

I love the Power Hour idea, especially since this is the summer I really need to get some major downsizing done!

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Lindsey June 9, 2017 at 9:55 am

I do better with a different system–I do one obnoxious task a day. It doesn’t sound like much but that is 365 crappy tasks a year. My husband does the same thing, although he asks me to give him the daily task; sometimes we have the same task because it is something it takes two people to accomplish. If I set aside a day or a few hours to tackle a number of projects, I would never do them. I started this when I had a catastrophic illness that robbed me of all energy. I made myself do one small thing a day, often something like writing a thank you letter or repairing a garment, and one day I realized that I was getting rid of niggling things that had been annoying me for ages. I kept it up after I got well and have been doing it for several years now. Today’s task for me: cleaning the inside of the dishwasher. Husband’s task: fixing a drawer that refuses to stay closed.

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Katy June 9, 2017 at 10:51 am

I like the “one task a day” plan!

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Rhonda June 10, 2017 at 7:33 pm

This is a great idea! I have a chronic illness that totally zaps my energy. Some days end with me thinking – have I accomplished anything at all today? I may not be able to do a power hour, but maybe a half hour, or 20 minutes. I know the things that need to be done are overwhelming and drain my energy even more. Time for a plan.

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ouvickie June 11, 2017 at 5:16 am

Wow, I never thought of doing that! That’s a lot of tasks to accomplish and one a day is so easy. Thanks for that tip, Lindsey!!

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Rejena June 9, 2017 at 10:04 am

Agree! I find that maintaining a clean and “non-nagging” house and car makes me more content with what I have. That contentment helps to minimize that “feel good” spending that so many people resort to. I also have a clutter-depression relationship. The more clutter and chaos around me, the more despondent I feel. By getting things picked up and cleaned up and fixed up, I can keep that at bay.

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Susie's Daughter June 10, 2017 at 4:24 am

Rejena – Thank you for sharing this connection. I can relate. It took me years to see the relationship between clutter and depression. Now I can do it in reverse – when stuff is hanging around too long, I stop to ask myself what else may be going on internally.
The other life changing mindset I developed in my 30’s (with the help of my therapist) was recognizing that I don’t need the thing (card, gift, whatever it might be) to hold on to the feeling that it brought (happiness, being loved, whatever it might be). It enabled me to get rid of all kinds of stuff over the last decade and I miss NONE of it.

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Rejena June 12, 2017 at 9:37 am

The REVERSE!!!! I love that! I hadn’t thought of that before! I will definitely be on the watch for that.

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Denise June 9, 2017 at 1:55 pm

It was bizarre seeing this post, as my sister and I were discussing this list business recently. Last night, after I went to the polling station to vote in our General Election, I decided that I HAD TO do my filing in my titchy study. Stuff has been sitting there for up to two months and it was so easy to do it and finish it. As with so many things about which I procrastinate: doing it was relatively painless but all the “ugh, must get round to it” moments added up to a huge pain.

That Gretchen Rubin comment about the unstarted tasks being the most exhausting is spot on!

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Juhli June 9, 2017 at 2:23 pm

Thanks for the boost to get going on things that I’ve been avoiding.
1. Ran 6 errands that I didn’t really want to do.
2. Pruned spent flowers and got into trash before pickup.
3. Went through some piles of papers – more to go.
4. Collected old towels to donate to the animal shelter and put in the car.
5. Mended a place mat.

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Christie June 9, 2017 at 3:20 pm

I totally agree. The small tasks that don’t gtet done seem to take up the most mental storage.

I try to use Gretchens if it only takes a minute do it!

I’m as huge Gretchen fan. I love her books and podcasts. Was so happy to see you use one of her strategies!

I really enjoy your blog!

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tammy brackett June 9, 2017 at 5:40 pm

Oh my gosh. I totally washed my shower curtain today and hung it outside to dry! I also purchased a small can of white paint and have been removing cabinet hardware, washing my cabinet doors, repainting and the reattaching the hardware. Sometimes I get one door a day done, sometimes two. I love my can of white paint. I’ve repainted windowsills, my door facings, etc. My can of white paint = peace.

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Amanda June 9, 2017 at 6:05 pm

One of the many great things about airbnbing our house on the weekend is that it forces us to do all those little things. On Friday before our guests arrive not only do we do a thorough cleaning but we put things away, change blown light bulbs, make small repairs, pick up the yard, etc. If we weren’t forced to do them those little things would stress me out until I felt like a mess. Getting them all done at once makes me feel so together.

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Chris June 10, 2017 at 11:29 am

I was on a roll in the past 24 hours – made a lab appt for a blood draw, confirmed a date for a going away party for a neighbor and called 3/4 of the invitees, dropped off another load of garage sale leftovers to the thrift shop, cleaned the vents on the air conditioner – nothing took for than 20 minutes but all had been on a to do list for at least 2 weeks!

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MommaL June 10, 2017 at 12:43 pm

Every day at work, I don’t leave until there’s a “to do” list and a schedule written out. At home, I keep a legal pad out and every time there’s a task (including the regular ones like pay bills, groceries, weed..) I write it down. It feels so good to cross off things as I do them.

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MommaL June 10, 2017 at 12:44 pm

over the weekend, of course!

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SarahN June 10, 2017 at 2:06 pm

I’ve realised that Google Keep helps me put down all the niggles (even ‘things I wanna buy’) and then on weekends or with a spare 15 mins, I review and do. I feel like I’ve had a streak in the past week or two, and my home and life have never been more sorted. It feels FANTASTIC!

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Kathy June 11, 2017 at 3:37 pm

I hadn’t heard of Google Keep, will have to check it out!

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A. Marie June 10, 2017 at 2:19 pm

My “niggles” have less to do with homekeeping than with making phone calls to arrange appointments, etc. I have a mini-phobia about making phone calls to people I don’t know well (long story), so unless I make myself a list of these so that I can cross them off as I do them, they pile up and create mental drag as described by Katy.

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Cheri S June 10, 2017 at 3:01 pm

I finally, after months of picking stuff off the ground, replaced a bunch of little hooks with hooks big enough to hold a bath towel or my husband’s Carhartts! WHY did that take me so long?
Next task – learn how to post items on eBay so I can get rid of this huge box of Roseville and McCoy pottery that I don’t have room for in our new condo. That box has been sitting at the end of my kitchen island since October 2016. We must walk around it 30 times a day.

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Mrs. E June 10, 2017 at 9:53 pm

Along those lines, when I don’t even know where to begin the cleaning, I do a lightning round of 20 minutes or so. Whatever I choose to tackle in those 20 minutes may be high or low priority. But at least something has been addressed. This has the effect of limiting thiose distractions which tend to drain my focus. After 20 minutes I either begin cleaning or resume the priority I was dealing with before.

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ouvickie June 11, 2017 at 4:52 am

Yes, those tasks do annoy me.
My uninterrupted time at home is minimal. I have to choose which ones to tackle and when. Lately, I’ve decided to take it room by room so I can feel and see that I’ve accomplished something.
Lately, it’s been in my kitchen. a few weeks back I cleaned out my refrigerator and washed it down, then organized it with plastic baskets I got at the Dollar Tree. Now I feel happy when I open my fridge and see it clean and uncluttered.
Next, I tackled an area under a side table, in the kitchen, where I store things. I needed to thin things out and recycle them. It’s getting better!

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susanna d June 11, 2017 at 8:53 am

I use plastic baskets in the chest freezer but never thought to use them in the refrigerator – great idea!

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Kim in Maryland June 11, 2017 at 9:51 am

Years ago I learned the following two tips which have greatly helped me when it comes to getting things done. First, if you have a bunch of errands to run, always start with the farther ones first. That way you are working your way towards home, and if you run out of time the ones left are the close ones. Second, if you use a written list, as you cross things off as you complete them use a highlighter. That way it highlights what you’ve accomplished and encourages you to do more; as opposed to crossing it out and all you see is what’s left to do which can be discouraging. I use ColorNote on my phone where I have several categories set up, such as grocery store, short term and long term tasks, Things I’m looking for, etc. Helps me not to forget things.

Annoying tasks accomplished past several days-
~Checked/topped off air in my tires when I drove past station with Free air machine, DH said he would do it last weekend but hadn’t yet so I went ahead and did it.
~Redeemed remaining Coke reward points before 6/30 expiration. Got 2 $10 Nike Egift certificates for DS#2 to get new shoes he desperately needs. Also did email search and found I had another $10 that hadn’t been used so $30 towards shoes at the Nike outlet.
~Listed pair of sawhorses on FB yardsale page on Friday. Had 2 replies in 15 minutes and they are being picked up today. DH cleaned them out of shed last weekend and said we didn’t need 2 pair. Clutter out, $12 in!
~Fixed my espadrille that the sole was separating from the upper and re-glued a spatula handle while I had the glue out.
~Cleaned off 2 shelves in laundry room. Goal is to get all my canning supplies in 1 spot! Don’t ask! Now have a few things to sell, big bag for donation and trashed/ recycled what needed to go.

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Katy June 11, 2017 at 3:41 pm

I got that same advice somewhere as well and try to remember to run the farthest errand first as well.

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