No Effort is Ever Wasted

by Katy on January 6, 2010 · 21 comments

Sometimes the tasks of life can loom so enormously, that it hardly even seems worth starting up on them. This can be everything from cleaning out a basement, losing weight or simply getting through those dinner dishes. (The downside of this whole “cooking from scratch” thing.)

My sister Jessica recently moved houses, and since her husband’s in an intensive graduate school program, the task of packing up fell solely upon her. Her old college chum Lisa did take pity on her and spent an afternoon lending a hand. And when my sister wailed that “I don’t even know where to begin,” Lisa offered up this simple, yet sage advice:

“No effort is ever wasted.”

And you know what? This holds more truth than a thousand words of wisdom. It’s not like I haven’t heard this little nugget a million times before, but my sister’s telling of this tale became an ah-hah moment for me.

No effort is wasted.

Sometimes I look around me at what I should be doing, and I just want to crawl into bed with a book. There’s just no way I can complete what needs to be done with the time/energy that I have available. No freakin’ way. But I can get started. And even if I don’t complete the task, I’m still better off than I was before. And often times, the hardest part is just getting the momentum going, at which point I can sail through to the end.

This idea that “no effort is wasted” is probably not anywhere close to new to normal people, but you have to understand that I’m a little behind the times.

Is my ah-hah moment a duh! moment for you? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Denise January 6, 2010 at 3:18 am

There is an old saying, “Half measures avail you nothing.” Well, my friend and I say, “Half measures avail you something.” Sometimes a tiny start is enough to get going.


Linden January 6, 2010 at 6:09 am

When I feel overwhelmed and want to quit, I look at this poster I bought from a WW II museum in England that says, “Keep Calm and Carry On.” I also have a less polite fridge magnet that says, KBO—which means, Keep Buggering On.


Carla January 6, 2010 at 6:33 am

Oh, yes! I follow FlyLady (well, not much, but I do read her some) and one of her favorite aphorisms is that housework, even done “incorrectly”, blesses your family. Hear, hear! Lisa’s advice to your sister is the same as this, in substance. Jump in; get what you can done. Better than nothing, it is!


Rhonda January 6, 2010 at 6:51 am

Not at all! I am feeling a bit overwhelmed at the moment and this is a timely reminder.


Lindsay January 6, 2010 at 7:44 am

I tend to procrastinate forever on big projects. But I putter around a lot and do little things. Actually, come to think of it, maybe my puttering around and taking care of small tasks is just one more way to procrastinate on the big stuff… hmmmm…


chppie January 6, 2010 at 9:30 am

Actually it was good to hear since I tend to measure by what I complete instead of what I start. And this is a good weapon to fight the overwhelmedness especially present at the New Year. Thanks for the reminder. It was a good A-HA!


Lisa January 6, 2010 at 10:59 am

A-HAH!!! This writing came at exactly the right moment for me! I overslept this morning and woke with a terrible backache…plus about a million things that needed to be done. By taking it one thing at a time I am almost caught up, and it’s only a little past noon. By evening I should be able to sit back with a book and watch the snow fly.


Queen Lucia January 6, 2010 at 11:30 am

We have a saying at work: Don’t let perfect stand in the way of good. This is particularly apt for my work team, as we tend to get caught up in minute details, rather than keeping our eyes on the big picture – the irony is that it looks productive, but often isn’t. This reminder helps us get back on track. I now use it as my mantra at home when I’m feeling overwhelmed. Focus on the big picture and the rest will work itself out. At the beginning of January I tend to say this to myself a lot, as I decompress from the busy holidays!


Melissa January 6, 2010 at 12:10 pm

This is good to keep in mind as I bounce from project to project sometimes like a fly with attention problems. At least everything is getting done little by little. I don’t think this applies to vacuuming, though. I think you pretty much have to finish that task all at once.


Judy January 6, 2010 at 1:53 pm

I agree.
My saying is “anything is better than nothing” especially for exercise or starting those dreaded household chores.


magdalena January 6, 2010 at 3:19 pm

I was there today with packing Christmas things, needing to organize it into something coherent. And I almost quit! So I figured I might not get it perfect this time, but at least something would be done. And now it’s all done, as best as can be done by me, except taking down the trees. Yea me! And there’s a pile of stuff to recycle as well, which otherwise would have gone back in the shed. One little step at a time.


Sue Mama January 6, 2010 at 3:32 pm

Wow! Ain’t it the truth!

Thanks to Lovely Lisa for a new mantra. It now joins FlyLady’s “You can do ANYTHING for 15 minutes,” and the time-honored quilter’s motto: Better done than perfect!

FlyLady’s approach is to just do 15 minute, focused SOLELY on the one task. No more, no less, just the 15 minutes. For those of us blessed, ahem, with attention deficit issue, it really works. In anticipation of purchasing and having delivered a magnificent, humongo-capacity, bright-metallic-red washer-dryer set, I rencently attacked the laundry room, which had stacks and stacks of clothing, linens, etc., on a huge table. Within a few days, it was gone — washed and put away, or (most of it) washed and released to “bless” Goodwill shoppers. I’m painting the walls sunflower yellow, and if we can get the basement to stop leaking, will paint the floor purple.

Shades of the ’70s and Peter Max!


Marie-Josée January 6, 2010 at 4:55 pm

Sue Mama, so cool your choice of colors! I too procrastinate… I am not the manual type and actually hate housekeeping and laundry chores, as well as cooking on a daily basis. I have come to enjoy cooking for special occasions. For starters, I have accepted that I need some quiet, down time on Saturday morning before embarking on my to-do list. If I give myself an hour or two, I’m good to go on the housekeeping and then the shopping. My treat is that we eat out for lunch. Another way I have found around this, is that we have really simplified our lives. I used to be a home owner and really resented the time and money we needed to invest to maintain and clean the house and the yard. We moved into an apartment when our youngest child entered college, and then moved into a housing coop in November 2009, which is great way to save on housing expenses. We don’t have the comfort of a three story home, but we live in the heart of the city, right by a subway station, and cleaning our apartment takes less than one hour (and it sparkles). I came to realize that I would always resent spending my life juice on taking care of things. I still cook because health is a priority and I can’t afford to hire a chef! I also think we expect way too much from ourselves. I feel the pressure to look good, have a toned body, a tasteful home, a great, nurturing, fulfilling marriage, educated and happy children, a retirement fund, a loving family, a circle of supportive friends, a meaningful job, respect my commitment to my aging granny (I visit her each and every week), my commitment to caring for the planet and my family’s health…If I compare my life to granny’s, I have a lot more on my plate than she did, and I think that’s true of everyone. Plus granny, who raised me, was not at all concerned about being a good parent, or the environment or the need to buy organic foods. So I think you should curl up in bed and read that book, especially if it gives you more life juice to devote your energy to people or things you really care about!


The Compact UK January 6, 2010 at 7:20 pm

In commenting on my life, she has always stated that it doesn’t matter what detour you take, because you never know when the experience gained from the detour comes in handy.

And I guess “every penny counts” is also applicable to effort 🙂


Alisa January 6, 2010 at 9:54 pm

I really enjoy your blog. Sometimes I think you are talking specifically to me! Like with this post, there are dishes piled up in my sink, toys scattered about and laundry that needs to be washed and it’s late and I’m tired. But like your post says, no effort is wasted, and if I make some attempt then it won’t be as bad tomorrow, well, if I keep going that is. Here’s to keeping at it!


Amy January 7, 2010 at 7:00 am

I”m just going to go read my book anyway.


Jessica Wolk-Stanley January 7, 2010 at 7:45 pm

Hey thanks for sharing this Katy. Today Lisa and I celebrated our contribution to your blog by donating a couple of bags of stuff to Goodwill (Lisa) and by my purchasing some stuff my family needed (pillowcases for a craft project for my son’s slumber party, Snow pants, snow shoes, an ice cream scoop and 2 nifty new coats for me). Lisa’s comment really resonated for me. And she came over and helped me 3 times, to put the record straight, once also bringing me a delicious lunch. Yay Lisa!


Kim January 8, 2010 at 6:34 pm

At age 47, I’m in the process of packing up all my belongings to put into storage and moving in with my parents as my husband has been without work for over a year now and we’re out of cash. I’ve been depressed and overwhelmed, but your post gave me a bit of encouragement and just the boost of mental energy I needed. I’m off to pack up a few more boxes. Thanks!


Julia January 9, 2010 at 8:21 am

This is how I feel about parenting and homeschooling my sensitive/challenging/high needs/gifted/goofy/compassionate/amazing/afflicted with Tourette’s Syndrome son. It’s completely overwhelming most days, and if I even think about how we’re going to get from point A (8.5 years) to point B (18 years), I just want to lie down on the couch and cry. But if I live moment to moment with him (planning more for school stuff, of course), I can make it through one day at a time. And when he does something like put his arm and coat around a coatless friend in the rain, or brings me his teddy bear when I stub my toe, I know each difficult moment has been worth it.


Kris-ND January 9, 2010 at 1:42 pm

There is catch-all phrase up here(well, two actually) that I find fascinating since I didn’t grow up here. It involves the words “North Dakota” and I the attitude behind those words just drips right through 😉

The other morning, it was 32below zero actual temps in my area. People still going about their business while national news correspondents stand outside dressed like the Michell an Man shivering almost uncontrollably. They see a crusty, ancient looking ole cowboy walking across the parking lot of the feed store w/no gloves and when asked why he is out in such cold, he looks at them like they have three heads w/o a brain in any of them, and says “It’s North Dakota” and off he goes.

National news correspondents interviewing sandbaggers last spring about why so many were willing to continue sandbagging what seemed like a lost cause with a blizzard, and they say “we’re North Dakotans” and continue on. Why do you open your home to perfect strangers? “we’re North Dakotans”

As I said, I am a North Dakotan by choice, not by birth, so I see so many attitudes and things that natives don’t notice, or don’t particularly think is special or unique.

The whole “it’s North Dakota” or “we’re(or I’m) a North Dakotan” means you keep on plugging regardless of what is going on around you. You NEVER just give up and sit down. If it is 30below and you need to go feed your cattle, well……one step at a time, and don’t forget to put on a hat 😉

Everytime I see hear it, or notice it around me, I think that I had better straighten up and not be some California slug 😉

One foot in front of the other, carry on no matter what, because this is North Dakota and we are North Dakotans.


sunny January 12, 2010 at 6:45 pm

I say something similar to Judy’s….. which is “something is better than nothing”. It’s a phrase I have to repeat to myself when I’m in the office, staring at a pile of papers, and don’t want to do any of it, but have things to get done. If I think “just do something, ANYTHING!” – that gets me going.. because if I even do one needed task – slowly but surely – it’s better than me checking out blogs and avoiding the task altogether. at least something gets done even if it’s done slowly.


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