I don’t really like to do the dishes.
That’s probably not really much of a surprise. There are bound to be some weirdos out there who just love to dishes, but I’ve never met one. We have a dishwasher, so it’s not even a particularly difficult chore. But, since I don’t like to do it, it frequently gets pushed further down my to-do list. Sometimes, it’s out of sheer lazy procrastination. Other times, it’s because I’m a mama and a wife and an artist and a business-owner and there’s a lot going on and dishes just aren’t the most important priority at that moment. Sometimes I’ll miss a day (or two) and they’ll start to pile up.
Of course, as soon as the dishes start to pile up, my desire to do them lessens, and then it becomes a (capital C) Chore. I’m not particularly proud of my frequently messy kitchen, but I’m confessing my slovenly sins today because I suspect that I am not alone. I suspect that a lot of people have a Reoccurring Chore that taunts them. It’s an ostensibly simple task, yet, it is the source of so much dread that it turns even the most ambitious people into lazy slackers, dragging their feet and pacing around the house, in order to avoid get started.
The one thing I do like about doing the dishes is getting some time to think (many a blog post has been born there) and so, it was while doing the dishes and thinking about productivity that I discovered a little productivity secret that I’ve been applying every since.
S.W.E.T. = Same Way Every Time
Every time I load the dishwasher, I put the coffee mugs in first.
Remember what I said about dragging our feet and pacing to avoid getting started? It turns out, starting the process is the hard part for me. After I’ve gotten the coffee mugs loaded, in go the drinking glasses. Step two, complete. Next, I load all of the silverware. Then the plates. Then the pans. Check. Check. Check. If there’s much of anything left, it’s not much to deal with. It seems doable.
In order to “SWET” the dishes, I first had to break it into manageable Steps. Looking at one step of the process at a time is so much easier than looking at a mish-mash of all of the steps. When it’s been “one of those days,” and the Chore seems completely overwhelming, I give myself permission to take a short break after completing any step. Each time I complete a step, I can move on to the next step or take a break if I need to. If I take a break, I know I can pick up where I left off. Thinking of the entire Chore as a series of Steps also makes it easier to see how much I’ve already accomplished.
The next time I had to do the dishes, I repeated the same steps in the same order. And then I just stuck to it.
Then something magical happened: I continued to “SWET” the dishes, and the process became automatic. I didn’t have to “think” about the Steps, or even really think about the dishes at all. As soon as I got started, I could stand there and let my mind wander while my hands completed the task, robot-style. There’s even a sort of meditative quality to the repeated process.
Don’t Fret, SWET!
Now, don’t get me wrong. I still don’t like to do the dishes. They still pile up for a day or two when I get distracted by other projects. But the sense of overwhelm has been greatly reduced. If I do feel intimidated, I just tell myself to load the coffee mugs. Most of the time, that’s all it takes. The process has become automatic, so I don’t have to make any decisions or even think much at all about what I’m doing.
I’ve incorporated the “SWET” technique into other parts of my day as well. Along with making dreaded tasks easier to take on, it also helps make repetitive jobs and repeat work more consistent and efficient (Yes, even with creative work! Even though each of my Art Journals are entirely one-of-a-kind, each one is put together the same way every time.) When I helped Jonah to clean up his room last weekend, we broke it up into Steps by categorizing types of toys the same way I do with the dishes.
We’ve all got the day-to-day boring chores or tasks that we don’t want to do. A lot of the time, it’s not a matter of laziness. I’ve often felt frustrated that I felt held back by this kind of job because I have “real work” that I’d rather work on! Tackling the small jobs by doing them the Same Way Every Time leaves me with a cleaner apartment, more time and calmer mind.
Apparently, it’s a good thing to “SWET” the small stuff.