• David Unger, PhD

Tasks, Chores and "To do" lists



There are almost always things to do around the home, errands to run and an ever-growing never fully completed “To do” list. The thing about these “To do” lists is once something makes it on this list it usually comes attached with these words: “I have to do.”


The moment something becomes a “have to” instead of a “want to” or “get to” it comes with some moans, groans and a dose of resentment. Most of us don’t like to do the things we “have to” do as much as the things we “want to” do. Even if those “have to” items are not onerous, they still carry the burden of "having" to be completed.


As a therapist I encourage people to take a close look at their “To do” list and see which items are “have to’s” and which ones are really “get to’s.” As often as you can you want to move those “have to” items to the “get to” column. I know paying bills, doing chores and some other tasks are not necessarily enviable and yet they “have to” get done. But, do they? There are people who don’t have the opportunity to get to do these things and their lives may really be more challenging than your own. Maybe if you could appreciate that you can pay the bills or at least some of them and you can actually do the chores, then maybe you can think of those things as more more “get to” than “have to.” And, maybe some day you will get to "glad to," but first things first.


I wrote my doctoral dissertation on time and came to believe that the task does expand and contract to fit the time available. If you give someone 30 minutes to clean the place and another time you give them 60 minutes there won’t be that significant a difference in what is accomplished. Sure there will be some difference, but not that much and certainly not twice as much. When people work with time restraints they tend to move faster. That doesn’t always equate to better, but it also doesn’t always equate to worse. As a client once told me if you want something done, give it to a busy person. It is just one more thing on their list.


You might find if you schedule yourself to do one of those “have to” onerous items and give yourself less time to do it, you might actually find you do a good enough job and it didn’t take that long. That might even help it become a little more “get to.” In the therapy world, we often speak about doing a “good enough” job to help people let go of more perfectionist attitudes. Sure, some things are better done at a higher level, but there are plenty of tasks where “good enough” is plenty good enough.


You will notice in the picture above that people are doing a task together. We don't know if they are getting to do it or having to do it, but we know they are doing it. Doing tasks with others often makes them more pleasant and sometimes it cuts the time down while other times it can add to it. A friend and I once decided to build a bench. It probably ought to have taken a Saturday afternoon. We dragged it out for weeks because we were enjoying being together and spent most of our time together not really focused on the bench. Working together is usually a more enjoyable experience and as my mother used to say: “Many hands make light work.”


I ought to admit that I often find myself looking at my list of things to do and saying "I have to" do this and that. Also, I am kind of whining when I say it. Not one of my more attractive qualities. Fortunately, I have taken to catching myself, smiling knowingly and gently saying: "David, I get to do these things, I don't have to."


That helps a little. It also helped me when I read once that complaining and whining is a form of bragging. I didn't like reading that, but it rang true. When I complain about something I want someone else to tell me how wonderful I am for having to put up with whatever it is I am moaning about. Once I realized that, it felt kind of wimpy to me and now I mostly just brag about it. “You won’t believe how much I have to do today. I feel so good about my being able to pull it all off. And please I would like you to tell me how great I am.”


Okay, I could never say that. Well, maybe now and then. But, mostly now I try to zip up the complaints and be thankful I have things to complain about. as well as things I am able to do. Plus, if I want, I get to complain. I don’t have to.




#tasks #todo

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