Turn two negatives into a positive with “task cramming”
Yeah, I made that up.
You might think that, because I’m a professional organizer, my house is perfect, but you’d be wrong. I suffer from the same challenges you might when it comes to keeping my house tidy.
I can be impatient, procrastinate, get bored easily, and prioritize watching TV over cleaning (what some might call “lazy” but I call “work/life balance”). I hate washing dishes in the wintertime because I don’t like getting wet and cold, I dislike making food so I often eat nuts for lunch, and I find climbing stairs unpleasant, so I leave piles of stuff at the top and bottom until I can’t avoid them any longer.
Let me tell you how I recently turned two negatives (impatience and a task I don't like doing) into a positive: A few months ago I finally accepted the fact that my coffee habit was wreaking havoc on my stomach, so I switched to tea. What’s great about tea is… nothing. Not a darned thing. Just ask Ted Lasso. I’m going through honey like Winnie-the-Pooh.
One of the things I don’t like about tea is that it takes too long. I don’t like waaaaaaiting for the kettle to boil and then waaaaaaiting for the tea bag to steep. So I started off my tea habit either drinking very weak tea or leaving my tea bag in the mug and forgetting about it until the tea was bitter and cold.
My husband convinced me to ask Alexa to set a timer and steep my tea for 4 minutes. OK. Being impatient, I found myself standing at the counter glaring at the kettle as the water boiled, and then glaring at the tea bag as it steeped.
While standing at the counter one day, I said to myself, “Well, while you’re standing here, you might as well wash the rice cooker pot that’s in the sink.” So I did. And then I washed all the knives and water bottles that were in there. Then Alexa booped and my tea was done.
“OMG!” I exclaimed to my cat. “Look at that…no more dishes in the sink!” Then I wiped my cold, wet hands dry, wrapped them around my nice, warm tea mug, and went back to my office, feeling very pleased with myself.
The next time I made tea, I checked the mail, opened it all up, identified our to dos, and put all of the junk into the recycling bin.
The next time I made tea, I switched the clothes from the washer to the dryer.
The next time I made tea, I organized the Tupperware drawer.
It turns out that you can get a lot done in 4 minutes!
Now even though I just coined the term “task cramming,” this is actually based on a known productivity strategy. The Pomodoro Technique and the Time Timer are both well-known tools for getting things done and learning how to manage time.
But what’s different about task cramming is that it’s so short, it feels like you’re racing against time. And you’re also getting two things done at once: completing a task you dislike while waiting for one to finish on its own.
One thing to note, this productivity hack is not to be confused with multitasking. We all know that there’s no such thing as multitasking, only task switching, and that it’s actually counterproductive.
With task cramming, you’re not doing two things at once. You’re doing something while waiting for something or someone else to do their thing.
You can apply task cramming when you’re waiting for:
- Your kid to come out of the school
- The microwave to ding
- Your dentist to call you from the waiting room
- A Zoom call to start
- A cashier to open up at the store
- Your windshield to thaw
- Your husband to get out of the bathroom
You should not apply task cramming when you’re:
- Driving (that’s not safe)
- Supposed to be somewhere else (that’s called procrastinating)
- Listening to someone tell a boring story (that’s just rude)
Some not-fun tasks you can cram into these short periods of time:
- Making a doctor’s appointment
- Paying a bill online
- Tidying up your desk
- Ordering a birthday present for your mother-in-law
- Gathering up plastic bags or cardboard for recycling
- Replacing the empty roll of paper towels
- Writing out a sympathy card
- Gathering purchases you need to return
- Throwing away food that's gone bad
- Putting everyone’s shoes in the mudroom
- Deciding what you’re going to make for dinner and making a shopping list
If it helps, play the Benny Hill theme song or the Final Jeopardy song in your head to really get you moving.
The best part about task cramming, aside from getting unpleasant tasks done, is that productivity breeds productivity. Once you get one done, it’s easier to do another because you’re riding on the wave of your success.
Give it a try and tell me your best task-cramming tip!