A few weeks ago, I decided that I needed to re-caulk the bathroom sink. The silicone around the edge of the porcelain had deteriorated, and so it needed to be scraped out and replaced.
It was actually my second time doing this, so it should have been no big deal (the first time, it didn’t set long enough before being exposed to water). I already had the caulk, I knew how to do the job, and I knew that it would take about five minutes.
Even though it would have been easy to knock it out and be done with it, I put it off for more than a week. I just felt like I was too busy.
Granted, I was busy. I have a number of different things I’m working on, and a few more on the waiting list. But there was no reason I couldn’t take five minutes and just be done with this. After all, I was more than happy to spend five minutes checking Twitter.
This situation is not unique to me. From time to time, it seems like almost everyone gets stuck on simple tasks that would be so easy to do, and yet don’t get done. We just feel too busy to stop, focus on this one thing, and knock it out.
So these little, unfinished tasks stay in our heads and nag at us every so often. They take up valuable mental space, and add their own weight to the feeling of being too busy.
Before long, you can start to feel overwhelmed. You might even start to feel “too busy” to get anything done. Your mind starts to look like a traffic jam, with so much going on that no progress is made anywhere. I’ve been there too many times to count.
And all the while, we’re aware that we can’t stay like this. We know that we still have to get everything done.
At this point, most will use things like TV, the internet, junk food, or games to fill the brain with enough feel-good chemicals to dull this sense of responsibility, and stop it from becoming too urgent.
And unfortunately, it often works, at least to some extent. So important tasks keep piling up, our brains become more and more congested, and real life feels more and more overwhelming.
And meanwhile, the nasty silicone around the bathroom sink is deteriorating more and more every day.
So what do you do?
You kill the nags. All those little things that are easy to do. Anything you can knock out quickly.
Forget about anything else. Pick one task and eliminate it. Congratulate yourself and move on to the next one.
Chances are, it’ll feel good and you’ll start picking up momentum. Each task you complete takes a little bit of weight off of your mind, and frees up a little more mental energy for the next thing. You start to feel sharper, and the next monster on the list shrinks and starts to look more manageable.
The traffic in your mind starts flowing again.
You work on the next task, then the next one, then the next one. You’re not overwhelmed anymore. You feel good about what you’ve done, and you go to bed feeling good about what you’re going to do tomorrow. You feel better about real life, and you don’t feel such a strong need to drown it out with the easy feel-good activities so much.
Last Saturday, I decided to just go ahead and caulk the sink. No need to think about it anymore. Saturday wasn’t a better day to do it. It was just the day I made up my mind to start killing the nags.
So I did it, and it was done. My mind was clearer. I felt more energetic, and I could focus more easily on the rest of my work.
I learned that, just because you’re not thinking about something this second, doesn’t mean it’s not taking up mental energy. In some strange way, it is draining you, even if you don’t realize it.
These little tasks will keep nagging at you and stealing your focus until you kill them. And when you do, the noise will quiet down. You’ll be able to think. And your energy will be freed up for the big stuff that you really want to do.
So wherever you are, whatever you have to do, however much work you have piled up, start by killing the nags.
See what happens.