I’ve Found the Secret to Tackling My Most-Hated Chore


I don’t know about you, but my sense of time is pretty bad. Like “I’ll be ready in 5 minutes” is almost always a lie, bad. And when I call in a to-go order, I set an alarm because I will severely over-estimate how long “15 to 20 minutes” can be.

It never seemed like too much of a problem — at least not with an impatient, loves-to-be-early type of husband in the house who regularly overestimates our travel time to surprise parties. But I did find myself putting things off — work things, homekeeping things — because there “wasn’t time” to get them done.

That all changed recently when I read a tip in the New York Times from cleaning guru Jolie Kerr. She suggested a simple tip that can help anyone get things done: Start a stopwatch.

“If you’re a person who tends to let dishes pile up in the sink to avoid washing them, try this simple trick to put the effort involved into perspective: For a few days, as you think of it, set a timer before you begin washing the dishes, and make note of how long it took to clean up. If you know the task will take just minutes to complete, it will be less difficult to convince yourself to take care of those dishes now.”

This tip immediately felt like something that could really change my life. It turns out that doing the dishes is my least favorite chore. Even though I’ve got a dishwasher to do 80 percent of the work for me, I’m sluggish about emptying the clean dishes and clearing the sink of the gear that needs hand-washing after dinner each night.

But I took Jolie’s advice, and set a timer when I went to unload the dishwasher the next night. You know how long it takes to unload a clean dishwasher? Two minutes and six seconds, and that’s only because a fork got stuck in the caddy.

That’s commercial break status.

That’s “you take the dog out while I unload the dishwasher” and still have time to sneak in a few pages of my book, status.

Suddenly, knowing exactly how long it takes to tackle the task, I was able to get over the mental hurdle of getting started. The dishwasher wasn’t a 10-minute task (I have a really bad internal clock, I told you!), it’s a two-minute task that I can finish while I’m waiting for the other end of a conference call to pick up.

I don’t know what your dreaded chore is at home, but I bet you don’t really know how long it truly takes to get it done. So the next time you set out to clean, give this stopwatch trick a try and let me know how it goes. I guarantee you’ll walk away with a fresh perspective (and a clean toilet or spotless sink drain or whatever).

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