Anyone who’s ever let their dirty dishes pile up to a point of contention knows how it easy it for a buildup of simple-to-finish chores to transform into a giant eyesore, bacterial cesspool, or bigger-than-necessary problem in general. But since it’s so easy to allow procrastination to give way to these sorts of issues, effectively time-blocking may be a key strategy for tackling any overwhelming task, big or small.
Time-blocking is simply setting aside concrete time to get something done. You denote a certain amount of time—15 minutes on Friday night, for example—for accomplishing this, making the process a recurring part of your schedule. And truly, it can be applied for seeing out any task: Washing dishes is my personal burden, but time-blocking can help in any number of capacities, whether that’s to corral your water glasses to the dishwasher, do your laundry, fold and put away your clean laundry, answer emails—really, anything.
Beyond decluttering your physical space, time-blocking can help shield you from low feelings that a buildup of to-dos can have on us, says psychotherapist Jennifer Teplin, LCSW. “Dirty dishes or anything left not taken care of can feed into anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed,” she says. “I personally use iCal [for time-blocking], which enables me to mark on the calendar when I plan to do something and the length of time I imagine it will take. If I don’t do the task when I thought I would, I can simple drag it into another appropriate time slot and attempt again.”
But, there are other ways to master the art of time-blocking, so below, learn how to incorporate the strategy into your life in a way that works for you to both make your most-hated chores less painful and also ease your mind.
How to use time-blocking to make your list of to-dos feel more manageable in 4 simple steps.
1. Set a time and place to get the task done
Make the act of completing your task very concrete by plugging it into your planner, time-blocking app, or iCal, like Teplin does. And also note how much time you plan to dedicate to it.
2. Take note of how much time the task takes
Timers are your friend here. Try to keep track of time for different components of the task, whether you’re playing catchup on an overdue chore or getting ahead before a problem snowballs. For example, when I haven’t let the dish pileup get to catastrophic levels, I’ll set 30 minutes on my oven timer and go to town. When the timer beeps, I immediately stop because I cannot live my entire life in yellow plastic gloves. (Furthermore, knowing an end time can make starting an unenjoyable task feel less daunting.)
The key here is to pay attention to how long it actually takes. Doing so will help you plan better moving forward.
3. Treat yourself afterward
If you’re really having a hard time convincing yourself to do the damn thing, promise yourself a little reward after completing it, as a form of psychological motivation and positive reinforcement.
“Typically, if we can pair the behavior we don’t want to do with something we enjoy more, the task can become less painful.” —psychotherapist Jennifer Teplin, LCSW
“Typically, if we can pair the behavior we don’t want to do with something we enjoy more, the task can become less painful,” says Teplin. “Another great trick could be promising yourself something you want to do once you complete this task.”
Additionally, having someone else by your side while you complete the task might make it a little more fun in the process. Multi-tasking can take away your focus, but if the task in question mindless-but-tedious (folding laundry, for example), why not give your bestie a call while you work?
4. Hold yourself accountable moving forward
Teplin recommends that in order to get things done in the future, you make sure you do the task as soon as it becomes an issue. Like, wash that plate as soon as you’ve finished your last bite of homemade zucchini bread. If you make time to take care of a small task before it grows into a bigger task, you’ll shield it from becoming an issue for your future self.
“Often when we see a task or item we have to take care of, we quickly assign an amount of time it will take, as well as when we’re going to do it,” says Teplin. “This is a mental way of taking and feeling in control, but when it takes longer than expected, anxiety can ensue. If we push off the task, it becomes a larger and larger task.”
So time-blocking regularly, as part of your routine, can keep you accountable to finishing and shield you from feeling overwhelmed by mundane chores. But if all else fails, you can still time-block your way out of whatever your version of a dish avalanche is.