How to Trick Yourself into Getting Things Done at Home, for Lazy People

I walk into my house and see an overflowing box of clothes in the entryway. It’s been there for months. In theory I was going to take these clothes to a donation center but in reality they’ve sat there for a very long time while I keep adding to the pile. The box itself is now hanging on for dear life. I look at it, I hate it, and I do nothing.  

overflowing box of clothes to be donated in living room
Overflowing box of clothes, planned for donation but sitting for months in the entryway

Why? Well, first of all I’m lazy when it comes to housework. If I perceive some household chore as difficult or complicated I ignore it. Even if in reality the task isn’t time consuming, mentally it still feels hard. I just don’t want to do it.

There is some kind of horrible resistance that rears its ugly head as soon as something feels like a lot of work. I’m going to assume it’s genetic or something and not my fault despite my parents having an incredible work ethic.  

If you’re here, you might have a similar struggle getting things done around the house for any number of reasons.  You may have a genetic predisposition to want to ignore cleaning, have mental health struggles, or ADHD. You may be going through a rough patch in life, dealing with clinical depression, or just exhausted from being insanely busy.  Regardless of the reason, if you want to change the state of your home you’ll need a different approach – one that works with you instead of against you.

Using my own limitations as inspiration, I have developed a system for getting things done around the home meant entirely for people who struggle. Read on for how to do it.

When organizational systems don’t work

The inability to get things done sufficiently has plagued humanity for some time. Many books have been written, podcasts recorded, and blogs published about this exact thing. The problem with all of these methodologies (and some of them really are great!) is that they don’t take into account those of us who are too lazy (or tired, busy, overwhelmed, depressed, anxious, etc) to actually implement their wonderful systems.

hands putting books on a bookshelf

Traditional organizational systems aren’t addressing the baseline issue many people experience, which is a RESISTANCE to doing house chores and personal tasks.  

You can start on any organizational system in the world, but if it’s too much work to follow through on it’s a failure waiting to happen. Konmari for example is an amazing method of decluttering your home, but what good is it if you can’t sit down and actually do it?  

It’s basically a waste of your time.

My system is meant specifically for you, as a person who struggles, to make the most effective use of your time and energy as is humanly possible.

How To Get Things Done, the Easy Way

The solution for us lazy or resistant people is to forget about all the systems and methods for the moment and address the resistance itself.  

I’ll demonstrate the system using my personal example of the overflowing box of clothes that needs to be donated. 

1. Accept Your Resistance

The difficult thing about being resistant to a chore is you often don’t realize exactly what the issue is.  We look at a task and say “no thanks!” even if it’s been stressing us out for weeks or months. (Or years, yikes.) You might think “I just don’t want to do it” but there is a deeper reason your brain rejects the task you’re avoiding.  

The first step is recognizing that you are resistant to the task.  There’s something weirdly freeing about looking at something and knowing you aren’t going to do it and saying “I have resistance to this.” It’s not the end of the world, it’s just resistance.  

When you notice a task you are avoiding, that you just don’t want to do, look at it and acknowledge that you have a resistance to this particular thing.  You’ve taken the first step. 

Example

For my clothes box, I looked at it and said “oh, i haven’t been doing anything about this travesty of overflowing clothes because I have a resistance to it.” Simple as that. 

2. Understand your Resistance

Next, it’s time to figure out WHY you resist a particular task. It could be obvious to you or you may need to do some mind excavation, but it’s important to figure out the source of the resistance.  

Figure out exactly what about your tasks is causing your resistance. 

If you aren’t sure exactly, mentally walk through doing the task and notice the point at which your brain gets to “no thank you.”  If you aren’t getting there, try using the “5 Whys” method of continuing to ask yourself why you don’t want to do something until you get to the root cause.

Here are some common reasons:

  • You don’t know how to do something
  • You lack a critical piece of information
  • It seems time consuming or logistically complex
  • You don’t have a plan
  • You don’t have the proper tools or supplies
  • You don’t have the right space or enough room to do the task
  • You just really don’t enjoy a particular part of a task

Example

For my box of clothes, I imagine picking it up and carrying it to my car and the clothes piled up over the top spilling out everywhere. It seems like an inevitable disaster and I just don’t want to deal with it. 

Carrying the overflowing box to the car is my resistance. In reality, it probably would be slightly annoying to just do it, but my brain doesn’t see it that way. My brain thinks it will be awful.

kevin spilling chili
How I imagine carrying the box to the car will go

Now that you know what’s causing your resistance, you can address it.

3. Break Down Task into Smaller Steps (and Do the First One!)

Now you know why you don’t want to complete a particular task, but how do you actually get yourself to do it?

This is where tricking your brain comes in! 

The trick is to break the task down into pieces so small your resistance goes away.   

Think about your task and figure out the first step.  If that step seems overwhelming, break it down into smaller steps. Keep breaking it down until you get to something small and doable that you don’t feel any resistance towards.

If the steps to completing your task are small enough, you might not even know that you’re doing the task to begin with. If you’re asking me, it’s the absolute best way to get things done.

The first step of any task is the most important and nothing is too small to be the first step. Here is a list of actual small first steps I have used in the past:

  • Open a blank browser window 
  • Get out a screwdriver
  • Dump clothes on the floor 
  • Look up the dentist’s phone number
  • Open the dishwasher
  • Get out a rag

While these may seem so small as to not be making any real progress they are actually incredibly valuable. Getting started is one of the most difficult parts of getting something done and a small step IS getting started. 

Example

The idea of picking up my box of overflowing clothes and carrying it to the car feels overwhelming, so I know it’s too big and resisty. I need to break it down into smaller pieces.

First step that caused resistance:

  • Carry box to car

New first step broken down to remove resistance:

  • Carry box to car
    • Split clothes into 2 containers
      • Get second box or bag and put next to overflowing box
      • Move overflowing clothes to second container
    • Put box and bag in front of door
    • Carry box and bag to car the next 2 times I leave the house

My very first easy step is to just go find a bag or box to use as a second container for the overflow. I have no resistance to that, so I know the first step is broken down sufficiently.  I’ve started. 

spare bag next to box of clothes to be donated
First step: Get another container for clothes

4. Figure out the Next Steps and Tackle Them

You’ve done the most important thing and taken the first step. 

Now, keep breaking your task down into small pieces, so small that they are no big deal, so easy that they circumvent the resistance in your brain.  

When you’ve got the next small doable piece, do it.  

Then find the next small, doable piece and repeat. 

One of the beautiful things about this method is that you DO NOT need to do all of these steps back to back. You can do one thing, know you’re on the right track, and then come back later or even the next day to take the next step. 

You might do a piece of the task when it most makes sense, or when you’re in that area of your home. If you have a computer-related task to do you might wait until you’re already on your computer doing something else. 

Example

For my donation task, here is how I changed the task breakdown into something doable for me:

Original steps that cause resistance:

  • Carry box to car
  • Drive to donation center
  • Donate box

Steps broken down to remove resistance:

  • Carry box to car
    • Split clothes into 2 containers
      • Get second box or bag and put next to overflowing box
      • Move overflowing clothes to new container
    • Put box and bag in front of door
    • Carry box and bag to car the next 2 times I leave the house
  • Drive to Donation Center
    • Look up donation center hours
    • Check calendar for next time I’ll be in the area
    • Schedule trip to donation center on calendar
    • Drive to donation center at scheduled time
  • Donate clothes
two containers of clothes to be donated near door
Mover overflow from box to bag
containers of clothes sitting by open front door ready to be taken to car
Put both containers near door
screenshot of donation center hours
Look up donation center hours

I did these steps over 4 different days and each thing was so easy it didn’t feel like any big deal. That’s a huge change from the original situation where I let this box pile up in my entry way for months.

Note: Sometimes I intend to do a task over a longer period of time, but I’ll get into a flow and feel energized by early progress and continue on to do the entire thing. If that burst of energy happens to you, fantastic, take advantage of it and get the whole thing done right now! If not, keep going with breaking the tasks down.

5. Complete your task

screen shot of dropping off donations on schedule
Donation drop off scheduled on calendar

Keep on breaking down your task and completing small pieces until you are finished.

I did my broken-down task over four different days and each piece was so easy it didn’t feel like any big deal. That’s a huge change from the original situation where I let this box pile up in my entry way for months.

Note: Sometimes I intend to do a task over a longer period of time, but I’ll get into a flow and feel energized by early progress and continue on to do the entire thing. If that burst of energy happens to you, fantastic, take advantage of it and get the whole thing done right now! If not, keep going with breaking the tasks down.

6. Repeat the Process 

At some point, you’ve completed all of your small steps and you’re done with the task. Congrats!

Now, look for the next thing to tackle and repeat the same process. Like any skill, the more you do it, the easier it becomes and the faster it goes. 

Ideally, you will start integrating this thought process into any everyday task you dislike or struggle with. 

Personally I use this process multiple times every day. I use it for both one-off tasks (for example wiring a new light switch because the old one broke) and for everyday cleaning tasks like emptying the dishwasher or putting away clean laundry.  

Conclusion

Getting things done is not just for Type A go-getters. It is possible to easily get home tasks and chores done even for those of us who struggle. The secret is to trick your brain by following these steps:

  1. Accept that you have resistance
  2. Identify your resistance
  3. Break down the task into smaller parts and take the first step
  4. Continue breaking the task down into small pieces and tackle each thing one at at time
  5. Complete your task
  6. Practice this technique until it becomes second nature

Always remember to break down your task into pieces so small your resistance just melts away.  You’ve got this!

Leave a Comment