Overwhelmed? You Should see our Laundry!

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Things got ugly yesterday. My tween was off school for the Presidents’ Day holiday, and as he’s just had (ANOTHER!) growth spurt, I was worried that all of his sweatpants and jeans were starting to look like capri pants, riding 3-4″ above his ankles. As most Moms do at that point, I went to his closet to start investigating his trouser options and figure out which to cull and donate and how many pairs I would need to buy for him this week to keep his legs covered. Let me note here that one of the kiddo’s assigned tasks is to do his laundry regularly. I sometimes help him fold or hang things, or I’ll run a load or two of laundry for him if I know he has a busy week, but for the most part, he’s supposed to be responsible for it.

Lo and behold, when I got to his closet, I was in for a shock. There were three overflowing baskets of dirty laundry sitting in his closet. Hangers were EVERYWHERE – on the floor, behind the clothes racks, thrown behind bags and suitcases, and seemingly hovering mid-air as they stuck out between hanging clothes. I don’t expect him to be a neat freak as he’s a 12-year-old boy who doesn’t care what his room and closet look like, but the sheer volume of chaos knocked me back a step or two. Now I understand why he didn’t want me to look in his closet!

I’m ashamed to say that a voice escalation ensued on both our parts – I did just ruin his holiday by telling him that laundry came before video games, after all! But during our squabbling, he said something that made me stop short. He said, “I piled it up because there was SO much laundry to do that it was overwhelming, so I hid it from you.” Whoa. Have you ever had that feeling? I know I have.

So what does all of this have to do with business and careers? Sometimes we dread our workload and start hiding things from our boss or cutting corners so that we still look productive and on top of things, but really, the hidden pile is overflowing. Hiding our physical or virtual work can result in a cluttered desk, lack of preparation, misplaced items, and even burnout if it’s overwhelming enough. Unfortunately, these hidden piles often are revealed during an inspection or audit, so it’s not a tenable coping mechanism in the long run.

What should we do when we are overwhelmed with work tasks? Luckily, there are several things we can do:

  • Be honest with your boss. Eventually, they will figure out that you have a backlog, and you may even get some additional resources if you ask to work cooperatively. It may be an issue of understaffing or misplaced priorities; they can help you sort out the best approach to fix it. Hiding the problem will not help.
  • Eat the elephant one bite at a time. Dedicate just a few minutes a day to filing the papers, working on the report, or otherwise chipping away at your dreaded pile of work.
  • Rethink your processes. Are you doing manual work that could be streamlined? Is your workplace holding on to lots of paper that you could retain electronically instead?
  • Find your center. Are you deliberately avoiding this work because the task is unpleasant, dull, or challenging? You have to work around the mental block. Reward yourself for completion milestones, listen to your favorite music playlist while working, or reframe how you think about it. Instead of feeling bad while the task is incomplete, you will feel great when finished.

After completing this task successfully, you should have more tools and awareness to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Take time each day to organize, file, or complete small outstanding tasks that contribute to your work piles remaining manageable.

Since I am my son’s de facto boss in the laundry business, I helped him start a few loads of laundry yesterday and reminded him when he needed to hang them up. We broke the task into smaller chunks, and I’m helping him as I can. We’ll also be shifting priorities so that homework and laundry come first and video games come much later. He should be all caught up by the end of the week, and I hope he will also have a greater appreciation for pre-emptive work that reduces the stress of overwhelming tasks staring him in the face.

I hope to remember this lesson, too, and apply it to my work!