The Joy of Concrete Tasks

Sometimes You’re Buried in Leaves

There are days (and sometimes weeks or longer), when I feel overwhelmed by the pace of life.  I know that’s true for my clients, as well.  I think that it may be a universal experience to have those days when thinking about the tasks or challenges that lie in front of us is simply exhausting.  I’m guessing that this has been an experience for you as well.  It may be that you are in the middle of a health struggle, or changes in your most important relationships.  It may be that you know something difficult is coming, like a surgery or a job loss or a death in the family.  It may be that you’ve been carrying a fear or struggling through depression for a long time already, and so just getting out of bed feels like you’re being asked to lift up the entire world.

This time of year, my visual for those kinds of experiences is all around me.  If you’ve ever tended a yard with trees, you know that the fall can feel like a losing battle.  On the one hand, you know that the leaves should be raked up before they get wet and slimy.  On the other, you know that as soon as you rake, the trees will happily re-cover the entire yard.  Or the wind will kick up and spread your neatly piled leaves all over. It can feel like you’re not making any progress at all.  During the stretches in life where you’re overwhelmed, it can feel like you’re emotionally raking leaves–putting in lots of effort, but not seeing any progress.

Sometimes You Need Tangible Results

My clients have all heard me say (probably more than once), “What is under your control–right now?”  It’s pretty common for me to sit with them and brainstorm things that they can do between sessions to feel as though they are careening out of control, even if their emotions are on a roller coaster.  You might be surprised how often the actions that I am suggesting are concrete tasks: clean the kitchen, straighten up your desk, reclaim your garden, empty out one drawer.

I can just hear some reader saying, “Now wait, you tell your clients to do chores?” Indeed I do.  And here’s why.  Much of what you experience in your lives is out of your control (which is a post for another day).  The biggest joys and sorrows in life often happen regardless of what your plans are or how hard you’ve worked.  That sense of being out of control is something that most people find incredibly stressful.

So, when you put your energy into something concrete, tangible, and achievable, then you begin to make a dent in that feeling of being out of control.  When you wash the dishes, or clean out a drawer–you have instant results.  The effort that you put into it is rewarded with a visible change.  And it happens right away.  You don’t have to wait or hope for the outcome.  You don’t have to rely on someone else to respond.  You do the work, you get the results.

We all need those reminders that we can create change in our lives.  And when you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and exhausted, sometimes the best place to start is the one where you can get your results quickly–doing a concrete task.  And let me say this:  anything counts.  Don’t set yourself up for failure.  If you’re exhausted, cleaning your whole house shouldn’t be your concrete task.  Pick one small area.  Clean that.  Let yourself revel in how great that small area looks, how much you enjoy your new, improved space.  Celebrate that you have taken control of that space.  Let that success rejuvenate you a bit.  If that leads to another small space, that’s fantastic.  If not, you still cleaned your initial space.  You get credit for it.

So, here’s the challenge for this week.  Identify something concrete that you can do.  Make it manageable with your time and energy constraints.  Do it!  Take some time to notice how nice it feels to have control, even if it’s a small task.  Feel free to celebrate your success by sharing here.


Photo Credit: “Raked” by waferboard

13 thoughts on “The Joy of Concrete Tasks

  1. Beryl,

    So good to see you here. Thank you for taking the time to comment. That’s exactly the kind of action I was talking about. And that sense of possibility is a lovely description of what can happen when we do our “chores.”


  2. It’s so funny that you happened to write a post on this topic…this is something that I have found very helpful in my own life but I had no idea that it would be an effective coping mechanism for anyone or that I should think of mentioning it to my future clients.

    Thanks so much for sharing and explaining the rational behind it all. It makes total sense…

    1. Dorlee,

      I think that one of the great parts of doing therapy is that we get to share our best coping strategies wtih our clients (and learn some new ones as well). I’m glad this was one that you enjoyed.


  3. Love this task, Ann. I find that I often resort to these kind of tasks when overwhelm is near– I call it my productive avoidance or productive procrastination, depending on what is going on. The other day, I stopped in the midst of something huge and cleaned out and organize my jewelry box. So satisfying. Thanks for the reminder.

    1. Rosie,

      “Productive procrastination”–what a fantastic phrase. And the example of the jewelry box is fantastic. It just feels so good to knock out some of those smaller tasks.


  4. I’m with Dorlee…something I do, but never put words around it. It’s also something that will be helpful to my clients, who have been affected by cancer, and often feel like absolutely nothing is in their control. “What is under your control–right now?” I love it. Thanks!

    1. Dawn,

      That’s one of my favorite questions to ask in session. It is lovely to watch someone who feels totally adrift be able to re-assert a sense of control. Even something tiny can make a huge difference. Glad to hear from you!


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