Are You Creating More Work for Yourself?

Are You Creating More Work for Yourself?

By Donna Gregory Burch

Donna Gregory Burch

Donna Gregory Burch

This post was inspired by an unlikely source: the toilet paper under my bathroom sink (or really, the LACK of toilet paper).

When we moved into our home three years ago, I couldn’t find a good place to store our batteries, so I shoved them under the downstairs bathroom sink. Because the batteries took up so much space, I could only fit a small number of extra toilet paper rolls under the sink. That meant I was continually going up and down the stairs to grab more toilet paper from our supply closet. Up, down, up, down, up, down … I did this every couple of weeks for three years.

Then, one day I had an epiphany: Why was I creating more work for myself? Why didn’t I just move the batteries somewhere else so I could store more toilet paper under the sink, reducing the number of times I had to resupply it? Why had it taken me three years to figure this out?

That little revelation has prompted me to start looking at other areas of my life where I am creating more work for myself.

Are you making similar mistakes? Maybe you’re storing your most often used kitchen tools on a hard-to-reach shelf. Maybe you volunteered for one too many church committees. Maybe you’re still writing checks to pay bills when online banking would be much faster and easier. Maybe you’re still lugging heavy bags of pet food from the grocery store when you could order them online and have them delivered right to your door.

Most of us with fibromyalgia and/or ME/CFS have limits on the amount and type of physical activity we can take on in a given day, but life doesn’t stop because we’re chronically ill. If we’re able, certain things, like basic household chores or family obligations, still have to get done.

But how many times do we make these activities harder than they have to be? Maybe there is an easier way. I think it could be a helpful exercise to look at our everyday habits and ask ourselves, “Are we creating more work for ourselves?”
Let me give you an example of how I’ve been applying this question to my own life lately…

For the past 25 years, I’ve balanced my checkbook register against my monthly bank statement. A few weeks ago, I was transcribing my transactions into my check register when it occurred to me … Why am I doing this? All of my transactions are already listed on the bank statement. Since switching to online banking, I haven’t ever gone back and referred to my old check registers. If I want to know my balance, I just log into my bank’s website. I was creating more work for myself.

Another example …
I had ordered a new remote control from Verizon because our old one wasn’t working properly. When it didn’t arrive, I called Verizon, found out it had been lost in the mail, and they sent me a replacement. Fast forward a couple of weeks … the lost-in-the-mail remote had shown up at the post office. I brought it home and threw it on my desk, figuring I would call Verizon and ask if they wanted me to return it. Then I thought about it … Why am I creating more work for myself? Verizon has already written off that remote as lost. If I have to return it, then that means a trip to the post office (or the Verizon office, which is WAY out of my way), postage fees, etc. I didn’t make the call to Verizon, and we have a backup remote now. If they somehow track down the lost remote, I have it and can return it.

I know a lot of us with fibromyalgia and/or ME/CFS have type A personalities. We tend to be perfectionists. We want things to be done just so. Humans are also creatures of habit. Once we do things a certain way, we tend to keep doing it that way without much thought.
But when we’re chronically ill, our abilities and priorities need to change. We need to simplify, simplify, simplify. We need to cut ourselves some slack and stop pushing ourselves to do it all. (Chances are, that “I’ll do it!” attitude probably contributed to us getting sick in the first place!) The truth is the world will keep turning if we don’t get everything done.

We need to stop adding unnecessary items to our to-do lists. Minimize our obligations. Streamline and reduce our tasks. Stop being a people pleaser.

So today I challenge you to look at the activities you’ve planned and ask, “Are you creating more work for yourself?” Then cut out the unessential.

Donna Gregory Burch was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2014 after several years of unexplained pain, fatigue and other symptoms. She covers news, treatments, research and practical tips for living better with fibromyalgia on her blog, FedUpwithFatigue.com. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter. Donna is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared online and in newspapers and magazines throughout Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania. She lives in Delaware with her husband and their many fur babies.

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Authored by: Donna Gregory Burch

There are 15 comments for this article
  1. Jean Price at 12:47 am

    It’s good to be creative about energy sparing, since we have so little of it to begin with! And since most any activity will usually bring more pain! Long term pain is a definite drain when trying to keep up with just the everyday household jobs…the ones that aren’t possible to ignore or put off for very long…like being out of toilet paper or having clean underwear!!! The hardest part for me is having just one place for certain things…so I’ve started putting some things in multiple places and it cuts down on having to walk around so much on days when every step brings tears and I’d like to chew my leg off! This clutters up some areas, but it’s worth it in the long run. I can relate to some of the comments here about appropriate pain care helping us more than any “rearranging” in our lives. But until all this current opioid phobia changes and doctors stop arbitrarily limiting and denying the medication that works…this is just one more survival tool we CAN use. We all get tired of having to modify our lives because we live in pain, plus now we have the ADDED unnecessary pain from lack of appropriate care. Yet, when our goal is to function better…and function more…these tips can save us from wasting what little energy and endurance we do have, so we might use it for something we’d enjoy. It’s all about getting the most out of life, within the reality of persistent pain. And anything that helps us do this is a plus!

  2. Krissy at 6:13 pm

    Great article, Donna. Long before I had chronic issues, grew up seeing them everyday. My mother had juvenile RA, so there were lots of ideas like yours around our house. She even did videos in the late 60s for the Arthritis Foundation on how do manage when one is living in pain and limited mobility. I have made the physical part of my life pretty easy. I live in a small retirement community and my house is tiny — I love it. What my problem is, is taking on too much in paperwork, computer work and have this innate “need” that I have to do things I really don’t have to. I am cutting back on emails by unsubscribing to sites I don’t use and trying hard to relax about all the stress I put on myself in that area. I’m working on it. I just don’t handle stress well anymore, when I used to thrive on it back in the “type A personality” days. It’s difficult because I get what one of my clients used to call, “bunched up,” with overload, then I burn out. So I apply your suggestions to my never-ending ability to hang on to ideas and things I wish I could still do in research, writing and involvement with certain areas of the pain “industry” and the wish I could still be a rhinoceros.

  3. H Reed at 8:52 pm

    Regarding being in chronic pain, arthritic and toilet paper: I had my hubby install a hand held sprayer in my bathroom for when I have a flare and can’t reach to wipe. It installs in seconds and I use a spray or foam soap to wash with a long handled shower scrubbie when I need a real clean!!

  4. connie at 8:11 pm

    What happens when we get to the point where cutting down what you do becomes insufficient and because of the CDC and their stupidity there’s nothing more to cut out of your life to reduce pain? Where does one go when their entire life is confined to a few square feet because of the reduction in pain meds? I learned before pain overtook my life that sheets don’t need to be changed every other day, towels can be hung up and reused, and clothes can be worn several times unless you get something on them or sweat in them. Now I have to learn not to cry when crawling off the bed and that no matter how exhausted my precious husband is it’s ok to have him do all the running around, laundry, grocery shopping etc. For some reason I just can’t see the positive side of that!

  5. G Wolverton at 5:40 pm

    I can totally relate to several comments on here. I have bad hands and the zip lock bags are torture for me. We moved from a townhouse where our bedrooms were upstairs to a one level house and it has been a big help. I can do dishes and clean kitcgen but since most ofour cabinets are high, my son will put them away for me.

  6. Sheryl Donnell at 4:51 pm

    Brava!! You are absolutely right. The remote control really hit home. I have so many “remote control ” piles on my desk right now that I can really toss. I am going to re-look at what else I can change everyday.

  7. gerard l becker at 3:25 pm

    I try to simplify! But………when you have responsibilities for the survival of others. even though they may be pain free, it is sooooooooooo hard to simply say———-I cannot do it.
    Juggling your priorities with the desire to be as normal as possible can be overwhelming!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! this prioritizing is endless and emotionally as well as physically exhausting! (ddd l1-si) I wish it was as simple as where to keep the batteries!

  8. Eric at 6:17 am

    I tend to place things out of reach to condition myself to feel a sense of reward when and if I manage a task.

    For example, I use a manual coffee grinder and make 8 cups of coffee, leave two cups in a thermos for the next day and this way I can do physical therapy every day and there is more than a next appointment to reward my efforts.

  9. Kristen K at 7:34 pm

    Thank you Donna for more great suggestions .I can really relate to your artical and i have to say writting checks ,going shopping for myself are all taken care of on line.I never really knew how much i appreciated my computer until i became disabled and unable to do things like i had.I also know for those who have no access to a computer there is also Verizon where you can pay by phone but with a fee.Where i live i can also pay my electric bill by phone again for a fee which is why i prefer to pay on line. Also i really appreciate Amazon where i place many orders from soap,laundry detergent,books ,etc and i love that most of what i order arrives right to my door! I also appreciate Dominoes pizza when im having a really high level pain day ,so convient. Stamps something most of us need i order them on line .I could go on and on but last a great hair dresser whom i been going to for years offered to come to my house on her day off or a weekend with a week notice to cut and style my hair! I appreciate her offer but even now more than ever since Winter is here .Im very greatful and im sure their are more wonderful hair dressers out there that are willing to offer their services to everyone of us who have to limit ourselves or housebound.Thank you so much for once again sharing your wonderful tips to all of us.I especially like the Kitchen organization you mentioned i am going to toss or giveaway items i never use and keep only what i need on a daily basis.

  10. Laura at 9:24 am

    Great point that cutting down on mental stress and obligations that eat away at the corners of our minds is vital.

    On the other hand, exercise is good for us. Being overweight and out of shape is dangerous. We are more likely to get injured if our bodies expand beyond their usual boundaries.

    So leave those rolls of TP downstairs. The more we exercise, the better we will feel, even if it doesn’t seem quite logical at the outset.

  11. I.B. Inpaina' at 6:06 am

    I appreciate the common sense thinking of pain afflicted folks and what we, the afflicted can do to make our own lives just a little bit more comfortable. It seems to me though that the agencies with the authority to help or hurt non cancer chronic pain patients are doing evrything that they can to control dispensation of life enhancing medication. Isn’t life enhancement important for those of us with chronic pain? There are different weapons in the arsenal of those of us in chronic pain but, what happens when the cache is empty? PT doesn’t help. Surgery doesn’t offer pain relief. Medication other than opiods are not effective in the fight against chronic pain. It is a fight for millions, everyday. WHERE do we turn? To the lawgivers that can not comprehend constant pain. It seems statistics, not an individual is the most important criteria for the governing agencies who control the dispensationof life enhancing medication. The physicians who are educated in prescribing the proper medication to help chronic pain patients.have been stripped of any authority to make an educated evaluation of their patients. It is hard for me to accept watching my 78 year old Mother suffer on a daily basis because she can not get the sufficient medication from a licensed physician to help her function around her own home. To prepare herself a meal. To wash her own clothes. To sweep and clean her kitchen. She raised three children, has become aged, broken both hips, has crippling arthritis, and has been left for dead in her home. I can’t tell her to preplan her day to make her life less difficult. IF she could be prescribed sufficient mdication and yes I mean opiods until different and better medication is developed, she could actually feel as if she had SOMETHING to live for. Is it asking to much to let our physicians evaluate and prescribe sufficient medication for those of us with no further alternatives? Is medicine to be governed and prescribed from an office in Washington, DC or Atlanta GA.?.It surely seems so.

  12. V. Wood at 5:34 am

    You are so right, Donna, about thinking about and adjusting chores to minimize effort.

    I keep large decorative baskets next to the toilets that hold 4-5 rolls of toilet paper.

    I keep totes on the stairs and collect things that are going up stairs or down stairs so that I can move multiple things just a couple of times a week instead of multiple times/day.

    Because of neuropathy in my hands I have trouble grasping and opening bottles, jars, and plastic bags. I have a pair of pliers and a pair of scissors in almost every room. I only buy the resealable plastic bags that have zippers, not the less-expensive ones that press together and pull apart.

    I agree with organizing the kitchen so that often-used things are more accessible. I spent several weeks a few years ago doing that.

    I have assigned many repetitive or heavy chores, like taking out the kitchen and basement garbage, unloading the dishwasher, and folding laundry to my retired husband. I keep a recycling container on each floor of the house and only have to have hubby empty them once/week. I also have turned over to him the food shopping and litter box cleaning. I now have the cat food and litter delivered. I transfer the contents of 40 lb bags of cat litter into smaller containers before I have hubby carry them into the house.

    I no longer use a top sheet on my bed. That cuts down on washing and on daily bed making. I got a lifetime disability waiver from my state board of elections so that I can vote absentee on everything except school board elections. Like you, I pay as many bills as I can online.

    My biggest problem now is spending too much time on social media and news websites.

  13. Denise wilson at 5:08 am

    Soooooo true. I can relate to what you’ve said.

  14. Nancy Broadway OTRL, MBA, CLT at 4:39 am

    Licensed Occupational Therapists are trained to perform task analysis to ensure energy conservation principles are applied to everyday activities of daily living. Modifications and compensatory strategies help all types of people manage chronic conditions.

  15. Tim Mason at 3:47 am

    I live in a single level ranch style home. No stairs. This is one major obstacle people overlook when they purchase a home. One day they will not be able to do stairs at all. This aspect of my home paid off when I had hip replacements and two back surgeries.
    Now I come from a time when we had to get up to change the channel. (we only had three back then).
    Many of the tasks I used to do have now become “spectator sports”. i.e. mowing, painting, cleaning gutters, etc.
    I figure I am good for adolescent economy. I offer them jobs doing these things and they earn a little spending money.
    My small 1200 square foot home is just right for me and my canines. The floors are all hardwood and tile.
    Until next time,
    Be safe out there.