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Before I Do This, I Need To Do That: How To Focus On A Single Task

Before I Do This, I Need To Do That: How To Focus On A Single TaskI’m so jealous of my husband’s fancy-free ability to select a task and follow it through to completion.

When he decides to do any kind of work around the house, he goes from start to finish. He’ll clean an entire room from top to bottom — clear the clutter, dust, vacuum, scrub, polish.

And I’m lucky if the clutter-clearing doesn’t take me, through a series of Wikipedia-style mental clicks, up into the attic to organize Christmas ornaments.

I’m not joking. That seriously happened today.

I had some antique glass birds on the dining room table that my dad had given me, and when I was cleaning off the very table on which I’m typing this blog post right now, I took the birds into the attic and opened the Christmas box and felt supremely overwhelmed. How could I store these delicate glass birds in there? Their skinny little beaks would break right off. I don’t want beakless birds on my Christmas tree.


Because it’s so easy for me to become sidetracked when trying to get things done, I’ve developed a system. (And it works, when I bother to use it.)

I call it “ADHD Cleaning”, and I’m sure I’m not the first person to have thought of it. In fact, I’ll bet it’s on the internet somewhere, or maybe even in a book, but I’ve never bothered to check (and honestly, if I were to check right now, I’d forget to come back and finish writing this).

Here’s the deal: I cut a bunch of index cards in half, and then I think of the Top 10 Most Irritating Things in my house right now that I’d like to see go away. Now, they have to be small things —

(I should be honest here and tell you that, at this point in my post, I got up to get a spoonful of honey [I don’t know, man; it just tastes good] and I ended up watching my husband play Awesomenauts on our PS3 for ten minutes, which then led to a few mindless Facebook clicks on my iPad, which led to me watching Girl Scout campfire songs on Youtube. And now, 45 minutes later, I am back.)

Now, they have to be small things — smaller tasks that are part of some greater whole that can’t be accomplished in one sitting. Simple, five-minute-or-less tasks like this: dusting, but only the windowsills. Taking all of the “upstairs” items from the dining room table and putting them away. Vacuuming, but only in the kitchen and only the edges where all the crumbs are.


So, I make a pile of index cards with ten (or more) of these small-ish tasks, and I shuffle the deck. My husband and I each take a card, and I remind him that there are only two rules:

1. You must do what’s on the card, and nothing more.

2. You must complete the task on your current card before taking the next card.

You’d be surprised (or maybe you wouldn’t) at how much I (well, we!) can accomplish using this method. It lightens tasks. I don’t feel guilty for not cleaning the whole kitchen because, hey, rules are rules and I’m only allowed to clean the stovetop because this card says so.

It’s a game. And when I frame cleaning as a game — a simple, non-Monopoly type of game — it’s easier. My mind doesn’t zigzag into a million different directions. I focus on the task at hand — the task in my hand, on the card.

And in the end? The sources of my most pressing irritation are gone, and then I can sit down and write.

This post = proof of concept.

Before I Do This, I Need To Do That: How To Focus On A Single Task

Summer Beretsky

Summer Beretsky enjoys writing about her experiences with anxiety, panic, and Paxil. She had her first panic attack as an undergrad at Lycoming College and plenty more while she worked toward her M.A. in Communication from the University of Delaware. She contributes to the World of Psychology blog here on PsychCentral and has written for the Los Angeles Times. You can follow her on Twitter @summerberetsky.

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APA Reference
Beretsky, S. (2013). Before I Do This, I Need To Do That: How To Focus On A Single Task. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 6, 2020, from


Last updated: 1 Sep 2013
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