5 Steps To Get Help Around The House (or with anything!)

Written on 6/24/2008 by Garrett Whelan who writes about cooking for men or anyone trying to kick the fast food habit at FatBastardEats.com.

Have you ever gone to passive aggressive notes before? It’s addictive. Tons of letters left by people critically disappointed in the behavior of others, and while it’s funny to read, I can’t help but feel sorry for them. Every note is a plea for change that’s going to go unanswered.

Why? Because change is hard.

We all want to mow the lawn or take out the garbage on Tuesday but we forget or life gets in the way. That’s no consolation to the person who eventually has to do the job but it’s the truth. So what can we do to make those we love (or are forced to tolerate) keep up their end of the domestic bargain?

We can make the task as easy as possible. We do that by removing the biggest obstacle for anything getting done. David Allen, creator of GTD, has often remarked at how thought is the antithesis of work. The more we think about doing something, the more excuses we have to not do it. So if you want to get people to do their chores, remove that obstacles. Here are 5 steps I’ve used in the past to do just that:

  1. Think of what tools are needed, and buy them ahead of time. Not having the tools for the job is the easiest excuse. One of my peeves is my roomies leaving water all over the bathroom sink. Once I started buying paper towels and making sure they were right there, people started wiping up after themselves. Which leads me to…

  2. Place those tools right at the scene. If someone has to look for bottle of spray cleaner guess what, it’s not getting clean. In each room I have the appropriate cleaners in a plainly visible and accessible place. They’re never more than 5 steps from a mess.
  3. Do any prep work you can ahead of time. Multiple steps is another mental block that can stop people from pitching in. If you want your wife to start dinner as soon as she gets home, try separating and labeling the vegetables, pasta and meat the night before. The more automated you can make the process the better. Along those lines remember to…
  4. Break things down. Big, complicated tasks are intimidating. The smaller you can make the steps the more likely someone is to do the job. Instead of saying “Clean up the garage” list all the smaller tasks, from sweeping the floor to putting tools on the pegboard, that go into it. It’s much easier to say “I don’t have time to clean the garage tonight” than “I don’t have time to sweep the floor.”
  5. Frequent accountability. Tasks need to be done on a daily basis and people need to be held accountable for doing them or it just won’t stay in their heads. If your real goal is to have someone take out the trash once a week, try setting up a ‘chore time’ every night and schedule the garbage in for the right night. That way it’s not something that sneaks up on them weekly, it’s just another night.

Let me tell you my experience. I was unhappy at being the only one in the house to clean the bathroom and I knew that snide notes weren’t going to help. The problem was that nothing else helped either. We’d all agree to clean it at certain times and then it would just go untouched until my turn came around. It was easier to clean it myself then police everyone.

Then I decided to make it as easy as possible to clean the bathroom. I bought all the supplies, I laid them out in the most convenient place possible and I broke down the cleaning process into 4 ‘micro-chores.’ Then I asked everyone to do one micro-chore a day and initial it on a list I printed. It’s an extra 30 seconds after you shower with no thought involved and our bathroom has been sparkling ever since.

So if you want someone to start picking up the slack, don’t waste your energy confronting them. Use that energy to take all the thought out of the equation. I won’t tell you that the extra steps are fair, but I will tell you that they work. Now it’s up to you..

-Garrett

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