I’m guilty of the ‘Laundry Chair’: a pile of clean clothes on top of my desk chair as a half-productive effort to empty my dirty laundry bin. As I pick at it throughout the week, I start to lose which pieces are clean and find myself continuing the cycle— wash, dry, pile— and again until my closet is full of more hangers than it is clothes. Despite my best efforts, I can’t bring myself to finish the task and organize my sense of concentration. Whether it is housework, assignments, appointments, or day-to-day errands, I can’t focus on what’s most important or when to start. It’s easy to become overwhelmed and procrastinate in the face of time management and, while others try to give their two cents, the phrase ‘Just do it’ only adds frustration. Finally, after years of running my chores through the cycle of disorganized priorities, I decided to re-learn focus and figure out what works best for me.
Removing Titles and Rediscovering Myself
I stripped the word ‘lazy’ from my vocabulary—mentally ripped it out so it no longer exists against me. ‘Lazy’ was a label I’d inhale, digest, and absorb until I believed it was part of me. No one gave me the patience to understand why I functioned this way and it was too easy to give out that label without considering other difficulties: learning disabilities, mental health disorders, grief, external responsibilities, the lack of time management, and never understanding how to organize my life.
Even when I tried to perform as someone who wasn’t ‘lazy’– chaining myself to a task and laboring over every detail– it never gave me the confidence to create boundaries within my workspace. I’d burn out, procrastinate, and (worst of all) give up before trying. Removing these labels, understanding that I need to re-learn new habits, and giving myself space to discover new techniques allows me to reflect on why I wasn’t getting work done.
Procrastinating and Perfecting
I’ve procrastinated for so long that I might as well have graduated with an imaginary certificate of expertise. In doing so, I had forgotten how much harm I was putting myself through. Being successful under last-minute stress became second nature to me; it built my anxiety and forced me into productivity out of fearful tears for upcoming deadlines. It drove me, ‘motivated’ me, broke any boundary I had that had respected my time and work ethic. Then after days of anxiety, I’d finish within an hour before my deadline. It was a game of its own, the risk of just barely making it. The thrill was never worth the suffering.
My laptop sat open with a list of tabs and blank Google documents, while my impulsive shopping migrated to the desk and freshly washed clothes blanketed my chair. There was no space to breathe when I let my life pile up and leave me with no place to sit. I was a toxic lover who couldn’t stop thinking about everything I needed to do, yet I wouldn’t take action to improve or lessen the chore. Living without chaos was unheard of and it was displayed in every part of my life–time management included. Wasting away playing video games or scrolling on my phone for hours of the day became a safe space where the tasks could only haunt me. The instant gratification left me wanting more in spite of the repercussions; I was addicted to the pain for the short-lived indulgence.
So why procrastinate in the first place? I didn’t want to fail or accept anything less than the idealized version of myself and, without creating a safe environment to be productive in, I subconsciously believed focusing meant pain. If the only time I ‘motivated’ myself to focus was minutes before my time limit, then I wasn’t being considerate towards the energy I put into my work. Without acknowledging the disrespect I put myself through, any and all tactics to capture my attention went out the window. I had to sit down and train myself to ditch procrastination in order to find ways that worked with my inability to focus instead of letting it guide me to my downfall.
Techniques To Try
Any time I found myself disorganized and unable to get started on work, the most recommended advice I received was to make a list. So I did just that:
Write everything down from tasks to hobbies I wanted to pursue.
Realize I had way more on my plate than expected.
Spiral and stress from the continuously growing list only to—
I never wanted to make a list for fear of seeing my reality. It wasn’t until I wondered if numbering my tasks and tossing some dice would help me choose my fate. Realistically, I wanted my work done but didn’t want to do it and it wasn’t until I turned it into a game that I became excited to check off my list. I sent that email, took the dog for a walk, anything that the die decided I was going to do next. Does it sound a little crazy? Yeah. Did it work? Absolutely.
I’m aware this won’t work for everybody, but I wouldn’t have figured it out if I hadn’t tried techniques that didn’t work out for me. Rewarding myself after a project doesn’t interest me, not allowing myself to eat or step away from my desk wasn’t proactive in a healthy work relationship, working myself up at the last minute felt particularly evil despite being the easiest. I needed to be a little eccentric to focus or I’d get bored and run off to do the next big thing. In The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin, she suggests that if a task can be done under 5 minutes— get it done. In that amount of time, I can: vacuum the floor, make the bed, prepare lunch, etc. It was an excuse to make things fun, which is exactly what my short attention span needs! Competing with myself became my main source of motivation and I hadn’t realized what I was capable of until then.
However, I realize that if anyone’s inability to focus is impeding their life, it is wise to consider seeking medical attention to better understand how to alter their life in a way that is no longer a hindrance. Medication, therapy, and guidance are all ways to help work through this issue that can be a serious obstacle in one’s life. Being unable to take control of this can lead to complicated relationships between friends, family, employers, and, most importantly, oneself. The goal of re-learning focus is to create a healthy dynamic with productivity rather than understanding how to work around it. That includes asking for help when needed rather than waiting and burning out.
Breaks Before Burnout
Without creating boundaries and taking a real break, I didn’t allow my brain to properly rest. Even when I thought I was doing good by stepping away from my dedicated workspace, preparing a snack, and distracting myself with my phone– my responsibilities were running laps in the back of my mind. I wasn’t allowing myself to recharge and relax. The last thing I wanted to do was power through hours of chores and responsibilities, only to burn out by the end of the day.
So I organized my time and set up a plan to have consistent breaks and a personalized schedule to get my work done:
-Meet w/ Seba @ 11
-Pick up Meg @ 2
-Start Eng. Essay
-Haircut @ 9
-Finish “Bartleby, The Scrivener”
This loose idea of my week reminds me of important deadlines and isn’t impossibly optimistic for me to work with in the future. Unexpected events are able to ease their way into my life without overwhelming me and I was still able to find time to set daily goals that aren’t too impactful if I break them (such as writing a specific word count for my novel, finishing a book, daydreaming about taking over the world, etc.). Also, planning days to completely unwind ahead of time gave me the excuse to follow through without drilling the idea into my head that I should constantly be focusing on work.
When it does come to those ‘Work’ days, I set up yet another guideline that allows me to breathe:
Work Zone: 8am - 4pm
Break Zone: Every 45 - 60 mins
This gave my time value as well as my brain and body time to prepare for unforeseen events. After listening to what my body needed, I realized I wasn’t working against my restlessness. I was providing the support I needed to return my focus and maintain a healthy relationship with my work ethic.
From discarding labels to breaking procrastination and re-learning better habits, the hardest part has yet to come. As the title demands, acknowledging my achievements was the last thing on my mind. I wanted to move on from one job to another without saying ‘Good job, me!’ Somehow, I would have preferred to call myself ‘lazy’ over congratulating myself on working hard, but realized I was taking myself for granted. I went through all that work to figure out what motivates me without patting myself on the back. That’s tough! It takes time and dedication to go through the trials and errors of finding what works for me, but why didn’t I feel like I deserved that verbal validation? At the end of the day, not being able to recognize or be grateful for the small stuff made me feel like I wasn’t achieving anything.
It’s that acknowledgment that keeps us going, the reward of being proud of what we’ve accomplished and how we continue to grow in spite of the obstacles we face. It’s knowing that others view us a certain way for not living up to the standard, for not being able to sit down and simply embody productivity. Being able to accept ourselves, acknowledge our victories and failures, understand that we can continue to learn new things as we age. At the end of the day, it really comes down to folding our clothes, clearing off our laundry chairs, and reminding ourselves why we deserve to re-learn focus.
About the Author
Caylyn Greenwood is a rising senior majoring in English with a Communication Studies minor at UNLV. Beyond writing a novel, she finds comfort in making digital art and analyzing her childhood cartoons. Her first published work is the one and only “The Laundry Chair: Re-Learning Focus” and she expects to produce more content within the year.