Thursday, January 24, 2019

The Stuff of Life

I was intrigued by Laura's post about "millennial burnout" and "errand paralysis", particularly the different viewpoints in the comments. I did roll my eyes a bit reading the actual article, and may have uttered "Oh COME ON!" more than once. But, the fact that I'm still thinking about a week later does argue that the topic is important and almost universally relatable.

Of course doing errands is annoying and easy to put off, sometimes for long enough that you actually have to pay some consequences. But I don't think its related to "burnout" nor is it completely generational. I'm not a millennial, and I've certainly ignored returning something for too long, and I once threw out a pair of shoes because taking them to get the heel fixed was beyond my abilities at the time.

I have definitely dropped the ball on errands when my energy is majorly focused on something else....either external (a work deadline or family health issue), or internal (anxiety/depression). I suspect this is what the original article was referring to---just not having the bandwidth for ONE MORE THING no matter how trivial it seems.

But there may be more to it, in that people sometimes act like they just shouldn't have to do these trivial things. Is it the privilege/entitlement that waiting in the line at the post office is beneath their station and pay grade? Or some societal mindset shift that's come from years of reading advice about how to pick your priorities! own your time! craft your best life! No one would imagine a perfectly crafted life with every chunk of time devoted to your life's priorities would involve returning an ill-fitting shirt to the Gap or going in person to pick up a guest parking tag.

And then there is the fact that when many tasks can be easily checked off by a few clicks on your phone in the comfort of your living room anytime of day or night, having to actually GO SOMEWHERE at a CERTAIN TIME to do things seems antiquated and frustrating. I definitely feel it, and I remember the days of calling the airline to book a plane ticket and then having to bring the actual thing with you to the airport. I imagine younger generations feel it even more acutely---in this day and age, the idea of having to arrange your day around a mindless necessity can make you annoyed enough to completely refuse, if you let it.

Yet, somehow, I have almost always managed to get my sh&t done over these years. I have a few different approaches:

-Outsource. I know you can probably hire a personal assistant (long term or even as a one-off to take care of those nagging tasks), but I haven't needed to this. I choose home delivery when I can (even our pharmacy offers it now, for a small fee!) or swap favors with friends (I'm bringing a bunch of weird recycling stuff to a friend tonight who is going to the one health food store in town that takes them).
-Avoid it. If you really don't want to do it, you could probably avoid it. I HATED taking stuff to dry clean so I rarely buy dry clean only clothing. I also try to buy clothes from stores that have a local brick-and-morter so I don't have to mail the returns back because the post office/UPS/FedEx are all kind of far away.  I know people who don't shop online at all because they don't want to deal with the returns.
-Batch it. I tend to online shop at several stores at once, so I can do all needed returns together, for example. Twice a month I take B to social skills therapy right in the middle of the city and I pack up any returns, library books, etc... to deal with while he's in the group and its amazing how much I can cross off the list in 45 minutes when I'm already in the area.
-Spread it out. Or the opposite, I just pick one thing to do every week so I'm not overwhelmed, and put it in my planner on a less-busy day and it.
-Find a friend. Its always more fun and less painful to have a companion during these boring stints. I used to do this in med school, after our block exams were done, 2-3 of us would just go with each other to get our stuff done and have lunch. I remember more recently going to the DMV with a friend, and G and I went together once and got breakfast after. Now that my kids are older, I may even drag one along (with the promise of a treat afterwards) to morph the "boring errand" into "family time" (though often I prefer the "me time"
-Remember its a choice. The errands are usually brought about by something you decided and wanted to do or something you value. If you are going to the post office, you are likely sending something to someone, maybe a nice gift that'll make them happy? I don't want to spend $ and closet space on clothes that don't fit, so I return the rejects.  Pant hems dragging on the ground are gross and possibly unsafe. I need a valid license and ID to fly and drive and buy booze...etc...


  1. This is so interesting! Millennials are such an interesting topic.

    I think that the amount of stimulation has a lot to do with overwhelm in millennials. From the moment they wake up, to the moment they go to bed, there is an electronic stimulation. That is exhausting for the brain... so it's not surprising that they find it difficult to add on minor tasks to their day.

    A lot of the millennials I know were raised with an abundance of choices. Choices surrounding the clothes they wear, the food they eat, the show they watch and the activity they do. While this teaches independence, I can see how it can also can be overwhelming and/or lead to the realization that with choices, comes the ability to choose not to do something. I feel like they learn to do what they want to do, rather than what needs to be done... so that makes running minor errands like picking up dry cleaning to be painful. Especially if they are used to an electronic delivery system where everything can be ordered, paid for from your phone and delivered to your door.

    Finally, with social media use comes a decline in the ability or interest in socializing face to face...which can make errands that require lines or waiting awkward or even painful.

    Of course...not ALL millennials are like this and a lot of people from other generations are too - it just seems like there are A LOT in that one generation who struggle with these things and I am positive it has to do with technology and social media. Not that those aren't wonderful things, but too much of anything can be bad.

  2. I'm glad you wrote about this. I did read the original last night and mostly found it insightful with respect to the structural obstacles/cultural challenges of that generation. I was particularly interested in the problem of grad school $$ as I'm in a field in which most PhDs don't actually get jobs (for which they trained, that is).

    I definitely deal with this sort of paralysis, mostly because my priorities are elsewhere (work, big kid things)....and they're always elsewhere, but that doesn't mean they go away. Like, finding a therapist for my kid was a HUGE project. Not everyone has the $$ to outsource. Not everyone has a spouse to split the errands. Etc. I think a lot of the controversy at LV's site had to do with a failure to recognize the complexity of the issue; it was a similar conversation, as I recall, about Schulte's Overwhelmed, for many of the same issues. And, frankly, individuals who read self-help blogs/books like LV's are largely those who DO try to 'optimize' or 'improve' (I certainly fall into this trap, though I'm also fairly self-aware about it).

    In any case, I use similar strategies as you. One thing that has helped enormously with respect to the household nonsense is finding a handyman who is cheap and reliable and can do the things with power tools that are beyond my skill set (before this, those sorts of projects would take way too long....too much research, too much in the way of phone calls, etc). Online shopping is great; I can do it when I'm sitting in Tiny Boy's bedroom at night :)

    Life management is A LOT these days, and I realize how privileged I am in many ways....

    1. I agree with your assessment about LV's site. I like a lot of what she has to say. However, when pressed with issues of greater complexity she often does a lot of hand waving. I think in her mind, all educated professional women make a lot of money and have flexible schedules and therefore there is always a way to move the around the pieces of your life or throw money at the problem in the form of outsourcing. That's where I start to feel the real disconnect.

  3. It is not generational in my experience. It is an attitude that I hear as "I only do things I want to do." I have heard that from grandfathers who do not WANT to change a poopy diaper so they don't, from 40 somethings who do not WANT to work for a large corporation so they don't work at legal employment, from 20+ year olds who do not WANT to go to work over what they consider their entitled winter holiday 2 week break, from high school students who do not WANT to to take classes required for college admissions as they do not 'like' the subject, from toddlers who do not WANT to take a nap and DO WANT to watch screens. As a 70+ yr old woman who has spent her life doing what she didn't always want to do but what needed to be done anyway ... PRIVILEGE IS NICE. But it doesn't work for the majority of people and is something those who feel entitled need to get a grip about. Being an adult means you do what is necessary when it is necessary. Being privileged means you can buy your way out... or buy a diagnosis of bone spurs.

  4. A lot of the article resonated with me, and I guess I'm considered a millenial (??), but on the tail end (mid thirties). For me at least, errand paralysis is not at all about being lazy or entitled or "too good" for certain tasks. For me, a lot of it is about the initial barrier. And this barrier might be super low (e.g., registering to vote, looking up voting location), but it's still a barrier. I will happily scrub my toilet, a pretty lowly job to be sure, but there is no barrier to this other than sucking it up, putting on my big girl pants when I am probably not in the mood to clean my toilet (because I never am), and maybe putting on some gloves. Renewing a passport on the other hand requires me to first figure out how to actually renew a passport. Which is really not HARD (I do very hard things at work), but it's work, and creates a mental block. Another issue can be weird anxieties, which would be different for different people (dislike of crowds, not wanting to wait on hold on the phone for an hour, not wanting to drive to a difficult-to-get-to destination, not wanting to talk to a certain person, etc.). And I think the problem is that there are just SO MANY of these things that it becomes overwhelming to have to "adult" and get through them all. The strategy of "just choose something to do and do it" works, but I start to feel like I'm drowning because things get added to the list faster than I can get them off. So mostly my strategy has to be being "okay" with the chaos of life and never being remotely "done" or "on top" of anything. And part of the issue is simply the complexities of modern life, and yes, the desire to "optimize." Another issue is that these errands simply aren't important enough. We recently covered the concept of quadrants in relation to task prioritization, where you have urgent/important, urgent/not important, not urgent/important, and not urgent/not important. Some of these tasks inevitably fall into that last one (not urgent/non important)... e.g., fixing my boots, hemming my pants, etc. "Not important" being in relation to other competing tasks vying for my attention. Unfortunately other tasks fall into this category for me like "planning date night" or "e-mail back so and so," which is terrible for my relationships. Other tasks fall into the "important but not urgent" category and then get put off too long, and sometimes become an issue once they become urgent (sometimes because they are forgotten). I've started journaling (New Year's resolution) and am hoping that this helps me at least feel more "okay" with the chaos and maybe even dig myself slightly out of the hole. I know the article makes fun of bullet journals, but I think it might help a little bit. Finally, re: Laura's take... my issue there is that - yes - I do have money, but my husband doesn't believe in outsourcing, and would rather fall on his sword and burn himself out, so I get sucked into that philosophy (because marriage requires compromise). Also, surely, even if outsourcing were an option, the barrier to outsourcing is sometimes pretty huge and is a big task all in itself.