Intervals are a powerful thing. Our brains and bodies get tired and worn down if we do the same thing over and over. Whether it’s repetitive office work, a simple task on a factory line, or just nurse-burp-change the baby, after a certain point our performance actually declines if we keep doing the same thing. You can see it in fitness, where trainers will tell you to change your strength routine every 6-8 weeks to prevent you from plateauing or even backsliding. You can see it in education, where if you spend more than an hour or so on the same subject, your brain just stops absorbing the information efficiently.
Intervals enable us to shake things up, to kick that boredom or even prevent it from setting in. It could be as simple as rotating between a set number of tasks. You can do this with circuit training or brick workouts in fitness. Interval training in the form of the Couch to 5K system turned me into a runner eventually able to run 12 miles at a time, when I had never before been able to run even a block. In a factory, workers can learn more than one task and then take turns rotating between them every few hours or days. In education, you can set time limits on studying and switch subjects or stop studying all together every 30-60 minutes.
In my life, intervals are most powerful and visible around the house. When I first got married and left my parents’ home, I was a dismal failure at housekeeping. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. Over the past 20 years, I have worked my way through several different systems, learning new things, keeping skills that work and abandoning those that don’t, and shaking things up every few years. My home still doesn’t look nearly as good as those of my idols (Hanlie and Beth, I’m looking at you!), but it has never been worse than it was in the beginning. (Dirty secret: my first home with Brian turned into an absolutely disgusting roach motel!!!)
My first level of improvement came with a Reader’s Digest book about housecleaning tips and tricks that I picked up, probably off a Publisher’s Clearing House order form because I did that a lot back then. I learned about sweeping floors and how you had to keep doing it over and over. (No, really, I didn’t know that.) I learned about repetitive cleaning tasks and how often they should be done. I saw lists that I could check off to make sure I wasn’t forgetting things. It wasn’t a panacea, but it was a start. It gave me a peek into the idea of housekeeping not being some magic thing that other people were able to do, but something that I could eventually learn.
My next level of improvement came after the triplets were born. First I found Sidetracked Home Executives, and I started trying to implement their system. However, I was constantly derailed by perfectionism. Here was this marvelous, beautiful, comprehensive list covering everything in my home, and how often to do it! Only, I was trying to implement that humungous list while taking care of toddler triplets. Talk about a recipe for disaster! Over and over, I would tackle that list, working some nights until midnight scrubbing various things that I hadn’t gotten to during the day. Every day, the list of things undone, the “leftovers” got longer and longer, until I would throw up my hands and quit.
Then I found FlyLady. I have credited this woman many times with being responsible for my having more than four children. The first couple of years after Liam was born, I still relied on a bi-weekly maid service. Things were still crazy and cluttered, only getting shoved into boxes and under beds before the maids showed up. FlyLady taught me the power of intervals in micro, that doing a little was better than doing nothing at all…and doing just a little was okay. She also taught me to use routines to manage daily tasks. Following FlyLady’s advice, I was able to kick out the maids, keep things running smoothly, and feel confident enough to go for baby number 5, and not be too rattled when number 6 came along.
Then things started to slide a bit again. I couldn’t keep up with tasks like I had been before, and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why. I kept plugging away at my FlyLady lists and routines, marking things off, trying to take it one checkmark at a time. As the kids got older, I started to delegate some of the chores, but even then I was still drowning. Things around here for the past year have looked nothing like they did 8 years ago. Laundry backs up on a regular basis. Carpets don’t get vacuumed, stairs don’t get swept. Dinner doesn’t get cooked every night. School is no longer this orchestrated Well-Trained Mind phenomenon but a haphazard combination of unschooling and child-led learning.
Enter in another shake-up housekeeping land via HabitRPG! I’m still doing pretty much the same things I was under FlyLady. Now, though, they have a whole new appearance. I’m interacting in a completely different way with my to-do list, and as easily as that, I’m moving back to the way things were. I’ve kept the lists from my FlyLady interval, but I’ve moved on to the HabitRPG interval, and once again things are moving in a positive direction. I don’t know how long this interval will last, but I’m starting to recognize that it is just an interval, like all the others, and eventually it will end and another will need to take its place. Maybe I’ll need to go through another period of chaos first, I don’t know. But the next one will come. In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy this one, and feel good about moving forward.