realistic expectations

Apr 21, 2010

I have a dear friend, Jodie Palmer, who often says we overestimate what we can accomplish in a day and we underestimate what we can do in a lifetime.

I have been pondering this concept for several weeks. It definitely applies to me. I believe I can get 10 loads of laundry, make dinner for a neighbor, clean up my yard, read to my children, take a nap, go on a bike ride, plan a fabulous homeschooling activity, teach a class, make 20 phone calls, go grocery shopping, read my scriptures, have a beautifully set table for dinner, give each child my undivided attention, make bread, scrub toilets, write in my commonplace book, and practice my cello all in the same day. This is ludicrous. I have come to know I cannot do all that in one day. I have let go of a lot of my expectations for myself and the resulting feelings of failure when I don’t measure up. I am much more realistic than I used to be about my energy levels, the amount of time things really DO take, and what my capabilities are.

But I still put too much in almost every day.

I am okay with that. For the most part, I am not going to bed beating myself up for not getting more laundry done or not having a the bathroom cleaned.

I do, however, beat myself up if I haven’t spent nurturing one-on-one time with my husband and each of my children.

Right now, for me, the more critical part of Jodie’s statement is that we underestimate what we can accomplish in a lifetime. I would like to make better use of my time in small increments to be able to accomplish much over the course of time.

You see, I am one of those people who wants to do it all in one fell swoop. I don’t want to work at a drawer at a time in my kitchen and at the end of a week have them all reorganized. No sirree! I am all about emptying the entire kitchen, scrubbing it from floor to ceiling, completely redoing what goes in each drawer and cupboard, getting rid of stuff, creating a new plan for our family kitchen usage, and putting it all back together in time for supper.

What this really means is that I live in chaos because nothing ever gets done in one fell swoop. Life has to go on. Children have needs. We all have appointments and commitments and so my piles of stuff add up and it takes me days and sometimes weeks to get it all put back together.

Now, if I could somehow develop a plan to do it in small chunks at a time I am sure life would go much smoother and more would actually get accomplished.

It is simply not the way I am programmed.

I like to clean by completely emptying, rearranging, repurposing, reDOING everything – and I like to do it in one day.

I like to read a book in one day. I like to can hundreds of quarts of applesauce in one day. I like to get in shape in one day (impossible, I know…but somehow I like to think if I go for a 50 mile bike ride or do 200 sit-ups it will magically grow muscles, heart health, and eliminate my risk of cancer). I like to sew a beautiful creation (okay, my creations aren’t quite to the beautiful point, but they are improving a little bit) in one day.

I have the hardest time with spreading things out over a period of time. I like to start something and finish it. I don’t want to stop until it is completely finished, even if that means going without food and sleep. This used to work quite well for me. I could write my research papers in one big day. I could pull an all-nighter and get my whole house clean. I could start packing the day of a trip and still get it all done by midnight.

I could do it and then sleep the whole next day. Now? Not so much.

Now, I have lots of little bodies that need me to be present and alert each day. I have many commitments that don’t allow me to take a whole day off to do a project. I get tired much more easily. I get hungry much more easily. I get sick much more easily. I have bigger hopes and dreams of order and it seems my level of mess and chaos grows in exact opposition to the level of order I dream of.

But, I can see the wisdom of it.

I can see that chapter by chapter, night after night we have made it through lots of family read-alouds.

I can go back through my blog posts and see that keeping a semi-daily record of my life for the last year has created a treasure trove of memories that otherwise would be forgotten.

I can see the power of compound interest.

I can see the power of serving neighbors and friends over many years and building a rich community of trust and love.

I can see what my grandmother accomplished in her life by doing things a little at a time. Filling a grandchild’s heart with love was done cookie by cookie, story by story, hug by hug, loving advice by loving advice, canasta game by canasta game, birthday phone call by birthday phone call, and strawberry pie by strawberry pie. There wasn’t a thought of “I’m going to fill ’em up today with enough love to get by for the next year.” She knew it was a steady process, a little at a time.

I just don’t know how to really implement this in my own life. That whole Flylady thing? Tried it, wanted it to work, but nope, didn’t fly with me.

I am trying to clean my bedroom…it seems it is unconquerable. I told myself I would just do a little bit each day…and I have been. But it is driving me crazy. A little bit at a time seems so ineffective. I want to start in the morning and finish before bed and go to sleep in a perfectly spotless room. I am forcing myself to work on it in 15 minute increments. I am forcing myself to not stay up all night working on it. I am forcing myself to be okay with it…it just feels so, so, eeeeeuuuuucckkkkkkkk.

Now, I am trying to empty out the two bookshelves in my room so I can move those out. Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense because it is creating more mess!

Do you have some thoughts on how to do this?

Related Posts


  1. Anne

    Reallly wonderful post, but not solutions.

    I would maybe clean the garage. Build more shelves. Buy more totes, THEN clean off the bookshelves in the bedrooms. It’s kind of that puzzle where you have to move little tile things out of the way before you can move something into it’s place.

  2. Kate

    I can be the same way. I have a hard time being patient. But I can also drag something out for a week.

  3. Anne

    You did not fix my comment yet!

  4. Anne

    Dear all of Tracy’s friends: Please help me finish this group of phrases. Something fun and original please.

    Something that ends in ‘ly’



    deeply ?

  5. jessica

    I did not realize we were so alike in this way. Seriously, subtract your outgoing personality and we’re twins based on this gigantic likeness.

    This is the number one reason I was so terrible at balancing what was supposed to be a part time web design business with life. I wanted to throw myself into a job completely just like I want to throw myself into any other project that comes my way.

    I once got a dollhouse kit for Christmas. It was pretty complicated, tons of tiny pieces, itty wooden shingles, wee pieces of furniture that all had to be put together, glued, sanded, and painted or stained. It was Christmas break so I went out in the garage and my mom brought me food on plates. I went in to go to the bathroom and stayed up working until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. I got that thing put together in a few days.

    I still try to do that with projects now… just like you have written. And this is why my house is never clean because I can’t.

    I have a very modified Flylady thing that works, but I abandon it after about two weeks without fail. I’ve no idea why. I just go back to my old ways.