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Maintenance Woes

Sometimes, it seems as if 95 percent of life is maintenance. Maintaining your fitness level, maintaining your bone density, maintaining your gum line, maintaining your household, your car, your spray tan, your paperwork — the list goes on.

As we get older and we have to find our reading glasses and throw back a Tylenol before we can get out of bed, it only gets more tedious. How do we keep moving forward with our goals without backsliding on the other stuff? Is it possible? Is it realistic for those of us who need more than four hours of sleep a night?

There are those who bypass maintenance in favor of cramming, all-nighters, use of various substances to artificially stay up, active and doing-doing-doing, whether writing movie scripts, making scientific discoveries or traveling the world. But unless your motto is “Live fast, die young and leave a good-looking corpse,” I recommend putting maintenance first. Anything else is a recipe for burnout, disease and rehabilitation. First, do your workout and eat your spinach, then get out your art supplies.

Setting clear routines is essential to make maintenance almost automatic and, thus, allow us to make progress on more life-enhancing, world-changing projects. I encourage my clients to set up a time management document that outlines the “hardscape” of maintenance; the things that must be done in order to stay healthy. When you plug in these “must-do’s” on a weekly schedule, you can see realistically how much and where in the week you have time to work on projects.

Erin Rooney Doland has a great sample of such a schedule in her book, “Unclutter Your Life in One Week,” and Julie Morgenstern’s book, “Time Management from the Inside Out,” is invaluable.

Making checklists that track seasonal, monthly and weekly tasks for self, home and garden is a good way to make sure you have maintenance covered and can let your mind focus on other things. If you’re not sure what should go on the checklists, take a week and write down everything you need to do as it comes up in order to make your week run smoothly. Do the same over a month and a year. You can also look online for sample organizational checklists. The Martha Stewart website offers some excellent ideas, as does Martha Stewart Living magazine.

But speaking of notorious perfectionist Martha, be aware that perfectionism can weigh down progress. In terms of maintenance, I can waste time trying to get a price tag perfectly peeled from the bottom of a coffee cup or cleaning my treadmill with Q-tips. I try to keep this compulsive behavior to a minimum and keep my maintenance routines at the “good enough” level so I can move forward with more important goals.

Procrastination can also keep us in “merely maintaining” mode rather than on the path to new accomplishments. If you find yourself spending an hour in the mirror looking at your pores or in the garage sorting through screws and bolts, you might be procrastinating on a larger project. The book “Eat That Frog!” by Brian Tracy has terrific tips for overcoming procrastination.

Something that none of us want to hear: television and indulgence in social media (Facebook, Twitter, et al.) and the sedentary, mind-numbing activity that has somehow been given the active moniker, “surfing”, can take you down rabbit holes that swallow hours. Those hours could have been spent with the car manual you’ve meant to read, the Spanish homework you meant to focus on, the sweater you meant to knit.

Maintenance must become routine and habitual to the point that it just feels wrong to, for example, go to bed without doing the dinner dishes and brushing our teeth. When those systems are locked in, we have the balance and the freedom to push out in new directions and achieve great things.