Does a “getting things done” mindset interfere with relationships?

My son, Steve, recently bought a house out of state that needs some TLC before he and his fiancee, Paige, move in. In December, my husband, Mike, and I went out to help. A Jack-of-all-trades in addition to being an architect, Mike did electrical work, demolition, and light carpentry, while I patched drywall and painted.

Mike visited again after the holidays to do more of whatever needed to be done. I had planned to accompany him a few days later if there was work for me to do and a place for me to sleep. (The room Mike and I stayed in earlier now had the floor torn up.)

I was on the fence about going. Happy for the opportunity to help, I do actually enjoy house projects (within reason). Mike and I are in our second old house, with over 35 years of renovation and rehab under our tool belts. Transforming an indoor or outdoor space energizes me, and finishing a task gives me a tremendous sense of satisfaction. After a job is done, I pull up a chair, sit in the space, and soak in the feeling. 

Non-writing creative outlets balance the demands of my writing.

Since becoming a writer, I’ve also found that creative endeavors like gardening, painting, patching drywall (yes, it’s an art!), even designing a webpage or creating Powerpoint slides give me an outlet that enhances my writing when I return to it.

Those were the many arguments for me to go to Steve’s house.

On the flip side, I had reasons for staying home–many self-imposed January deadlines for numerous writing projects: 

  1. Submit my memoir manuscript to small and independent presses.
  2. Query agents to represent my manuscript to publishers. (This explains the difference between querying and direct submitting.)
  3. Start promoting my new class: Digging for Meaning in Motherhood. (More about this coming soon!)
  4. Polish and submit several essays to literary publications and writing contests.
  5. Continue to polish my manuscript.

I was on the fence: Should I stay or should I go?

My getting things done decision: Should I stay or should I go?

As I’ve done before when I wanted unbiased input on a decision, I turned to Twitter. 

Every single one of my “tweeps” said, “go.” Typical comments were: Be with your family, bond with your son, your work will be there when you get back. 

I found myself arguing with some commenters about why I needed to stay: But…my memoir!  But…my writing! But, but, but! 

(BTW—If you ask for input on making a decision and find yourself arguing for or against a particular choice, you’ve given yourself your answer.)

At the same time, I posted my dilemma in a Facebook group of mothers of adult children. There, the replies were exclusively “stay.” Comments included  Let the guys bond, your work is your priority, enjoy the alone time. 

I found myself arguing with commenters about why I didn’t need to stay: I don’t actually have paid work. I like the DIY projects. No, my son is not taking me for granted. 

Obviously, I was conflicted. 

But the interactions helped me clarify my thinking. Have you ever had what seems like an aha moment, but as soon as the lightbulb switches on, you realize it was a truth you’d always known? This was one of those times.

My aha was this: My getting things done mindset was interfering with my relationships. 

A "getting things done" mindset may interfere with your relationships. Click To Tweet

When I’m in this mindset, which is most of the time, I don’t like to stop, I don’t like to be interrupted, I only want to focus on finishing whatever I’m doing. 

I get so obsessed that I neglect to give attention to the people who matter.

A focus on getting things done may be fine if you’re starting a business or have a short-term goal, but when goals take years to achieve, it’s not healthy to put the rest of your life on hold. It’s not healthy to ignore relationships. Those relationships are not likely to endure.

Getting things done is fine as a sprint, not as a marathon.

Before I had kids, I started my evening graduate program in health education. Early that September, I told my friends, “I’ll see you in December.” I figured I’d be so busy between working full time and taking classes that I wouldn’t have the luxury of socializing.

Five years and one child later, I finished my degree, and Mike and I kicked our house projects into high gear. Even after our second child, Steve, was born a few years later, we didn’t let up on our focus.

Scroll time to thirty years later. In the process of discerning “should I stay or should I go,” I realized I wanted to make up for all the times we prioritized house projects when Steve was little. 

To be clear: We supported our kids’ sports and extracurricular activities. Mike and I made career choices to keep our work hours reasonable. Our social life revolved around family activities that included the kids. We did all the right stuff. My kids had a great upbringing. 

But I know in my heart and my head that I was often less focused on doing fun things with the kids or arranging play dates and kid-friendly outings, and more zeroed-in on painting/staining/patching/stripping/refinishing/repairing/decorating. 

I enjoyed the projects for a while, then they dragged on and on and on, and I started to hate them. By then, we had dug a big hole for ourselves, and the only way to escape the trap was to finish what we started. 

“When will you and Dad be done with the house?” our older son, Matthew, used to ask.

“By the time you’re in college,” I’d answer.

Sadly, I was right. We finished our first old house around the time he left for college, and then we move the next year to another old house needing even more old house projects. 

(Don’t ask me why. But humorist Dave Barry coined the phrase “Old House Delusional Disease” that pretty much explains it.) 

I decided to stay.

As it turned out in my current round of decision-making, I stayed, I didn’t go. Steve’s house was too torn apart, and I would have been more in the way than helpful. The decision was made for me. 

So I treated my glorious time alone like a writing retreat and checked many items off my to-do list. I got lots of things done, (proving how hard is to break bad habits).

But I did take time for phone calls with dear friends, which in these omicron-infested days, is as good as it’s going to get for me. And I do have valuable insight I will continue to keep working on.

Prioritizing relationships is one sure thing to cross off my to-do list, again and again.

What about you? How do you prioritize relationships?

Author

  • Karen DeBonis writes about motherhood, people-pleasing, and personal growth, the entangled mix told in her memoir "Growth: A Mother, Her Son, and the Brain Tumor They Survived" forthcoming in spring 2023. Subscribe today to receive Chapter 1: A Reckoning.

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