What to Do When You Can’t Get Anything Done

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Feeling like you can’t get anything done. You’re not alone! Follow these tried-and-true strategies to get on an even keel.

clutter on counter by kitchen sink

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It feels like you can’t get anything done.

You cook from scratch, but you can barely get it together at meal times. The laundry is overwhelming and cleaning your house even to bare minimum standards is impossible.

The kids seem to need constant attention. And, of course, someone likes to get up at 5 am!!

Most days you can barely get the dishes done. Even now, there are bags of groceries sitting in the kitchen waiting to get put away but you are so exhausted you can’t fathom getting off the couch.

Help! I can’t get anything done!

Whew. I know this feeling all too well. I know what it is to have minions running through my house undoing everything I just did, stepping on lego while I meander through the house looking for the cup of coffee I started a few hours, have reheated a few times, and really don’t think I finished.

The internet cliche is real.

I feel your pain. I do. Having little ones can be challenging. I was lucky to get a shower when my kids were little, let alone get the dishes done. To feel like you can’t get anything done is overwhelming to be sure. But there’s hope.

Nowadays, I can shower and even go to the grocery store — by myself. And the dishes get done at least two, if not three times per day. Yes, really. The day will come for you, too!

In the meantime, here’s what you can do to close the gap between what you think you should be doing and what you really can pull off.

When you feel like you can’t get anything done…

flowers next journal and cup of espresso

1. Be gracious with yourself.

Give yourself much grace and don’t compare yourself to what you THINK other moms are doing. They are probably NOT doing all that.

Your insides and their outsides look different, and it’s not an even comparison. Apples to oranges, as they say. No woman is Wonder Woman.

If you have a gracious attitude toward yourself, it will show. You will have a peace about you that will make your mothering and homekeeping much more beautiful. You’ll look like a success because you’re not being too hard on yourself. Trust me. It sounds weird, but you’ll enjoy yourself a lot more.

So will everyone else.

2. Prioritize what’s really important.

Figure out what you really need to do. Many days that means food and clean underwear are as good as it gets.

Figure out what your “bare minimum” is. Maybe it’s a shower, a cup of hot coffee, a meal plan for the day, and a load of laundry in the wash.

While we all dream of getting ahead of schedule, life happens. None of us really gets it all done. Shoot for the most important things.

3. Eliminate what’s unnecessary.

It’s possible you can’t get anything done, because the things on your list don’t really need to get done. Eliminate what truly isn’t urgent or important in this season of life.

Baseboards don’t need to be cleaned this week. Neither does the light fixture. Focus on the big important things and let the other stuff go.

girl stirring pot of soup

4. Teach your kids to chip in around the house.

Though your little ones may still be pretty little, you’ll be surprised at how much they can learn and do. Those groceries in the kitchen? They can help you put them away. Include them in your tasks. Seriously.

That laundry that’s piling up? Kids can do laundry.

The spills and splashes in the bathroom? Yep, kids can clean bathrooms, too.

When my people were little and wanted my attention all day, they went where I went. That meant they helped change the laundry or they wiped up fingerprints while I mopped.

They were pretty thrilled with their “helping” even if it was really just to keep them occupied while I worked. In the process, they learned valuable life skills and I realized I didn’t have to do it all.

4. Establish some routines.

I’ve never liked schedules, but I found that routines were really good for all of us.

We narrowed in on a Morning High Five, five tasks to do every day. It helped us establish a rhythm to the days and helped get the kids on an even keel. Your family’s five might include eating breakfast, cleaning the kitchen, tidying bedrooms, starting the laundry, and reading books.

You’ll find that the home is reset, you’ve handled the “food and clean underwear” requirement, and you’ve even had a chance to feed yourself and their young minds. Along the way, you’ve done these things together.

Routines add rhythm to our days and keep us from going stir-crazy. They mark the passage of the day and teach kids about time management. 

Once you get a daily routine going, think about things that you can mix in on a weekly basis. Weekly routines such as a trip to the park or library days are also a great way to break up the monotony.

I’ve found that being productive through routine helps me not feel so tired and defeated.

platter of green fruit kabobs with bowls of fruit

5. Do things that make you feel rested and energized.

I’ve said this before. Naps are good for you!

But, if you don’t want to take a nap, find activities that really will boost your energy. Make steps toward a healthier lifestyle.

  • Stay hydrated.
  • Exercise.
  • Eat nutritious foods.
  • Get some rest.
  • Drink tea – it does a lot chemically to help you feel better!
  • Take your vitamins.

All these things can work together to give you energy and help you feel a little more with it. Be sure that you’re taking care of you.

While these tips certainly don’t help you cross things off your to do list, hopefully, they’ll help you create a more effective list of things to do. Set yourself up for success. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Do what you can do.

Tomorrow’s a new day. You’ll get a fresh start tomorrow.

More Home Management Tips

What works for you?

Leave a comment below and let us know what works for you.

This post was originally published on November 19, 2013. It has been updated for content and clarity.

image of cluttered kitchen counter and sink with text overlay.

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  1. I could of written your article. This is how it is for tons off mums in britain. So much is expected of u and with next to no support. I grew up in the 80s and 90s and my mums did housework and us kids had to go of and play together! It was a unwritten rule that mum has stuff to do and kids played. Your mum was not your play mate and if did not occur to her to play with u and it didnt occur to you to demand she play with you. Also u was expected to listen and do as your told and eat the food ur given and got to bed when told etc. Parenting was so much easier back then. It is because you knew you would get the spanking of your life if you dare play up with your mum. It is just so exhausting now,….

  2. I cannot thank you enough for this post! It was truly encouraging and very timely for me in this season of life. I have a 11, 3 and 1 year old, work part time from home and homeschool the 11 year old, yet, somehow, I still think I should be getting more accomplished each day! Thanks for the tips and the encouragement!

  3. I love this article, and it’s so true, so many things here are totally on point, but I’m now sitting here crying because I feel like I’m not giving my boys the attention they need. I have a 4 month old and a 2 and a half year old and feel like I’m constantly juggling both their needs and failing on all fronts. The apartment is a mess, nothing has a designated place, my oldests bedroom is half bedroom/playroom, half dumping ground for laundry/clothes to sell/things to put away. The bathroom is actually disgusting, I haven’t washed in about 2 weeks. We’ve had a sick bug, followed by them both having a teething bout and ferocious nappy rash. I’ve been ill, but haven’t got the time to have a break. I’m just so tired of feeling like a failure, i love my boys more than anything, but sometimes feel like I just need an hour to myself, but it’s not easy as both my parents have passed away, finances are strapped so childcare isn’t an option and I wouldn’t want to leave them with strangers anyway. I have my brother and sister who help when possible, but they’re younger than me and living their own lives & it’s difficult to leave my 4 month old as I bf and haven’t even had a chance to pump breastmilk for him so can’t leave him. Relations with my boyfriend are up and down and he seems so distant and uninterested in the children. I feel so alone, and have become the kind of mother I never wanted to be. I’m grumpy and miserable, particularly with my oldest as he is a typical boy, running around and needing to be kept busy constantly. I used to love playing with him when he was younger, but find it really hard now. I’m just so tired and feel like I’m constantly telling him off as he is having toddler meltdowns each day. I have to leave my youngest on his own more so I can attend to my oldests needs and feel so guilty as he just wants chats and cuddles. I just wish I could be kinder and better, I love them so much and this wasn’t the life i envisaged with two little people. I hoped we’d be out here and there, doing cool and fun activities every day. Some days we haven’t got out of the house, although I try to get my oldest to toddler groups a few times a week and to the park every day. I keep wondering if this is always how things will be now and whether I’m adversely affecting them somehow. I just feel like it’s all a mess, but your words, and those in some of these comments did make me feel better, and also just think about how I maybe need to slow down and enjoy the moments, however hard it might be. Thank you.

    1. Sending you great big hugs right now, Jaime! I know that it is hard. I remember my own meltdowns when my second was that same age. It’s hard when there are two. But, you can do this! The fact that you care is evidence that you can. You may need to adjust some of your expectations of yourself, but you will get through.

      I’m guessing that they both still nap? Today when both are safe and quiet, you need to get yourself a shower. Make that your one goal every day. Get a shower. Put on clothes that you love — even if they will get messed up. If nothing else happens, that is super important to your feeling human. (If your toddler doesn’t nap any more, take your shower once you put them to bed. There IS a way.)

      Look for baby steps in your days to make the changes you want. Even if it’s a shower and using a kind voice with the babies, that’s excellent; that’s enough. Let me know how I can help.

  4. I’m a mom of two boys (1 and 4) and I’m so glad I came across this post! I often ruin what could have been a perfectly good day with musings about what I coulda/shoulda/woulda accomplished, (“If only they had napped/that hadn’t spilled/I had focused more, etc.”) I constantly have to remind myself that I’m home for my family, and then view my task list through that “lens.” When you think of that as the goal, then #2 from above – feeding my children, getting dressed and outside for some fresh air, and just being together – that makes for a very successful day! Thanks for the reminder! PS I like the accompanying photo – when I look around and don’t know where to start, I almost always begin with a cup of coffee!

  5. What my neighbor and a friend did was hire someone to clean their house every 2 weeks about $80. That way all she had was pick up. I regret not doing that. My neighbor had a lady that cleaned the house and stayed with the children once a week (she was like a family member) it was pricey but she would leave a list for this person of what she was to teach the children that day. How to organize their room, times table, folding clothes classes. I look back and regret not spending the money to do that because her children always have their chores done first thing in the morning and homework is done yesterday.

    1. I took the girls away this weekend to my parents. My husband commented that the house didn’t get so messy. Part is their age, but part is how we’ve taught them — or not taught them. Guess what we’re working on?

  6. I completely understand your plight. I am recently retired from the Army and also a mother of 2 boys, ages 4 and 18 months and a new baby girl, now 2 months old. Many days I feel like I should be able to keep my kids running like a military unit, keep a white glove clean house, cook 3 meals a day and start a small business and be hugely successful at all of them all at once. Did I mention I also tried to start homeschooling my kids as well? I learned that a schedule was laughable and having every room clean at once was a ludicrous thought. What has gotten me through the toughest times is the saying, “those who matter don’t mind and those who mind don’t matter” It was hard for me to get out of my own head, and I still struggle with it but I start everyday reminding myself that this is for my kids and they are most important to me, their well being not the laundry is why I left my career. Each night I ask my kids one thing they enjoyed that day and the days my 4 year old says, playing _____ game with mommy makes the dishes and laundry and greasy hair totally worth it. I do things as I can or as needed but mostly I know that as long as my kids are safe, fed and well cared for then who cares if I have 2 day old spit up in my hair? Its all a matter of perspective…always remember, someone else has been there and some people have it much worse.

  7. I have two kids 2 and 3 years old. My tip is to locate the things that make your day spin out of control- and either skip that all together or do it in a other way.
    For me it is to sing lullabies to my self when I help them get dressed to go outside (caos no 1 for me) it helps me stay calm even if they are screaming, crying or whatever. Or some days I dont get outside at all..because i dont have the energy. (we live in the north where outside-clothes is a big part to stay warm in the snow)

    And i dont take them to the mall anymore, only playgrounds where i can meet other moms, stay put, drink coffe e and keep total controll over the kids.=)

    When i take them to buy food i bring toys / books that they only get to play whith then (just bught an iphone holder to put on the cart so they can play games and stuff. ) Ive seen other moms put their kids in the shopping cart and give the kids ipads to play with. Theyre SUPER quiet!

  8. I have a baby. Lots of days I nap when she naps even if it means my 2 bigger kids watch a movie. I like UP, it’s long. 😉

  9. No 1 & No 5, yes! Why is it that Mom’s can have grace for others, their kids, etc but for ourselves it’s so hard. Thanks for the reminder and validation to give myself grace. I often turn to my faith in times when I feel things are out of control or I can’t get my to do list done and knowing that I am always given grace allow me to give grace to myself. And No 5 is so crucial. Even 15 or 30 minutes makes a huge difference. Trying to balance parenting, working, health and fitness, and partnering is always a juggling act but having a few tips in the back pocket definitely helps. Thanks.

  10. Solidarity sister! I have a 6, 4 and 2 year old at home with me…..right now the 6 year old is tracked out of school so it’s all three, home all day. It’s a constant mess but they’re super happy with their day of play so that is what I take comfort in. They won’t look back and remember a mess, they’ll remember the memories they make playing together.
    I give myself grace…..and a babysitter once a week to try to get something cleaned and/or organized!

    1. I love what you said here, Megan … “when they look back, they won’t remember a mess, they’ll remember the memories they made …” That’s definitely the way I’ve looked at parenting my little boy – I’d rather err on the side of making one more memory, one more cuddle, one more “Mom, come and watch me _____”, than look back one day in the not-too-distant-future and regret that I let it rush past without appreciating those moments.

  11. Last night, when I was home alone with the kids and they both got to bed about an hour late, I looked around the house, did what I absolutely had to, and then chose my physical health over my mental health. I got ready for bed. It’s nice that it was a choice. (2 kids, ages 2 years and 2 months)

  12. I work outside the home 3 days a week during the day and my husband works 5 evenings a week( including weekends). So I am home a lot by myself in the evening. Last night as soon as the kids were in bed sleeping I got my book and crawled into bed. Toys all over, dishes and stuff still left from the day. Oh well it will still be there tomorrow when I have moe energy. I also make. Point a point of getting up before everyone in the morning to have some peace and quiet. My kids are 19 ( she is in college) 17, 8, 4.

  13. Thanks! This is exactly what I’ve been needing to hear! And it’s great to get this advice from a mom who has come out from the other side of babies and toddlers! Permission to nap–yes please! 😉

  14. I do not have any great words of wisdom other than to tell you in a few short years you will look back and miss these days. Mine are 9 and 11 and I miss someone holding my hand to cross the street, the wet kisses on the cheek at night time, and the excitement of all the firsts — you know the first snowman; the first birthday cake you decorate together; the first shower instead of bath; etc. I plan to enjoy as much as possible every first yet to come. I do not think I will ever look back with regret that I didn’t get my to do list done. Most of the items on it are not the stuff of memories.

  15. Grace for myself is a struggle for me. Thank you for words I need to hear! And for purposes of solidarity, I’ll share my babes at home are 8, 6, 6, 4, and 10 months. Last week I came home from church and didn’t leave again until Friday afternoon…

  16. I’m new here but when I saw this on Facebook I knew I had to speak up! I have a very active 4 year old and an almost 4 month old. Even with just my one daughter I was struggling. My husband works long hours and my day usually starts around 5 or 6 too so I feel your pain. As I type now there is rice cake all over my floor, a counter full of dishes and my 4year old is steady cutting paper behind me and it’s all over the floor. I have a few tips that I thought might help. The paper cutting is one example. I am willing to forfeit one clean area in an effort to clean another. I use tall walk through gates like nobody I know and I will clean an area while my daughter is messying up another and then lock the gate behind me so that room stays clean. I see the benefit of just lettinf her make a mess in one area that I can probably sweep up in about 5 minutes while she is having a bath later. Also..I often do not have time to sort toys back into their respective bins during the day IIif a toy tornado occurs. So I don’t. I will literally swipe everything odd a table or gather everything off my floors into a rubbermaid bin and lock it in a closet or my room. I unload it after both girls are in bed or when I have the time and energy. It is also helping my 4yr old understand she needs to put her things away or they are gone for a time.I also found that by giving into an activity my 4yr old likes shebwould spend more time independently. She loves art projects so I have her with cutting paper and glue stick right now while I rock the baby. For the most part I don’t get much done during the day and I’m not a night owl but I so use those 1-2 hours after bedtime to go nuts putting away and cleaning up before bed. Do I have the same dishes in my sink from Friday? Ummm…yeah. As embarrassing as that is. But its just life right now. Pretty frustrating for someone who thrives on cleanliness and order but I keep reminding myself in 5-10 years my life will be totally different and my kids will be all about spending time away from home. Hang in there. I feel exactly the same way!

  17. Go outside! Load the kids up in a double jogging stroller (I did that with my twin boys until they were 4) or put the 4 yr old on a trike or bike, pop the 2 yr old in the stroller and go for a walk. I always feel like I’ve accomplished something to get some exercise, the fresh air is good for all of us (helps us sleep better!) and somehow it helps not to be constantly seeing the messes that need my attention. I find that exercise actually boosts my energy and recharges me, and helps to clear my head.

    The other thing I would add is to get help if you can sometimes. A sitter to play with the kids while you make some real progress on something can be so beneficial. Or a play date for one, while the other one helps you – especially my twins are way easier one on one rather than both at the same time.

    I completely understand your feelings, there are some times when I simply do not feel motivated about keeping house. As Jessica says, give yourself grace and prioritize – what are you excited about? Would you be more likely to clean off the counter if you had a pretty plant or bouquet of flowers there?

  18. I definately needed this today. I have a 3 year old, an 18 month old and a 3 month old. And today my 18 month old woke up cranky. So, all my plans of housecleaning, have gone out the window in exchange for cuddling her, and listening to her cry while I nurse the baby, ha! I keep telling myself, the house will still be dirty tomorrow, even if I do clean it today, and the sink full of dishes, may become a counter full of dirty dishes, but cuddling will probably not get to happen tomorrow.