What do you do when a daunting task rears its head?

Last year, our allotment flooded. Most of the vegetable patch was under water, while the area of brambles we had been trying to clear for 6 months was almost unaffected. Just our luck. While wading across what used to be the main path, I heard a splash coming from the back of the plot. Very tentatively, I looked around, and poking out from the depths of a puddle were two great big round eyes. The frogs had moved in. Now not only did we have a boggy plot, we had some unexpected new neighbours to contend with. Staring around at the mess, wellie deep in sludge, all I kept asking myself was: where do I even start?

The emotional side of me wants to immediately get rid of all this water. It feels pressing, urgent that I bring some semblance of normality back to the plot. But I don’t have any control over this. The water will drain away as it pleases, as soon as it stops raining. If I want to make a difference here, I need to put aside these feelings and focus on what is inside of my control.

I could start with a list. Set out all the tasks that need to be completed and start working through them one by one. This would bring some order to the mess and help me evaluate the extent of the clean up job. Rescue plant pots which have sailed over to next door – tick. But the list just keeps getting longer. I can cross off some easy wins and dive into a few bigger jobs, yet resurfacing from these to see a list that is longer than when I started is not encouraging. I need to re-evaluate what this list is for. I’m putting expectations on myself to get everything done, just because I have written it down. I may even sacrifice doing a job well, just so that I can cross it off the list. This won’t help me in the long term.

So how can I tackle this in a more productive way?

As it turns out, aiming to be fully caught up with all my tasks is quite unrealistic. There will always be new tasks to add to the list, whether the plot is flooded or not. By trying to get everything done, I’m giving myself no space for failure. No space to learn from the process of completing a task. I need to shift my priorities, take a step away from my list and towards the interesting or surprising wonders that this flood has brought me. At least then I can feel better about the work I need to complete and learn something as I work through it.

But what to do about the frogs?

A popular time-management book by Brian Tracy would tell me to serve them up on a platter. Personally, I’ll stick to my carrots and potatoes, but he raises a good point about tackling big tasks head on. As much as I’ve enjoyed watching the frogs enjoy their new home, the bramble patch isn’t the best place for them to settle. I take a step back, sighing, and notice that the taller plants which lie above the water are still in good condition. The leaves haven’t been eaten away by insects, and the fruits are still whole. I pause. Perhaps the frogs have been eating the bugs which usually help themselves to my crop. Perhaps they are less of the menace I had painted them as, and more of a useful link in the ecosystem. By taking a step back and looking around me, I’ve learnt something new. My original list was correct in essentials, but too narrow to understand the value that can be gleaned from accepting the frogs into our environment. Next year, I think I’ll buy a pond.

By Millie Brookes
Categorized as blog

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