2 ways to clean with executive dysfunction

Learn how to clean with executive dysfunction based on how much assistance you need versus how much independence you’re looking for. The app Tody will tell you exactly what you need to do each day, but using an autofocus list allows you to work on cleaning whatever is motivating you in the moment, helping you pick the most impactful tasks every day.

30 to Clean

By now I’m sure you’ve heard about my 30 to Clean challenge happening over on Instagram. If not, it’s a spring cleaning challenge to spend just 15 minutes twice a day throughout April to focus on establishing a new baseline in your house

If you want to join in, use #30toClean and tag @nerdish_mom and at the end of April I’ll send a downloadable reward to all participants! It's hard to clean with executive dysfunction, so I want to encourage everyone to just make the effort.

If you didn’t start at the beginning of April, that’s not a problem. You wouldn’t believe how fast this method works. Go to my Instagram to see before and after pictures and pick up wherever you are. That’s the beauty of it. There’s no catching up to do, just start where you are and work until your timer goes off. Two weeks will make a huge impact. Even four days has made a huge difference in the baseline level of cleanliness in my house already!

Clean with executive dysfunction

Executive dysfunction can make planning out your cleaning sessions a serious struggle. Sometimes it takes longer to figure out what and how to clean with executive dysfunction than it does to actually clean in the first place. This is a huge part of why we have a hard time keeping things clean in the first place.

Small amounts of cleaning can make a huge change, but when those small cleaning tasks require a ton of background effort before we even start.

Well, often that means we just don’t start.

So let’s fix that.

Tody: the ultimate to-do app for cleaning

You may have heard of the app called Tody. (I recommended it in my Ultimate Guide to Time Management.) It's a cleaning app that allows you to set your preferences for how clean you like things to be. And then gives tons of ideas about things that you need to do to keep your house clean, and gives you suggestions about how often you can do it based on how clean you like to keep things.

But you can also tweak those settings, so maybe if you're a really neat person Today might recommend vacuuming the floors every day, but if you're not one to keep things that neat, maybe they have you vacuum the living room floor only once or twice a week. But you can customize everything, so maybe you're not a very neat person in general, but you do like to vacuum the floors once a day. You can go ahead and change those settings to work with your life.

It's a really great app if you are the type of person who works well with an app that tells you what to do. It takes the pressure off of you to make those decisions and allows you to put that work onto the app instead. Tody also includes a visual indicator to show you how clean each section is (and even an indicator showing how clean each room is overall!) and how long until the task is due again, turning from green to a dark orange when a task is overdue.

Screenshots from Tody App, showing a list of cleaning items due today on the left, and a list of the rooms in my house on the right|500

These things can be fantastic for helping people clean with executive dysfunction. Certain people with executive dysfunction, that is. The visual indicators showing how long until I would need to do a task again were great, but the harsh orange reminders for overdue tasks just overwhelmed me.

Additionally, I can’t always find enough motivation to work on the tasks I’m supposed to be doing each day to overcome my tremendous levels of inertia. So I’d often find myself telling Tody that I did a thing, just to make the orange warning go away, and that didn’t help me in any way.

So I will unreservedly recommend Tody for people who do well with the visual reminders and detailed task lists. It’s a fantastic resource for some people. But the rest of us need something a little different.

If Tody doesn’t sound like your style - if to-do apps trigger demand avoidance in you, or if you like something more analog, I'm going to let you know what I have been doing instead that it has worked much better for me.

Autofocus cleaning

I’ve mentioned my love for the autofocus method before (again, in the Time Management Master Post), and I’m really enjoying using it for cleaning. In this case I'm using a cleaning-specific list.

How does this look in practice?

I made a very rough blueprint layout of my house and then translated it into a list of every room. Order doesn't matter at all, just get them all down. And then I just work from that, choosing a room and cleaning whatever appeals to me at the time.

After I work on one room, I cross it off the list and move it to the bottom. This allows me to keep track of the spaces I’ve cleaned most recently and those I haven’t gotten to yet. (Although I have to admit that right now my house does a damn good job of showing me which rooms need cleaned the most without this help.)

I made this blueprint so I wouldn't forget any rooms in my house, yet skipped over a bathroom entirely when making it. Don't be like me.

If you need more help

Some people might do better off with some extra guidance than just the name of the room. It can help to break down the list into subtasks for each room so that you don't forget the kinds of things that you need to do. There are a ton of cleaning lists online, but again, I like to use Tody for this. Even though I don’t use it right now as my actual cleaning to-do list, I do love it as a source for ideas, since it gives me a good idea of the things I need to do and how often I might want to do them.

One thing to watch

The one risk I have is that my living room and kitchen get dirty every single day. If I didn’t have a plan to deal with that, I could easily get stuck in a loop of picking those two rooms from my list every single day because they always need the work.

To make sure I’m choosing the most impactful task instead of just the most obvious, I had to decide in advance how I’d deal with the living room and kitchen. I opted to work on those two rooms every other day. So today, my kids have spread toys out across the living room floor and I just have to accept that, because I know I’ll get to it tomorrow. And every single time I work on a room, it gets a little bit cleaner than it did the last time.

From there I let my autofocus list fill out the other 15 days. And I find that my gut is better at picking the most impactful tasks than an app that doesn’t live in my house - even one as thorough as Tody - because it doesn’t know things like that my kid is squeezing toothpaste out onto the bathroom counter.

How to clean with executive dysfunction. chaoticorganized.com @nerdish_mom

Why it works for me

An app can’t know the specific weird shit that you and your kids or pets do in your house, so when Tody is warning you that the guest bath is a week overdue, you have the extra information that it’s actually still perfectly functional, but that your office is still full of boxes that you haven’t unpacked in the 15 months since you moved in.

This list allows me to just pick the thing I want to work on each day, making motivation so much easier because I’m not fighting against my brain. It's the best way for me to clean with executive dysfunction. Many people are afraid that this will cause them to waste time on meaningless tasks, but I’ve found the exact opposite. I have more energy and focus for my tasks because I’m not forcing myself to do something I don’t want. Plus I always know I can quit after 15 minutes.

Scan your list and let your gut pick the room or task that will be most impactful. And remember that you can stop as soon as your 15 minute timer is done. We’re going for progress over perfection here, and whatever you choose to do, if you work on this 15 minutes twice a day, working in any room in your house, you will see progress, and the messier your home is, the faster you will see that progress.

Wrap up

So head over to my Instagram and see what I’ve gotten done in just a few days, and then join in with me! Remember to tag @nerdish_mom and use #30toClean for a participation prize.

Happy cleaning!

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