A real-life lesson in time management

Getty ImagesGetty ImagesThe other night, I was faced with a kitchen-full of dirty dishes. And pots. And pans. At midnight.

I was already tired. I had been up late working, and I'd gotten up early, too, thanks to my 2 1/2-year-old alarm clock of a son who wakes at 5:30 a.m. (and who obviously didn't read my post about how I prefer to stay up late rather than get up early). But the kitchen was a wreck, it's hot and humid outside and, as such, bug season, and call me crazy, but I cannot stand having anything with more than two legs in the kitchen, and that includes the dog.

Our big kids have very few chores when they're with us. Everyone has to keep their room relatively neat -- clothes off the floor, beds straightened if not made, books on the shelves instead of on random horizontal surfaces. They all help with the folding of the laundry, in theory at least. The oldest two -- both teenage girls -- are in charge of emptying and loading the dishwasher (which, with a seven-member household, is running once, oftentimes twice, a day); our tween boy is in charge of clearing the table; the littlest two delight in setting it (usually with a haphazard collection of cutlery, but hey, they're learning).

I could see what lead to the disaster in the kitchen -- the dishwasher was running when the kids went to bed, so the teenagers couldn't do their loading and unloading. My husband had cooked, bless him, and dinner was delicious, but there were dirty pots and utensils everywhere.

In spite of my well-documented tendency to clutter and my inability to stay on top of the housework, I hate having a dirty kitchen, and can't go to bed with dishes in the sink -- if I do, I have to wash them all up first thing in the morning. There was no way I was going to face this mess at 5:30 a.m. with a toddler attached to my leg. Which left me with two options: Wake the girls, or clean it all up myself. Which means, really, I was left with only one option.

I surveyed the kitchen again. No way I could go to bed with it looking like this. I'd have to do it.

I expected it to take at least 45 minutes. I grumbled. I grouched. I finished my glass of wine. I checked my email. I got to work.

And you know what? It took me less time to unload the dishwasher, reload it with dirty dishes, and do all the pots and pans by hand than it did to write this post. Fifteen minutes, from chaos to completion -- 20, if you count the fact that I went a bit overboard and wiped down the countertops and stove. Which made me wonder: How many other horrible, involved, messy projects have I procrastinated over or avoided, when just rolling up my sleeves and getting to work would have taken less time?

Lylah M. Alphonse writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and Work It, Mom!, is the Child Caring columnist for Boston.com/Moms, and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat.