Maybe this sounds familiar: You grab that same ugly, chipped mug out of the cabinet, then spill your coffee as you stumble over that corner of the carpet that keeps curling up because you haven’t had time to fix it. You get to the office, sit at your desk, and realize that your chair is still squeaking because you didn’t fill out a repair request.
You’re thoroughly irritated, and it’s not even 9:15 a.m.
There’s a name for those everyday annoyances that build up and grate on your last nerve, drain your energy, and sap your productivity, says Madeleine Blanchard, cofounder of coaching services at The Ken Blanchard Companies in Escondido, California. They’re called tolerations. They include those little and not-so-little tasks, chores, and to-dos that we typically put off. They’re unpleasant enough that you want to avoid them, but pressing or disruptive enough that they have a negative impact on your daily life. The late coaching pioneer Thomas J. Leonard, founder of Coach U and the International Coach Federation, is widely credited with coining the term.
“It’s a condition or situation that’s irritating and can be eliminated—something you’re putting up with that has a negative impact on you, consuming your time, energy, or resources,” says executive coach Donna Schilder, founder of performance-coaching firm Glacier Point Solutions, Inc.
So while conventional wisdom tells us not to sweat the small stuff, both Blanchard and Schilder say that paying attention to those irritations can reduce negative emotions, free up energy, and improve our productivity. Here’s how to do so efficiently.
Grab a pencil and paper or open your list-making app and start a brain dump of all of those daily irritations that are driving you nuts, Schilder says. Think about disorganization that’s wasting your time. Repairs that need to be made. Important conversations you need to have. Things that bother you every time you look at or think about them. For the next few days, take notes as you notice new ones.
Next, look at the list and figure out what can be dumped or delegated. Are you ever going to fix that wobbly table or should you just donate it? Can you delegate some of those work tasks to someone else? If you can’t seem to get on top of your housecleaning, can you throw a little money at the problem and call in a service? Note the solutions on your list.
Once you have a list of issues that need to be addressed, schedule time to do so, Blanchard says. Schedule a personal day and line up every repair person who needs to come to your house for that day. Blow through that closet filled with a decade’s worth of old clothes. Make medical appointments you’ve been putting off. Treat toleration-busting like it’s your job—because that day, it is.
Just the act of completing the things you’ve been putting off is going to give you a boost. “There’s that feeling of accomplishment, too, when you get done the things that have been bothering you,” Blanchard says.
Don’t be alarmed if your first tolerations list fills pages. Depending on your personality, you may be tolerating more than others, Schilder says. When she made her first list about 10 years ago, she says she had roughly 100. But if you check in regularly with yourself and deal with new ones head-on, you’ll never have such a long list again, she says. Come up with a schedule that works for you—perhaps quarterly or annually, she suggests.
If you find yourself regularly dealing with the same types of tolerations, there might be deeper issues at work, Schilder says. Note how you’re feeling about those you find difficult to ditch, delegate, or fix. You may have a belief or habit that’s contributing to the repeat behavior or issue.
“Look at whether you have beliefs that are holding you in these tolerations. A belief example might be, ‘I’m supposed to help people,’ and that may be keeping you from giving people boundaries,” she says. Once you address the underlying reason, you’ll have an easier time letting go.