The Blessing of Everyday Tasks

(I’m taking a blog hiatus and re-posting some oldies this week. So if this feels familiar, you’ll know why.)

“The best time for planning a book is when you’re doing the dishes.”

-Agatha Christie

Lately I’ve been having conversations with a friend about the importance of the menial, everyday tasks in our lives, and how they provide wonderful opportunities to let our minds loose to roam, explore, and process.

We live in such a noisy world. Whenever we’re driving or folding laundry or jogging, it’s tempting to always have our iPods or cell phones in our ears, or the TV or radio on in the background. How desperately we avoid having few moments of silence!

But I am more and more aware of the importance of allowing our minds to be free once in awhile. We can create silence—when our hands are busy—so that we can hear our own thoughts, so that ideas can form, so that our subconscious can help us solve problems, so that we can hear the voice of God. I believe that when we constantly have “input” into our brains in the form of music or voices, we rob ourselves of the crucial processing time our minds need in order to be creative and access all of our intelligence.

I’m not talking about dedicated prayer or meditation time, which is important in its own right. I’m talking about doing the dishes, walking the dog. Cleaning out the car or driving to work. Times when our hands and bodies are busy doing something that doesn’t require our entire brain’s worth of concentration. These are times we can stop seeing as boring or wasted time, but as valuable “free time” for our minds. We can enter them with no agenda except to have no agenda. We can get used to the solitude and eventually come to appreciate the riches that can be found in the quiet.

One of my favorite books is The Quotidian Mysteries by Kathleen Norris. In it, she encourages us to treasure rare moments of solitude and silence and to avoid distracting ourselves with television and the like. The menial tasks of life, she says, can be “islands of holiness” in an otherwise chaotic and noisy life. This has been hard for me to get used to. I’m constantly downloading podcasts from iTunes and listening while I fold laundry or dust the furniture. I listen to music when I go running or workout at the gym. But I’m trying to open up some of these times to the silence.

If you are a writer, then these times are incredibly important for you. Your brain needs open space to create, to solve plot and character problems, to clarify your position on an issue you’re exploring in your writing, to come up with just the right word for that problematic sentence you’ve struggled with.

I challenge you today to start looking at your daily “quotidian” tasks in a new light. Not as something to dread or simply get through, not as a time to catch up on the TV news, but as a gift from God, a time to allow the silence and discover its treasures.

What will you find there?

(c) 2010 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Snappoint on December 11, 2011 at 2:11 AM


    Wonderful blog post, saw on…

  2. Anonymous on August 1, 2010 at 9:59 PM

    >I would like to exchange links with your site
    Is this possible?

  3. sharmon gazaway on July 31, 2010 at 10:57 AM

    >How many times have I pounded my head on the desk trying to force an idea out of my sieve-brain? Only to have something brilliant (well, almost) hit me at a red light. I can't tell you how many times this has happened. I have gotten some of my best dialogue, descriptions and titles between traffic lights–as soon as I stop, or sometimes while inching forward, I jot them down in my handy-dandy notepad. It's a perverse fact of the fallen human mind that a great idea will not hit while you are actually trying to write. Murphy's Law of writing.

  4. Julie Musil on July 30, 2010 at 4:14 PM

    >I'm guilty of feeling like I'm wasting time when I'm not doing something. Thanks for the reminder that sometimes doing nothing is the very best thing!

  5. Grapeshot/Odette on July 29, 2010 at 9:34 AM

    >My aerobics class sets my mind loose and plot ideas arrive like kamikazees.

  6. Lisa on July 29, 2010 at 9:28 AM

    >I really appreciate this post. I treasure silence, and our culture has programmed us to be afraid of it. But you are correct in saying that it is in these moments that the seeds of imagination grow. Thanks for pointing it out.

  7. Lisa on July 29, 2010 at 9:28 AM

    >I really appreciate this post. I treasure silence, and our culture has programmed us to be afraid of it. But you are correct in saying that it is in these moments that the seeds of imagination grow. Thanks for pointing it out.

  8. Carrie L. Lewis on July 28, 2010 at 1:09 PM

    >Amen, Rachelle, amen!

    And that's just my response to your title. I've long been an advocate of taking housework breaks from writing and painting (I'm a painter as well as a writer) because it puts my actively creative mind in PARK and frees up my subconscious.

    My husband and I have been TV-less for so long that we don't even have the digital converter box (or whatever it was). No cable. No network. Nothing. We listen to limited radio, too, and splurge in the 'luxury' of a video once a week on what we refer to as "Cheap Date Night". (Usually a classic).

    After two or three years of living TV-less, I can personally vouch for the wealth of time we have to do other things like work on cars, putter in the yard and, of course, write. We don't miss TV at all and wonder why we ever thought we were tied to it.

    Thanks for the reminder that silence is not only golden, but a blessing from God, as well.


  9. Pat on July 28, 2010 at 8:56 AM

    >I loved this Rachelle and can't wait to find that book. I am so guilty of filling every spare moment and often FEEL guilty when I don't.
    Great reminder of a tried and true truth,

  10. Leigh D'Ansey on July 28, 2010 at 1:38 AM

    >Mowing the lawn is an activity that lets my thoughts drift – it's noisy, but the noise doesn't need to be listened to and no one else can interrupt. If I don't regularly have quiet times to myself I honestly feel ill.

  11. Dominique on July 27, 2010 at 11:05 PM

    >I've heard a lot of people say that when their hands are busy and their surrounds quiet they're thoughts cascade and something brilliant occurs. I don't know if that's always been my experience, but maybe I'm just not around quiet often enough for that to work.

    Personally, I've always thought of it as a sound trigger for myself. Some sounds, generally words, enters my brain, knocks over a stack of thoughts in my mind,and an idea forms in the cascade of papers. But maybe that's just me.

    Maybe I'll give silence another go. It's certainly worth a shot.

  12. Brother Cysa Dime on July 27, 2010 at 1:42 PM

    >I get the most creative ideas to include in my books throughout the day when doing other things. When I get them I add them by hand to the manuscript printout.

  13. mary bailey on July 27, 2010 at 12:47 PM

    >I adore silence. As someone with ADD, too much TV or music rattles my brain. Oddly enough, I have to listen to my MP3 when I'm walking at the track to drown out the conversations of all the other noisy walkers! Oh, how I wish they could just walk in silence!

  14. Kate on July 27, 2010 at 11:57 AM

    >Truly awesome post! Sometimes I crave opportunities to fold clothes, vacuum, dust, whatever. It gives me a little peace knowing I'm taking care of business. And my brain gets to rest. Thanks, Rachelle, for reminding me!

  15. T. Anne on July 27, 2010 at 10:45 AM

    >I do love finding the time I need to plot and think through tangles in my story lines while doing mundane tasks. It's multitasking at its best.

  16. Susan on July 27, 2010 at 10:00 AM

    >Absolutely true! These times are when I get the best ideas for writing and other endeavors.

  17. Messy mommy on July 27, 2010 at 9:33 AM

    >I get all kinds of great ideas and fixes when I'm in the shower or doing dishes. I must have something on in the car or my mind will wander and I won't pay attention to my driving, lol. I have missed a few turns that way.

  18. Hannah on July 27, 2010 at 9:31 AM

    >I find that making soup is the best way to solve plot problems. I was making a lot of soup when I first started writing, and the habit stuck! It's quiet and relaxing and gives me something to do with my hands while I think.

  19. Thufer on July 27, 2010 at 9:08 AM

    >Thank you!

  20. Jason on July 27, 2010 at 9:01 AM

    >I'm with Sharon…I have these "brilliant" ideas in the middle of the night and make a point to write them down right away. But in the morning I'm left wondering what the heck I was thinking…

  21. Susan Bourgeois on July 27, 2010 at 8:57 AM

    >Everything you've stated in the post is true. I do this throughout each day. I like to create quiet times in my life. It's an incredible, easy way to connect with God and the universe for whatever reason you choose.

    This sounds a bit out there, doesn't it? It's not. It's a fact. We don't need continuous noise all around us throughout the day. There's plenty of noise we cannot control; we don't need to feel like we must add more.

    I feel a great admiration for parents who realize this and make the decision to turn off TVs during the week. I can only imagine how relaxing that could be for an entire family.

    When I am driving in my car for an extended amount of time, I sometimes take the radio off and use that time to pray out loud for my family. If a car runs parallel to me, I act like I'm singing a song so they won't think I'm talking to myself. Why I continue to care at my age of 55, I do not know.

    I walk/jog daily. Many times I don't use my Nano so that I can think clearly and try to solve an issue with writing or in my everyday life. Getting in touch with nature seems to always clear my mind.

    Yes, allowing your creativity to soar as you perform mundane tasks can produce tremendous insight.

    Let me also state it can cause you to misplace items in your home.

    Just this past week I found a loaf of bread in my refrigerator and a tub of whipped butter in my pantry.

    To me, this is a small price to pay when compared to all the great insight I have gained.

    If this continues to occur, I feel I may have to create some type of simple explanation for my family.

    How's this: Sorry, I was having one of my creative bursts; that's the price we must pay for my gifts!

  22. Maria on July 27, 2010 at 8:37 AM

    >The cacophony created by my three young children provide enough noise that I don't ever listen to the TV or radio while doing menial tasks. However this is a blessing because I do gain insights as I work (plus I get to know my children better when we talk while we work together)

  23. Sharon A. Lavy on July 27, 2010 at 8:31 AM

    >Some of my best ideas come in the middle of the night.

    I have to get up and go to my computer before I lose it entirely.

    Well at least they seem like great ideas in the middle of the night! =)

  24. Kelly Freestone on July 27, 2010 at 7:37 AM

    >I missed this jewel. Thanks so much for posting it again.

    I'm trying to find peace in the quiet, trying to listen to God.

    It's not easy, things in life pop up quicker than I can push them away, but I'm trusting God will be there, just like He always is.

    I know He'd help me solve some of the problems in my stories if I can just get to that place.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  25. Em-Musing on July 27, 2010 at 6:35 AM

    >LOL! While doing dishes one night last week, I came up with my pitch for RWA National Conference. Hmm?Maybe I need to use less paper plates and more real dishes.

  26. kathy taylor on July 27, 2010 at 6:26 AM

    >Because of a neurological illness, I had to live quietly for several years. Most of the time, I could not talk. A cacophony of any sort (and tv is one of the sorts) also triggered the pain. In the quiet times I got to know the Lord much better. I read Kay Gibbons, Connie May Fowler, and Michael Lee West every chance I got. But the Bible really came to life and in turn brought life back to me.

  27. Gehayi on July 27, 2010 at 5:30 AM

    >Whenever we're driving or folding laundry or jogging, it's tempting to always have our iPods or cell phones in our ears, or the TV or radio on in the background.

    How odd. Do people really do that? I ask because I don't own an iPod (those are for people with far more money than I have) or a radio; I don't have a cell phone to my ear unless I'm calling Dial-A-Ride or the pharmacy; and the television is rarely on, because there isn't much worth watching. I do keep the computer on…but if I'm listening to internet reviews or playing a game, I'm not writing. When I write, I need quiet. I can't concentrate otherwise.

  28. Christine Faour on July 27, 2010 at 5:18 AM

    >I couldn't agree more – I find also that when I am quietly observing others and imagining what their lives are about, I find ideas that I never would have had while listening or talking…that's why I keep a moleskin notebook on me at all times. Some of my best ideas come from that notebook.

  29. American Cloggie on July 27, 2010 at 4:44 AM

    >I used to always have the radio or a CD on in the car and be singing along. I can't remember why I stopped, but I did. And now I can't stand to have music on in the car. I've noticed that my best ideas come while I'm walking the dog (particular at night when it's dark and I feel more hidden) and when I'm in the car.

  30. frapoBlue on July 27, 2010 at 1:50 AM

    >I find that even if you are in the noisiest and busiest place, as long as the menial task is something you are so used to and it doesn't really take a lot of concentration (that your body already knows its way by simply moving), i think the silence that your mind seeks seep out then. Even if your outside world is utterly chaotic.