Inventory Exercise: Responsibilities, Tasks, and Possible Solutions

cooking utensils

1. Before you begin, take a minute or so to center yourself and get grounded. Looking closely at all that we carry on our shoulders each day can sometimes bring up anxiety or fear—don’t worry! This exercise is not intended to overwhelm you in any way – just the opposite. We all grapple with burdens and responsibilities; after all, it’s a part of being human. So this exercise is simply here to help you empower yourself and remain in control of your circumstances by planning and preparing. The clearer that you can become right now about your responsibilities, the better situated you can get yourself so that changes feel smoother and more feasible down the road. And remember—there’s a great chance that you won’t need any of these solutions. But it doesn’t hurt to have them on hand, should the going get tough.

2. Get out your journal and draw three columns on the page. You might want to turn the page sideways, so that the three columns run along the length of the paper and you have more horizontal space to write across. Title the column furthest to the left, ‘Day-to-day responsibilities and tasks’; the middle column, ‘Possible solutions’; and the column on the right, ‘Proactive steps to take now’.

3. In the left column write down the list of your day-to-day responsibilities and tasks. Just include activities that you’d consider very important or required—in other words, things that have to be done in order for you or the people who rely on you to keep life in order, carmanage, function, and survive. (A few examples include: job/work, attending school, grocery shopping, driving oneself or others to important events and appointments, cooking and cleaning, etc.)  As you write, use extra pages if you need to, but remember that the point here is not to list every single thing that you have to do in a typical day, but simply to identify those activities that you consider to be very important or where others rely on you in significant ways.

4. When you’ve finished, stop and review that first column. How many activities are on the list? Are these responsibilities ones that you typically do all by yourself, or are any of them deskones that you already share with others? Do they all feel fully manageable right now, or are you already feeling a bit overwhelmed by any of them? Do any of the activities require you and you alone to perform them given your skills, training, or background, or are they ones that in theory other people could take over doing for a while? Pause to pay attention to anything you might be feeling as you consider these questions. Have any emotions emerged for you now that you see your daily life responsibilities mapped out before you? If you’re feeling any particularly strong thoughts or emotions come up, you might want to jot them down in your journal. Odds are, they’re your inner compass communicating something to you about your life circumstances, and they’re important to pay attention to.

5. Once you’ve thought these things through for a few minutes and jotted down any notes about how you’re feeling, start to fill out the middle column. Look back to each activity on the left and think through possible “solutions” to put in place should that activity become difficult or unmanageable for you down the road. Write those solutions down in the middle column. If you can’t come up with any possible solutions, just leave the area blank. When writing, include both the solutions and anyone else who might be required to make the solutions feasible. A few examples of possible solutions for a particular responsibility or task might include:

  • Asking someone else to take over partially or fully for a while. (For example, asking a fellow parent to share driving responsibilities for the kids; asking your partner to take over grocery shopping; or, if feasible, seeing if a family member could come stay with you for a while to help take care of your young children. Though we’ll explore these kinds of options in more detail in Step 5, “Building a support system”.)
  • If financially feasible, considering possible paid services that might help lighten your load. (For example, hiring a babysitter, or using a grocery delivery service.)
  • Figuring out a way to temporarily stop the activity. (For example, if work was the activity, finding out how much vacation time you have, or whether short-term disability could be an option.)
  • Exploring possible accommodations. (For example, exploring whether you could get extensions on school papers, or work from home on occasion instead of going into the office every day.)
  • Changing the scope and parameters of the activity so that it becomes more manageable. (For example, rather than cooking a fresh meal every day forpot yourself, you could start using a crockpot once a week potand “batch cooking” so that you can store several days’ worth of meals in the fridge/freezer. Or, you could call up a neighbor and think through a “potluck plan” for both of your families where you divvy up cooking responsibilities each week.)

6. Once you’ve written down possible solutions, shift over to the right-hand column and write down any actions that you think may be helpful to take right now so that you can be better prepared down the road to implement that solution should you need to.  A few proactive measures to take for a particular solution might include:

  • Looking into your company’s or school’s policies about short-term disability or accommodations for health-related issues.
  • Stocking up on essentials or finishing important tasks now so they aren’t “hanging over your head” later.
  • Considering whether there are daily routines, habits or patterns that you’ve developed that tend to amplify the level of stress you're feeling, or that tend to make some of the problems that you’ve identified become even more difficult. (For example, some people discover that their habit of staying up late watching TV, or the number of hours they spend on the phone each day, or the foods they’re snacking on are playing a role in amplifying the levels of emotional and mental overwhelm they feel, and that when they make changes in these habits they feel “like completely different people” and much more able to deal with daily problems.)  

7. Once you’ve completed all three columns, briefly scan the page(s) to notice if and where you see any holes in the middle and right-hand columns. Is there anything you could do to help you problem-solve some more? Or is there anyone in your life to whom you could turn to help think through possible solutions or proactive measures and get some more of those blanks filled in?

8. Take a break to give yourself space from the work you’ve just done. Pay attention to anything you might be feeling. When you’re ready, return to the ‘Reflections’ section.