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Since barns were invented, there have been traditions of the community barn-raising, and right alongside, similar inventions for doing everything else we need a village to do, like raising children, stitching quilt tops, and betting on low-stakes bingo.

There are many things in life that don’t require a village, of course. Unlike barns, plenty of achievements—like a lasagna or a cardigan—can be accomplished solo.

But it seems to me there are also many things that some people can do all by themselves, but others cannot. And here I count things like going mano a mano with health insurance “providers,” opening scary mail that’s been sitting on the desk for a month, and trying to find someone at the airport to help me retrieve the zip-up hoodie I lost in the security lineup two weeks ago.

No matter what the dreaded task is, how big or how small, if there’s something I simply cannot stop shuffling to the bottom of the pile, I know I need to call for backup. I don’t need anyone to do the task for me. They just have to believe I can do it and tell me so. They have to say, “Max! YOU CAN PICK UP THE PHONE. I’ll be with you the whole time.” And perhaps pat me encouragingly as I shudder through 24 minutes of hold music.

And then maybe, you know, throw me a parade after.

Just like a barn-raising, I will do the same and help them get through their dismal tasks. So it’s totally the same, because there are snacks, but it’s different, because together we can generally get through more than one barn at a go.

I’ve been hosting what I call Odious Tasks Parties in some form for about 20 years, and at those parties I’ve completed a mountain of mending, KonMari’d a thrift shop’s worth of geegaws, and figured out how to make my doctor’s office stop double-billing me. (Answer: after two years and innumerable hours lost, get the state’s attorney general on the case.) But for an Odious Tasks Party, I’d probably still be in medical debt today. I never could have resolved that problem as a solo act; I was spent from all the impotent-rage weeping.

No doubt you have a pile of your own odious tasks (and you can guess I’m kinda dying to know what they are! Please, pop ‘em down below! It’ll give us all courage) that you need hand-holding for. Perhaps a small pile, perhaps a big one. Why not call for reinforcements?

Odious Tasks Party DIY

Here’s how I suggest throwing your own Odious Tasks Party:

  • If possible, schedule the party to take place in person. But Zoom has been working pretty well, too.
  • Snacks and drinks are helpful incentives here to get through the work. It’s already sort of a barn-raising which is more than halfway to a potluck, so ask folks to bring something.
  • Let your people know that OTP is a time to do the harder things. If they’ve avoided finishing their sweater because they hate Kitchener, that qualifies; bring it! But I do ask that people not show up with their happy-place projects. That’s just Knit Night, and this is Power Hour. The group vibe is “determined.”
  • If not everyone knows each other, just telling each other what we’re working on serves as a good icebreaker.
  • Gotta be tough to get ‘er done, but also vulnerable enough to admit we need help. Not every venue is a safe space to admit you’re negotiating with debt collectors, but ideally this group is.
  • Task size doesn’t matter. Big projects: great! Odds and ends: great! It’s the size of the fear or loathing that makes us need help.
  • Keep the party time-bound. 90 minutes of real work is actually a lot of work; ask any manager. Being explicit that you’re going to do Hard Things, but only for a while, is what makes people accept the invitation.
  • Celebrate knocking some beasts off the list. Cheer for each other: you all did it!

You could plan for one party and see how it goes, but it can also work to schedule a recurring party and just let the people come as they’re able.

Let’s Do This Thing

Special treat: You’re invited to my (First Annual?) MDK Online Odious Tasks Party via Zoom. Let’s raise that barn! Bring your dread tasks for parallel play and, ideally, delightful and supportive conversation as we each shrink our odious list a little.

I’ll have my video and audio on throughout, and the chat will be open as well. Let’s plan to start by declaring our intentions and see what we can get through.

Here are the details:

Date: Saturday November 6, 2021

Time: 11am-noon Eastern. We can do anything for 60 minutes…

Place: Tune in here (that’s a link) on Zoom.

Zoom etiquette: Video on or off; mute for making odious calls but otherwise let’s chat!

Dress code: Comfort first. I’ll have on the Real Housepants of Marblehead.

Hope to see you there! I and my mending pile await the pleasure of your company.

Image:  Barn-raising pattern quilt, unknown artist, United States, c. 1890. Minneapolis Institute of Art, gift of Roberta and Richard Simmons. Public Domain.
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About The Author

Max Daniels is a research-based life coach whose weekly emails make us laugh with recognition and rethink everything we thought we knew. Her new book is Meals at Mealtimes. What a concept!


  • I hate reviewing my Medicare supplemental insurance every year. Last year I just ignored it and hoped I would
    not get sick. So far so good. Now it is time to review it for 2022.

    I also have ignored cashing out a life insurance policy for a few years. I have to do this after Jan.1, 2022. (My deadline, it could easily be another year but I am determined to do it in early January.)

    I really need to stop procrastinating. I would rather knit, stitch, read or anything else including working-out.

    Thanks for suggesting I write this down. I feel more able to tackle these tasks. We’ll see.

    • I know, right? In case it helps to know, I helped my mom review her Medicare supplement a couple of weeks ago, and she ended up with almost $700 in “found money” because of a couple of reimbursements she could request. I count it as each of us earning $350 an hour that day, me for reading, her for doing the paperwork. (I get excited just finding an extra $20 in my wallet – $350 an hour was very satisfying indeed!)

  • My garage clean-out/clean-up has been hanging over my head for two years. Every time I look at it, I think “I can do this! It’s not that bad”, and then I don’t

  • Love this idea!!
    We need each other!

  • Where was this two weeks ago when I had to pack or protect 2 bookshelves, the living room of anything brown, breakable or hanging on a wall and the entire kitchen? Worth the effort for sure and the outcome will be great but a long and lonely task.
    That said, by Sat it may be time to dial in and hem those “almost hard pants” I bought last spring.

  • I had my townhouse painted in August and I am still purging and putting away. And those Medicare letters are staring at me as well.

    • Connecting my new cable box which I’ve had for months, purging clothes that no longer fit me, picking up the thumb stitches in a pair of mittens and finishing them

  • Just as encouragement, for weeks I was dreading calling the turnpike commission in my state about my EZPass – the pinnacle of bureaucracy and slow, out of date systems. I finally bit the bullet, and to my surprise after only about 4 layers of “press this button” I got the NICEST human, engaged, capable, funny, who solved my problem in 5 minutes. It was the most pleasant conversation I’d ever had with a customer service person. I’m going to think of her every time I dread a phone call.

    Otherwise, yeah, anything to do with insurance or medical offices is high on the list of “I’ll do it later” tasks…

  • …and playing Stevie Ray Vaughn or ZZ Top. Thank you for Odious Task Mgmt. 101.

  • I purchased a new (expensive, aren’t they all) quilting machine in February 2021 and I have yet to use it because I haven’t gone step by step through the manual.

    • Before I moved from Minnesota to Florida in February 2021, I bought a weaving loom. I didn’t take it out of its box and assemble it because we were moving. Eight months later I had a total shoulder replacement and the loom still is trapped in its shipping box.

  • I want to sell some stock, but I have the stock certificates with me, so first I have to call to find out how to get them to them. I also have to empty out a bank account and give the money to a certain organization. I need to find out who to contact. I’ve put the first task off for weeks, and the second for YEARS. Neither one are hard, so why am I dragging my feet?

    • Because you will have to find out information from people who know all about what they are doing, and you don’t, and asking multiple questions and for more details from them may make you feel a little dumb briefly which isn’t comfortable. But you’re not dumb, you’re just in a new arena, and it’s natural to be disoriented and confused until you get what you need. Break the tasks into small pieces: today I call (or Google) to find out how to get the stock certificates. Tomorrow I email or call to start that process. The day after I find out who in the certain organization handles bequests/donations/whatever it is – and once you find that person, they may even have a form they can email you to fill out and then they take over the whole task from there. Once it’s done, it will never gnaw at you again. Good luck!

  • I have been trying to get rid of a timeshare for years. (Its in Orlando in October if anyone is interested.) It seems there are plenty of scammers out there but no real help.

    • A common problem. My parents had two timeshares. When dad died (3 years ago), mom didn’t want to use the props nor pay the annual fees/taxes. I set my hubby (disclosure – NYC real estate lawyer) to the task. Call the selling office, and/or the franchise who sold the share. Get a name to talk with at corporate. There may be a clause where the original seller has a buy-back provision. Negotiate. In my mom’s case the original big corporate seller bought both timeshares back – for cheap. It’s often at a small fraction of the buy, but you can get out from under. Good luck.

    • The community where I had a timeshare decided to buy out, or otherwise collect for delinquency, all the shares and then sell the units as real condos for people to live in permanently. Have you asked if the community will buy you out, or if you can transfer the title to them for a nominal price?

  • I need to call the MyIR number again to get my vaccine record on my phone. I hate phone calls, anyway – last time there was a lot of time on hold for a man who said he fixed my problem, but he didn’t.

  • I’ve been trying to revise my will for – cough cough – more than 5 years. I know what I want, I chose an executor, I filled out an online template, but there’s one provision in the template I don’t want to use and I don’t know how to just print out what I’ve got. Could just re-type the whole thing, no reason not to finish this. Just Have Not Done It. Now that maybe you all know, I’ll finish it.

    • Please check with an attorney to make sure you won’t cause a problem if you omit this provision. Sometimes very odd things are required by particular states in certain legal documents, so it’s good to check before you leave it out!

      In many states, you can get a referral to a local attorney for a brief consultation at no cost or low cost by contacting the state bar association. If you are age 60 or older, you also may be able to get free legal help through the local Agency on Aging (might have a slightly different name but almost all counties have one). I feel very bad about adding a layer of complication, but wills can be invalidated if they aren’t exactly in compliance with local law …

      Good luck!

      • I’m with Tess on this one, using an attorney is money well spent. Please don’t be like my sister – she passed away last year and I am executor of her estate, and she was a smart cookie, but she left an out-of-date will that is absolutely technically valid, and just as absolutely does not suit the current situation. Please have compassion on your designated executor — it’s a thankless job – you can’t make it easy for them, but you can make it less arduous, and less likely to actually prevent your current wishes from being carried out. Trust me. Be nice to your executor, and use an attorney to get your estate planning documents done. Might cost as much as a new set of good tires, but well worth it.

  • Great idea!! Starting my list.

  • Oooooh, that’s a party I will be attending. Probably on mute as I do my dishes (the chore I have to do constantly that I hate starting) and get some mending done.

  • So there is a business concept call “eat the frog”

    Note: be careful if you Google this as you will get many literal videos!

    It is the concept of start your day with the thing you dread. Your day can always go up from there and you get a feeling of satisfaction for doing something hard

    That being said, I hate phone calls and will always leave them till the end.

    • I had always thought that Mark Twain said, “Eat a live frog each morning & nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” I looked it up. Twain didn’t say or write this; Emile Zola did. ( No matter. It does work – get it over with. Sometimes I practice this; sometimes not. Gotta do it more often.

    • Love the concept….”eat the frog.” Can’t wait to share this with my friends. They will love it. Thanks. A little humor works like a “spoonful of sugar.”

  • 6 months since my last confession.
    Nothing tragic just discouraging. I promised to knit a squirrel for my granddaughter. I’m 80% through it. However unlike previous toys this pattern is full of “ bind off cut yarn reattach,” a page of instruction for 6 tiny rows. Feh!!!
    Every time I pick it up I throw it back in my bag. What’s worse is I won’t start anything else because I know if I do it will be forgotten and never finished .

  • Way back in the 1950’s, I remember my mother and several friends would meet once a month to work on hand mending and darning. They called it Sewing Club and I suspect there was less angst adding items to the mending pile, knowing it would be taken care of during a pleasant time.

  • I have found that the time spent on hold for a phone call is a great time to do the dishes or a bit of knitting. Pick up your space, sort through the stack of mail, whatever! Doubling up means I’ve spent less overall time. Speakerphone or headphones come in quite handy when doing it this way.

  • Omg just seeing this post and knowing that I’m not the only person giving the stink eye to stacks of mail that need a phone call to resolve makes this the best Monday AM in forever! Being telephobic I avoid tasks that require a phone call resolution. An OTP is a brilliant solution!

    • Thanks for giving me the diagnosis I’ve been looking for: telephobic. It’s a case of PTSD from my law career that has never left me.

  • I need to transfer the registration of my sons’ italian citizenship from philadelphia to san francisco to be able to renew their italian passports. I’ve come at this task a couple of times now but always get stuck with some administrative piece that I’ve done wrong. Now, i think I need to get a document from my ex to be able to proceed…

  • Great idea! It feels like just about everything on my multi-page list is an odious task these days. The best way I’ve found to cope with any of those frustrating “business” calls is to put the call on speaker and stitch away on an easy knitting/crochet/embroidery project. It keeps me in a much better frame of mind while I’m on an endless hold, though I do end up a little disappointed if the hold time is short…

  • I didn’t realize I wasn’t the only person who hates telephone calls for anything (besides my husband, which makes solving some problems doubly difficult). I’ll put off anything to avoid dealing with it by phone. Of course dealing F2F, which I prefer, has been impossible for most of the last 20 months.

    The annual struggle over Medicare supplements is both intimidating and unnecessary (I started a rant here, and then erased it), so I’ve already put them off for ten days and know each day I let it go it will be harder….

  • Anything that involves a phone call that’s sure to involve a hard to understand person on the other end after a long wait.

  • I do this for my son. When he needs to fill out job applications, or do simple tasks that are hard for ADD/Anxious people, I just go sit with him and that’s enough to get him moving. It’s always great to have a buddy. I need my husband to help me get through things that are hard too, so the idea of a Party of Support is a wonderful thing!

  • I’m in. Now have to figure out which odious task to bring to this hour.

  • Calling Comcast to get a better deal on our cable bill is something I’ve been putting off for oh, 2 years, lol. Makes me feel better to see I’m not the only one!

    Purging can be hard, but I’ve found it gets easier the more you do it. It’s the practice! I also like watching Marie Kondo on Netflix to get me in the mood. 🙂

  • Great timing, Max–I was thinking early this morning of a really important legal document I need to take care of, languishing for over 10 years. Mondays are desk archaeology days, when I try to join the “clean desk club” — an endless quest. I find that if I just start somewhere, even with a non-priority task, I often can trick myself into getting a lot done (works with yard tasks too). Books on tape (as I still call them) or podcasts work to get me focused, they serve as “the” distraction so my mind can’t wander elsewhere. Those silly stumbling blocks — like finally mailing the donation check I wrote out in August. Misery does love company, here’s to all of us clearing that next hurdle.

  • I’m totally with you on “scary mail.” In fact, any paperwork tops my list of Odious Tasks. I have just moved and am basically starting life over, so haunting local thrift stores in search of bargains is SO much more fun than tackling (necessary) Odious Paperwork. However, I think that this is a great idea! I have put you on my virtual calendar, though 11 am Easterm time means 8 am Pacific!

  • Just reading the comments and finding out I am not the *only one* who struggles with Odious Tasks has lifted the cloud a little today. Peering out from the gloom, it seems like everyone else is so capable and up-to-date and live in tidy houses… I was just thinking I’d need a party every day to face my biggest hurdle, the dishes, when someone even admitted dishes are IT for them, too! Thanks for the insight, Coach!

    • This is an excellent plan! I won’t be able to join in this time, but knowing that I’m not the only one who hates certain tasks is helpful too. May you all tackle many odious tasks. I may even be inspired to start sorting through my departed parents stuff. Courage, gang, we CAN do this!!

  • Count me in. How did you know I needed something like this to get me started working through the mess of my Terrible Garage?

  • If you have an insurance broker let them do the Medicare review for you. They do it free, at least in Oregon, because they get paid and there’s one odious task done. You need a broker (who knows all the plans).

  • Hey Coach,
    Wonderful to laugh (at myself) with you.
    Tanks. Writing this helped me avoid laundry, again.

  • “real housepants of Marblehead” …..lolllllll
    a most excellent practice – I’m in

  • Thank you for this. I have been hemming and hawing over scheduling a time to get my booster shot for the Covid vaccine. I read your article this morning, and your words helped me to just get it done.

  • My big scary project I have wanted to do for (##) years is transfer my bank account out of my current vulturous awful international corporate bank, and open an account in my local credit union. I keep putting it off because of all my automatic bill payments not to mention direct deposit of my paycheck… rage-weeping every time I have some obnoxious interaction with the current bank, I need to do this.

  • What a great idea! My husband has health issues so we are getting ready to move closer to family so they can help us more easily. Moving is one of my odious tasks. Just deciding what to keep and what to get rid of boggles my brain some days.

    You are so right.. mostly I need cheerleaders to say “ you are okay and can do this.”

  • I have two boxes of stuff from my office I mailed to myself upon retirement. I have yet to open them. I consider that a pretty odious task!

  • I have too many to choose from. Quilt binding is one. Listing projects may be one. Maybe I’ll sit in my yarn room and find all of my WIPs.

  • Love this! I’ve done one on one versions of this for years, in person and on the phone. It’s too odious to list any of them.

  • I’m boostered-up against Covid-19, but I need to schedule my shingles vaccine and my annual physical. Oh, and there’s routine maintenance for my car to schedule.

  • The irony is that instead of doing an “odious task,” I’m reading this!

  • Oh my GOD, I love this idea so much. I’ve done Barbara Sher-style barnraising and success teaming in the past, but making it specific for odious tasks is brilliant. I wish I could participate in the zoom, but I have a schedule conflict. But I’m going to take this idea and run with it. It’s so awesome.

  • Pretty please do another one because I can’t make it to this one, but I think it’s an awesome idea! I need to do all the paperwork to upgrade my teaching credential, but just can’t seem to get it done. Truly an odious task that probably isn’t as bad as I think!

  • This is a great idea but I am finally opening the email after the zoom is over. My odious task is going through my email inbox and paring it way, way down while unsubcribing from all the junk emails that have crept in. Had I done this odious task, I would have seen this email before the zoom took place. The irony of this is not lost on me…

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    • My doctor said there is no cure for herpes simplex. Once a person has the virus, it remains in the body. The virus lies inactive in the nerve cells until something triggers it to become active again. So i believe hoping to die with it, one day i was making some research to see if i can get any help from the internet so i came across people testimony about a herbal doctor called Oshuku so i contact him and explain how i feel with this deadly virus. He said i shouldn’t worry about my health that he’s going to prepare me Root and Herbs that we cure me permanently and that i should give him %10 trust in less than a month and two weeks i will smile so i did, having one thought in mind there’s no failure in trying so he prepare the medicine for me to my greatest surprise i take it as instructed then i go see my doctor for test and the result was negative my doctor ask how did i do it, i left to see another doctor for test same thing negative. I said to myself i’m not going to keep this good news to myself alone because i know there people at there who believes there no cure because the doctor said so. Contact him or WhatsApp +2348130419838 and be free totally.

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