Systemise everything

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I have no doubt that my kids sometimes think I am crazy. When they wash up their lunchbox containers every day after school, there is a very specific way they must be placed on the dish rack. I will actually have my children take their items out and rearrange them correctly if necessary. I am sure they’ll tell their kids all about it when they’re older.

While it may seem unimportant to my kids, I know that every lunchbox item needs to be placed carefully so that the water can drain out, or else the containers will still be wet in the morning. As the head supervisor of my home, I have carefully designed a specific way of creating this arrangement so that it works most efficiently. I also know that teaching my children my specific method will save us time in the long run.

Now, some of my children are too young yet to understand why systemising tasks is important, which is why they think I’m a bit nuts. However, the older ones are beginning to understand that systemising repeat tasks helps us fit various aspects of our lives together efficiently to keep things running smoothly.

The reality for most of us is that we have way too many things that need to be completed each and every day.

Many of those things are the same things we did yesterday, the day before, and the day before that. When we were first living on our own and taking care of ourselves, these tasks may have taken a lot of time to complete (if we were being responsible at all). But over time, if we have been mindful of our processes for getting these things done, we can learn quicker, more efficient orders, methods and procedures. This systemisation, the completing of our tasks in the same efficient way and same order every day, helps us to maximise our productivity and cut down on the time it takes to complete our work.

Memorising a specific order to the tasks you must complete allows you to flow from one to the next without having to stop and try to remember what else needs to be done. Because you have systemised your jobs and committed them to memory, you know how much time to set aside. This is especially useful when there is a set deadline for getting through your list.

Systemising your daily tasks allows you to develop a smooth-running routine, ensuring you can fit as much in to every day as possible. Instead of running your home haphazardly or doing things just whenever you feel the need or inclination, having a system in place gives you a running knowledge of what needs to happen next and how long it will take to complete. It also ensures that tasks are completed regularly and things are not neglected.

An example of an order system in my daily life is my morning routine:

  • wake up and get out of bed
  • sit down to computer and complete morning writing
  • make lunches for school children
  • wake school children to prepare for day
  • make breakfast for children
  • ensure children are getting ready
  • get dressed
  • take medicine
  • make bed
  • wipe down bathrooms
  • tidy kitchen and start dishwasher
  • put on a load of laundry to wash
  • say goodbye to children as they go out the door

This is my complete early morning routine and this is how I successfully get my children to school on time each morning, set up with everything they need for the day, complete some very important work and get my housework moving along.

If you don’t have any order systems or routines in place yet to guide your daily tasks, you may find it a challenge at first. I resisted routines for a very long time, resenting what I interpreted as a sort of entrapment. It can be difficult for the free-spirited.

However, each time I abandoned a routine I eventually discovered that I was actually more trapped by the chores I needed to complete when I didn’t have a plan in place to complete them. Not having a plan doesn’t make them go away, after all. Putting jobs within the context of a routine means that you know what needs to be done and when to do it. This actually gives you freedom.

In order to start building up a set of routines for your own daily tasks, I suggest you start with a very simple morning and evening routine. You already get up every day, you most likely brush your teeth and take your vitamins. Write these into your routine. Keep your morning routine smooth and simple, and ensure everything on your morning routine serves a distinct purpose.

  • What else do you need to do every morning?
  • What would make your whole day run more smoothly?
  • What would help motivate you to get other tasks done?
  • What deadlines shape your morning (school drop offs? Work schedule?)?

When creating your evening routine, think ahead to the next morning. Again, keep your evening routine simple and to the point, especially at first. Once you have been working your routines for a while, you will notice what is working and what is not and you’ll be able to adjust to suit yourself.

  • How can you make your next day run better?
  • Are there simple things you can do to prepare for the day ahead of you?

When I was first setting up my own routines, I used a very well-known online resource at www.flylady.net. As a starting point to systemising daily work, I highly recommend it. Once you learn the basics it is easy to customise routines and systems for yourself.

Another way you can systemise a task is by setting a specific method that you use each time. This is useful for jobs that have a few steps.

An example of one of my method systems is my laundry procedure. In order to make sure laundry gets done most efficiently, I wash, hang to dry, fold up and put away two loads of laundry every day. I have my own ways of completing this task from how I separate my laundry, to the products I use to wash, to the way I hang items for most efficient drying and fewest wrinkles, to the way I organise the clothing as I’m folding and putting it away. I’m very methodical about doing my laundry because it is efficient and effective. My system works well for me and with eight kids and a husband, it has to.

One important thing to note is that each of your systems will most likely look very different from mine. Each household is different. I have eight children including teens and young toddlers, and that gives me a very full plate of household duties. I have my own set of ambitions that I am working towards, requiring a highly individual set of daily tasks.  I also have my own personality flaws and weaknesses which I have to work around, as do you. The specifics of my own systems may not be very relevant to you; the benefits of systemising can only be fully realised if it creates efficiency for you in your specific situation. Take the time to craft your own systems and don’t cling to someone else’s, if they don’t work for you.

Also keep in mind that the most efficient systems develop over time and with experience. The main thing to focus on initially is to increase your thoughtfulness and mindfulness as you go about each of your daily tasks. Begin to set some basic routines and methods in place. As you increase awareness and complete each job with intention and mindfulness you will naturally tend to notice what works and what does not. You will be able to shape your routines and methods to work for you. This is the beginning of creating systems that are custom fit to the way you live your life.

I’ll caution you to allow your mindset to remain flexible. Systems are tools in your toolbox, not personal values that you need to uphold at any cost. While it may be true that your way of doing things makes things work better, it is not something that is worth damaging relationships over. So be careful if you’re teaching your systems to your children that you’re being kind and patient.

If you’re sharing your way of doing things with your spouse, be prepared to let go if they don’t want to work the same way you do. I know that my husband struggles to understand why laundry has to be folded and sorted a certain way prior to being put away. Although I’ve explained to him that I have a system based on years of experience, I don’t think he really understands how it improves things, and that’s okay. When he folds laundry, he can do it his way.

It’s also good to keep in mind that systems should be dynamic and responsive. You should always be open to changing the way one of your systems works if you find something that works better. Always be looking for ways to tighten up your routines and methods, and be aware of changes in your circumstances that require a change in the way you do things. Otherwise you’re letting your systems work you instead of the other way around.

Overall, systemising the way you complete your important but often repetitive and time-consuming tasks is a great help, and many would say it is crucial to success. If you will put in the effort to acquiring and fine-tuning this discipline, you will reap the rewards in the form of greater freedom, increased time to pursue your other goals, and a smooth-running household where everyone has something to wear most of the time, kids are not often late to school and there are very few soggy sandwiches in the lunchbox.

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