Creating New Routines

Creating New Routines

Why isn’t there some standard schedule of household chores? My wife is going to be laid up for some time after a recent operation so I’m taking on as much of the cooking, cleaning and general housework as I can find the time to do alongside work and looking after her. Or trying to…

The trouble is that housework is not one of my usual routines so I have trouble remembering what needs doing. Also, unlike my wife, I can only focus on one task at a time – for example, I can’t leave the washing to do some dusting because I’ll forget that the washing was in progress. I need to build these tasks into a routine so that I can perform them automatically, without needing to consciously supervise myself throughout.

This got me thinking – what are the obstacles that make doing these things more difficult for me than, say, developing software? Right up there has to be my memory problems. I can recall technical information relating to my job without any issues, navigating through millions of lines of code as easily as finding my way to the local shops. But I have lost count of the number of times I have poured the water into a cup of tea, left the room while it steeps and completely forgotten about it until my wife asks where it’s got to. I’ve also been known to go into another room to fetch some item only to have forgotten what it was by the time I get there. It’s the same with any non-routine task – if I step away from it to do something else, more often than not I will forget what I was doing. It seems to be only my short-term memory that is affected in this way.

So how can I create new routines so that I get these tasks done efficiently? My first thought was to create a full schedule, but I realised that this would require more detailed information regarding task durations and frequency of repetition than I possess, and would be too inflexible because of ad-hoc demands on my time. So then I thought about just making a checklist of tasks that need to be completed, perhaps with deadlines where appropriate. I think that’s the method I’ll try first – I need a way to organize myself and to-do lists generally work for me. I use them at work – along with decomposing tasks into manageable chunks. This is a common technique, breaking a large task down into smaller sub-tasks, that I use at work, first to estimate how long a particular software development project will take and then to structure my approach to the task. It also helps a lot when faced with a huge job that daunts by its very size and complexity. Breaking it up into small pieces allows me to focus on each individually and keeps me from trying to fit too much detail into my mind at any one time.

Once I’ve run through the sequence of jobs a few times I believe I’ll get used to the pattern and – as if by magic – a new routine will exist. Sounds simple, but I’m sure there’ll be some difficulties – I’ve got a feeling that some of these household jobs are ones that get done as and when they are needed rather than according to a fixed schedule like “mop the kitchen floor at 7pm on Tuesday evening”. I wish I knew how my wife coped with it all – it just seems so complicated and time-consuming to me. I’m amazed that she could manage it all without any written plan.