Mastering recurring responsibilities

In our home, there are responsibilities that have to be completed multiple times each week — and some, each day — to keep clutter from spinning out of control. Laundry and dishes are two of these responsibilities that apply to most homes. We also have to sweep under my son’s high chair, feed pets, prepare meals, clear out the car, water plants, recycle the newspaper, a general pickup around the house, scrub the toilet, and numerous other activities just to maintain our base level of order.

These recurring responsibilities are best handled by setting up routines, and I recommend creating and following a chart of when to complete these responsibilities until these activities become habit. To create a chart:

  1. Make a list of every chore you need to complete and how often. For example: Launder bathroom towels–1x/week. Feed cats–2x/day. Launder bedroom sheets–1x/week. Make lunch–1x/day.
  2. Group any activities together that would be more efficiently done at the same time. For example: Laundering bathroom towels and sheets in the same load. Filling the car with gas and grocery shopping on the same errand run.
  3. On your chart, start by filling in those activities that are time sensitive. For example: Loading the dishwasher or washing dishes will need to be done after dinner.
  4. Once the time-sensitive activities are on the chart, fill in the other activities based on when you have the most time and energy. If you’re exhausted after dinner and just want to relax, you might benefit from putting some of your responsibilities on your chart before you leave for work in the mornings, when you’re more likely to finish the chore.
  5. Keep in mind your social calendar when creating your routine chart. If you tend to spend Friday nights out with friends, don’t schedule activities for Friday nights.
  6. Be realistic. You are not superhuman. Only put on your chart those responsibilities that must be completed to keep your home running smoothly. After a few months of working on and mastering your current list, you then might consider adding more lofty routines to your chart.
  7. Create an incentive structure to reward yourself for following the chart. Have fun and use stickers to track your progress. After 10 days of following the chart, have a nice dinner or take yourself to the movies. Identify the reward on your chart so that you have a reminder of your prize.

If more than one person lives in your house, be sure to assign specific actions to each person. Divide the responsibilities equally. Good luck creating your responsibility chart and getting work done around the house!

27 Comments for “Mastering recurring responsibilities”

  1. posted by amandalee on

    I second the grouping suggestion. I pack a week’s worth of lunches at once – at the same time that I’m doing laundry and running the dishwasher. If I didn’t do this, I’d never get out the door every morning, and I’d go out to the Thai restaurant around the corner from my work every day. πŸ™‚

  2. posted by Mike on

    Feed cats TWICE a day? You’re spoiling them! Fill their food bowl twice a WEEK. The rest of the time, they’ll eat vermin and neighborhood wildlife. That’s their job, after all.

    I swear, the way people coddle their cats…


  3. posted by chacha1 on

    Champion coddler here: I feed my cats an average of six times a day. I’ve got one who’s prone to vomiting if she’s overexcited, if she’s anxious, if she eats too fast, if she drinks too much water … so I give breakfast and dinner in increments. It’s worth it to me not to have to clean up cat yack.

    My favorite of the tips above is No. 6. Be realistic. Remember that the perfectly clean, uncluttered, staged photos in home magazines were dressed for the photo, that’s not how most people keep their homes all the time.

  4. posted by Elizabeth on

    What a timely post – I’m just in the middle of updating our chore chart to reflect what we need to do in our new (as of 9 months ago) place.

    And we feed our cats 3x/day – they’re both on special diets for various health issues, and we can’t leave dry food out or one would never get to eat. No need to put that on the chore chart, though. There’s not a chance they’ll let us forget.

  5. posted by *pol on

    I tried a list/chart like this once… I nearly went mad with it all written out. Too overwhelming.

    Sure scheduling SOME things is good (pay medical bill on the 12th for example) but DAILY chores? Some things take care of themselves…. I concede that if you are trying to start a routine, then a list of the goal behaviour may help you stay on track.

  6. posted by Wendy on

    My husband and I have discussed doing 30 minutes of chores each day so we don’t spend all weekend cleaning. This post is perfect to give me a format that I can put on the fridge.

    And for feeding the cats, my big kitty (13.5 lbs) will entwine herself in your legs every morning until you fill up the food bowls.

  7. posted by Sony on

    I use for this – it lets you set up recurring tasks in several different ways, and you can share lists with other people. So my housework list is shared with my boyfriend. We have some tasks that repeat daily (litter boxes) and a lot of tasks that repeat after some interval – like wash bedding happens once a week or sweep/dustmop the house happens “after two days” – so if we can’t get to it on the day that it pops up, it’s easy to postpone without then getting the same task three days in a row.

    We have agreed to do up to one hour of housework each day each, which we usually do in 15 minute sprints in the evening. We watch TV online and via netflix, so for every “hour” show we watch, at the end we get up and do 15 minutes of work. It keeps us moving and the house in reasonable shape.

  8. posted by Margaret on

    For some people (e.g. me) who have never gotten the hand of routines, everything needs to be scheduled or it won’t get done. Once you master the routine, you might not need to schedule it. This is what is all about, and she has based her system off the index card system of the book “From Pigpen to Paradise”, which is worth a read if your house is always a mess and you don’t know what to do.

  9. posted by Margaret on

    “HANG” of routines. We need an edit button!

  10. posted by Lizard on

    I’ve been working on this lately myself, and one thing that seems missing from Erin’s post is how to actually remember to do the time-sensitive tasks when you’re supposed to. This was the big secret for me: setting up alarms on my cell phone. For example, an alarm could go off Monday evenings to take out the trash if Tuesday morning is trash pickup day. Once I find I’m remembering the chore on my own, I can turn off that alarm if it’s a nuisance. How have other people helped themselves actually remember to do the chores?

    Oh and we definitely don’t “divide the responsibilities equally”. Find the right balance for your household. My sweetie’s commute is much longer, so I do some chores while I wait for him to get home in the evening.

  11. posted by Marcus on

    I’m a huge fan of OmniFocus (for Mac and iPhone —, and I use it to organize various household chores. I can set due dates and times for each task, and then set the task to reiterate after a specified amount of time. That way, whether it’s a daily, weekly, or even an every-third-day task, it’s scheduled and on my to-do list.

  12. posted by Katie on

    I am in the process of setting up Things (for Mac and iPhone — in a way similar to what Marcus describes above. So far, so good. πŸ™‚

  13. posted by Rosie from HomeRoutines on

    If you’re keen on routines, there’s an app for that πŸ™‚ We made an app called HomeRoutines that is designed exactly for wrangling these sorts of repetitive tasks, without letting them clutter up your email and calendar or overwhelm your to-do list. Also you get gold stars!

  14. posted by Lisa on

    Two things jump out at me on this post. #1 – “Laundering bathroom towels and sheets in the same load.” Oh no…I can’t stand the little fuzz balls that get all over sheets when washed with towels!! #2 – “Divide the responsibilities equally.” Can someone post a tutorial on how to get DH of 30 years to buy-in to that idea πŸ˜‰

  15. posted by Michele Connolly, Get Organized Wizard on

    At first I found it really helpful to create both a daily and weekly chore chart.

    I no longer need them, but they set the habit for me. πŸ™‚

    I also wrote a post that might be helpful on creating chore charts (there’s a free chart too):

  16. posted by Anita on

    Thanks for this very timely post! My boyfriend and I are moving in together in a couple of months, and a chore chart will be a good way to get us started.

    While on that topic, would you consider writing a post on the subject — an uncluttered way to merge two households? I know there are lots of posts on here about moving, but don’t remember one about moving in with your SO or with a roommate. Some things stand to reason (e.g. get rid of duplicates and keep the item in better condition and/or that’s better suited to the new place etc), but I guess I’m looking for anything I may have forgotten or not thought of yet.

    Oh and I also feed my cats twice a day. They’re indoor cats, so no wildlife for them to eat, plus one is developing a bit of a weight problem so I like to keep an eye on how much she eats.

  17. posted by Molly on

    I make these every weekend (that’s when I tend to do the bigger cleaning, with the small stuff like dishwasher loading/unloading during the week), and I LOVE crossing things off. The whole “reward” thing is totally for me.

  18. posted by GymRatt on

    When I was sick for a long time period I learned I could live with more filth than I thought I could. Cats have automatic sounding devices – do you really have to write feed cats down?? Husbands are not much help unless there is some power tool involved.

  19. posted by Charlotte K on

    Reading this makes me tired! I think we may need to free ourselves from some of our impossibly high standards.

    Having said that, the way I got myself to do a lot of housework I never had time for was to make a set of little cards with one job on each card. Most jobs only take 5-15 minutes. For example, today’s card was “Clean out the gap between the washing machine and the sink”–stuff would disappear down there and I would never retrieve it. Now it gets done maybe every 45 days. Every day I do one thing; on weekends I pull 3 cards per day. Still not overwhelming. I seeded certain tasks throughout the deck multiple times (“sort papers/pay bills”). This has been working for me now for months. Everything seems magically more orderly and it’s kind of a fun game.

  20. posted by WilliamB on

    For me this would be sure route to overload madness.

    I can think of three really good uses, though, even if one doesn’t need/want it for oneself.

    1. One is turning over duties to someone else. It could be a housesitter, a new nanny, whoever’s helping during an extended hospital stay, etc.

    2. Showing a housemate or SO what you do to support the household. The grim thing about housework is that few notice it except when it doesn’t get done.

    3. Allocating tasks to household members. Much easier to allocate tasks when you know what the tasks are.

  21. posted by Mina on

    I can’t help but think how boring and unromantic it is to create a chore chart for you and your spouse/SO. Plus, whoever proposes it (probably the woman) comes across like a control freak and/or bully.

    I can truly see the need for a system. I’m just saying, I never want to be the one to propose it. Honestly, as a single person, I guess I just don’t want to live with anyone else and ever, ever have to deal with such a thing. One marriage down the drain is enough.

  22. posted by Mia on

    Sounds good. A visual example, would be great.

  23. posted by PJ on

    I’m a visual person — would anybody share a pic of their chore chart?

  24. posted by B @ logos coaching on

    I am a big believer in ‘micro productivity’ – fitting those pesking [though necessary] chores into gaps we already have during the day. I do all my kitchen and adjoining room chores when I am waiting for something to boil, microwave, cook etc in the kitchen. Its amazing how much can be done in mini chunks πŸ™‚

  25. posted by usedcardboardboxes on

    Hey this is a great post. You gave me an idea with segmenting the chores list. If working on maximum efficiency, then definitely filling up the car with gas while grocery shopping is great idea. Thanks for that.

  26. posted by CreditShout on

    This is a great idea. My mom had a chart like this when I was little, with rewards and incentives as well. I’m still reward motivated even though I’m older now, so I think this is equally as cool.

  27. posted by Manja on

    I made a list of all my recurring household tasks using (freeware) To-do-list:

    Works fine for me.

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