Routines can make even the most unsavory tasks easy

Janine Adams, owner of Peace of Mind Organizing in St. Louis, in her guest post today reminds us that the more routine a chore is, the less we have to think about it. Welcome back, Janine!

Good habits are important, but routines are golden. When you string more than one habit together to create a routine, you go on autopilot. You start getting things done without even thinking about it.

There are certain things in life we have to do even though we don’t love doing them. And, typically, the more frequently we do them, the easier they are to do. Take cleaning the bathroom, for instance. You can wipe down the bathroom surfaces (sink, faucet, toilet) every day. I do this after I floss my teeth. It’s easy and takes just seconds, because the fixtures never get disgusting since I do a little work on them every day.

It took me awhile to figure out that I could apply this principle to one of the most distasteful jobs I have to do as a pet owner. I adore my dog and my cat. But, I don’t love dealing with their waste. As a responsible pet owner, I don’t really have a choice, though.

I’ve always been diligent about cleaning up after my dogs on a walk. I never forget to take bags with me and I always pick up. I tried to be really diligent with the litter box as well. We have an automatic litter box for Joe, our orange tabby cat, but you still have to empty the container the waste is automatically raked into. And in recent years, Joe has let us know that he prefers having two litter boxes, so there are two to clean. (The second one isn’t automatic.) I’d try to do it daily, but it would sometimes slip my mind.

The back yard, though, was another matter. In my almost 20 years of dog ownership, I had a tendency to clean up the back yard after the dog only when it got so bad I couldn’t stand it anymore. It was such a loathsome task that I’d put it off as long as possible.

Then on the last day of 2010, I had an epiphany. The day got warm and the snow melted, revealing disgusting piles that had to be dealt with. As I picked up the loads of poo, I thought to myself that there must be a better way. How could I get myself to perform this distasteful task on a daily basis, when there would be only one or two piles to contend with?

I started thinking about the other routines I’d created, like the aforementioned wiping down of the bathroom surfaces. I realized that the key to my success was to link the new habit with an already engrained habit. In the case of the bathroom, I had linked wiping down the surfaces to brushing and flossing my teeth.

What else did I do every day that would logically form a routine with cleaning the cat box and scooping the back yard? Walking my standard poodle, Kirby! I decided that I’d finish my daily dog walk by scooping. It made sense, because I’d already be wearing weather-appropriate clothing and have poop bags on my person. I got really excited to try it.

I started January 1 and now do it every day. I come home from walking Kirby, make a beeline to Joe’s box, scoop it into a poop bag, proceed to the backyard and pick up there, using the same bag for the waste. I tie it up, put it in the dumpster behind my house, and the deed is done.

The great thing about this is that because it’s done so frequently, there’s little waste to deal with and it takes almost no time. Sheer quantity doesn’t make the task any more disgusting than it already is.

I really think that the key to my success here was making this daily habit part of a routine. I don’t have to remember to do it; it happens automatically after the walk. The other thing that has worked out so well is that I used logic in pairing the tasks to create a routine. When I added wiping the bathroom to my morning routine, I linked it to tasks I was already doing in the bathroom (brushing and flossing). In this case, I’ve linked two habits (walking the dog and dealing with animal waste) that are related.

It’s such a relief to have come up with a way to make this crappy, but necessary, chore less unsavory.

28 Comments for “Routines can make even the most unsavory tasks easy”

  1. posted by JF on

    Hello! I’ve never commented on a post to your website before. I am more of an appreciative lurker, and I find it hilarious that the first time I feel compelled to comment is on a post about poop!!! This post was soooo what I needed right now. I have two cats and two dogs, and the waste piles up faster than I desire to deal with. I’m always trying to figure a way out to make it more routine, and this makes so much sense. Thank you for the idea, Janine.

  2. posted by JustGail on

    “crappy, but neccessary job” – thanks for the giggle, Erin. Now, for a way to get the DS to do that task (the litter boxes are part of his chores) without whining and without being told it needs done. I don’t expect him to be joyous about it. But just not getting the howl of teen angst would be good. But then he howls at anything I ask him to help out with.

  3. posted by Kelly on

    We have a doggy dooly – puppy septic tank basically – in the back yard. In order for it to work efficiently and break down the poop like it should, it needs fresh poop fairly regularly. It’s helped us keep the back yard clean because if it fills up we have no place for the poop to go. we’re not perfect cleaning up and still have a mess in the Spring but we’re getting there. The dooley only works when the ground temps are over 40 degrees so no putting poop in there over the winter.

  4. posted by Radiomomrhetoric on

    That is so simple and brilliant at the same time….I am going to start doing that too!

  5. posted by HollyEgg on

    It’s important to pick up dog waste from an aesthetic point of view, and from a health perspective! Dog waste attracts nasty biting flies, and can harbor parasites and worms, which, if they end up on your dog’s feet, and he licks his feet, he is ingesting…and you could easily ingest them too!

    I have four dogs and a large back yard that I scoop every single day, sometimes twice. It is worth it to me to keep it very clean! I made myself a poop scoop that I love to use, for $3 in materials from the dollar store.

    Buy a broom for a handle, a small, solid, plastic waste basket for the receptacle and glue sticks. Assembly is easy, punch a hole in the back end of the basket for the broom handle, secure the handle in the wall of the basket with hot glue, so the basket is “on a stick”. Then, make another hole on the top rim of the waste basket, to pinch in the handles and excess bag. If you line the scoop receptacle tightly, it stays clean and you don’t have to wash it as often.

    To use, I scoop the poop into the lined bag with a fine-tine long-handled garden rake that I bought at a big box garden center. I “putt” the poop into the basket. When the yard is clean, I pull out the handles and tie them up and throw away the bag. So easy, and actually kinda fun!

  6. posted by WeaverRose on

    I’d like to know what you use to wipe down your bathroom each day. Do you purchase the wet wipe in a jar or just use a wet rag, or what?

  7. posted by Janine Adams on

    @WeaverRose, I use a Lysol wipe each morning to wipe down the bathroom fixtures.

    I’m glad that the poop routine has struck a chord!

  8. posted by Susan on

    I have 2 litter boxes to scoop. I make it part of my morning and night time routine. I get the coffee started, feed the cats, fill their water bowls, and then scoop the litter.

    At night I pick up the cat food dishes, fill their water bowls and scoop the boxes.

    I also have a rule for myself that I can’t look at the computer until I have my morning “chores” done. That’s a really big motivator right there.

  9. posted by Barb @ 1SentenceDiary on

    For me, the annoying task that I never do is paperwork filing. The bills get paid, the forms get filled out, but then there’s just a big pile of paper on my desk that grows and grows. Dealing with it is such a big task that I never want to do it.

    So now I’m trying to think about what other task(s) I could pair the filing with to make it a routine…

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  10. posted by Egirl on

    Excellent post — thank you!

  11. posted by Heidi Poe on

    This really helps a lot, thank you for sharing!

  12. posted by Nana on

    I wipe down the sink in the evening, using the other side of the Handiwipe I’ve used to clean my face.

    Loved reading about dealing with poop. I live alone and my kids think I should have a pet…this was such a good reminder of why I don’t and won’t get one!

  13. posted by Rae on

    I finally got a routine with both my cat box and my garbage. I have an Omega Paw box that you roll instead of having to scoop. I roll it first thing in the morning, leaving the waste in the scoop where it doesn’t bother anything.

    Before I take my shower in the evening, I go around the RV and throw all the trash into a bag, finishing at the litter box. I empty the scoop, then roll again and dispose of that waste. I knot the bag and take it out to the trash.

    One thing that helped me get into this routine is having a steady supply of garbage bags on hand. I found some nice big ones at Dollar Tree and bought a year’s supply for something like $5, so I don’t mind literally throwing my money away. I used to be dependent on grocery store plastic bags.

  14. posted by Nathan on

    This post hits on what I have been working on in my life recently. In the past week or so I’ve realized that I don’t really follow through with tasks and that creates clutter in my life. Case in point, I’ll wash and dry clothes, but instead of folding and putting them up after the drier finishes, I’ll transfer them to a basket and dry the next load. Leaving the clean clothes in the basket for me to pick through during the week. I’d say not just the routine, but the complete follow through of a routine is very necessary for effective clutter control.

    I also do this with the dish washer, but I’m working on it. 🙂

    And Erin, thanks for all the helpful advice.


  15. posted by Kate on

    I group all the “cat chores” at one time, after I arrive home from work. I feed my cat and while she’s eating, I clean and refill her water dishes and then immediately clean the box. It’s almost like it’s just one task in my mind “evening: take care of cat,” rather than 3 seperate ones.

  16. posted by Rick on

    It’s amazing how quickly a simple routine can become a habit.

    Once a habit, you don’t feel quite right unless it gets done. Great example!

    I recently posted an article on setting up a routine for getting out of the house on time in the morning.


  17. posted by Lisa R on

    Brilliant idea. Growing up I always had the chore of picking up the poop in the backyard. Of course – once I was a grown up my Dad had an even more brilliant idea — he taught the dogs when they were puppies to go in only 1 area of the yard – in his case – the woods so he never had to pick it up!

  18. posted by writing all the time on

    The thing that keeps me motivated to pick up waste is that I do a lot of training/playing in our tiny back yard. When both dogs had giardia last May, I cleaned up several times a day, out of necessity.

    I love Standard Poodles! And I really like routines that allow me to accomplish small tasks and free my mind to wander, all at the same time!

  19. posted by Laurie on

    This is genius! Linking it to another task is key I think. Now I’m thinking of ways I can link things I need to do with things I already do to streamline chores and tasks. Thanks for the idea!

  20. posted by Rondina on

    Although I don’t have a dog or poo in the backyard, I’m currently using this same method to have a clean house when I go to bed. I’m usually exhausted by 9 PM, sometimes earlier. Working for myself, I tend to get on a roll during the day. The dishes, reading materials, mail, &c pile up during the day. In May I was taken to the ER at about midnight and the house was…uh…less than neat. Anyone who has called in an emergency in an urban area knows, you get two crews–one from paramedic services and one from the fire department. Lots of people. Although we were focused on the pain from what turned out to be a kidney stone–I was aware and embarrassed by the disorganization of my home. I’m attempting clean as I go now and pick up earlier in the evening when I still have some energy. This is actually a difficult habit to break into because the whole time I’m cleaning I’m thinking about how I “should” be working.

  21. posted by Kerri on

    My solution was to outsource the task of picking up poop from my two dogs to a local poop scooping company. I first hired them when I was seceralmonths pregnant and was having trouble bending down; I still have them about 2 years later. So worth it to me. (especially when it is 110 outside)

  22. posted by @UsborneJody on

    I speak on organization and routines and I think your point on linking a new routine to a routine that is already established is key. Start with what you are doing now and tweak it in baby steps til it works for you.

  23. posted by Marcie Lovett on

    Janine, thank for your humorous take on completing a less than pleasant job. I agree with you about creating routines. In my book I write about “hooking” a behavior to one you already do so you can develop routines. It’s so much easier to pair a new task with something you’re already doing.

  24. posted by Jenna @ NeatFreakWannabe on

    This is a great suggestion to tack on a daily task to your regular routine. Procrastination always makes things worse! Being able to take a daunting task and turn it not only into a routine task but an auto-pilot task is a beautiful thing. I’ll be thinking of ways I can implement this in my own life!

  25. posted by Marie on

    I link litter box scooping with going to the bathroom. My house is so small that the only place for the cats’ litter box is right next to the toilet, so it’s convenient to scoop a little every time I’m there. I also sweep up a little with the brush and dustpan I keep in the same place. This all takes less than a minute to keep things from getting too messy.

    Now if could figure out a similar strategy for my paperwork, I’d be delighted.

  26. posted by D on

    Dogs can definitely be trained to use one area, and I recommend doing so. My family dogs are trained to use one area of long grass…the payoff is that they will not use a mowed area ANYWHERE and mostly, where plants are not mowed, people are ok with pet urine and maybe the occasional dropping. The dogs have always been “clean” to take anywhere at all without fuss or bother. No one has to step in poop, and winter snows disappear without leaving a fouled, stinky yard. New dogs quickly learn from the scent, and from a week or two of being “escorted” to the potty area by a responsible adult who won’t allow them to defecate or urinate elsewhere while they are learning.

    A little effort at the start of most projects yields long lasting results.

  27. posted by Rob on

    I am having a hard time wrapping my mind around this. How could any pet owner NOT have a routine of immediate pick-up of dog poo and at least daily cleaning of cat litter boxes!? The idea of piles of dog poop lying scattered around my backyard, waiting for pick-up, is absolutely disgusting to me, but to each his own. Perhaps my perspective is affected by the fact that I have young children who play in my backyard (often with the dog), but I like to think I would not allow an accumulation of dog feces in my yard regardless of children.

  28. posted by EthelQ on

    I love the idea of linking tasks and cleaning up a little each day, but I’m a little anxious about all of the plastic being used to entomb poop, which keeps it preserved forever, rather than letting it break down. For anyone who has a yard I totally recommend a pet poop composter. They’re easy to make, entirely sanitary, and made cleaning up poop super-easy for me. You can find more information and instructions here: http://compostingworld.blogspo.....oster.html

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