Reader Cat submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:
I have read your book and your blog (including the recent post about establishing routines), I feel that your advice for scheduling routines is most applicable to individuals with regular office jobs, or more generally individuals who have a more control over their work schedules. I was wondering if you had any creative ideas for implementing routines on a more erratic schedule?
Nurses and doctors working in hospitals, firefighters, police officers, and food service industry employees are just a few of many professionals who don’t work traditional hours or schedules. In addition to the stress caused by varied sleep schedules and the demands of the job, it can be more difficult to get work done around the house than it can for people on more traditional schedules. (This isn’t always the case, but it certainly can be.)
Using a prioritized list of actions broken into times of day and days of the week is one way you can master regular chores when you work on a constantly varying schedule.
Start by making a list of all the routine activities that need to be done over the course of a week. Then, next to each item you’ve listed, note if the task has to be done during a specific time or can only be completed on specific days of the week (for example, your local grocery store may only be open certain hours or if you live with people on a traditional schedule you probably shouldn’t vacuum the floor at 3:00 in the morning). Next, prioritize the tasks by what has to get done (like feeding the pets), what should get done (laundry), and what is nice to get done but the house won’t fall apart if you don’t get to it every week (dusting). After this, write down approximately how long you need to dedicate to each task.
Once you have all of this information listed, create a new list (or a chart) where things are grouped by time of day and days of the week. Almost all of your tasks will appear multiple times on your list since there is no guarantee you’ll be home at the same time each week. For example, doing the dishes might be listed in every time slot since there usually isn’t a problem with doing them at any time of the day or week. After you’ve made your list (or chart), laminate it and get a dry erase marker.
Then, if you are home and awake on a Monday morning, you can look at your list and immediately see what tasks you can do on a Monday morning. Based on how much time and energy you have, you can select the chores to do from that section. Just remember to always do the highest priority tasks first. When the chore is finished, cross it off the list with your dry erase marker. If the chore is only a once-a-week task, also cross it off the list wherever it appears in other places on your list. If the next time you’re home isn’t until Wednesday evening, go back to your list and take care of the items listed as possible tasks in the Wednesday evening column and then cross them off your list. At the start of the next week, erase all your dry erase marker writing and begin working through your list again.
I also recommend you have a coming home routine in place that you work through every time you come home. This should include sorting mail, putting away anything you brought with you (hang up coat, put keys in key holder, etc.), getting things set in a way so it will be easy to leave your house when you need to go, and whatever else you need to do every single time you walk in the house. This repetitive behavior will help you keep on track, too.
Thank you, Cat, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. Please check the comments sections for even more ideas from our readers for how they have successfully mastered home routines on an uncertain schedule — or have witnessed someone else doing them. Good luck to you, I know a varied schedule can be difficult.
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