17 January 2012

Routines and how to build them

By the look of the comments yesterday, there is a need for another bread tutorial. I didn't have time yesterday to answer the bulk of your comments and I'm flat out busy today but later in the week I'll do a tutorial at the forum and you can ask questions as we go along. If you have a photo of your problem bread, you can post it and I'll see if I can work out how you can change your method and improve your bread. Mostly though, it will most likely be a problem with kneading or dead yeast, but let's go at it methodically later in the week and hopefully we can get your bread lighter and many more cheese rolls on the kitchen table.


If we want to continue to live as we do, Hanno and I must be organised. Living simply often requires us to hand-make what we use here at home and it means we don't buy convenience food. Among other things, we cook from scratch, make our own cleansers and grow food in the backyard. All that home production and scratching takes time but the one thing that helps me do what I want to do is to be organised. I'm not talking about the perfect well run precision of a ship, or even Fly Lady-type routines. I get through my work well using a loose system of lists, time limits, mindful housework and a routine that builds out of that every day. I think about tasks in groups, make a list every morning and that allows me to get everything done while allowing a certain level of spontaneous additions.

When I talk about tasks in groups, I mean that if I'm in the kitchen, I will group a list of kitchen tasks together. If I'm outside, I'll do the outside chores. I can go back to a certain area, and I often have kitchen tasks in the morning and afternoon, but once I'm in a certain spot, I'll do more than one activity.

I work out of our home and in it and have a family and other engagements to consider, I rely heavily on my calendar. I have two - a written diary-type book and my computer calendar. As soon as I make an appointment, have a deadline, need to be somewhere, call someone on the phone, I enter it in my computer calendar. I set the calendar alarm to automatically send me an email the day before and set an audio alarm for 15 minutes before the event as well.

The other part of my plan is to make a list in the morning. I don't make weekly lists and I don't use a regular daily list because things change a lot and most things we do here are done when they're needed, not to a timetable. I rise at 4am, write my blog, answer emails, check the forum and then I make my daily list. I have usually jotted down some dot points the day before as I go along and the list starts from that.

A daily list might look something like this, it usually starts with what we're having for dinner. If I need to get anything out of the freezer, I do it first thing. On the days I go to the neighbourhood centre, Hanno cooks dinner, so on work days, the list doesn't start with dinner, Hanno chooses what we eat. The blog and forum don't feature on the list because I do the blog before I write it and I check the forum when I have the time for it. I also don't write that we sit down for meals or tea, have showers, clean our teeth; they are a natural part of our day and the other things wrap around them. I want my  daily list to build into a routine so it contains my "compass points", things that change most days and what I must remember.
  • Salmon rissoles and salad for dinner
  • Make bed
  • Make bread + cake or biscuits
  • Take photos
  • Defrost butter and beans
  • Dry and blitz bread for crumbs, freeze
  • Make ice cubes
  • Sweep and wash kitchen floor
  • Go to hairdresser for hair cut
  • Water bush house plants
  • Check worm farm, feed
  • Phone calls and emails - Tricia, Jo, Aunty Bev
  • Finish writing column
  • Make one dishcloth, finish scarf
  • Late afternoon: download photos and start tomorrow's blog
  • Make dinner
  • Tidy up
The following day will be the same, but different:
  • Chicken and salad - defrost chicken, pick herbs and cucumbers
  • Make bed
  • Make bread
  • Make yoghurt
  • Make ice cubes
  • Sweep floor
  • Ironing - 15 minutes
  • Phone calls and emails - order meat, check library catalogue for that book
  • Writing - 2 hours
  • Check and water fruit, pick loofahs
  • Chickens, look for plant hooks
  • Mend ripped sheet
  • Late afternoon: download photos and start tomorrow's blog
  • Make dinner
  • Tidy up
A work day will look like this:
  • Make lunch 
  • Pack basket
  • Make bed
  • Phone calls and emails - email to Abby
  • Late afternoon: download photos and start tomorrow's blog
  • Check bush house and worms
Hanno does all the grocery shopping now, mainly because he likes it and I don't. I make up a list that he shops from but he knows what we need and if I forget something he usually remembers and gets it even if it's not on the list. We don't do the laundry on a certain day, it is done when there is enough to fill the machine and then it is added to the daily list. I change the sheets on the bed when I feel like it during the week, the towels are washed then too. The bathroom is done when it needs it and the sinks and bench tops wiped over when I have the time and they need it. I don't have a special day for baking or making specialties like jam or preserves - when I know we need something or when any of these things need to be done, it will be put on the list for the following day, or the day after.

If there are jobs I really don't like doing, I put a time limit on them - hence "Ironing - 15 minutes".  I have found that I can do anything for 15 minutes, even if I hate doing it. This works really well for me so if you've been putting off a certain chore, put it on your list but set a time limit for it, then stop. You can go back to it later if you feel like it.

I find this kind of loose organisation works really well. I get everything done that needs doing but I don't feel pressured or stressed. I only put times on my list when I'm limiting the time I spend on that task, the rest of  the tasks will take the time they take. I do make the list in the order I'll do the work, but I change it around too. If something is not done, I don't worry about it, it's simply added to the list for the following day. I reckon we make lists to make things easier for ourselves, not to add pressure. I think this works so well because it gives a loose structure to my day. I know what I'll be doing next and I don't get to the end of the day wondering if I've done everything I should have done.

We are all at different stages of life and will have different priorities and ways of working. There also needs to be days when there are no lists, just relaxation and pure joy. My method of organisation wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea but it works well for me. It's organic and flexible and that suits my personality and juggling the different things I do - both in the home and out in the community. I don't know how or when I first started this way of listing, I just know that if I want to remain organised and on top of my work, this is how I do it. It works. I do know this though, we all need some sort of structure and routine. We need it at home and in the workplace. I don't work well within a strict structure, I do my best work when I feel in control and free. How do you organise yourself?



  1. I am a list person too. Even though I have made the bed all 23 plus years of marriage, I write it on the list~yet I make the bed the moment we are out of bed.

    I review my list several times through the day, but checking the bed of is always a mini celebration! I began ahead of the day and so my mind set is content and positive.

    Love the baskets hanging to freshen and dry. We do that too, thought we were alone in our uniqueness!

    Have a lovely day

  2. It was really interesting seeing how you organise your days - what a lot you get done. My timetable has to be a lot stricter because I had children at school. This means food must be bought on a certain day so it's there for their lunches, and washing must be done so uniforms are clean in time etc...Grocery shopping just once a month and shopping at the organic veg shop weekly ensures we don't run out of money! Sometimes I loosen up on the cleaning schedule but it quickly gets out of control - I blame dogs and children!
    The things I'm strictest on are making the bed in the morning and tidying the living room and kitchen at night as this gives me a sense of control. Other than that you usually won't find a 'perfect' house if you pop in unexpectedly.
    Have a great day, Madeleine

  3. Just writing my daily list now. Happy New Year to you Rhonda.

  4. Listmaking is good. Helps you think about what really matters.

    Beenn doing an awful lot of listmaking lately. Hoping the next appointment at the fracture clinic will give me a better idea when I can start tackling those tasks!

  5. Hi Miss Rhonda : ) What is vegemite and how do you use it? Espy

  6. I'm a big-time list maker, too! I have a daily list and also a running long term list (with more of a goals/ projects focus). With a baby in the house, we're having to be very flexible and I've had to let go of some things on "the list." But, the one thing I strive for is to know what we'll have for dinner each day. I've found if I can keep up with this, other things start falling more naturally in place, and I don't feel stress at the end of the day when I'm most tired ;) It seems like a small thing, but it's made a big difference for me.

  7. I fall somewhere between your loose schedule and FlyLady's stricter routines. I have morning chores, afternoon chores and evening chores...the same each day. But I leave plenty of room on each day's list to add other things that I need and want to do.

    If something doesn't get done, it's not a big deal, but I find that if I list it, then I will at least give it some consideration. If I don't, then it will never get done. :)

  8. I had a list that I'd use weekly. I did it for over 6 months and it worked well. Then my son got sick and I stopped.
    I've started it again this year. Really makes you see what needs to be done, especially on Saturday when I transfer any jobs that HAVEN'T been done to the next page.
    (Th really bad thing is when they go to the third week... and the fourth...) But the crossed off items are empowering!

  9. You are so organized! I have days when I'm organized & days when I just seem to 'potter' instead...Maybe I should establish a routine.

  10. Flylady helped me when I was a young wife and didn't know where to start! But now, I mix it with daily lists and more homemaking tasks. I like a schedule with flexibility otherwise I get stressed.

  11. Having worked in a Steiner school, I know how important rhythm and structure are, and how important it is to bring this to your children everyday. I don't always write a list, although I agree it is a good idea, just not one I am in the habit of doing, but Mark and I use breakfast time as the time to discuss our day and what needs doing on the farm and we both go from there. I know Mark always works best with a list and he will often write one and it stops him from feeling overwhelmed!

  12. I am a list person as well, and a 15 minute clean-up girl. I break all my daily chores, except breadmaking into 15 minute time slots. The kids and I set the timer and go to it. We stop after 15 minutes. If work not done we do it again later in the day. Amazing what happens in those 15 minutes!

  13. I have a little diary I carry aound with me in which I note down what I have to do during the day (e.g. food shopping, ironing etc) together with appointments. I've learned not to put more than 5 things on my list otherwise I feel overwhelmed and pressured. There is a loose structure to my days, but funnily enough, since I've started putting less on the list, I seem to get more done.

  14. I just loved this post Rhonda....i love my lists...i usally write a monthly one of things around the house/yard we would 'like' to get done and then i write one either in the morning or before bed of things to do during the day....i have learnt to let go if i don't get things 'crossed off' now as having twin toddlers in the house at moment can lead to changes to the rhythm of one's day!
    However, i think it is so important to our family that i am organised and i notice this has followed through to my teen who writes lists and organises herself and even the toddlers thrive on their little routines and copy much of what i do each day now (e.g sweep the floor, wipe tables etc!)
    I really enjoyed reading about your organisation and lists, thanks for sharing!

  15. I make lists 80% of the time and for the 20% I don't that's when things fall apart. Because I also work outside the home I find I can't be too flexible, I need to list what needs to be done and work through it or it stays on the bottom of the list. For me there is something about having a list which makes me focus and get things done -- especially those things I would prefer to avoid.

  16. Hi Rhonda - love the photos with the blog today!
    I do lists when I have lots to do, and for a while, I did a weekly chores list. I teach belly dance classes, so have to also fit in my planning, dance rehearsal and other work things at home - sometimes I need a list so I don't get too carried away from home stuff/dance stuff and forget the rest!
    Loving your blog

  17. I've been struggling with the concept of maintaining a sense of control over the house work in the last few months. I've made some inroads during the last few weeks, but there's still a long way to go!! We're on holidays at the moment, but once we get back I need to find an achievable way of getting on top of it and then maintaining it. Your method of flexible lists appeals to me, so I might give it a try. Time limiting unpleasant jobs is also very appealing!


  18. I'm another lister. Will you tell me please, is that last photo a Sweet Potato being sprouted for planting and how do you do it - e.g. plant as is or cut into smaller chunks?

  19. Great post and I needed it--thanks:)

  20. Hi Rhonda I'm a long time follower but it's my first time to comment. I just wanted to say that I enjoy reading your blog each day and find what you write very thoughtful and inspiring.

    I'm a list person too. Each night before I go to bed I write myself a short list of things I need to do the next day in my diary. I've been doing if for a while now and it's worked really well for me, it keeps me focussed and reminds me of the things that need to be done. Sometimes I'm not as strict as I should be though and I don't always tick things off the list but I then put that down on the list the next day to try and get done.

    I like the way you've used time blocks to get things done, I know I should do that with my computer time especially I loose track of time easily when I sit down. Thank you for sharing your routine tips Rhonda.


  21. We are in retirement now. A few things I do on the same day of the week. I change the beds and do that sort of washing each Monday. Check the refrigerator to see if anything needs used up and wipe it out where necessary the day before the trash day. Other than that chores get done when needed. Now that I have a bigger washer tub I do not do need to do loads often. I do use lists but for things I might not remember...like people that really need to be called...such as for appointments, and things that are a necessity to get done. Ordinary everyday things get done as needed and without a problem. I bundle chores that need doing in each room like you mentioned. There is a rhythm to our days and everything just gets done and the house remains clean and very cozy. The way we like it. It welcomes us and our friends should they drop by. Today besides making a pot of soup and only a few basic easy chores it was a day of rejuvenating and feeling happy to be alive. We know we need some days like this too in our lives. Works for us. Sarah

  22. I fear I am going to sound like a contrarian here, but I hate lists. In fact, just reading your lists makes me feel exhausted. Perhaps I'm just a rebel by nature, but for me, the idea of having a list of things I have to do makes me feel like I'm in prison. Put something on a "to do" list, and suddenly it feels like an obligation, so I instantly don't want to do it... even if it's something I might otherwise enjoy.

    In fact, the whole reason I started exploring simple living in the first place was so I could get away from having a pile of tasks that I had to accomplish or places that I had to be.

    I'm not saying that people who enjoy list making should stop, but I just want to let any fellow rebels out there know that I have been living the "simple life" for many years now... and unless I'm desperate, I NEVER make lists. I grow most of my vegetables, preserve them, cook all of my food from scratch, mend clothes, etc, etc, and do it all with an income so small that it would make most people shudder. I figure if things get to the point where I need a list to keep track of it all, it means I'm trying to do too much, so I cut back.

    Perhaps I'm just lazy, but it seems to me that business is the enemy, and I steadfastly refuse to comply with that particular societal norm.

  23. Hello dear Rhonda :) LOVE this post! I am a routine person through and through. That said, I do NOT hold myself to a strict schedule as it makes me feel hemmed in and I hate restriction, LOL. I don't make a daily list, unless I'm going out (then I have to in order to make the most use of the gas and my time while out).

    I love to organize my days by first working around mealtimes and waking/retiring times. Thos are my anchors (or compass points to you - lovely term :) ).

    We all know that by 9am (ish) our morning routine needs to be done (hygiene, breakfast and clean up, animal chores, beds made, a load in the washer, etc.). We are not rigid - but we do need some structure or we tend to wander and not get much accomplished.

    We do lessons for school from approximately 9am-noon and break for lunch and a play/free time. Our home days are much less structured but our going out days are usually quite organized. We all know that we need to be on the ball to get packed and ready to leave the house for a town day.

    We all prefer to flow through our daily routine, rather than clock watch. We KNOW what activity/chore follows certain things... We respond to the needs of our family and home as the needs arise and this gives us the chance to live with freedom within some comfortable structure that doesn't feel restrictive. Clear as mud, LOL :)

  24. I like to use a list when I'm feeling frazzled. It helps me get on top of that ever growing internal 'to-do' list. It simplifies things as I usually realise that half of what I thought I needed to do, didn't really need to be done anyway!

  25. I forgot to add that we do have one other list we do keep and love. We keep a list by month of things that we have to pay out only once a year or once each six months. The every month bills I do not have to list. The ones that are paid only once in a while we list and keep the list out to refer to so as to make sure the money will be there when each bill does due. Insurances, schooling expenses and such can be costly. We do also add to the list any yearly presents needed on this list so we can look ahead and make sure they are made/sent on time. The things on this list pretty much stay the same year to year.This has been very helpful and less stressful to have all these listed in one place. Sarah

  26. Love your nice clean pantry Rhonda. Must do mine.

  27. I think your FlyLady comment is funny, in light of your "15 minutes of ironing" - since she says you can do anything for 15 minutes!

    There's another story from the "Sidetracked Home Executives" crew which she also has a relationship with. When they used to teach a class in organization, they once gave their mother a pass to the class. They used 3x5" cards for managing chores, but said only to keep the ones for the chores you otherwise forgot. I think their mom finished with 2 cards - one was for cleaning insects out of light fixtures and I can't remember the other one - maybe the back of the refrigerator?

    I like your approach. Please keep your advice coming.

  28. Hi Rhonda,
    I cannot live without my deskplanner. It is there on the desk in our bedroom. Each morning, as I close the windows before going downstairs to start breakfast, I glance down and see what has to be done or planned for. The whole month lies before me and at my fingertips. It generally lists major things like appointments, items to be paid, birthdays, school tests, etc.
    My husband is the detailed-list man. I guess it's because he is a manager :)
    I, on the other hand, will make mental notes - usually when I take my daily walk in the garden after the kids are in bed. I work during the week, leaving the house at 7am and returning at 5:30 pm. That walk, besides giving me some exercise, also helps me keep track of what is happening in the garden and what needs to be done on the weekend or squeezed into the 30 minutes before sunset (6pm).
    Saturday is chore day and has its own basic routine things to do - laundry, sweeping & mopping, cooking and baking for the week.
    I also do things in multiples like whilst dropping off kids to lessons on a Saturday I will top up the gas tank of the car and do any grocery shopping, etc. whilst I am out, so that my weekday is easier.
    I can be flexible when the necessity arises however, and adjust my schedule to suit.

    Trinidad & Tobago

  29. Hi Rhonda, I totally enjoyed your post today as well as the pictures.
    I make lists sometimes. Our morning routine rarely changes- up at 6am, I make the bed right away, wash and drsss, take dog for a walk, feed her, clean budgies cage, feed and water him- his leftover seed goes to the doves who wait in the yard for their freebie brekky. :) I sometimes put a load of washing on before walking, otherwise straight after breakfast, and only when I have a full load. Like you I don't have a set day to change the bed, and I also decide what we will be having for dinner, as I need to perhaps defrost something, as well as get bread out for breakfast/lunch ( I don't make bread but we buy and freeze , just taking out what is needed each day and don't have any wastage), and the dogs chicken necks or mince for her dinner as well.
    I find if the kitchen is tidy, bed made, dusting done, the house looks ok. There should always be time to rest/relax, especially us retired folk. :)

  30. Thanks for this. It was really helpful. It is so intuitive and organic. Those Baking on Sunday, Bathrooms on Wednesdays sort of schedules have never really worked for me.

  31. Hi Rhonda,
    My routine doesn't involve lists unless there are some very important things to do that I seem to forget. I guess my diary is a list. I just need to check it.
    When I get up in the morning I automatically do certain things in a certain order. Make the bed before I leave the room and a quick tidy up.
    Prepare the chooks breakfast and walk up to them and check on the goats too, give them something nice to start the day.
    Then back to the house for my breakfast and then I turn on my computer to check my emails, especially yours. Then when I have had enough of that, up to an hour I go off and get on with whatever I need to do that day.
    Dinner menu, some gardening, shopping yuk! and generally potter till hubby gets home. Then potter some more. I have a great life!

  32. Routines have become more important in our house since we became parents and now that one of us stays home. I admit though with a toddler not much gets done while she is awake as we like to spend time playing and going out with her to the park, pool, visit friends and the library. Simplicity is essential I find, keep the tasks simple and I think you got it in one with your "I reckon we make lists to make things easier for ourselves, not to add pressure." Sharing the simple things with our daughter, like stopping on our walk to the shops, to do a drawing, or pick the daisies or chase the galahs, or laugh at the antics of a passing dog, is more important than the task we set out to do.
    Thanks for sharing your day with us.
    cheers Sarah

  33. I keep a list too. Every weekend I do up my list for the coming week. Also add a list of meals for the week. I refer to my lists often and try to do things in order of importance. Sometimes I'd like to have the "freedom" to wing it, but I'm a list person and that's that! I love to come to your blog and get inspiration for my own homemaking journey.

  34. Hi Rhonda,

    Thanks so much for this post, I have often written out a schedule only to find the list is too exhaustive and I get overwhelmed but I love the idea of a list done on the day so you can focus only on what actually needs to be done, not what you think may be needed weeks and months in advance!


  35. I make a list from time to time, but usually just do what needs to be done as I go along. I also found FlyLady's "I can do anything for 15 minutes" line to be very helpful...even on a very busy day I can find 15 minutes. And when I've been postponing a dreaded chore, setting a timer for 15 minutes often gets me over the initial hurdle and well into the task - a very simple, useful tool.

  36. I'm a list person and I have two - one in my head and one in my page-a-day diary.

    The diary has a small list of things that have to be done (so I must post off that letter, get the washing out of the machine and hang it up etc) and another list of 'nice to get done' items plus details of my day, the dinner for the evening and sometimes things I copy down from websites or magazines.

    The nice to get done things might be washing a settee cover if I get a few moments to pop it in the machine, or clean a couple of shelves in the fridge. If I don't get them done, it's no biggie - I just move them onto the next day's list and see if I have time or energy then. The 'nice to get done' things can float across several days, but sooner or later they will get done.

    I use my diary to stick in supermarket receipts so I can keep track of our spending and food price rises and sometimes I also stick in emails or post it notes of recipes I find.

    I'd find it very difficult to be without my diary.

    The list in my head is something different. It's a revolving list of things that I need to focus on to accomplish goals, such as if I'm about to go upstairs take something with me that needs to go (helps the declutter/keep tidy goal) Or if I'm waiting for the kettle to boil, wipe down a surface or something.

  37. I am a list maker, too. I find it releases my mind from becoming overwhelmed and stressed. I love organization, and find my life functions much better all around. I like to write a weekly menu out for our dinners. My husband is not home for breakfast and usually eats leftovers for lunch, so I don't bother writing those down. The menu is usually the first thing I look at in the morning and the last thing I look at in the evening...depending on whether I need to take something out of the freezer or whether it needs to marinate overnight. My menu is based on what is on sale that week at the IGA. I do the shopping weekly. I don't buy anything we don't need, as I find that is a waste. If we are not using it that week I don't buy it. I do, however, keep up a pantry full of items that I like to have on hand all the time. Those are things I like to buy in bulk form. Doing all of this has not only helped me, but it also simplifies things for my family, as well. I never have to hear the age old question, "What's for dinner?". The menu is posted where everyone can see it.
    My other list is for all my daily chores. I, like you, put a time limit to the things I least like doing....ironing is one of them. This just makes my day go so much smoother, and I find I am not wasting any time throughout the day. I sleep better at night, too.
    Thank you for your blog. It has been very helpful and inspirational.

  38. I use lists but I am more circumspect about them now. I have a master rolling to do list and every now and then I'll pick something off that list. The daily list consists of things that I want or MUST do today (tax return for example falls in the latter category!) But I also have a separate list of things that I like to do every day. Things like Morning Routine (journal, gratitude journal, Bible reading); meditate; walk; knit, read. I have a little grid in my uncalendar and I fill in each day when I do one of these things. They are all things for me, but it reminds me that I have to do things for me if I am going to be able to do things for my family. Also I can see at a glance which things are being left behind. Meditation is way behind this week for example.


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