Focus Zones

Imaginary railroads, stations, and zones

Back in Fall 1998, Pam and Peggy announced an update to their SideTracked Home Executive System. They had come up with the idea of dividing your home into Stations:

Break down your house into five stations and assign one station to one week (there are usually five weeks in a month).

Let’s say that:

  • Station One/Week One includes your entry, living and dining room,
  • Station Two/Week Two is your kitchen,
  • Station Three/Week Three the main bathroom, your office, a 1/2 bath and the laundry room,
  • Station Four/Week Four the master bedroom and guest room and
  • Station Five/Week Five is the basement.

Begin de-junking at the entrance of the station. You’ll work clockwise each day, cleaning out a closet, cupboard or drawer (sometimes for as little as ten minutes) and when the week ends on Sunday, you’ll move to the next station and do the same thing.

Granted, it will take several rotations (months) to get the whole house de-junked, but you will see progress in every room, you won’t kill yourself and life as you like it will go on as usual. Eventually every station will be streamlined!

Pam Young and Peggy Jones, Fall 1998 newsletter

Sounds familiar?  The Flylady adapted the idea of Stations, only she works from top to bottom instead of clockwise and called them Zones instead.

I really like the idea of calling them stations, though, because I can imagine a little train track going around my house, stopping at each room to move out clutter.


With a small boy in the house, half the time I have a small “train” hurtling around the house shouting CHOO CHOO.  Only he seems to be spreading things around, rather than picking them up.  Note how the sticky fingerprints reflect the camera flash on that photo!  (PS: He is also obsessed with helping himself to fruit from the fruitbowl, and playing builders.  Yesterday I found him trying to bash in a small nail in the wall using a piece of fruit, leading to me having to tell him “A plum is not a hammer!” Yeah.  So that’s one of the reason’s I’ve not been blogging much)

Stations and Zones

What can I take from the SideTracked Home Executives’ idea of Stations and apply it to my personalised list of tasks in each of the rooms in HomeRoutines’ Zones:

  • I can put the list of tasks in a clockwise order around the room.  I’m actually starting to imagine an additional rail loop going clockwise around each room.  It’s like the Island of Sodor round here with the unexpected complexity of our rail network.  Having the tasks based in an order that is based on the physical layout of the room helps me keep track of where I’m up to.
  • Decluttering is a continual task. It’s worth taking a quick look at each storage area each month or so, because “you can’t CLEAN surfaces unless you HAVE them” so you need to clear the crap off your shelves before you can wipe them down.  I have been decluttering recently and it feels good, but it just keeps going on.
  • Pause after every station for a cup of tea. It’s good for the soul.
  • Sometimes you can get stuck in a plateau with any system or challenge; maybe all it takes is mixing up your lists again (and an imaginary train) to get back on track.

Soundtrack:  Peace Train by Cat Stevens

Plan, Do, Review, Revise (or, How’s that routine working out for you?)

Before I was a mum-of-three and an app developer, before the kids (or the app) were even a twinkle in anybody’s eye, I used to design and develop computer based training.  We’d take the staff development goals of businesses, and find which ones could be turned into learning objectives, then design training programmes to run on a CD or the internet. As we designed the programmes we continuously improved them – so many rounds of feedback, so many changes and tweaks.

Sometimes a idea I thought was the best thing since sliced bread didn’t work out in the real world, so I changed it to suit.  And that’s life. Eventually, we delivered the project to the customers and they were happy, of course…  but we were straight onto the next project, taking with us what we had learned from the last one. (Maybe we stopped to walk down to Serious Espresso in between.)

The process looked something like this:

That’s what  life and learning is all about – we can’t stay still.  Circumstances change all the time – children arrive, health issues surprise us, jobs change, roles change, and seasons change.  It’s unreasonable to expect that a plan you made a year or even a month ago would still be totally in synch with your current life.

So that’s why I suggest – have a look at your routines.  See what’s working, and what isn’t.  If you’re getting overwhelmed, drop some tasks that don’t matter as much.  Turn off some reminders.

Coincidentally, Maaike from Life With Flylady posted today about adapting Flylady’s zones to suit your house (with HomeRoutines! yay!), and Ana added an excellent comment:

At first I had too many things in my routines and was constantly not getting to some things, which was stressing me out. Then I reminded myself this is for me. I have no one to impress. I removed the tasks I was not ready for yet and it relieved the stress. I have added some back on when I was ready to do them. I will continue to add tasks as time goes on.

No matter whether you choose a housework system to adapt, or cobble one together, or come up with your own ideas – it has to suit your home.  It’s your home, not the home of some self-proclaimed internet expert, or your in-laws, or your grandmother, or that guy on that one infomercial!

Plan: Look around you. See what needs doing…  add it to your routines and zones.

Do: Use those routines, work through the zones, see how you go

Review: Have a look back over what you’ve been doing.  Is it working for you? Are you getting overwhelmed or avoiding your lists because they’re too long?

Revise: Add some things, remove some tasks, switch your zones around!

Enjoy your own system in your own place.  You totally deserve it.

Housework Systems: HouseHoncho

I just discovered HouseHoncho this afternoon and I am delighted!

If you sign up (for free) you’ll get one email a day, which gives you nine home tasks: three easy ones, three medium ones, and three “advanced” ones.

Here’s an example of today’s email message:

Good evening! Tomorrow we are focusing on the living room/family room with this list! Remember, don’t put pressure on yourself to get it all done. If you pick 3 items–in any combination–you will make a difference in your home today.

Calendar Alert: Spring is March 20th.

1. Clutter bust for 5 minutes.
2. Straighten a bookshelf.
3. Dust the television.

1. Clean the floor.
2. Clean the inside of the windows.
3. Vacuum the lampshades.

1. Organize (ie, purge) entertainment such as CDs and DVDs.
2. Thoroughly clean tables (such as a side or coffee table).
3. Spring Clean-athon Task: Dust the ceiling using a broom and soft cloth.

Check out the blog to read the words that haunt me from a high school teacher.

Keep it simple!
Your HouseHoncho Team

Isn’t that beautiful and simple?

HouseHoncho moves through the areas/zones in the house, one per day of the week, like this: (I couldn’t resist putting it into HomeRoutines to see how it fits!)

House Honcho schedule

There’s some great housekeeping advice on their Kitchen Table blog, and their Daily 5 routine list is sensible too.

House Honcho also has a page on Facebook.

If you sometimes need a little inspiration on where to start, HouseHoncho looks like a fantastic service. With 9 little missions per day to pick from, there’s bound to be three jobs that suit your home and your available time and energy. Plus: it’s just one email!