Rock that timer: Using your timer to get started and keep going

Take five minutes. Just five. Set a timer. If you’re on the couch or in bed, look to see the closest surface to you. It’s probably the coffee table or your nightstand. For those five minutes, just focus on that one surface. Clear it off, throw stuff away, maybe even dust it. So when your five minutes is done and you’re back in bed, you have one clear surface to look at. You have an accomplishment to focus on. You did something. You don’t have to do everything. – Unf*** Your Habitat: The Depression/Messy House Cycle

Setting a timer to get started is a very motivating way to work.  If the world is falling down around you (or feels like it) and you have what seems like three week’s worth of work to do in one afternoon, it can seem much easier to just hide in a comfy chair or the safe place inside the computer.  That’s how it is to me anyway.  Or sometimes you just honestly can’t be bothered.

Either way, try setting a timer for a small chunk of time, and promising yourself to concentrate on one area or one task for that amount of time.  Merlin Mann calls this “Running a dash

You might choose 2 minutes, or 5 minutes, or 11, or 15.

Once you get started (the laptop is put away, you’re on your feet, you’re doing things) it’s easier to keep going, just until the timer goes off. Then you can stop, and you’re ahead of where you were.

If you have a series of tasks to do, once you’re on a roll, you might want to alternate timed “working” blocks with timed “relaxing” blocks. You can do this anyway you like, of course.

Pick a time that feels good to you and suits the time you have available. Work for that time. Stop for a cup of tea when the timer goes off. It’s as easy (and as difficult) as that.

Some Useful Links (Men’s Edition)

Jesper asked us a question yesterday on the HomeRoutines facebook page.

Why are all the articles linked to in pink, and with “romantic” typefonts, and the most frequently used word on this page “mom”? Can’t guys be home cleaning/organizing freaks as well? 🙂

Oh, how it pains me to be asked that, because I purposely didn’t make the app itself all pink and flowery because, seriously, everybody needs to do dishes and laundry. It’s not just for the ladies (even if the “likers” on the HomeRoutines page are 96.2% female as of today)  But there does seem to be a preponderance of “Mommy Bloggers” talking on the subject of the domestic arts and their own personal struggles with maintaining some sense of order and dignity in their household.

However, there are some male voices on the subject, so here are some writers that don’t have the words “Mom” “Lady” or “Housewife” in their blog names.

Kurt Vonnegut’s housework contract with his pregnant wife, January 26, 1947

I, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., that is, do hereby swear that I will be faithful to the commitments hereunder listed:

I. With the agreement that my wife will not nag, heckle, or otherwise disturb me on the subject, I promise to scrub the bathroom and kitchen floors once a week, on a day and hour of my own choosing.

Furthermore, while I am undertaking these tasks I will refrain from indulging in such remarks as “Shit,” “Goddamn sonofabitch,” and similar vulgarities, as such language is nerve-wracking to have around the house when nothing more drastic is taking place than the facing of Necessity.

Leo Babauta, The Habit of Starting at Zen Habits

The biggest reason people fail at creating and sticking to new habits is that they don’t keep doing it.

That seems obvious: if you don’t keep doing a habit, it won’t really become a habit. So what’s the solution to this obvious problem? Find a way to keep doing it.

When you look at it this way, the key to forming a habit is not how much you do of the habit each day (exercise for 30 minutes, write 1,000 words, etc.), but whether you do it at all. So the key is just getting started.

Let me emphasize that: the key to forming a habit is starting each day.

Zen Habits is one of my favourite websites. You might also like to read his older articles:

Plus, pretty much his entire archive.

UnFilth Your Habitat

UnFYH is great. (The site doesn’t use the word “filth” by the way, rather another word beginning with F. It’s just their euphemism to allow their app to be in the app store) It is a categorically non pink, romatic, mom-ish blog, but it does happen to have a female author. Nevertheless, anybody, bloke or otherwise, who gets cringy at too many shabby chic, distressed-chalkboard, homemade muffins, kale chips and vintage apron posts when they just want to work out how to even start to clean their [filthy] bedroom – Unfilth Your Habitat is a great place. With copious swearing. And celebratory animated gifs. On Tumblr.  The community built around it on Tumblr is inspirational as well, with lots of tagged pictures and posts with befores and afters.

OK, now I have a problem

I thought I remembered two other guys.  One of them turned out to be just a screen name (he called himself “Hearth Master” on a bulletin board, and I thought that was pretty sweet) and the other was a guy who I swear wrote about keeping his house clean and referred to “Crap avoidance strategies” for avoiding the creation of piles of mess, but I can’t find him on the internet and the keywords I remember are a little problematic.

(I remembered: it was at a site called “Dad is In The House” and he talked about “Doom Avoidance”

There will be plenty of time for wax-resist and lace dyed eggs when you are done staring down doom.  It doesn’t matter if you can make a pretty egg if you toddlers’ poo balls are still ground into the carpet–stay strong and keep focused, with laser-like precision. Take care of your dirty secrets, and then worry about Martha and the lifestyle gurus. I’m all over making cool and useful and even pretty things. But you must avoid doom first!

– it’s not online any more but it’s in the magical internet archive.


Who else is good and not too pink-rickrack/vintage-apron/feather-duster? I will update the post 🙂

Find your Most Important Tasks. Do them.

I don’t know about you, but I usually have about a million things that I feel like I should be doing.  The end result is often… not actually doing them. - The moment when you realize how many things you have to do and decide to take a nap.

I try and keep the regular, recurring tasks under control by corralling them into routines and zone tasks, but there are always one-off jobs and projects to keep under control.

You can follow all sorts of powerful techniques to identify what to do next; what is urgent vs what is important, and what is urgent AND important, and so on. But there is only so much list-writing and task-juggling you can do before it turns into just another form of procrastination.

How about this:

  1. Choose your three Most Important Tasks tasks to do today.
  2. Write them in your to do list.
  3. Try and do those three.

Even if you get just one of them done, you’ll be further ahead than if you didn’t do any of those extra jobs.   I managed to get all my Most Important Tasks done today.  (Showing off!)

My Most Important Tasks  for today:

1) Take the girls to buy new shoes, because Belle’s sneakers AND her boots had fallen to bits and having her walk into school like a bare-footed waif child isn’t a great look in the middle of winter.

2)Update my order for the  fruit and vege box to be delivered tomorrow to have veges and fruit because we managed to eat most of our veges this week.

3)Follow up the cheque that I thought was to pay the fees for Brownies, but it turns out was something to do with the renovations.  Whoops. Pay the outstanding fees for Brownies.

Bug fix for iPad version 2.0.4

An update for the iPad version of HomeRoutines was released to the store yesterday, fixing a crashing bug. Unfortunately, we managed to introduce a new bug while fixing the old one.

Due to this bug, if you open HomeRoutines for iPad in portrait orientation, the Home button won’t be visible.  Fortunately, if you rotate your iPad to landscape, the Home button will reappear, and will stay there after you rotate back to portrait.

We have also submitted an urgent update  to Apple to fix this, and it should be available within a couple of days.

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

Morning High Five for the kids and myself

The daily rhythm of my home is changing soon, and it will be more important than ever to make sure our mornings run smoothly.

I remembered reading on Life As Mom about the idea of a Morning High Five for her kids. Picking the five most important chores, she made for them a colourful chart, like this:

Morning High Five chart from Life As Mom (click through for a printable and other awesomeness)

I decided to be creative and/or mysterious, so I mysteriously traced around the girls’ hands on coloured paper before school this morning, and whipped up my own version of the chart while they were away:

This is Lilly

This is a list for the girls, but there are kind of two lists in it for me.

The early morning list

So, there is literally nothing more important for me in the morning than making sure these things happen before 8:30am, for not only Lill but for Bella, Henry and myself. We all need to get through the full cycle of toilet, breakfast, dress’edness, teeth and hair, and the girls backpacks need to be packed. It’s nice if more things get done (a la breakfast dishes, made beds and so forth) but those can wait until after the school run. We must be realistic about these things. So I’ve split my school-morning routine into two. One is my own “High Five” list, and the other is all the entertaining (ha!) “extra” tasks that aren’t as mission critical as those that Get The Kids Out The Door.

The School Night Preparedness List

This is the most important, because nothing, nothing ruins the feng shui of a morning like the echoing cries of “Mum, I don’t have any clean knickers!” and frantic washing of yesterday’s lunchbox in order to fill it with today’s lunch. Horrible, stressful way to start the day, rummaging through the un-folded washing to find a uniform top and the right kind of undies and socks.

Well worth the effort, even when Bejewelled is calling to me.

What’s on your Next Day Preparedness List?