Do you remember when you were little and your mom made you perform certain tasks every day? Make your bed, brush your teeth, put your dishes in the dishwasher? Chances are if you performed these tasks as a child, you are still performing them today. They became part of the fabric of your life, a part of your daily existence.
Routine tasks are fairly easy to perpetuate because they require neither focused attention nor stressful decision-making. For example, after a long day, it probably feels easier to wash dishes than to sort through insurance paperwork. That is because washing dishes is brainless. In contrast, paperwork requires us to read, think, process, and make decisions.
If we then apply this truth across our lives, it makes sense to maximize the number of tasks that we can perform in a “thought free” manner. Routines and habits achieve this goal by “automating” our performance while minimizing the need to exert intellectual energy.
For example, let’s say I pack my lunch every day, and each day I pack the same thing. Some might say, “How boring!” On some level, this is true. However, there are some definite upsides to this strategy:
- I know exactly what to buy at the grocery store (simplified shopping)
- I know exactly how to prepare my lunch (can do it while still half asleep)
- I know exactly how much to budget for lunch (no “on the fly” decision about what I can afford at the deli today)
- I save time not having to figure out a lunch plan each day
- My body gets exactly what it wants every day (assuming I pack a lunch I like and digest well)
This same principle can apply to a vast array of other daily functions. Consider the following choices we all regularly make:
- What to wear
- What to eat
- How to get to work
- When to check email/voicemail/messages
- When to grocery shop/how to keep track of what is needed
- When/where to get gas
- When to exercise/meditate/pray
- What to bring along for the day
- When to work on household chores
- What to read and when
This is just a partial list! I challenge you to select one aspect of your life that you could simplify into a predictable pattern and give it a try. For example, deciding, “I will take the 7:04 train each day,” is preferable to “I will leave after I check my email.” Or perhaps you will decide, “I will catch up on magazines on Friday evenings while watching TV, and I will stack all magazines that come in during the week near my TV watching chair.” I know someone who has decided she will wear primarily one color of clothing. Many families have a fixed dinner item one or two evenings of the week.
Keep in mind that anytime we start something new, we should be open to refinements and adjustments. Give the new strategy a fair shot, but don’t be rigid if it isn’t working. Many people say it takes 3 weeks to form a new habit, but I find 5-8 weeks is more realistic, and it may take a few attempts to get it right.
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Being an adult in an increasingly complex world is draining. Adding a few limitations to daily life can actually be one of the most freeing steps we can take.
Have you made a “habit” of a daily task? What routines have worked for you?
22 thoughts on “What Can You Simplify?”
What great advice and really do agree could make life simpler if we just applied this to what steps daily that we can.
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Would your girls eat the same lunch every day? Mine were sort of picky eaters, so it actually made everyone happy:)
It’s so true that things we do routinely are much simpler. That has been my challenge this year. I moved to a different area and have had to create new routines for walking my dogs, gardening, and household chores. It’s a little frustrating to go from a well used routine to creating many new routines. I’m finding that it does take about 2 months to make a new routine stick. Rather than work on all the different things I need to change at once I am working on establishing one new routine at a time. Which is why it’s taking me almost a year to feel truly settled and comfortable.
Starting fresh is actually very exhausting. I totally understand what you are saying. We don’t necessarily give ourselves the break we deserve when we have to figure everything out anew. I think taking your time to focus on one routine at a time is very smart. This ensures success. Otherwise, it might feel overwhelming, and nothing would stick. I’m sending you good vibes as you navigate this new location and life, Diane!
Routines are important to help us function less stressfully through our days. I’ll offer one twist on this. Even with routines that we CAN perform mindlessly or with less “intellectual energy,” I propose that even with our routines, we add some mindful awareness around them. By doing that we can add some joy and focus to the basic tasks. Let’s say you’re brushing your teeth after waking up. We can do this mindlessly or we can activate our senses, tasting the minty toothpaste waking up our mouths, feeling the teeth being brushed clean, or sensing the water swishing around our mouth as we rinse. While it doesn’t take as much energy to do the routine tasks, we can enhance our daily experiences by being mindful of what we’re experiencing.
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Great build, Linda. A way to make the process pleasant and visceral in a positive way! I’ll admit I tend to enjoy listening to books while performing my mindless tasks, which is a happy thing for me. Love the idea of using efficiency to free your mind for better things!
My husband and I have many routines in place – I started to list them here, then realized just how many we have! Part of me rebels against so much structure, but it definitely works!
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Once you are operating efficiently, then you have the freedom to periodically step outside of a routine with intentional purpose of experiencing something new. In this case, the process is desired and pleasant because you have the “safety net” of systems in place.
Great challenge, Seana! I find that creating routines for tasks I don’t like work great for me. For example, I don’t like shopping for clothes. They don’t fit the way I want, and I spend hours looking for items. So, instead, when I find a style I like at the beginning of the season, I will purchase the same item in different colors. By doing it this way, it saves me time, and I get cute clothes with little effort.
That’s a wonderful example, Sabrina. I do that sometimes with shoes because I have a hard time getting shoes to fit. If I like it, I will buy multiple colors. That has “saved” me more than once!
I’m a creature of habit. I eat the same thing for breakfast, buy the same thing at the grocery store, have designated laundry days, etc. The point I like that you made is that change takes time. So many people think in 21 days they can create a new habit when studies have proven it takes upwards of 66 days!
I’m glad to be getting this affirmation about how long it takes to change. I’d always heard 3 weeks, but my own experience suggested it takes much longer. 66 days sounds about right to me!
Creating routine tasks saves my sanity in day-to-day life. I do miss the routine of a wearing a uniform like I did in the Air Force. I guess there’s no reason I couldn’t create a more uniform like wardrobe to regain that simplicity. Hmmm, you’ve got me thinking 🙂
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I sort of have one. I put the same thing on in the morning to exercise and have breakfast. Then I have what I wear to work in (both a winter and summer version.) It isn’t a uniform per se, and not a shirt with my company name or anything, but a basic type of clothing. It’s just easier not to worry about that. Not sure it would get me good reviews on “What Not to Wear”… but it is comfortable and easy to clean:)
I honestly can’t just pick one because I thrive on creating routines out of tasks! I have to simplify them a bit every week, it seems. Finding my way!
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I love making routines as well. I find it soothing. And once it is a habit, I rarely stray from it. We are all finding our way, right?
Love the idea of less choices, less decisions, and more simplicity. Many of us are “drawn to complexity” with the idea that more of anything is better. That can be paralyzing too. Simplicity gives us the time, energy and outcome that we truly want. (As well as a yummy lunch!)
I am sort of resonating around the term “selective complexity.” We all have aspects of life which are particularly interesting to us. These are the areas where we want and should allow complexity, decisions, intricacies, etc. They will be different from individual to another. For example, some people love fashion but hate cooking. Another person might feel the exact opposite way. We need to make both mental and physical space for complexity where we desire it by “automating” and simplifying the aspects of life for which we have little passion.
I totally agree with this—-I am a routine type of gal, because I like to know at all times what to expect and what needs to be done ahead of time!
I feel the same way, Marcia. Even if things don’t go according to plan, I find I can flex better if I’m starting off from a more stable perspective.
Now that I’ve read this, I kinda remembered some of my previous routines and habits. I want a simple life with less clutter and less things to worry about so I believe simplifying some of our tasks is a great idea.
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I completely agree!