A Simple Tool For Initiating and Completing Repetitive Tasks

Gear Icon. A Simple Tool for Initiating and Completing Repetitive Tasks
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Like it or not, most of us spend time performing repetitive tasks. Whether they are things we do every day or only once a year, these responsibilities can feel boring and mundane. While these may not be the most fun items on our to-do lists, they are nonetheless important. In fact, there is a famous quote by Will Durant that says, “We are what we repeatedly do.” At the same time, doing the same thing over and over can get boring and feel inefficient. Furthermore, for tasks that we perform periodically, we can find ourselves needing to reinvent a vaguely familiar wheel, trying to re-remember how we did something before. Fortunately, there is a simple tool for initiating and completing repetitive tasks: templates.

Admittedly, “template” is not a very enchanting word. However, much like the unassuming Bilbo Baggins of “The Hobbit,” you don’t have to be fancy to be powerful. In the broadest sense of the word, a template is a predefined format or layout that serves as a launching off point either for creating something or for performing a task. Templates are tools you create and then call upon over and over to get things done.

Templates come in a variety of formats, including:

  • Lists
  • Documents
  • Layouts
  • Pieces of Code
  • Graphic Designs
  • Reminders
  • Timelines
  • Routines
  • Shortcuts and Macros
  • Nomenclatures
  • Timers
  • Tools
  • Jigs

Templates can be either physical or digital, from the humble cookie cutter to a complex order of operations.  The rationale behind a template is to create something once that you can repeatedly either use “as is,” or customize to meet a specific need. It is simply a tool that once established, improve your productivity over and over. Templates have many benefits. For instance, templates:

  • Make it easier to initiate tasks because we don’t feel the cognitive pressure of having to create from scratch.
  • Help us complete tasks more quickly.
  • Ensure consistency in our approach and product.
  • Minimize errors by reminding us of important details.
  • Ease collaboration by getting multiple parties started on the same page.

Whether you realize it or not, you are probably using at least some templates already. There is power in applying focused thought once – even if the effort is small – so that you can perform more easily in the future.

Have I gotten your attention? Would you like to incorporate more templates into your routine? Here are a few examples of templates you might want to explore.

Grocery List Template

Make a baseline list for each of the stores in which you frequently shop. For me, this is my local grocery store and Costco. Create a template list with the items you repeatedly purchase. When it comes time to shop, simply check or highlight whatever items you need this week. Seeing the template might even help you remember to get something you had forgotten. At the bottom of the template, leave space to add anything particular to this shopping trip. Keep refining your template over time and it will become more and more effective.

Packing List Template

Packing feels like a chore to me. To ease the process, I keep basic lists on my computer for different types of vacations, e.g., to the beach, a weekend away, work conference trip, skiing, etc. At packing time, I often print the template list and write in anything unique that I need for this trip. I also update my template list after a trip for any new items I wish I had brought. Having packing list templates is a great way to transition children to packing. Hand them the list and let them take a stab at putting out what they need to bring. Parents can review items before the contents go into a suitcase.

Household Management Template

Start a list – I find it helpful to have one per season – of the tasks you need to do around the house. For instance, a list for spring might include putting the hoses out, setting out the summer furniture, clearing the gutters, mulching garden beds, switching out air filters, decluttering the mudroom, etc. I save these templates in a folder with the address of the home.

Since few people can think of all of everything that needs to get done “on the spot,” I suggest you begin by creating a list for each season in a designated file or location, and then whenever you think of something, add it to the appropriate template. Make the templates as specific as possible. For instance, if you need to order a replacement supply each year, note the name, details, vendor, and cost. Over time, your templates will become more and more complete, helping you to remember what you need to do and to anticipate what expenses are on the horizon.

Task Templates

These can take a variety of forms, but the idea is to create checklists for any sequence of events which you perform over and over.  These might be things you need to do each day. For example, you may have one that reminds you of a series of things you need to do before heading out the door in the morning (e.g., lock doors, set the alarm, make sure the curling iron is unplugged). Or, hang a list on your bulletin board near your desk reminding you of what to do when you first sit down, such as review calendar, triage emails, write my to-do list and prioritize my top three tasks. Templates like these help us to avoid forgetting important steps and belongings.

I’ve found task templates can work very well for children as well. For instance, make a visual template with the steps children need to do each morning or before bed. Another idea is to write make an index card for each day of the week, noting what “special activities” your child has by day (e.g., Monday – library, Tuesday – gym, Wednesday – art), as well as what they should put in their bag the night before (e.g., library books, gym shoes, art smock). Laminate the cards and put them on a keyring. Each evening flip the card to the following day. You can hang the keyring on a hook near the door or near your child’s staging area.

An Email Signature

Many people who work in a professional setting are required to set up an email signature. An email signature includes your name, preferred contact number/address, and important credentials. Some people add a thought, verse, or quote as well. Email signatures can be handy, saving keystrokes and ensuring you communicate current information.

Document Templates

Do you give presentations? Write papers? Work with spreadsheets? If so, you may be able to save time by creating digital templates for your most common types of projects. For instance, if you are a student, you might want to create a prototype “Works Consulted” form that you can update for each new paper. Someone who gives frequent presentations might want to design a presentation template with the appropriate logo, page numbering, margins, etc. A person who frequently creates spreadsheets can set up a workbook template with her preferred fonts, margins, headers, footers, orientation, etc.

In my own life, since I repeatedly write the same types of documents and emails, I have created templates for things like:

  • Proposals
  • Emails
  • Contracts
  • Gift certificates
  • Donation Logs
  • Kitchen Planning

I spent some time developing these once, and now I can easily modify and use them as needed.

The possibilities for document templates are many! Are you teaching a child to write thank you notes? Helping a student craft emails to potential recommendation writers? Do you have to write a weekly report that highlights similar facts? Do you send an email blast? Think about the types of documents you send regularly and consider creating a template for each one instead of starting from scratch each time.

Document Naming Template

One tip I learned early on in my business was to establish a template for naming documents. There are a couple of varieties, but in general they begin with the date and end with the document specifics. You can read more about how to create and use them here.

Image Templates

If you create digital images, this is another great place to build a template. I regularly use Canva for social media and blog images. If you follow me, you know I share INSTATIPS, REMINDERS, and THOUGHTS. I created templates for all of these, making it easy for me to simply copy the template and update the content for sharing.

Another type of “image” for which you might want to make a template is labels. I have a template for hanging files tabs in both the smaller (5-tab) and larger (3-tab) labels. I keep them in an excel sheet, and easily print labels simply by changing the text and printing. If you use a label maker, you can add presets (i.e. templates) for the various kinds of labels you frequently use.

With the ease of taking and storing photos these days, image templates are an easy way to help us remember how things should look. For example:

  • I know someone who has taken photos of outfits she has put together to make getting dressed quick and easy.
  • Take photos of holiday decorative displays, so you remember how to set them up next year.
  • If you are moving, take a photo of cord attachments behind electronics before dismantling them so you can remember how you hooked everything up when you arrive in your new location.
  • Take and share photos with coworkers and/or team members that show how shared supplies should be stored in a given space.

Photos of any physical setup we want to recreate become simple templates in the palm of our hand. To make sure you can find the photos you want when you need them, remember to add tags to the photo information.

Productivity Templates

Not all templates are visual. Some are tools we create (digital or physical) that help us perform a task more efficiently.

For instance, you might want to create a macro (or keyboard shortcut), where you teach your computer to type a specific line of text every time you hit a certain combination of letters. For instance, I wrote shortcuts for my email address and website address so that when I comment on blogs, I only need to hit a few keystrokes instead of typing these out in full each time. The details of how to write macros differs by device and program, but you can find them all on Youtube.

Another way to save time is by teaching your email inbox what to do with emails coming from certain addresses. For example, if you get a lot of spam for some online vendors (and if you don’t want to unsubscribe), just write a rule that tells your email provider (Gmail™, Yahoo™, etc.) to send any emails from “XXX.com” to a specific folder (e.g., “Vendors”). This will help cull down the clutter in your primary inbox.

Timers are also a form of template. Think about it: you set them once and then ask them to repeat in the future. Timers can be very helpful in letting you know when you are nearing a time when you need to take action. I helped someone set up a timer to remind him to take medication every evening at a certain time. Personally, I set a timer on my phone to 5 minutes that I can easily start when I perform a specific exercise each day.

Playlists can also be a type of timer. Set up playlists that run for predetermined periods of time, and then use them as background “countdowns” while you perform tasks. I find a morning playlist can be a better timer, especially with children, than a clock that we may (or may not) be watching. Hearing the songs unfold helps us track the time, and when the last song begins, we know it is almost time to move on.

You can also harness the power of a digital calendar as a template to remind you of birthdays, special events, and reminders. Enter these in once, and then tell your calendar how often they should be repeated (daily, weekly, monthly, annually, etc.). If you want to remember specifics (e.g., Grandma’s birthday, she likes pink carnations), you can add these to your reminder.

Habit Trackers are another type of template that can improve your productivity, especially when you are trying to form a new habit. These can be physical (e.g., in a bullet journal), or digital via an app. Invest a little time up front deciding what exactly you want to do, spelling out the various steps if necessary, and then reuse this tool over and over to track your progress.

*     *     *

Getting things done can be exhausting. We may avoid starting and/or have trouble staying on track. Using templates is one way to ease task initiation and amp up our productivity once we begin.

Do you use templates for your repetitive tasks? I’d love to hear what works for you.

Seana's signature

22 thoughts on “A Simple Tool For Initiating and Completing Repetitive Tasks”

    1. Exactly. When I realize I’m repeating something, I try and codify my effort so it will be easier next time… especially if that next time is far in the distance!

  1. Reading your ideas renewed my love of templates. I use them constantly, so much so that I take them for granted. They save me time and cognitive processing and reduce stress. The most useful ones are for my workshops, groceries, packing, parties, travel, and client communication.

    Using templates is especially helpful when I’m working on a multi-faceted project.

    1. I so agree, Linda! I sort of forget that I am using them as well, but they sure do save a lot of time. I was hoping to just get people thinking about templates they might be using, or might want to create, for those repetitive tasks!

  2. I’ve generally been pretty efficient setting up routines and templates for my work. I’ve tried to apply the same principles to my home and personal life, with mixed success. One thing that’s working for me is written steps for organizing my recent photos, with a second set for organizing older photos.
    Janet Barclay recently posted…How much does it cost to maintain a website?My Profile

    1. I love this, Janet! A rubric (set of steps) can be so helpful as we move through repetitive tasks. I’ve written one for a client for paying her bills. This simple little template has been used over and over, with great success. Good for you getting your photos in order. Cheering you on from here!

  3. People wonder how I can get so many things done; well, I’m a fan of templates! I have created them not only for my clients but also for myself. They allow for easy retrieval of things I may forget in my personal and business lives. I have lots and lots of templates. The key for me is to stay specific with items and tasks that need completing. I do not like to keep recurring tasks in my mind.
    Sabrina Quairoli recently posted…10 Important Tips for Juggling Work and Family While Starting a BusinessMy Profile

    1. Yes, I love that, Sabrina. Templates alleviate the need to keep recurring tasks in our minds. Using templates lightens our cognitive load, allowing us to focus our thinking where it truly is most effective!

  4. These are great Seana,
    I can really see using these for those repetitive tasks. Almost like a bullet journal (which I have never done) but just keeping track of things that are important to remember and then making it so much easier. I need to refine my kitchen duties. I am good at using up stuff in my fridge and making good meals but I know that I am shopping too often. Little. trips that can turn into big trips. ugh!!
    Kim recently posted…Two Creative Strategies for Organizing Your Thoughts and Your ProjectsMy Profile

  5. I’m a huge fan of a good template. Most often, I use them with emails where I’m responding to very specific types of inquiries: from clients, the media, someone wanting guidance as a new organizer, or (more and more common now) people wanting to write guest posts for my blog. Having a template and combining its insertion with a few coded keystrokes makes everything so much easier. I still refine and customize the emails for the specific inquiry, but hey, you can’t edit a blank page. Having the template sets everything in motion so much more quickly, so I’m less likely to procrastinate.

    Oh, and packing lists? I live for them. If I don’t use a packing list, I can forget the weirdest things: shoes? hairbrush? But I have packing lists for NAPO conference, for international travel, etc., and using them means I can focus my energies without worry.

    I never thought of the email rules function or signature lines as templates, but you’re absolutely right. I’m a huge user of email rules to make sure things get routed out of in my inbox and to the sub-folders for the right topics.

    This post is full of great ideas!
    Julie Bestry recently posted…Cool, Sustainable Packing and Shipping Solutions for Earth DayMy Profile

    1. Really anything we create once and then use over and over is a template, right? I have similar packing lists. 🙂 I need to work on my email inbox myself. I use one address for most of my shopping, so that is one way I’ve gotten around a crowded email inbox. But I need to just sit down and write a few more rules to really keep the inbox as clear as possible. Sometimes I write these posts so I will take my own advice LOL!

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