How can I set up a schedule for everything in my life?
October 26, 2011 7:22 AM   Subscribe

I need help scheduling my life -- figuring out daily, weekly, and monthly chores, maintenance schedules, etc. What are some resources or tips for putting a useful (and ideally more permanent) structure on my time? What should that structure look like?

Pertinent details:
  • Married, with one person working full time
  • Brand new baby (one month old), so advice on looking after his needs is needed too
  • Just bought medium-sized old house with plenty of things to upgrade, but right now just want to make sure nothing breaks down over the winter
  • Currently working from home, but might commute up to three days/week (commute is around an hour each way by public transport)
  • Two cats
  • I have ADHD, my wife does not.
  • I'm not instinctively clean or organized..
In a perfect world, someone would come in, look at the house, us, our things, and write out a daily schedule, weekly schedule, monthly schedule, and yearly schedule that I could just then stick to without having to figure it out myself.

Barring that, I need tools to make this process as simple as possible, with the least amount of mental effort. Right now I feel like this is something I can't figure out on my own.
posted by Deathalicious to Grab Bag (14 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
If you can overlook the religious undertones and shilling her products, Flylady was very helpful to me when doing this a few years ago. Her program focuses on housework and eliminating clutter by using daily lists to stay on track. I set up her system and followed it pretty faithfully for about six months. After that, I was able to stay organized on my own.
posted by raisingsand at 7:28 AM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is your ADHD being treated?

Alarms and alerts. I wouldn't get done half the things I need to if I didn't have an annoying noise going off telling me that NOW is the time for THING.

Also, for projects that take a while but can afford breaks (e.g. , the Pomodoro Technique has been invaluable to me. You don't need to buy a book or anything, it's a pretty simple process. There's a free countdown timer at, as well.
posted by griphus at 7:38 AM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'm currently taking meds for the ADHD, but I'm thinking about getting my hands on other resources (books and maybe support groups?).

Also, tips on how to fairly divide up tasks/responsibilities/etc would be helpful also.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:42 AM on October 26, 2011

I just downloaded the Home Routine app and I love it!! It's VERY easy to customize, easy to use and adapt to my needs. It sends gentle reminders twice a day and you can check off tasks. Fly lady-ish but with more adaptability. I was in your exact shoes and I've been using it successfully for four days now.
posted by pearlybob at 7:44 AM on October 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

On looking for a home organizing app, I did see some that were strictly for splitting chores. I didn't look at them but if you use an iphone, they were in the app store.
posted by pearlybob at 7:45 AM on October 26, 2011

I sat down with my wife and we made a chore list. First we wrote the things we wanted to be on there, then we decided who did what. It actually came out being pretty evenly distributed.
posted by theichibun at 7:46 AM on October 26, 2011

Program an electronic gadget with reminders of the stuff you want to do. I put all kinds of tedious stuff into my iPod touch calendar and then it beeps at me to do stuff. You can set repeating alarms on things too.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:59 AM on October 26, 2011

As someone who's also chronically busy, I've found this website very helpful: You make reminders for yourself (I set mine to remind me about my bills, etc.), and then you tell it how often you want to be reminded, and it sends you an email alert. I think you can change the settings at any time. I've found it very helpful.

Also-be sure to make some time for yourself every day. It doesn't have to be a *lot* of time, but just having that little bit of personal time does help you stay on top of things when you're a busy person. It's a mental clarity thing. Good luck!
posted by chatelaine at 9:18 AM on October 26, 2011

On a daily basis, write down two or three things you hope to cross off your mental to-do list.

Once you master that, write down what you want to accomplish in the week. Do this every week.

Once you master that, write down the daily, weekly, and monthly to-dos...

For the daily items, I use an index card*. Weekly, monthly and yearly items go in a notebook (Moleskine). The goal here is not to list many things you'd like to accomplish, but things you like to accomplish and think you can.

How you end up scheduling your time is up to you but at least you'll have some focus and sense of accomplishment using the method above. And if you miss writing stuff down sometimes, so what? No one's keeping score except yourself. I miss a lot.

*Except on the weekends when I use a plain letter size sheet of paper and a Sharpie. I then leave the list on our kitchen island or my desk.
posted by qsysopr at 10:07 AM on October 26, 2011

nthing FlyLady and the HomeRoutine app. I'm also trying out the Cozi app /website -- I haven't decided it whether I prefer it over HomeRoutine, but they are both pretty good.

If FlyLady is too much to digest, I'd recommend going for the HomeRoutine App, plus a commitment to do 15 minutes of basic decluttering/light cleaning everyday (set a timer and stop when it's done), plus an hour of more significant cleaning once a week. Those are the basic principles at work underneath all the rest of her stuff. That time commitment plus the lists included in the app will get you well on your way.

As for the baby, he's not going to have much of a routine at one month old... for now it's really feed/sleep on demand, and then somewhere between 3-6 months he'll start to settle in to a little more of a routine. As someone who was in our shoes not long ago, I encourage you to be gentle with yourselves for now, prioritize sleep over a clean house, etc. Mine is 8 months old and I'm just now feeling like I'm really able to devote some time to anything more than the most basic cleaning.

Best of luck and congrats on the baby!
posted by somanyamys at 10:19 AM on October 26, 2011

If you can afford it, outsource major tasks like housecleaning. $100/month is often worth the time you're given back.

Right now with an infatn, IMHO Dad should be doing the bulk of laundry, cooking and cleaning while Mom breastfeeds/cares for baby.

With an infant, you're probably constantly doing laundry. If the basket is half-full, wash it!

Is your plan to have 1 stay-at-home parent for the immediate future? With 2 working parents, chore delegation is different from 1 person at home.
posted by k8t at 11:59 AM on October 26, 2011

I have ADHD too, and my husband does not. I actually manage *both* our schedules and what needs to get done as a couple, and never forget of overlook anything; oddly, AIRTIGHT PLANNING AND REMINDERS is how I dealt with being mentally flighty AND otherwise overwhelmed by stuff my whole life, so I've never felt like my ADHD makes planning hard for me. You can get there too with some practice and good systems. Here is what I do:

- For tasks I use OmniFocus, which has a computer, iPhone, and iPad app, but you can use anything that has some basic features.

I use thr ability to set start and due dates, for one. That means I can put in a task but then say I don't want it to show up until a certain day; that keeps me from getting distracted by all the things I don't need to worry about yet. Due date is obvious; in OF it changes the color of the task the day before and the day of, and it will show due and nearly due tasks in different helpful views.

Next, you need recurring tasks. OF lets me say "repeat this task every Thursday" or "every 13th of the month" or "every year on this date". Chores can fit here: I have a "make a grocery list" task along with buying groceries and doing laundry that shows up every Friday and is due every Sunday. For a few years I had a "clean the toilet" task every two weeks until I got better at simply cleaning things when they needed it; your system needs to adapt to you so do whatever it takes for however long it takes until it takes less whatever alluvasudden. Adjust the frequency of these if they come up too prematurely too often, or be comfortable with marking them done anyway; I've done both.

Oh, I also have a recurring task to replace my contacts every other Sunday. Recurring tasks are useful for birthdays too. For holidays that require me to do something ahead of time, like buy gifts, I also have recurring reminders a month ahead of time, then ten days.

- I put everything on Google calender in addition to OF. My husband and I have separate shared calendars. I can create events on his if need be, so when he NEVER WRITES DOWN HIS DENTIST APPOINTMENT TIME and I find the scheduling card I go put it on his calendar.

You need to put stuff in both places because for most people, a calendar is not a good place for a to do list; events are only a fraction of the things people "do" and most tasks don't have an obvious date. It's a good place for scheduling. But a task program is horrible to consult to know if you can schedule something a certain day. So I put everything on the calendar, and a few days before the end of the month I get a recurring task to put all events for the upcoming month in OF. (If I schedule something for the same month it already is, I put it in OF immediately, but batching it by month for everything else allows some laziness.)

Also, having a shared calendar as a couple is really helpful. We can coordinate dental visits to be at the same time, I know if he's actually not going to be off one day, or he's scheduled for us to see a friend, or whatever. And it's even better for me because he can barely keep up with his stuff so he would never keep up with mine without it. If you don't have a shared calendar view you have to waste time doubling certain events as pertain to them on your own calendar, too.

- OF lets you divide tasks into separate projects and views, and I recommend that whatever program you get have this ability. OF also has a "context" field that you can play around with, e.g. "telephone" for any tasks that you want to only see when you're making calls, or "office" for tasks that can only be done at the office, etc. As an ADHDer, context is a fantastic place to put "requires focus" and "requires no focus" and it has really helped me refrain from simply doing nothing when I can't focus.

I keep "errands" as one project, "upcoming events" as another and have these show up at the top of the view I use the most. Then "chores" and "exercise" are others. Then there are non-permanent categories for what you'd think of more conventially as one-and-done projects, like "Bologna and Pop Rocks Fort" or whatever, where I can plan the project out in steps. You can set a project to display all the steps at once, OR sequentially (you don't see the next one until you've checked off the one before it) which is nice. It can be sorta messy when some steps are sequential and some aren't, so I solve this by making the larger project concurrent and having subgroups of sequential tasks in it; imperfect but good enough.

And that's really the bulk of what I do. OF has "note" sections for each task and that is a useful feature too, but I mostly use SimpleNote or EverNote to plan details or otherwise retain information that doesn't fit well in a task.

As for deciding who does what, we never really discussed it and it just sort of fell into place. We wash dishes together now that we've moved somewhere without a dishwasher, and whoever feels like washing washes and whoever feels like drying dries. We've actually come to enjoy spending that time together. At our place with carpet I vacuumed (he did sometimes) but this new place has hardwood floors and I both hate sweeping and am bad at it, so he does it. I cook everything because I like cooking and am good at it, and he doesn't and isn't, but he will help to spend time with me if I ask for help. I do laundry because I know how and I don't mind it. He helps fold sometimes. I handle groceries because I handle cooking, but we usually buy them together. I tend to be the surface cleaner (including toilets and bath) because I don't mind it and I'm faster. He handles garbage because, I dunno, traditional gender roles took hold or something. He actually does a lot of chores considering he works full time and I barely work and we have no kids, but neither of us feels unhappy with the division of labor. (I actually feel sorta weird when he starts sweeping out of nowhere because I feel like I should do it, but he gets bothered by very little stuff to sweep and does it every day, which I could never see a reason to do. And he doesn't care, so I don't tie myself in knots.) Anyway, I would be wary of dividing chores along too logical of lines; there are good arguments for half and half, and good arguments for most of it going to the least overworked, but that may not be what makes you guys happiest. "Who likes it" followed by "who doesn't care" followed by "everything else, within reason, we do together" works pretty well.
posted by Nattie at 12:28 PM on October 26, 2011 [5 favorites]

All of the above suggestions are great. However, if you find you have difficulties in getting a grip on which solutions will work best for you (or are afraid you don't know what you don't know about various solutions), I have an alternative. You said that in a perfect world, someone would come in and tell you what to do and how and when to do it. The world isn't perfect, but there are people whose skills perfectly dovetail with your needs.

I am a professional organizer, but I'm not your professional organizer. Our profession doesn't just work to help people make decisions and clear tangible items. Many of us specialize and/or have expertise in time management (personal and professional), work flow, prioritizing, and helping you use technology and low-tech solutions to get a handle on all of your obligations. And many, many POs have experience working with couples in your exact situation.

Unlike having continuing sessions for handling tangible clutter, you may expect to have just one consultation to start accomplishing your goals and, if desired, you might have follow-up sessions by phone, email, Skype or whatever of a shorter duration. (For example, for my time management clients who are a far drive, but not ridiculously far, I'll do one in-person session and follow, as desired by clients, with one-hour phone coaching sessions. Different professional organizers have different approaches, and I expect you'd be able to find someone who fits your budget, financially and in terms of time available.)

Go to the website for the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) and use the "Find a Professional Organizer" fields on the lower right of the screen to search in your locale, and then you'll be able to refine your search to find professional organizers who specialize in time management. As you mentioned that you have ADHD, use that speciality, too, to guide your search.

Feel free to memail me if you need any help weighing your options. And good luck!
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 8:33 PM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Look at the Must Do items and decide whether they are really things you must do or whether you could drop them with little or no consequence. Drop unnecessary duties. Are you really getting anything out of that thing you always do? Are you doing something for someone who doesn't give a rat's ass about it? Do you have to visit her parents with her that often or would you all (you, your wife, and her parents) prefer that you just stayed home to get things done when she went to visit her parents? Are you cleaning stuff twice as often as you need to do? Making two trips when you could combine them into one? Look at other people (in the extended family or at work) and ask yourself whether some of the shit you are saddled with shouldn't really be someone else's responsibility. Look at things you regularly do and ask yourself what would happen if no one did them at all.

Look at the rigidly scheduled things you can't drop and decide whether they really have to be where they are currently in your calendar. You may have some arbitrarily scheduled things that you could change to better times. Maybe that thing you do on Monday nights could be done on a more convenient night.

Look at pairs of things and decide whether you could do some of those things simultaneously. For example, if you regularly spend time waiting for something (commuting by train, waiting room, laundry, picking someone up), could you do one of your other things during that time? Learn to nap while you wait.

Look for neighbors with similar circumstances. Assuming (these days) that you don't have extended family nearby to help watch the baby: if a close neighbor has an infant, try to work out times when you can share baby-watching duties. You visit your neighbor with your baby and watch both babies. Then the neighbor visits you and watches both babies. Your baby is never really out of your sight, but your hands are free to do other things (cleaning? cooking?) while your neighbor is on baby duty (and vice versa). You might not need this now but it may be useful when your baby becomes a demanding crawler and toddler, so start making contacts. Eventually, you might get to know and trust each other enough to just take turns dropping your babies with each other so you can get some stuff done at home without having babies (and neighbor) in the next room. A plus is that your baby learns to be with other people -- a super-important life skill -- and you and your baby may both make friends.
posted by pracowity at 12:40 AM on October 27, 2011

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