Tips from an Undomestic Diva – Chore Charting

Project One, Part One:

I’m a perfectionist.

Some people who know me, especially in work settings, are like, “uhhh, yeah. Tell me something I didn’t know.” Other people who know me, especially in the domestic sphere, look at my unkempt house, dirty floors, piles of laundry, and kids with blueberry stuck on their faces and say, “Whaaa?”

I’ve tried it all. Since this is the Basics section, let me give you links to the things I’ve tried, before I start prattling on about my journey. Like a yo-yo diet, these have worked in only bits and spurts for me, then I fall completely off the wagon again. Today we’ll talk about basic cleaning and task organization apps and websites.

Project One: Clean the goshdarn house

There’s a LOT of organizational tips and software out there, so for the sake of making this not overwhelming, we’ll be focusing today only on the basic chore/cleaning tasks (and not focusing on meal planning/food shopping, because that’s a whole another story).

First step is to admit you have a problem. Are you so focused on perfection that you feel like any task worth doing is one that’s done to completion? Or do you get overwhelmed easily, so you look at all that needs to be done and take a nap instead? Do you procrastinate so much that you end up waiting until the last minute, when everything can’t possibly get done in one fell swoop? Do you hate cleaning with a passion so you end up flying through your tasks and never really get anything done right?

All these things are related. Some people fit every description, some fit just one or another. Some robotic insane people fit none of the description and are perfect and sparkling all the time (why are you reading this?)

What usually helps is some sort of routine, some sort of structure. A lot of us are uncomfortable with undefined tasks. Some of us, like myself, are self starters when it comes to work (or blogging) but for some reason have a mental block when it comes to domestic tasks.  Doing things in bite-sized chunks, realizing you don’t have to get it done justso, have daily maintenance tasks – these are the go-to ways to keep yourself sane.

Of course, I’m not saying anything new. I have magazine articles clipped from a decade ago about how to clean without having to go crazy. Just Google “Organize your Life” (okay, here you go), or “Organize Your Life Book”   or “How I keep my house clean in just 30 min a day” and you will get result after result.  Since there is so much out there, let me point you to a good post I found on Pinterest on a 30 minute home routine that I actually use. And if you want to actually feel overwhelmed (and you are crazy), here are good checklists from Martha Stewart and Real Simple.

But it’s like a diet, isn’t it? Everyone knows calories in must be less than or equal to calories out to maintain or lose weight. But how many of us are at our desired weight? Everyone knows bite-sized chunks and routines is the path to cleanliness and organization. More people probably are at their desired level of cleanliness and organization, but the select few with the spaztastic gene probably aren’t.

It’s Electronic, Baby.

In comes technology, dear technology. First, we’ll cover phone apps that might help remind you and keep you accountable.

1. Clean Freak: This is a great one. It uses the divide and conquer method, with one day being the living room, the next the bedroom, without just having a ridiculously long list of youMUSTdothis.

2. Home Routines: This is another great one. If I remember correctly, this was just created by some random person who just couldn’t find what she or he wanted out there in the app world. (Here she is). It has gotten a lot of kudos since then.

3. Cleaning Checklist: This is for those detailed lists, if the actual checklist of cleaning doesn’t freak you again (you know, if you’re normal unlike me)

4. Want God’s help with this? Check out Clean My House. Maybe hypnosis will do the trick. (Hat tip goes to Appolicious to finding those.)

So what worked for me? For some reason, fancy apps and calendars and all that just don’t work. The actual effort of inputting things electronically just…well, I’m self-defeating when it comes to this as it is, so the step of having an app, which should make things easier, for some reason makes it harder.

Teach me your secrets, sensei

1. Okay, so apparently I need a self-help program. Enter FlyLady (Finally Loving Yourself).  Start with her Baby Steps. Shine your sink. Just do it.

It’s obvious that FlyLady is made for perfectionist failures like me. She does have detailed cleaning lists but that’s forbidden for FLYBabies, the ones who just need help getting started. She works in weekly zones and 15 minute flings. Her commandment, which I try to repeat to myself often, is “I don’t want you to try to catch up; I just want you to jump in where we are.” I read a similar quote in another organizational book: “You don’t have to be caught up to be in control”.

But, I have to admit, I’m a FlyLady dropout. I’m stubborn, and I don’t like being told what to do. So I bristle at FlyLady’s commandments. Especially when she tells me to get “dressed all the way down to lace-up shoes.” How old are you FlyLady? What exactly are “lace-up shoes?” I don’t like the “My way or the highway” attitude she has.

Does that mean I still have a problem? Yep. But while I’m working on my stubbornness and recalcitrant attitude, I still have to clean my house.

So what other systems should I try?

2. Project Organize Your Entire Life (by Modern Parents, Messy Kids) is not yet something I’ve used. Around the time the series started, I was still in my head in the sand stage of cleanliness and organization. But I think this is one of the best roundups of self-help cleaning I’ve seen, without the directives of FlyLady.  I’ll try it if you will!

3. is another one that is worth the look. It seems FlyLady like in terms of procedures, but without the guilt.

4. I’ve heard great things about Motivated Moms. She has apps and printable chore lists (I think Project Organize Your Entire Life has a lot of printables)

4. Just want some blog posts and some user forums? Messies and FLYlady both have forums. There’s also Unclutterer. Another non-“my way or the highway” post is this by Rants from Mommyland. Basically a crowdsourced list of tips from readers.

Make it a game

I need a challenge. You would think finally learning how to correctly make a bed or seeing if I can get every kernel of dust off of my baseboards can satisfy my need for that challenge, but apparently not. The drudgery of housework just slays me.

1. Here’s an app (EpicWin) that literally makes it a game.  It’s not quite up my alley but it may help someone else who needs to whistle while they work.

2. Here’s another one (Chore Wars).

My way of making it a challenge – blogging about it! This way, while I’m working on settling into a routine and a system, I can convince myself that instead of being Cinder Ella, I’m actually blogging. Time will tell if that will actually work.

Beat the system

1. Oh, Lifehacker. If you haven’t yet discovered Lifehacker, you are seriously missing out. It seriously has everything on everything.

Two chore-related posts:

a. Putting your chores on autopilot

b. Using procedure checklists

2. On the hacker theme, there is also Habithacker for putting your chores and routines on autopilot.

3. ParentHacks is something I’ll get  into later, but since we’re going with the hacker theme, I had to mention it.

Visual reminders

For how much I live in the online world, I’m a very concrete learner.  Apps often don’t do it for me – I need pen and paper.

That isn’t to say I wouldn’t love going digital when I finally take the plunge. For example, although I still love ‘real’ books, the Kindle app on my iPad is all sorts of helpful. Where I used to keep a monthly calendar, I now use Google Calendar. For groceries, instead of a list I keep on my fridge, I use the OurGroceries app.

But…BUT. I still find that without a reminder staring me in the face, a la pen and paper, I am much less likely to stay on task.  The on exception is the calendar widget on my Android…it is, still, literally staring me in the face.

So what do I do? The printables from Motivated Moms and POYEL sound good. I also found some awesome specific planners in Target (that I couldn’t find on line but I’ll take a picture next time I see it).

But in the end, today, I was in The Lolly Garden (a Tulsa-based children’s store) to coordinate on my Midtown Moms project, and saw the Good Habits Job Chart. Good lord. I need a chore chart. I’m in 4th grade.

I bought it. I’ll let you know how it worked.

What works in other aspects of your life?

When I was working, I could not for the life of me understand why some of my subordinates couldn’t keep on top of emails, daily tasks, long projects, meetings, and requests for colleagues. Writing all that out sounds overwhelming, but for me, a “work” self-starter, it was just organizing one’s day effectively.  I didn’t need to think too deeply about how I went about my day until I started mentoring others. Then I drew up a system of how I worked.

work chart

The key aspects above were

1.) the “zones” in which I divided my day. Emails and other routine low-energy tasks in the morning, longer-form projects in the afternoon. That worked for me because I am not a morning person and needed to nurse a cup of coffee for a few hours before I was truly ready to go. So, I could be productive without having to jump right into the craziness.  If I saw a task in my messages that needed to be done, I either did it right away, or starred it for later.

2.) Flexibility. Holy moly, flexibility. The zones only worked if I was sitting there, aimless, thinking, “what shall I do today?” Otherwise, things always popped up. I could walk into work straight into a crisis situation and be asked to brief a senior officer on a moment’s notice. Or there could be a meeting I wasn’t aware of scheduled smack dab into my ‘long project’ time. Or, I may see an email from a colleague who needed help and spend most of my working with him or her instead. The motto “never forget the mission” would rule how I would prioritize things when everything was in flux. What was my ultimate goal? Did I *really* need to color code my filebox at that moment or was there something much more important going on, no matter how unanticipated it may have been?

3.) Delegation. Yeah, I never learned that one.

Anyway, of course this is applicable to domestic life.


1.)Zones – for me, in the morning is “me time”. That can mean working out, getting a babysitter and going to Target, reading a book, or blogging. Afternoons is computer free time. (It’s 2pm. I’m still blogging. I never said I was perfect). Computer free time allows me to really be *present* with my kids as well as look around and see what needs to be done around the house.

The morning “me time” works with the fact that I’m not a morning person. In some ways it counteracts it, and in some ways it goes with it. In terms of counteracting – most days I need to get myself and the kids dressed by 9:30 – whether it’s to take them to the gym or a playgroup or church, or to get them ready for the babysitter so I can leave for the morning. In some ways it works with it. If I’m really exhausted and don’t want to get ‘going’ in the morning, this is my built in time to read or blog while I lazily allow my kids to watch TV.

2.) The rules of flexibility still apply, but this is where I’m having trouble adapting it to domestic life. I might plan on scrubbing the kitchen floor, but the baby wants to be held all day. Well, either hold him all day or stick him in a baby carrier and keep working. Instead, I usually moan and groan about it.

3.) “Never forget the mission” – my mission is to be present in the lives of my family.

4.) And delegation? Getting way better with it in my personal life than in work life. I’ve mentioned sitters, and we have family that helps out. I have learned to get over the guilt of not doing it all myself. That way, for me, lies the path of madness.

5.) Notice I added, “And Above All – GRACE”. I criticize myself far more in the domestic sphere than I ever did in the work sphere (even when this happened)

Finally,I keep SMART objectives in mind – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.

Adapt the self-help systems to your own life

This somewhat follows the “Project Organize Your Entire Life” method, which is why I really want to try that and review it. Before I realized how awesome it was, I started doing my own thing.

Google Calendar is how my husband and I organize our appointments.  (Cozi is another good calendar app, as is iCal. And Sunrise. And great googly moogly, Evernote is amazing. But all those will be covered in other topic.) I’m absolutely sure that many of the routines apps out there export to Google, but for pure simplicity’s sake, I like inputting things straight in. Unfortunately, Google Calendar isn’t so great when it comes to making a daily,weekly, monthly routine list. Again, that’s what a lot of the apps are for.

So I started a four week rotational system instead. One week would be the kitchen. One would be the master. Each day of the week would also correspond to a different task.

Whadya know. I was reinventing the FlyLady wheel. One thing I didn’t like about FlyLady was that I didn’t like going to her LaunchPad to see what the task of the day/week was.  (Other than that, I really love the LaunchPad).  And signing up for emails meant you were inundated with like 15 a day (not exaggerating).

So my system is to go to the Launchpad and cut and paste for the day I’m on onto my Google Calendar, and then set the calendar to repeat every 4 weeks. I’m only on day 3 of this, but if I remember to visit the Launchpad every day for a month, then I’m set.



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