Life is hard, we all know it. The daily grind can get the best of us. It can be really exhausting especially if you are a full-time working mom living abroad with three toddler sons without a helper (Wow! That is a mouthful). Some people would ask me, “How do you manage it all?” The truth is, I prefer to simplify my life because my life is already complicated as it is. So I simplify my life by creating systems. And it works because it made my life less stressful.
What are systems? Systems are repeatable set of actions that are performed in sequence replacing motivation with routine to achieve an desired outcome. Hmmm, sounds boring? But the boring made my life way easier. It eliminates guess work and reduces anxiety & stress. I previously worked as an Assistant Manager in Quality Management at a Singaporean Healthcare company and I have learned how important systems and processes are to create a successful corporation and it allows a company to run smoothly with high quality & efficiency. Just imagine any company running without any specific systems & processes and each employee will operate under the “whenever they feel it’ or ‘ whatever they feel like it’ vibe , you can imagine a company will definitely fall into pieces. This is exactly why companies & businesses have systems, workflows and flowchart. It allows a business to work efficiently and gives employees the confidence & assurance that they are doing their job well because they have a set of work-plan to rely on. This concept of using systems can also be used in our own household for a stress-free life.
Here are 5 ways I use to systems to simplify my life:
1. Meal Planning
I previously wrote about this in my previous blog post: 10 TIPS TO SAVE ON FOOD EXPENSES.
Have you experience that scenario when a group of friends would have lunch at a mall and it would take almost an hour before they can decision on which restaurant they will eat at? I know I have been in that scenario and it can be exasperating. Because sometimes you do know exactly what you want to eat but other times, you are just too tired to decide what to eat and you just want someone to decide for you. But often in a group setting (I mean with my group), nobody wants to decide where to eat. So we came up with a system to put a little papers of all the restaurants in the mall and we would draw lots to see which restaurant we will eat at that day. It worked for us.
Meal Planning removes that infuriating scenario of not knowing what to eat for that day by having set of meals planned for a week already. Not only did it eliminate stress but it also helped in how we do grocery efficiently and save food expenses as well. Our meal choices will be based on our tried, tested and loved dishes that my husband and I make or sometimes we would add in a few new dishes we wanted to try to cook in the mix. We would create meals or have meals per day based on the type of dish: Chicken Dish, Beef Dish, Seafood Dish, Pasta or Vegetable Dish, Leftover Day. I would make the list weekly or biweekly depending on our next grocery schedule. We know exactly what we will have for our meal tomorrow and what grocery items we will buy for next week. We allow flexibility in our meal plan also. If we don’t feel like cooking Chicken Adobo for today, we will exchange it with Beef Salpicao that was supposedly schedule for tomorrow, moving Chicken Adobo for next day’s meal. Easy Peasy!
2. Clothes of the Day System
Do you wonder why Mark Zurkerberg and Steve Jobs always wear the same clothes whenever you see them? Mark Zuckerberg with his plain grey t-shirt and Steve Jobs with his black turtlenceck, blue jeans and New Balance sneaker. They have a reason for it. Mark Zuckerberg eloquently answered that question in an interview. He stated that by wearing ‘a uniform’ eliminates the decision fatigue allowing him to conserve his energy by removing small decision-making (like what to eat or what to wear) towards more important things like running a successful business empire. Can you imagine if you are like Cher from the movie, Clueless, who has to do all that digital coordinating of outfit of the day every morning before she goes to school? It may look fun for one day but in the long run, I know that would be too exhausting for me.
So what I do to make my life easier is by categorising my clothes to work and going-out clothes. I decided what I will wear for the next day by getting the 1st dress or top on the right most corner of the cabinet depending if it is a work or going-out clothes (it can be both). If say I am going out for grocery that day and the clothes item on the right corner is too dressy for casual outing, I will leave it for my next work day and choose the next casual clothes item on the right. The clothes after being air-dried from laundry will be stored starting from the left corner of the cabinet. So the system exactly is like first in , first out. All my clothes definitely be worn in cycle. If I will just allow what I feel like it or what are my favourite clothes, I will be wearing only handful of clothes and neglecting some of my other clothes. If it is a top, that is when I get to decided to wear with it either slacks, skirt or jeans. I also removed the decision fatigue by deciding to wear skirt in morning and slacks in the evening, at work. I also stopped wearing accessories to work when the pandemic started. Previously, accessories was my way to get creative on my outfit of the day. I just wear accessories now when I am going out (which is not often). Same goes with my home clothes, I wear the below most t-shirt and shorts/home pants in the clothes pile and storing newly laundry clothes on top of the pile. Believe me, I love this system. I just pull out the 1st outfit on the right most part of the cabinet the night before, iron them and hang them out, ready for me to wear the next morning.
3. Morning & Evening Routine
We love watching that Morning & Evening Routine videos by Youtubers. There is beauty to having routines in morning and evening. Having a routine in the morning allows you to start the day right by getting up in a particular time of the morning and performing a series of tasks to jumpstart your day. You can create your own specific morning routine. It could be having your morning coffee, then exercise then listening to your favorite podcast or it could be starting your day with a walk in the neighbourhood followed by journaling or reading one chapter of a book. (If you want to read about My Miracle Morning Routine, click here.)
Same goes with evening routine. It is good to have set of routine as you get ready for sleep. It gives your body a signal that it is time for rest. It could be a warm shower and lighting your scented candles or drinking your nightly herbal tea while listening to soft music. You will be surprised how transformative morning & evening routines can be.
Our kids are accustomed to their evening before bedtime routine. After my shower, they know automatically that they will brush their teeth. Then they will proceed in tidying up their toys in the living room (we reminded them at the start when we introduced this practice to them, now they know it is expected of them). Once they have cleaned up the mess in the living room, we will go in their bedroom and I say the nightly prayers with them before they sleep. Even in the morning, I don’t need to remind them that they will fix their blanket and put it in under their pillow. They will then go to the dining area for their breakfast. They normally choose whatever they want for their breakfast. They have their staple favourites. My eldest son would often have his breakfast decided the night before. He would tell me, “Mommy, I would like a peanut oatmeal tomorrow morning.” He would sleep dreaming about his favourite peanut butter oatmeal for the morning.
4. Cleaning Routine
Life without helper here in Oman can be challenging. But often I would reserved the intensive sweeping and mopping of floors of the house as well as bathroom cleaning on weekends. I don’t allow my mood to dictate if I like cleaning the house on that day. I know that it is my cleaning day and I will clean the house. We try to maintain the house as tidy as possible (mind you, we have 3 toddlers in the house) so there won’t be massive clean-ups daily. It helps also that we don’t accumulate or buy so many things so we don’t have a lot of things to tidy. One thing that I want to incorporate in my cleaning routine now by using habit-stacking (taken from James Clear’s book Atomic Habits) is to sweep & mop the kitchen floor after my nightly washing of dishes. I have yet to implement this but we will see if I am able to keep up with.
5. Shopping System
You might be surprised that I find shopping to be stressful which is very opposite from other people. I am not a ‘browse around and see what I find’ kind of shopper. I want to go in a mall with a purpose. If you allow me to go in a mall and figure out what I want to buy or allow me to purchase my every whim, I would either end up in a mountain of debts or totally lost with anxiety & indecision due to the daunting multitude of choices available. So I go to the mall with a specific things on mind that I plan to buy. I would have a list of those items on my Notes on my phone. I would ask myself three questions before deciding on an item:
– Is it necessary?
– Will I still want this next week/month/year?
– Do I have a budget for this?
Having a list going to the mall allows me to be mindful of my purchases. This is, however, not fixed in stone. I may buy some items that are not on the lists and may leave out some of those in the lists. But having a curated shopping list (e.g. knowing you need to replace your work shoes or add some dresses in your wardrobe) can help you guide your purchases when out and about.
What you think of these hacks? I know for some people who prefer to wing it and find doing these too laborious and may think I am actually overly complicating things. It make seem too rigid and exhaustive. But I think creating systems is a lazy girl’s hack to getting things done especially if you have the system in place already. Some productivity guru would also call this as Strategic Laziness. Believe me, creating these systems is so freeing and effortless. But then again, to each its own.
Let me know if this list has been helpful for you