Really smart, put together, "elite" families think ahead, plan well, and set up systems and habits that help them accomplish their day to day tasks.
We are not a smart, put together, "elite" family. We tend to push on and endure the growing chaos until things reach a crisis point and either my wife or myself goes to the other and declares (typically with some panic and passion) that it is absolutely certain that massive disaster and possibly a trip to a padded room are right around the corner unless something is done to fix the situation.
The Learn by Crisis Method
To date we have more or less stumbled from crisis point to crisis point in this fashion. Along our stumbling way we have learned a few things that might be worth sharing. The most important thing we have learned is that creating, implementing, and sticking with a routine is absolutely essential to both sanity and creating a life of adventure.
This may seem odd, because we live a life where our routine is constantly disrupted by both internal and external forces, but perhaps for this very reason we have discovered how valuable routine is.
The "Free Time Trap"
For most of my life I thought that the way to adventure and an interesting life lay in rejecting routine of any kind. The ultimate goal was to create "free time", unrestricted and unassigned hours that could then be employed in doing whatever cool and nifty stuff that I felt like doing. What I quickly discovered was that I had an unlimited capacity to destroy this free time. Either the free time never actually happened because I needed to use it to beat back chores or other duties that had reached a crisis point, or when it did happen I had a depressing talent for frittering it away sitting around doing nothing while wishing that I had gotten my act in gear earlier and done the necessary planning to go camping or hiking or fishing or something.
It took me longer that it should have, but eventually it slowly began to dawn on me that the more of a routine I developed and practiced that would address and handle the day to day stuff, and the more I made a routine out of accomplishing the bigger important stuff, the more time I would have to do the big important stuff I wanted to do and the more likely I would be to use the time I had in doing things instead of thinking about doing things.
Necessity is the Mother of...Routine
Ultimately, instead of learning this lesson by being smart I had to learn this lesson by necessity and disaster. With six kids in the house the only way we can maintain any semblance of order and accomplish anything is through creating and enforcing some daily routines.
Here are three things we have learned about the importance of creating routines, those daily processes that we go through every day to handle the mundane, day to day stuff, and that we use to tackle the bigger, and more important projects.
- Routine makes the day to day stuff automatic. There are certain things that have to be done every day and every week to just keep things going and life on track. Dinner needs to be made, dishes washed, laundry done, floors swept, etc. If you don't create a repeatable process to address these realities they will only get worked on when they reach crisis level. Takeout food will become routine, the dishes will only be washed when the sink overflows, laundry happens when the dressers and closets are empty, and the floor only gets swept when the carpet starts creating topsoil. Creating a routine that addresses these daily and weekly needs means that they are accomplished somewhat automatically, and that frees up time and energy to do the more important stuff.
- Routine creates a process and framework for accomplishment. Once the recurring chores and tasks of daily living are addressed by routine it's time to focus energy on accomplishing the bigger and more important things in life. Past all of the urgency there are important things that need to be done that have more lasting value. Children need to be trained to be successful adults, gardens need planned and planted, important projects need to be completed, and adventures need to be dreamed up and planned. Creating a routine to address bigger projects means developing a habit of regularly talking about, planning for, and working on the important things in life.
- Routines establishes an order that makes adventures more noticeable. Adventures are adventures precisely because they are unordinary and outside the regular routine. You have to have a regular routine, so that when an adventure comes you can notice it for what it is! Here’s an example from our life.
Not so long ago going out to eat was extremely unusual for us. It might happen 5-6 times a year. It was outside the routine, so when we did go it was a big deal, an adventure!
Recently our work has meant that we travel a lot, and we eat at restaurants so often it’s, well, routine. It’s no longer an adventure, and sometimes we are all pretty happy to be back home and have real food.
It’s the contrast with routine that makes adventures adventures, and the bigger the contrast, the more intense the adventure. The more you create a solid routine, the more interesting things will be when you deliberately (or accidentally) do something different.
Build Some Routines
Work on creating and sticking with some routines. They will make the day to day stuff automatic, create a process and framework for accomplishment, and will help make your adventures in life more noticeable!