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Happiness Tip: Automate a Hassle

Ever feel like your time and energy is going into tasks you don’t really want to do?

If so, find a way to make those chores into habits so you don’t have to think much about doing them anymore. Planning to do something takes the energy of our conscious minds; habitual tasks are accomplished more quickly and with less effort.

For me, planning weeknight meals was becoming a dreaded chore, so I automated them. The answer to “What’s for dinner?” is always the same, depending on the day of the week. Here’s how it works:

Sunday Sit-downs:
My daughters and I cook in large quantities so that we’ll have left-overs for another meal. (We always sit down when we eat, but on Sundays, we go large.)

Monday Makeover: We turn Sunday’s meal into something new.  (This week, chili became burrito filling.)

Tuesday Takeout: We go out or get take out.

Wacky Wednesdays: Usually breakfast for dinner (with raw veggies as a pre-meal snack).

Thursday Thaw: We pull something out of the freezer from a previous “Sunday Sit-down”.

Friday Favorites: We have one of four super-easy dinners on Fridays (spaghetti and meatballs, tacos, pot-stickers with rice and stir fried veggies, or pizza).

It might seem hokey, but this system has made dinnertime loads easier for me. Other things our family has on autopilot: we fold laundry while watching “Bewitched” on Friday nights; we hang up backpacks and put shoes away the instant we walk through the door; we empty the dishwasher and set the table for dinner simultaneously in the evening.

Join the Discussion: What hassle or task can you automate this week? Inspire others by leaving a comment below.

23 comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    While I find myself doing these type of things to overcome the tedium and save time, I hear Thich Nhat Hanh whispering “tsk tsk” in my ear…I guess I feel in conflict because sometimes multi-tasking or routine makes me LESS present. Can you please speak to this Christine? Is there a way to do while bringing more mindfullness to the task?

    • I think you can still be very present while doing something routine – in fact, I’ve found that it is easier to direct my energy towards being mindful when I’m not stressing about what’s for dinner.
      I agree with you, though, about the multi-tasking. Hard to be present while multi-tasking…

  2. Anonymous says:

     I love your dinner planning tip.  Preparing dinner is one of the most frustrating times of the day for me.  A friend of mine who homeschools her three girls, founded and directs a thriving music school, and is a performing musician, shared this tip with me about a month ago.  Just having a simple plan, and an easy shopping list, has eased up a lot of stress around dinner time.

  3. Jen says:

    My husband and I sit down on Sunday afternoon and discuss our evening schedules for the week (who is home, kids/work commitments, etc.) and also outline a menu and do the shopping for the entire week on Sunday night!  Personally I hate shopping for one-off trip items at the grocery store — our up-front planning is a huge time saver.

  4. Karen says:

    I and my son are both big on variety (i.e. leftovers tend not to fly well in my house!).  Also I like cooking, just not planning.  So, I bought a book (Saving Dinner) that comes with menus, recipes, and online printable shopping lists; I look up the week’s menu, print out the list, cross out what I already have, and go shopping for the week.  There are several such books, as well as related online/email menu services (Saving Dinner has one, so does Six O’Clock Scramble, and I’m sure there are others).  Lots of variety, pretty healthy, minimal effort.

    Another thing I have automated is mail sorting.  I used to leave the mail in huge piles on my desk for weeks, which would then take me hours to sort out (made misery of Saturday afternoons every couple of months!).  Now, I have a small cardboard file box on the kitchen counter.  It contains labeled files for credit card statements, receipts, tax-related stuff, school forms, utilities, medical, etc — everything I actually need to keep.  I open the mail, and pull out any other receipts and stuff I’ve accumulated over a given day, and everything goes either in one of those files, or in the paper recycling.  Done daily, it takes maybe 5 minutes.  When it comes to taxes for the year, I pull out the appropriate folders and go off to the CPA — no scrounging for W-2s, receipts, etc.  It’s all in the box.

  5. Marabrazer says:

    My daughters take turns washing the dishes and as a surprise we might do it for them one night.  We also do most of our shopping at the farmer’s market for the week so it becomes a fun family outing and not a big drudge.  Like others we make extra food and recombine leftovers to become another meal.

  6. Karen says:

    Great ideas.  We have also have breakfast for dinner one night a week sometimes in our jammies.  And we rotate tacos and spaghetti a lot.  But I love to cook so they get a few new meals thrown into the mix too.

    One tip that saves me so much time is all socks go in baskets in our mudroom.  They go from dryer straight into the appropriate kid’s basket.  I can’t tell you how much time I used to waste looking for socks in their rooms. 

  7. Heather says:

    Fantastic! Thanks for this menu planning idea. My family is shifting to a high vegetarian diet and Menu planning has become more challenging AND exciting as we head down this new and healthy path.

  8. Sarah Kennedy says:

    Thanks for the tips – we started planning meals for the week about 18 months ago to cut down on the dreaded one item trips to the supermarket.  A benefit was realizing that we save money this way!  I enjoy planning our meals now and figuring out how to make use of one ingredient 3 times in one week or how to combine the odds and ends in the pantry with a couple of items from the supermarket to make something interesting.

  9. Lisa says:

    We started that a while ago, creating fun themes for dinner for each day of the week. It totally helped my decision much easier about what to make, and it reduced my kids whining about what we were having.  Some of our themes were Meat Mondays, Tac Tues., Wacky Wed., Thai Thrs., Fast Fri., Spaghetti Sun., etc.

    We had alot of fun coming up with the themes we had alot for each night, so plenty to switch them up.  I’ve gotten away from this of late, so its a good reminder to get back to it!

  10. Andersonc says:

    I put a paper recyclable container by the back door in the garage.  Junk mail never makes in the house. It just gets recycled.  I do a load of laundry every day.  And then fold two times a week while watching a movie or favorite tv program.  I let the kids pick if they help me.  🙂 

  11. Rebecca says:

    I love this thread!  It’s amazing what we all do to create little pockets of efficiency wherever we can. I do something similar to your dinner menu, except ours is a breakfast menu board with interchangeable cards.  My 6 year old draws different breakfast options on index cards, and then we tack them up in the kitchen on a weekly planning cork board.  When the kids get tired of any of the breakfasts, they can change out the cards, and we’re always adding new ones too.

    This is fun because the kids get to draw the “plates” themselves – it’s a good activity, and it opens up a conversation about having a balanced diet.  We’ve talked about why pancakes or waffles are a once-a-week thing, and she knows when she gets to have them, so there’s no arguing about it.  I always hated starting my days with the “what’s for breakfast?” conversation – so we started using this system and it’s worked great.

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