Why routines help you make better decisions

I have said more than once that I love routines and that they are my security blanket to navigate the chaos of family life. Routines allow me to establish processes for those repetitive tasks of family life, and of those there are many – shopping, eating, stacking the dishwasher, unstacking the dishwasher, packing lunches, washing clothes, sorting clothes and it goes on and on.

To make this as easy as possible for myself I have established routines that tackle these key tasks. I have updated these routines on the blog recently which you can find here:

And it all comes together in my weekly schedule, which looks a little like this and you can read more about here.

Why do I do this? Why do I build so many routines in to my daily life, isn’t it boring? I do it because it allows me to do the stuff I need to do around the house without thinking about it – it helps to make it automatic so I just get it done even when I don’t feel like it. Routines allow you to automate the small things so when you need to make bigger decisions, you have the mental energy to make those decision and make better ones.

Heard of decision fatigue? Well it exists and is backed by science. Last year I read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and recently I have been listening to the audiobook version.  In the book, Duhigg sites many examples to highlight how we only have a limited amount of ability to make decisions.

If we spend all of our day making decisions even small ones over things like:

  • What will I wear today?
  • What will I will give the kids for lunch?
  • What will my first household task be?
  • What will my first work task be?
  • What will we have for dinner?
  • Will I go shopping for dinner ingredients today?

By the time we get to the end of the day and we need to make a decision like:

  • Will I let the teenager go out tonight until 11.30pm?
  • Will I accept the outstanding email request needing my time which they have just emailed me about again for a response?
  • Will I allow the begging toddler to watch TV before bed even though I know turning it off at some point will cause a meltdown?

We may have reached decision fatigue and one of two things tends to happen. We go for the easiest answer that will cause us the less fuss and resistance or we fall back to our default position:

  • Default position – No the teenager cannot go out, even though it is probably quite a reasonable request given the circumstances as he has explained them. But you want to stick to the safe side and just say no.
  • Easiest option – Say yes just to respond and tick the task of the to do list, even though you don’t really want to do it, because it seems easier than saying no and you are worried about seeming unhelpful.
  • Easiest option – Turn the TV on, because you want the begging to stop.

While routines won’t stop lots of these scenarios from occurring, if we have routines we have followed through out the day to manage the daily workload, then we have more in reserve to make these decisions.

Even with routines though, sometimes I reach the end of the day and my husband will want to talk about an issue that will require me to make a decision and I simply cannot do it.

I am however now aware that if I make a decision at this point, I am not going to be able to give it the mental energy it deserves. But I have enough energy to recognise this and state it as it is. I let him know I just can’t make the decision right now.

There are very few things that need to be decided right then and there and I have found, that by being honest about where I am at, it can prevent disagreements, miscommunication and decision regret. (You know when you agree to something on the spot and turn around a few hours later and know it was the wrong thing to agree to!)

So if you find that you are frazzled when it comes time to make a decision or are constantly making decisions that you later regret, look to see if you are using up all your decision making energy on things you could create routines for, automate and stop thinking about!

Routines also work superbly for kids too and you can see posts I have written about our kids routines here:

Are you a lover of routines too?