Episode 22: Jenn Uren on Making Life EasierJun 29, 2021
Jenn Uren shares how the right sytems and routines can give freedom to do more and make life easier.
This is a transcript of the This Mom Knows Podcast - Episode - 22
Let me start today with a story. I have my degree in accounting, and my husband is a financial advisor. I am detail oriented, and he is a big picture planner. So you can see where I'm going with this. We are definition of opposites attract.
When we were first married, I wanted us to track our money, create a budget and limit our spending. When I suggested this idea, he bristled because he wanted to obviously set aside money to invest, pay the big bills, but then he wanted to spend what was left however he wanted, whenever he wanted. He didn't want to be restricted.
Well, after much animated conversation, he agreed to give it a chance. And you know what? We were both very surprised when we came out of that trial period, that instead of feeling like his hands were tied, he felt a freedom to spend money because he knew his parameters and he could do so without worrying about creating a financial problem. He experienced the difference between a fence that keeps you confined, and a guardrail that keeps you safe.
So talking about systems, or processes, routines, procedures, whatever you want to call them, talking about those seems to elicit the same strong reactions. Generally speaking, you're either going to feel a deep sense of relief and freedom, or you will feel highly restricted and confined - when talking about the idea of it. We're not even doing it yet, we're just talking about it. Rarely is someone on the fence, or to use my son's very favorite word, indifferent.
So whatever you call it, whatever we're describing, what we're describing is this. It's a pre determined method of accomplishing something. Remember, this, a system only works if it has a purpose. We're going to call that a principle, because a good system is rigid on the principle, and it's flexible on the preferences. What do I mean by that? Well, this is the difference between "the dishwasher needs to be run every single day after lunch so that we have clean dishes for dinner" and "the dishwasher needs to be loaded in one very exact and particular way." running it every day is a principle. But how it is loaded is probably just a preference. And when we become rigid on the preference, the how it happens, that's when we tend to lose buy in. But when we have clarity on the principle or the purpose, it makes sense, and we can better convince our families that systems and routines are good and beneficial for them. Or our employees. I could say there too, we can convince our employees. We can convince them that at the end of the day systems and routines will actually make life easier. And if there's anything that is universal, it is this desire that we want things to be easier.
So here are two main reasons why systems and routines make life easier. The first thing systems and routines do for us is they provide clarity. I hear Brian Dixon say all the time, clarity is kindness, and I don't know if that's original to him or if he's quoting someone else, but it's true.
Okay, so wonderful, Jenn, they provide clarity. How? Well firstly, systems and routines offer us stability. Sometimes this is described as an anchor that keeps us from floating astray. Or it's a solid framework on which to build or you might even have heard talked about as, like I've mentioned already a guardrail to keep us from going over the edge. And it really doesn't matter what imagery you use the results is the same systems and routines shift us from reacting to our circumstances and our situation to being proactive in managing life within those circumstances and situations. And when we're proactive, we are acting with intention, and being intentional results in something much more stable than when we react and cobble something together. So stability means we know what to expect and that provides clarity.
Two, it also gives us automaticity Hmm, huh, tell me more you say. Well, when we do something new or something that is not highly repetitive, it takes more time and energy to do it, because we have to engage our brain actively and we have to think about what we're doing. So it follows logically that the more we do something, the more automatic it becomes. And the more automatic it becomes, the less time and mental energy we expand on it. And you can see where we're going, the less energy we expend, the more efficient we become. And the more efficient We are the greater capacity we have for other things. So talk about a butterfly flapping its wings and causing a hurricane. Who knew the power a simple system or routine actually yielded?
Well, this leads to routines becoming a natural part of the day. You already experience this with micro routines like brushing your teeth. You don't actively think through the steps. First, I need to grab the toothbrush. Then I need to get the toothpaste. Thirdly, I need to apply the toothpaste to the toothbrush. No, you just do it because it has become automatic. And when you miss a step or you do something out of order, it feels off and you feel it - something's not right. And that's because skipping or altering a step feels unnatural. So making your system or routine automatic provides mental clarity by giving us brain power to think about other things.
Thirdly, it offers consistency. So in some ways, this is a continuation of automaticity. Doing something over and over is also known as consistency. And consistency keeps everyone on the same page by giving clarity on what to expect. Consistency keeps us regulated, which is just another way of describing our rhythms. And it also minimizes surprises, which depending on how you or your kids are wired could be key to keeping things going well. For example, when we eat lunch every day, at the same time, our bodies are regulated. But when we miss that lunchtime, we can get hangry and things can really begin to degenerate. We see this with our kids often. Or when the family knows that the yard needs to be mowed once a week. It's not a surprise when that once a week comes back around and it has to happen again.
So the second main thing that systems and routines do for us is that they provide a firm or strong foundation. Good systems and routines with stability, automaticity and consistency are actually providing the foundation on which we build our days and our lives. Having a firm foundation makes space for us to be ready for the two things that will happen for sure whether we are ready or not.
The first of these are life's surprises. Having the strong foundation of good systems and routines gives us the support we need to be able to adapt well to life surprises. Now life surprises can be good or bad. So good surprises are things like last minute opportunity to see someone who's unexpectedly in town, or maybe discovering that you're pregnant, or having your business boom quickly. Bad surprises are things like the inconvenient fender bender that happened while you were running errands, or unexpectedly losing a loved one. Systems and routines give us space to react and respond. Since dinner is under control, we can flex our schedules. Since we have a handle on our finances, we can make quick decisions. Since the laundry is regularly done, we know if we need to do it sooner or if it can wait another day, we find ourselves navigating a bumpy road rather than being brought to a standstill because of a sinkhole.
So let me give you a very personal example. Because I don't like to cook. I've become very good at meal planning. And I often will prep things in the morning and set them on delay start so that they're cooking later in the day and I don't have to "make dinner" before dinner comes.
So, so a few years ago when I was about 17-weeks into my third pregnancy, I went to the doctor for a very routine checkup. My husband took the kids to their first day of soccer, and I was gonna go from the checkup over there to see them and we had the whole afternoon planned. Unfortunately, at this checkup, we discovered that the baby's heart had stopped beating. And we were devastated to say the least and I suddenly found myself deep in the midst of grief, balanced with this reality that I still had two young children at home. And because of how I meal planned, dinner for that night was already cooking in the crock pot. And we were able to go home. And we were able to feed our kids. And we were able to get through the routines of the evening. Having a system and routine allowed me to float nubly through that evening without expending any extra energy, without neglecting my family. And so when life got hard, having a system made it easier.
So a great way to picture this is actually if you think about an old fashioned water pump. At the beginning, you have to prime the pump, you're pumping up and down, you're exerting the effort, and you don't see much reward at first. So this would be like the very beginning of a new routine or system, where it is still being learned and it feels like work. But then the water begins to flow. And life is easier. You keep pumping, but you're not pumping so hard because the system or the routine, it's working. And then life's surprise hits, and you have to stop pumping for a while. And for a little while though, that water keeps flowing. That's the result of the system and the routine. And that's being sustained, even though the system isn't actually being worked in that moment. And then once that surprise is over, or things have died down a little bit, you jump back into your system and routine, and it hardly feels like you missed a thing. But -and this is the catch - at some point, you have to jump back into using the system to maintain that benefit of making life easy. Because if you don't, it will stop working. And you will have to go back to the beginning and like the water pump, put in the hard work to get it running so that it makes life easier again.
So the other thing that is inevitable, is change. This firm foundation minimizes the disruption that change brings. There are life changes that are expected or obvious. And when we see them coming you know we, we can prepare. But just as often we can be trudging along in the system or routine that is always worked, just suddenly starts to feel clunky or cumbersome. Something just feels off. And instead of feeling like the system or the routine is working easily for us, we start to feel like we're working hard for it.
When this happens, it can be tempting to just scrap it all and go back to the drawing board. But actually, this feeling of awkwardness is a gift. It's a signal that something has changed, and we just need to figure it out. It doesn't mean the overall system is no longer working by any means. It just means that something needs to be tweaked. So the good news is that tweaking takes far less time and effort than scrapping something and starting from scratch. And even better news, it's usually something very simple. It might be something temporary, like it's now summer, the kids are home, and we need a minor short-term tweak, that's gonna solve the problem. Or it might be something you know, more permanent, like the addition of a new family member, where a long-term solution is required. But even then, it might not be anything earth shattering. It could be as simple as flipping the order of something or moving the day you do it.
So let me give you another real life example. And this is from our surprise adoption. And if you're not familiar with that story, I invite you to go back to episode six where you can hear where I share that story.
But my laundry routine was no longer working. At all. But once I took a step back to figure out why - I'd added two more children, there were a lot of factors - I realized that if I changed the day I did laundry, and if I changed where I placed hampers around the house to gather that laundry, that those two changes, that's all I needed to do. That got the logjam moving again, and it wasn't long until things were humming along, and the laundry was happening regularly and those piles disappeared.
So are you excited? I am, this is the stuff...this really gets me going because who doesn't want to make life easier? Now if you're not sure where to start, here are a few resources and I will of course link to them in the show notes.
But first of all, I'd encourage you to go back and listen to Episode 15 on rhythms and routines. This will help you understand the difference between those and why those are really good pegs on which to start building our systems.
Secondly, download a copy of five simple things you can do today to eliminate distractions. These five things are pretty simple, and they're going to start to make life easier for you right away.
And if you're ready to get started where I did, which was with laundry, then check out my blog post on creating a laundry routine.
But stick around because we're just getting started. And in the weeks and months to come, I am looking forward to sharing with you conversations, resources, and tools that will help you continue on this road of eliminating distractions and being the best you can be as both mom and entrepreneur.