**This article is part of an ongoing series of posts taken from my book “How do I Get it all Done …and Still Have Time to Enjoy it? “

To start at the beginning and read the articles in order click here


 Simplify with Systems

Does it take you an hour to make chocolate chip cookie dough? Are you ever late because you can’t find your keys? Are there certain jobs that you dread because you don’t know where to start?


you need some systems 


In the last article, we talked about establishing routines.  Routines take the guess work out of your day, while systems take the guess work out of individual tasks. A system is simply finding the most effective way to do something and then doing it that way every time. For example, my system for baking looks like this:


  • Start with a clean kitchen. Counter tops are clutter free, all dishes are clean.
  • Find recipe and set out all tools and equipment.
  • Set out all ingredients. Read through recipe if it’s new.
  • Place ingredients on my left and my mixing bowl in front of me.
  • When I use an ingredient, move it to the right of the bowl. (This way, I never have to wonder  where I left off  if  I get distracted.)
  • Place items I’ve used in one group for refrigerator, another group for pantry.
  • While completed dish is baking, quickly return ingredients to their place, clean the counter and utensils, and have a clean place to put the finished product.


My system for making supper is similar and includes a plastic grocery bag on the counter for scraps, to save all those steps to the trash can.  I know, it may seem a little bit silly to have such precise systems, but it sure does help get things done! It’s surprising how fast I can cook when I use a simple system.

Another system I employ is what I do each time I come home. We try to take the time to carry everything in from the van. (Why is it so easy to carry all that stuff out to the van but so hard to bring it back into the house?) When I come in, my purse goes in the same spot every time. My keys are either in it (in a very specific place) or on a little basket on the kitchen counter, where my husband keeps his keys and work ID. I clean out the diaper bag, putting empty bottles in the sink, unused ones back in the fridge. I take a quick look to see if the diapers and wipes need to be restocked. If we have used the spare outfit, the dirty one gets washed and I stick a new one in the bag. I carry very few things in the bag, and each thing goes in a specific place, making it easy to find and easy to recognize what’s missing. Now I’m ready for our next outing without having to rethink the diaper bag every time we are leaving.

How about the way you go about cleaning up after dinner? Sometimes it seems like it would be easier to throw away all the dishes and start over. If you have a system, you will know where to start and you will work more efficiently. Here is how I tackle a messy kitchen.


  • Start with a clean sink, filled with hot soapy water and a dishwasher ready to be filled.
  • Clear the table, (Don’t forget to enlist help!)
  • Scrape plates into the trash and load into dishwasher.
  • Transfer leftovers into containers and refrigerate (my husband takes them to work for lunch so this is his job)
  • Wash small things first, like bottles, measuring cups, etc. Anything that is very dirty, rinse it in the other sink before it hits my cleaning water.
  • Wash pots & pans last, try to avoid leaving any to soak.
  • Wash the dining table, stove top and all counter tops.
  • Each time, choose one from the following; wipe down the oven and microwave doors, clean the inside of the microwave, wipe down the dishwasher and fridge doors, pull out items on counter (canisters, etc.) and wipe behind them.
  • Rinse the sink and throw the dish cloth in the laundry.
  • Hang the “Kitchen Closed” sign (I don’t really have one, maybe I should get one.)


Did you notice I threw in some extra work that isn’t specific to cleaning up after dinner? Wiping down the various surfaces in the kitchen has to be done but who has time? You do! When you incorporate it into your system and do it every time. They never need scrubbing because you are not letting them go too long between cleanings, and you only add 1-2 minutes to your cleaning time.

Do you have some systems that you use to do repetitive tasks? Probably. You may not even be aware of them but they are there, making your work more efficient. As you go about your normal routines of the day, pay attention to the things you do often. Ask yourself if there is an order of things that would help you to get it done more quickly. When you work with a system, you work faster and more effectively, and since  your mind isn’t busy reinventing the wheel, it can be free to do other things. Like dreaming of chocolate chip cookie dough!