Mom Tips: Routines vs Tasks – Why You Need To Know The Difference

By April 4, 2011Be Productive

I recently cut my to do list in half, stopped feeling guilty all the time and started getting more important things done.

How? I finally learned the difference between a routine and a task.

What Is a Routine

A routine is something that is going to happen again and again.

Whether you like it or not, you will always have laundry to do, dishes to wash and a floor to mop.

There will always be trash to take out, dinner to cook and rooms to clean.

Routines are maintenance items. They don’t necessarily take us to a goal, but they make the journey much more pleasant if we do them in a timely manner.

They also tend to scream louder the longer we procrastinate them.

The laundry pile grows bigger, the trash can overflows, the crumbs on your floor start sticking to your feet.

Eventually, they are unavoidable.

What Are Tasks?

Tasks are breadcrumbs on the unbeaten trail to a goal.

They do not scream or yell. In fact the more we ignore them, the quieter they call until they are drowned out in a life consumed with maintenance and mediocrity.

Tasks are the roads that take us off the roundabout of routine.

How To Manage Routines

We’ve already discussed how to manage to do’s, so now let’s talk about managing routines.

The MOST important point is that routines have no place on your long term to do list.

They will just clutter it up, leaving you feeling guilty that you didn’t mop this week or last and deflating you of any motivation to work on anything important.

You can list your routines on a piece of paper in your journal, Home Management Notebook or on your fridge.

I keep my routines in an app called HomeRoutines . I also keep a printed copy in my personal notebook.

Simple Yet Revolutionary

I had no idea how revolutionary doing this would be. It allows me to keep my ideal before me without overwhelming me when I don’t live up to it.

I loathe having unfinished things on my to do list and when I used to keep my routines there I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the list and the fact that there were always leftovers from day to day.

It felt defeating to have to delete them and even more defeating to see them pile up.

No Longer Defeated

Now I glance at them throughout the day, do what I can and start tomorrow fresh – regardless of what I did or did not do today.

As a result, my important tasks are front and center in my todo list. There are only a few so I feel inspired to tackle them and rejoice in a page full of checked off items.


Are routines overwhelming you and crowding your to do list?

Update: Read The Rest of the Series…

1. Tips for Moms: How To Get Things Done
2. Mom Tips: How To Get Things Done, Pt. 2
3. Mom Tips: How To Get Things Done, Pt. 3
4. Mom Tips: Routines vs Tasks โ€“ Why You Need To Know The Difference
5. How To Be Awesome

Leave a Comment



  • LeeAnn says:

    YES. I had never thought of routines cluttering my to do list, but it happens every day. Looking forward to viewing routines through a new perspective.

  • Natalie says:

    Lately, YES! I used to have a babysitter every Friday while I worked at my husband’s office. She was AMAZING! In addition to keeping my four-year-old happy and entertained, she did ALL the laundry, swept and mopped the first floor of the house and wiped down the kitchen. Due to tightening finances, I had to let her go ๐Ÿ™ So, all of a sudden, in addition to all my other tasks, those listed above are back on my list. I’m still trying to figure out a balance between giving up and living in chaos and working until 10 p.m. I’d love to try this app!

  • Anna says:

    Thanks for sharing this! It’s really important to categorize things so it doesn’t get confusing and overwhelming. I do add certain routines to my to-do list: my weekly cleaning, my bigger household projects, and weekly tasks for specific days (e.g. blogging, working out, etc.). I don’t add anything from my morning/afternoon/evening routines to my list, or normal maintenance like doing dishes, of course.

    I just make sure to limit my to-do list to ten items, and then circle three MIT’s (Most Important Things, which I learned from Simple Mom). I like to have a visual of everything that should get done on Monday, for example. I feel like I’m at the point where if I don’t add “15 minutes of deep cleaning” (one of my routines) to my to-do list, it probably won’t get done.

    P.S. I don’t need to be entered in the giveaway because I don’t have a smartphone. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Very cool Kat! There is a big difference in the 2 and once we understand that, we can put the power of routines to work for us!
    Great post, shared on Facebook!

  • Sarah J. says:

    Thanks for pointing out the difference between routines and to-do’s! I had the same problem; no planner was big enough for all of my routines and to dos! So I finally found a free errands app to keep my routines in {you can set them to repeat} and keep to-do’s in my planner.

    I’ll definitely be checking into this routines app, though!

  • Sami says:

    I split them up when I made my home management notebook too. It has made such a difference. I also love not having to think about a routine until it comes up again the next week. I do routines before tasks, and if my girls need extra mommy time then tasks go out the window–and that’s just fine!!

  • Laura says:

    I too love my lists and love to check off! I have a Today list and an Other list, for long term projects. I also have a Weekend list for normal weekend routines. It kind of works, but I like this idea too. Thank you for sharing.

  • His mercies are new every morning so you are right, our slate should be wiped clean every morning too! I just took a deep breath of freedom!!! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Amy says:

    You have such a wonderful gift of breaking things down so they don’t seem so overwhelming. I’m so glad I found your blog!

  • Jen T. says:

    This series of posts has been so helpful to me. I am excited to use this system and begin recognizing the difference inmy routines and “to-do list.”

  • Kat, that’s brilliant! I love the idea of it starting fresh every morning. For me it’s a breakthrough that home maintenance is a different kind of do-list. Thank you! Even if I don’t win the app, it’s a win right now.
    I got an app for home budgeting that’s been cool.
    I got an app for grocery shopping called sorted that lets me move regular items into a completed list and then back to a shopping list when we need them again (flour and butter, staples like that)
    Who knew I’d turn into a techie at my age?! (When I was in college nobody had a personal computer, but my boyfriend-now-husband taught me how to use the computer lab to write papers.)

  • Sara says:

    WOW this app looks awesome! I wish they had it for my mac though, that I could sync with my iphone…love it still though

  • Annie says:

    Wow! Reading this made a light bulb come on for me. I’m always frustrated and feeling defeated about my to do list. Now I know why – I have my every day routine items along with my to do’s towards a goal. Thank you for sharing this!

  • Corenae says:

    I am generally a very organized person but not a great list maker. I am thinking this app will free up my mind of clutter and get things done even more proficiently! And let my mind free up for more thought. Sounds great to me…a win, win!

  • Nova says:

    Ninety percent of my list today consists of routines, and they are definitely overwhelming me. In fact, what if your daily list has so many routines that you hardly ever have time for tasks (almost considered an extra)?

    • Kat says:

      I’d examine whether all of those routines REALLY need to be done. Experts on cleaning, laundry, cooking etc. all recommend lots of “routine” things that …..really don’t NEED to be done.

      Martha Stewart would probably recommend I clean my baseboards monthly. But I don’t. It’s just not important to me. I’d rather spend my time elsewhere.

      So take a look at your list and determine what REALLY needs to be there, what you might be able to consolidate or outsource (i.e. kids or hubby)

  • Andrea says:

    I hadn’t thought about separating my routines and tasks, but it’s a really good idea. My to do list is mainly routines then I feel guilty for not getting enough tasks done.

  • Stacey says:

    Kat – oh my word, you are so good at this! What a gift. Love the idea of a routine.

    Could you give me an example of a ‘task’?


    • Kat says:

      A task is something that
      a. will take you to a goal OR
      b. is a one time to do that one of your areas of responsibilities requires that you do.

      My examples from today’s to do list:
      a. Reread and annotate MYM ebook (I’m working on updating it – Goal)
      b. Make a casserole for an event at church

      Does that clarify or confuse? ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Marlia says:

    This APP is exactly what I need. I already have my google calendar in my iphone but don’t have an APP for my to do and home routines. I think this APP will simplify my life, will give me a big view of my day/week. I’m sure I’ll love this APP as much I love my iphone.

    Some days I feel overwhelmed with a lot of to do things. Payments, house cleaning, cooking, laundry, husband, son. When I don’t do it all and I miss some important thing this kills me.

    I hope I can get it.


  • Julia says:

    Its amazing how one article can change your view on chores…Thank you!!
    This is my weakest area when it comes to being sane wife and mother. Like many here, I too have always lumped everything in together on the same big overwhelming to do list! Only to be defeated daily, as if its one goal in life was to make me feel guilt for all that still needed doing.
    Thank you for this much, much needed advice. I am sure my husband will be singing your praises in no time too…hehehe =)

  • Sarah Jean says:

    I never thought to separate them – my routines clutter up my to do list just like you described. Great idea thank you!

  • Erin says:

    We have been struggling with just this thing at our home for a while.
    Recently, I’ve implemented some suggestions from a Positive Parenting Solutions webinar on making mornings and evenings run smoother.
    I created laminated morning and evening routine charts for both of my children – ages 6 & 3. The charts include text and a corresponding picture for each of the “jobs” in their morning (pjs off, in laundry baskets; make bed, get dressed, etc.) or evening routines (clothes off, in laundry baskets, go potty; wash hands; brush teeth; etc). The charts are hung by a rubber band (threaded through a hole in the corner) on their bedroom doors so we can find them first thing in the morning and as they start their bedtime routine. I have been modeling this chart idea as well with a hot pink, laminated, bullet pointed routine chart. This new approach has been extremely successful for everyone, including myself!
    An electronic routine app would take it to the next level though… ๐Ÿ˜€

    • Kat says:

      Great idea Erin!

      We so something similar (just for after school though) and it really eliminated nagging (mine) or complaining (theirs). Having routines written and visible is SO valuable.

  • Wow, this is a GREAT post. I’ll have to go read the others. I so need to have things written down. We spent all weekend cleaning so company could come over for a bbq. NOT fun. Not because our house was gross but because we did Spring cleaning. If I was doing regular deep cleaning through out the months, it might not have been so bad…

    Please feel free to stop by: Trailing After God

  • I have never thought to do things this way. I am afraid if I take those routine things off my to-do list I will forget about them.Definitely want to try this method, since my to do list is always mammoth.

    Also…you are really making me want an iPhone!

    • Kat says:

      It helps if you post your routine on a mirror, the fridge or somewhere it can’t be forgotten.

  • Lollie says:

    LIGHT BULB!!! Thank you so much! I never write to do lists, because they always include routine stuff and I HATE how much there is to do!!! Haha, this will be much easier.
    Ok now what I need to know is how do you put together a personal notebook?

  • Rebecca says:

    There is such a difference. I had a long list going and then one night I seprated the “can’t be ignored list of chores” and “to-do” things. It was freeing! My to-do started to vanish instead of becoming longer and longer. This iphone app would be awesome. I love details and order and anything that ads in organization. Thanks for hook us up, Kat!

  • Valerie says:

    What an excellent idea! Thank you! And thank you for arranging the giveaway!

  • Courtney says:

    This is my favorite part of the article, “Tasks are the roads that take us off the roundabout of routine.” Genius! And yes, please, I would love the Home Routines app. Thank you!

  • Krissa says:

    Hi Kat! So do you use the things app and the Home Routines app? I think I do okay with routines, but struggle more with tackling projects and tasks. I like the idea of having a phone app to help me feel like accomplishing something when I do the every day routines!

  • Lori says:

    Wow! I never thought of routines being a clutter bug but I can see how it could be counter productive. This app looks great!

  • Cindy says:

    I agree with Nova – my to do list is so choked with routine items that I rarely have anything else on it (and I rarely complete my to-do list daily). We’re first-time homeowners who bought a foreclosure that needed a LOT of work, so we’re trying to figure out how to manage house stuff with regular life stuff. And neither of us were that great at managing regular life stuff before we had kids and a house! : ) Thanks for your tips, Kat!

  • Alison says:

    Great idea! I am a list maker that never gets it all checked off -this sounds really appealing! Definitely worth a try!

  • Lisa H says:

    I struggle with routines…I like flexibility too much, but then things that really need to get done end up getting pushed aside. That app looks useful! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Adrian says:

    I love this idea of separting routines and tasks. My tasks certainly get pushed to the back-burner because of all the routines that come with Mommy-hood. Being new to motherhood, I had alot of learning and organizing to do. Would love to try this app!

  • Messy Wife says:

    I do not have any tips. I just want to thank you for this post. I really like how you describe routine from to-do’s – especially today. Today is one of those days that my routines are screaming at me together and I ended up screaming at my kids when one of them had a spill… Poor kids.

  • Denita says:

    I totally agree with this post. My routines used to show up on my to-do list and yes- overwhelm me, but now I just keep a separate list. I use a different app on my iphone, but I’d love to try HomeRoutines as I am not totally satisfied with what I have going right now.

  • Shauna says:

    My “to do list” is pretty much only routine items. No wonder I feel like I will never stop cleaning, doing laundry, cooking, etc. Because I never will, it’s part of life, but I don’t put breathing on my to do list, I don’t put, use the restroom on my to do list. For crying out loud, I just need to put focus on the items that will get me to a goal. Thanks so much for the info, you have no idea how much it helps (or maybe you do).

  • Emily B says:

    Leaving routines off of my to-do list makes the list shorter but it means that sometimes the dust bunnies threaten to take over by the time I get around to vacuuming! I keep my to-do list for the things that I might otherwise forget to do but I haven’t yet taken the time to develop a way of tracking the routines (mainly housekeeping) that keep us all happy and clean.

  • Amy Thornton says:

    How incredibly insightful and freeing! Thank you so much for this post. I too end up with many things on my “to do” list that are actually routines. But not getting them done was making me feel as though a “to do” list is nothing more than code for “reminder of inadequacy.” Thanks for making me re-evaluate!

  • Megan says:

    I don’t know how many times I’ve tried to put routines into my day but forget or get distracted. Ive tried lists and things but nothing has seemed to work! Maybe this app is just what I need!

  • Rusheika says:

    You hit the nail on the head with this post! The routines on the task list take the wind out of my sails!! I love that app!

  • Alison says:

    Oh, please, please, random number generator, pick me! I’m a loss for routines of any kind right now, as a mother two, one being a newborn. I would love this app!

  • Liz Stetler says:

    That is a very helpful distinction. I’m new to “Inspired” and I’m loving checking it out! I need to Maximize my Mornings!

  • Heather says:

    What a great post! I would love that app since I am currently revamping my routines and how to organize them.

  • Holly says:

    My routines are regularly cluttering up my to do list because I’m still working on finding a new normal routine for our family. Adding a second child last year threw us off and now, almost a year later, I finally feel like I’m starting to get my stride again.

  • […] Routines vs Tasks รขโ‚ฌโ€œ Why You Need To Know The Difference […]

  • I’m always overwhelmed by routines, writing them down into my list when they get to a critical point where they can’t be ignored anymore but I know they don’t belong there. I need a better routine management system, would love to win the app.

    Thanks for the reminder to think about routines differently than tasks.

  • mcmom24 says:

    I too feel bogged down by routine tasks…need all the help I can get!

  • […] Routines vs Tasks รขโ‚ฌโ€œ Why You Need To Know The Difference (tags: homemaking) […]

  • lisa says:

    I have a hard time with routines. I seem to get bogged down by the not done parts.

  • Melissa says:

    We are formed by our habits and I need better ones! Thanks for sharing!

  • Anne says:

    This is so wise. It’s counterintuitive, that tasks mess up my routine. But in my experience it is so true.
    This is a great post.

  • Damsel says:

    All I can think to say is… thank you for this post! I always feel like my to-do list is longer than my arm. I think a mental shift like this will really help! I’d love to try this app!

  • Dixie says:

    Floundering FlyBaby here who has a wonderful Control Journal that is bulky and not so portable (and quite frankly, gathering dust). And this is part of my Mission, to create the well-oiled home engine that chugs down the track smoothly! So loving this post!! And checking out the apps mentioned!

    A BIG help to me was the recent discovery of “$5.00 Dinner Mom” Erin Chase who gives us sooo much more than a a website or a book of recipes. She teaches strategic shopping and meal planning in a very do-able way. I, too, am a not-fond-of-nor-good-at-cooking wife and mom, so this is a fireworks find for me!

    Lastly, instead of calling them “to-do’s”, I like to call them “ta-da’s”!

    We are inspired to action indeed because of you, Kat! Thank you!

  • I’ve just started using Tsh’s Daily Docket from Simple Mom. I like it, but I haven’t been putting my “routine” things on it for the exact reasons you described. Right now, my cleaning routine goes something like, “Ew, my feet are sticking to the floor. I should mop.” Or, “The kids have no clean shorts. Time to do laundry.” Not the best system, so I’d love something that keeps me on track without making me feel overwhelmed!

  • Carrie K says:

    Great post… I need to “reboot” my routines again! When I do them, the day goes so much more smoothly.

  • Erin says:

    I love this post! I have just started separating my routines from my tasks and I love the idea of a separate app for the rountines. Thanks for the chance to win!

  • Catherine says:

    Wow, another light bulb just went off over here! Can’t believe I never thought of this before….

  • Jessica says:

    Have you been videotaping me in my house? ๐Ÿ™‚ I need to get rid of that constant feeling of failure from a too-long list including things that are already going to continue to scream at me because of their undone-ness, I don’t need them screaming at me from a list as well!

  • […] finally, Kat at Inspired to Action was in my head when she wrote this post about why you need to know the difference between routines and tasks. ร‚ย  My home management has gotten a little lax (to put it nicely) and she’s inspired me to […]

  • Robyn says:

    Right now I organize them checklist style on Corkulous on my iPad. LOVE that – it makes them really easy to sort through and switch up when life changes (as it always does!). I’m always interested in trying a new app, and the idea of an app made specifically for routines is very interesting!

  • […] preventative) off your To Do List so that it doesn’t get overwhelming. I got the idea from this post. I know I didn’t buy the same app she talks about, but this one was cheaper, so I’m […]

  • Heather says:

    If I don’t have them together, nothing gets done. I’ve worked to consolidate my scheduling to one to-do list and one calendar, and everything is going much smoother.

    That’s not to say I don’t have things segmented out between work, and home. I have colour-coded calendars in my GoogleCal, and a few different contexts in ToodleDo for easy sorting. I think I will make a different list for Home Routines, so I can turn it off and look at my Tasks for the day–then turn it back on to make sure I don’t forget things!

  • […] Routines app on my iPhone to keep those daily tasks moving along. I love it! I read about it on Inspired to Action and it made so much sense, I downloaded the app immediately. So, I will add my husband to my daily […]

  • […] ago, I talked about a post I had read that defined the difference between routines and tasks. (You can click here to read that post) It was one of those light bulb moments for me because I had tried to keep EVERYTHING on my to-do […]

  • Kathy says:

    I came to this post late; found it while searching for new ways to use the Home Routines app (one of the best app purchases I ever made by the way). I just want to thank you for pointing out the obvious. My to do list is always cluttered with routines, and it’s frustrating that I rarely, if ever, get to take care of “real” to-dos. I was a bit hesitant about the cost of Things, but bit the bullet and got it. I think using both apps instead of just HR is going to make my days so much easier to handle. I prefer to have all of my items on my phone rather than my computer because I can carry the phone around with me. Thank you!

  • […] Things Done 2. Mom Tips: How To Get Things Done, Pt. 2 3. Mom Tips: How To Get Things Done, Pt. 3 4. Mom Tips: Routines vs Tasks โ€“ Why You Need To Know The Difference 5. How To Be […]