A few weeks ago, my sister asked me if I had finished the box of ice cream bars from the brand that we had recently been talking about and I said “no, because I am only allowed to eat one ice cream bar per day so I haven’t finished it yet.” She replied by saying that she didn’t understand how I could do that, how could I just create a rule for myself and follow it?
And this got me thinking, throughout the course of my adult life, I’ve been creating a series or “rules” that I have to follow in order to force myself to be an adult when I don’t feel like it. Because I can say with complete confidence that left to my own devices I would have eaten that whole box of ice cream without hesitation.
I first heard about this concept a few years ago from my favourite book, The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, and she called it the “Secrets to Adulthood.” I also follow Muchelle B ‘s YouTube channel and she calls them Personal Policies. It’s all basically the same concept, essentially, you create a rule for your adult-self and follow it? Seem simple enough, right?
Well, not really. I think as adults, we all know what we should be doing. We all know we are supposed to not let the dishes rot in the sink, and to eat healthy, etc. It’s been getting myself to actually follow through on those things that has been the challenging part.
So after many years of being an adult, I’ve finally found the motivational secret that pushes me to do all the things that I know I’m supposed to, but won’t. And that is:
that the motivation will never exist.
It seems kind of cynical, but I’ve given up on trying to constantly “be motivated” to follow through with my adulting life tasks. I will never, ever, “feel motivated” to fold laundry. I hate folding laundry. I will never, ever not want to eat Nutella and ice cream every night. I’d stuff myself with sweets until I throw up if there were no consequences. And over my dead body will I ever be the type of person that puts my clothes away right after I take them off.
Maybe you’re reading this and think I’m naïve (or just lazy, because wow, that was quite a list), and maybe my life circumstance will change someday and I will become more responsible (like if I ever have children). However, instead of waiting for that “someday” to come, I’ve come up with shortcuts to essentially force myself into being an adult.
And these shortcuts are my Life Admin Rules. Like Gretchen and Muchelle, I’ve created a series of rules for myself that I now follow as an adult so I don’t gain 50 lbs from eating year’s worth of sweets in one sitting and can actually see my floor through the sea of clothes.
So I’ve created 7 ways to create rules for myself to trick myself into becoming an adult.
1. The Timer Approach
Do you ever find yourself find the situation where you can’t seem to do anything and then all of sudden you put something in the microwave and feel the need to accomplish a day’s worth of chores in under 3 minutes? Well that’s how I ALWAYS feel. There’s something about a timer that really forces me to get things done. So I’ve now leveraged that feeling and used it to my advantage.
Whenever I have anything in the microwave, I do not allow myself to sit back down on my couch or go on my phone. My rule is that if I’m microwaving something, I must be doing one of the following things:
1. Unloading dishes from my drying rack.
2. Going through or organizing my fridge/freezer and discarding expired items or taking inventory so I have a better idea of what I have.
3. Reorganizing my cupboards.
4. Clearing off counter space.
While these tasks are not necessarily everyday chores, they are the background players when it comes to life organization and making life run as smooth as possible. It’s always such a relief to know that even if I have a big pile of dishes waiting in my sink, at least I don’t have to unload the drying rack before tackling this chore. And especially when it comes to my fridge, freezer, and cupboards, it’s really helpful to have organized spaces and have a good idea of what I do and don’t have so I don’t end up cooking only to realize I’m missing something (or have bought duplicates of a veggie that will go bad soon). These tasks are the little everyday things that I don’t really appreciate until they are done – like having organized spices so I’m not fumbling to find the one I need when I’m in the middle of a recipe.
Having a timer really forces me to be productive, and the best part is that because it’s for a short amount of time, I don’t have time to talk myself into not doing it. It just gets done.
2. Pair Not-So Fun Tasks With Fun Tasks
Certain tasks in life will be unavoidable, two of them being laundry and dishes. For as long as I plan on living with food in my body and going out not naked, I will have to do laundry and wash dishes. As a little disclaimer: I actually like washing dishes. It is my favourite chore, but unfortunately, there are other tasks I like better like sitting on my couch watching reruns of Gilmore Girls, so it’s not always something I want to do. It’s like working out for me, I enjoy it while I’m doing it, but taking that first step and actually getting up is pretty tough.
So I’ve started pairing tasks that I don’t necessarily like or feel motivated to do all the time with things that I do like. For example, I love podcasts and watching Food Network. I live for it. So now, my rule is that I can only listen to certain podcasts while washing dishes and can only watch the Food Network while I’m folding laundry. Not only does this make the tasks more enjoyable, but it also limits my time to do these activities. I wish I had enough laundry to do that would justify me watching Food Network all day, but until I open a laundromat, that’s not happening anytime soon.
Fun story: I actually got mad at my partner for starting to wash dishes the other day because he had finished dinner first. I had planned to wash the dishes that night and was actually saving one of my favourite podcasts so I could listen to it at that time. So I got upset because if he washed the dishes, I couldn’t listen to this podcast that I had been looking forward to all day. Funny how this rule I created for myself can also backfire, huh?
3. Have An Accountability Partner
I’m not a huge believer of accountability partners because depending on who it is, it can easily become someone that allows you to make excuses for yourself. Depending on someone else for my motivations is just something that doesn’t work well for me. But I am very good at avoiding disappointing people. So instead of having accountability partners who motivate me, I have accountability partners who I do not want to disappoint.
My first accountability partner is actually my brother. He’s the one who gave me the “no more than one ice cream bar per day” rule. And it’s probably strange to think that my brother, who is 9 years younger than me, had to give me restrictions on my ice cream eating habits, but it’s true. I am not always good at motivating myself to not overindulge in sweets, but I am very good at not wanting to disappoint people. It’s partly the people pleaser in me and also partly because I don’t want to be a bad example.
So if you are struggling to achieve a goal, try having an accountability partner that is more of a coach, than a cheerleader. I think sometimes we over-sympathize people in their situations and think that positivity and cheering someone on will always be the solution to all of life’s obstacles. Now, I’m a really positive person, but I also know when I need to be told things that I don’t want to hear. Like don’t eat all the ice cream in one sitting Kim; sometimes you just need someone to tell you the hard truth.
4. Create A Consequence
I think a huge part of growing up is that there is very little consequence for our immediate decisions. Usually, the little things can pile up easily and then it grows into this giant mess the more we ignore it. This can be not paying bills on time, piling up dishes, or allowing clutter to add up into a messy living place. There’s no immediate consequence, but it builds over time. That’s why, for certain tasks, I’ve created a consequence for myself if I don’t follow through.
For me, the important task I avoid the most is making my bed.
It may seem very small in comparison to the other things listed, but making my bed is my small way of actively attempting to keep my life together. It’s the smallest task, but it makes all the difference to know that no matter what happens on a crazy, busy day, I will be going to sleep in a made bed.
My rule is simple, every morning I make my bed no matter what. Even if it means I miss my bus and I’m late to work. I have consequences for not handing in school assignments on time. I have consequences for missing a deadline at work. If making my bed makes me late for work than I have to live with it. So far, I haven’t been late yet, but the fear of being late has pushed me out of my bed just a tiny bit earlier every morning, so I can make my bed.
5. Don’t Participate
I’ve come to the realization that as an adult, I just don’t like participating in some activities. And it’s not that I can’t be involved in these activities, it’s that I just don’t like them. There are many things that we should cut out as an adult, sometimes it’s toxic friends, sometimes it’s certain career paths, and for me: it’s late nights and opinion-based board games.
My two “don’t participate” rules are:
1. I do not attend events that start after 8:30pm if it’s a school/work night.
I’m not a late night person. I get tired easily and regret it the next morning. I’m also not at my best at night when I get tired. I get irritable and then feel bad the next morning for how I acted when I was tired. So for me, and everyone around me, I go to bed early and wake early. It makes me happy to get a good night sleep and a productive morning so I’ve stopped fighting this part of myself to avoid the feeling of FOMO when my friends go out drinking and dancing at night. I’m happy to leave that part of my life in my early twenties and to be able wake up every morning at 7am.
2. I do not play opinion based board games.
I don’t know if this will ever really come off over the internet but I am really a nice, easy-going person in real life. However, when it comes to the most trivial matters such as board games, I’m ridiculously competitive and a huge sore loser. I hate losing board games. I’ve had to give myself timeouts because of how incredibly pouty and sulky I become after I lose. Although I’ve mastered many other emotions, I’ve never really learned to control my competitiveness, even as a grown adult. However, I’ve recently discovered I can play strategy-based board games. These are board games based more on strategy and chance and because it’s me against the board, I tend not to throw as big of a fit if I lose. However, if it’s an opinion based game and you double cross me….you can longer breathe around me.
Sometimes you can change as an adult, and sometimes you just have to cut your losses. And unfortunately Cards Against Humanity is my casualty in this war of growing up.
6. Create A Shortcut That Works For You
Sometimes rules are made to be broken.
I think that most people have a general sense of what we are “supposed” to be doing as an adult. Like washing dishes, making your bed, and generally cleaning up after ourselves. However, sometimes I think you kind of have to go against convention to get yourself to complete a task. For me, that’s putting away my clothes every day.
An incredibly common rule to approach this task is called the “One Touch Rule,” created by productivity consultant Ann Gomez. It’s a rule where you only allow yourself to touch an item once, and then you must action the item as soon as you touch.
In my case, my hardest chore is to put my clothes away as soon as I take them off. The second, and I do really mean second, I get home, all I wanna do is tear off my work clothes and change into sweats or PJs while living my best no bra life. And no offense to Ann, but my mom is no fancy consultant and she’s has been trying to get me to apply this idea of this putting away my clothes as soon as I take them off since I was seven. I think I stopped listening at seven and a half.
Not having clothes scattered all over the floor has been an on-going battle for me. I’ve constantly tried to be the person that will put away all of my clothes after I wear them, but it always ends badly.
So one day I just stopped. I stopped forcing myself to live by someone else’s rules and created my own.
My life admin rule is that whenever I take off my clothes and can’t put them away immediately, I throw them into the big copper basket in my bedroom. It’s basically a shortcut for organized chaos. Instead of throwing my clothes everywhere, I put them in the basket. Then when the basket is full, or on the next Sunday night (whichever comes first), I set some Food Network time aside and fold/hang up all the clothes in the basket. This system works for me because a) I have an affinity for being in sweats all the time and b) because I’m messy. Also because I usually don’t wear the same outfit twice in the same week, it prevents me from having to search for clothes as much.
It’s my contained mess and it works for me. Not all rules apply to every adult task. Sometimes you just gotta do whatcha you gotta do to keep the clothes off the floor.
7. Just Take It Away
There are just some things in life you just have to not have in your adult life because it’s too tempting. I think one of the most important things you can do as an adult is audit your life and figure out what are the things that just can’t be in your life anymore. It’s those things that we may be doing out of habit, but the bad is worth the good they bring into your life. Now for some people it may be something like cigarettes or certain types of food, for me, it’s Nutella.
I just can’t buy Nutella because I am too addicted to it and it’s not good for me. Now you may think that being addicted to Nutella is over exaggerating but for me, it’s not. I never bought Nutella until I moved to Italy a few years ago and it was the first time I was living on my own and buying my own groceries. And of course, just like my mom had worried about, I did not end up grocery shopping responsibly and ended up eating about 1 litre of Nutella per week, straight out of the jar I might add. And the worst part was, I saw absolutely nothing wrong with what I was doing until I told my sister and she responded with “you do what?” The full details of the story are quite humiliating so I’m not sure if I’ll ever put it on the internet, but just trust me, I just can’t buy Nutella.
And it may seem harsh to end off this list with a completely cold turkey option but sometimes there is no way around being an adult other than to take yourself out of the equation.
Side Story: A few weeks ago, I actually wanted to make a dessert with Nutella in it and decided to test myself, to see if I had gained any self-control since my time in Italy all those years ago. I was so much younger back then, and now I’m an adult with a career and a mortgage, surely I’m more responsible now. Nope, I did the exact same thing. I put a small portion in the dessert and ate the rest straight out of the jar. Sometimes, you can’t change things as an adult, and you just have to remove yourself from the temptation.
So in summary, I’m really struggling with this adulting thing, but I’ve figured out shortcuts how to get me there. I’ll end with the following two points that have made this system work for me:
1. I’m pretty lazy when it comes to adulthood.
My natural state is sloth mode and a lot of these rules are essentially me bribing or tricking myself into completing tasks that I don’t want to do. I think that’s a lot of being an adult, just faking it until you make it. As a child, I saw my parents as all-knowing and always having the perfect plan for everything, but as I grew up, I realized they are human too and just figuring it out along the way. I’m sure my parents didn’t love every part of growing up or being a parent, but they made it work somehow. And these rules are just my way of making it work.
2. I’m An Upholder/Obliger.
Self-made rules work for me because I’m the type of person that follows rules. I always listen in class, I do as I’m supposed to, I was mostly an obedient child as a kid as well. But rules may not work for everyone. A great book that talks about creating habits that work for you is Gretchen Rubin’s Book “The Four Tendencies” where she describes how to create habits for the four tendencies – Obliger, Upholder, Questioner, and Rebel. I’m a mix of Upholder and Obliger so rules work for me, but they may not work for everyone. I highly recommend the book!
Lastly, I’m not saying you have to follow my rules or anyone’s rules for tackling adulthood. Here’s the beauty of it, as an adult you get to create your own. But there are consequences of growing up, and accepting that the end goal is actually more important than the journey has been a really important realization in adulthood. So what if I don’t put away my clothes right after I wear them? I’ve found a system that works for me and that’s most important. And so what if I have to bribe myself into washing dishes and folding laundry? That gold star reward system is what they taught us in Kindergarten.
Being an adult is all about how to fake it until you make it. And if you’re curious, here are a few more of my Life Admin Rules (in no particular order)
1. I am not allowed to buy Nutella for my home.
2. If I want to watch Top Chef or any Food Network show, I have to be folding laundry.
3. If I want to listen to my favourite podcasts, I have to be washing dishes.
4. I’m only allowed to eat one ice cream bar/one scoop of ice cream per night.
5. No leaving after-dinner dishes in the sink overnight.
6. If the microwave timer is on, I have to make myself productive.
7. I have to make my bed every morning no matter what.
9. If I wake up within the hour, I have to just get up.
10. No events starting after 8:30pm on a work/school night.
11. No opinion based board games.
12. I’m allowed to put all my clothes in the basket but I have to address it when it’s full, or on the next Sunday night.
And many more.
Thanks for reading! And good luck. Do you have any life admin rules? I’d love to hear them down below. And if you’re ever struggling with the process, just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll tell you my Nutella story. Trust me, it’ll make you feel better about your life.