Our standard operating procedures for everyday life (AKA an embarrassing glimpse into our automated existence)

Here’s a problem with being a married couple that does everything together: you start to think the same way about everything too.

If Rob had said to me last year, “We really need to come up with standard operating procedures for our day-to-day life, like getting the groceries and doing the laundry,” I’d have had enough of my own – romantically inclined – mind to say, “Like f**k we need SOPs for daily life. What sort of marriage is this?”

But this year, things are different. Due to constant travel, it’s hard to keep track of things. And due to constant encouragement from Dan Andrews at the Lifestyle Business Podcast, it’s hard to imagine a life without SOPs.

So was the one to suggest some “everyday life” SOPs, and Rob wholeheartedly agreed.

How we reached this absurd stage in our lives

It all started when we got home from Thailand and realised we’d forgotten to ask someone to take our car for an MOT. And because our MOT, tax disc and insurance are all up for renewal at around the same time every year, it’s always – even when we’re not jetlagged or nostalgic about warm weather – a frantic memory-scanning arrrghness to work out the order in which we’re meant to do everything.

Thoughts about our ineffecient, disorganised life spiralled from there:

  • “We always forget to ask our Airbnb host to provide two sets of keys.”
  • “When we book our flights, why don’t we ever flipping remember we’ll need our passport numbers on us?”
  • “Why is it that you ALWAYS log your phone into the hotel wifi when you KNOW there’s a chance we’re only allowed two wifi-connected devices?”
  • “Let’s face it: we were bloody lucky when we got to Malaysia and realised they had the same plug points as us.”

So… my job for this week was to create the SOPs that will turn us from efficient, productive workers into a robotic, automated married couple. And because I’m running out of time to write a blog post, write the SOPs and co-run Mortified Cow, I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone and hope to god you find these useful (or at least entertaining in an “embarrassed for us” sort of way):

An SOP for getting settled into a new apartment in a new city as quickly as possible

Before arriving
  • Mish: create a jogging route using Gmap Pedometer and Osmand (useful for offline navigation), in preparation for the first morning’s “get my bearings” jog.
  • Use Google Maps to find the nearest grocery store, coffee place, nicest-looking restaurant, train station and bus stop. Store in a new “My places” Google Map.
  • Change the “Home” address in Google Maps.
  • Use Wikitravel to work out how the heck to get around the city (and how to get from the airport to our accommodation).
  • Use Wikitravel and other travel websites to figure out where to wander around on Day 1.
  • Find out the exchange rate and an easy way to remember it (so that when the lovely Thai woman says “20 baht” to you for a massive banana pancake, you don’t say “40 quid? You must be having a laugh”).
  • Get the right travel adapters.
  • Learn some key phrases in their language. (Hello, thank you, numbers up to 10, chicken, spicy, toilet, water, internet.)
On arrival: 
  • Check the wifi works. Check at least twice before doing anything else.
  • Lie on the bed and figure out what sleep will be like for the next day/week/month.
  • Take photos for our album.
  • Unpack and charge up everything that’s low on batteries.
  • Find out where the fuse box is.
  • Walk to the nearest grocery store and stock up. (Need to write a separate SOP for what to stock up on.)
  • Walk around.

An SOP for getting the car sorted every year

Do everything before 1 March each year (add reminder to calendar).

1: Renew the car insurance
  • Go to Money Supermarket to compare prices. Don’t bother with the other comparison sites – this one’s fine.
  • Information to include about number of years driving, no-claims bonuses, etc. are in the Cubby.
  • Choose “comprehensive” insurance.
  • Choose voluntary excess to be around £250.
  • Pay, and email the new insurance provider proof of our no-claims bonus.
  • Store all PDF docs in the Cubby.
2: Get the MOT done
  • Find the Halfords or Kwik-Fit centre that’s nearest our new London accommodation. Don’t bother with independent MOT places because you won’t be able to book online.
  • Book online. Price should be about £50. Don’t bother with any of the “extras”.
  • Use Google Maps to find a cafe nearby in which to wait while the MOTs being done. If possible, see if they have wifi.
3: Renew the tax disc
  • You could go online, but it’s just too much of a faff.
  • Print out the car insurance document.
  • Take the log book, car insurance document and MOT test certificate to the post office and ask for a 12-month tax disc.

An SOP for questions to ask our new Airbnb host/places where we stay

1: Questions to ask before we arrive
  • Do you provide us with the wifi password when we get there?
  • Is it OK to have two sets of keys?
  • Is it possible to receive post? (Definitely ask this for NYC apartments, where post is often stored downstairs in locked cubbies for each tenant.)
2: Questions to ask when we get there
  • How many devices can log on to the wifi with this username and password? (Hotels only.)

An SOP for online supermarket shopping (while in the UK)

  • Change the delivery address from wherever we were last time.
  • Every Monday (add reminder to Google Calendar), log in to Sainsbury’s (login details: xxxxx).
  • Start a new order and add at least £25’s worth of groceries into the shopping basket (that’s the minimum order).
  • Book the delivery slot for Wednesday, 6-7pm.
  • Add more stuff between Monday and Tuesday night (until 11pm).

Not really an SOP: a list of things we either forget or worry we’ll forget to pack when moving around

  • Travel adapters
  • Phone chargers
  • Kindle charger
  • Toenail clippers
  • Gloves
  • Ear warmers
  • Umbrella
  • Trainers
  • Bras
  • M&Ms

And on the blog next week…

SOPs for a goodnight kiss, a spontaneous “I love you”, and generating birthday present ideas.
Are you as bonkers as we are? Do you have any standard operating procedures for everyday life? Please make us feel better and let us know in the comments!
  • http://jetsliketaxis.com Ryan from Jets Like Taxis

    Haha, great stuff. Most of this is now engrained in my brain, but I think it’d be nice to make a list. I like lists.

    Regarding hotels…I really, really hate that. Which is why I found a solution when it first happened to us at a hotel in Berlin when we went on the road for good: http://www.connectify.me/

    I was getting some near 1mb/s downloads – with my computer connected to Ang’s, whose was connected to the hotel wifi – at our hotel in Frankfurt. Generally, if the hotel allows its wifi to be good enough, the speeds are normal if you’re bridging. I didn’t want to screw with the built-in Windows functions for sharing or any mobile sharing. Connectify has been the answer to our probs when it comes to stupid hotel connection allowances.

    • Mish

      OMG I can’t BELIEVE I just assumed there was no solution to our hotel wifi problem, rather than get straight online and google for solutions!

      Thanks matey – can’t tell you how excited I am to try it out!

      We like lists too (as you can see). Workflowy is our dream machine for lists, although we’re also now using Teamlab for client-related to-do lists (for easier project management), Evernote for SOP lists, and Catch.com for other lists I don’t know how to categorise. Soon we’ll need a list of all our list-keeping software – just to keep on top of them all.

  • Lewis

    Loved reading this, thanks for sharing. I’m working on getting me and my wife into a project management methodology called agile. It’s weird to start with, especially as like you getting routine is hard, but worth it I think.

    • Mish

      Thanks Lewis!

      Ah yes, the dreaded agile. I had such a hard time getting to grips with it in my old job, but I’ve been thinking about using it again for our client-related work. I really like the reasoning behind agile, so maybe I just need to persevere!

      Let me know how you get on!

  • http://www.livinglocationindependent.com/ Tearei

    I LOVE THIS, Mish! Justin and I have spent the last few days mulling over what we need to do to create a daily ‘must-do’ type of routine, as some minor things here are there are slipping through the cracks for us as well.

    Work smarter, not harder, right? Personally, I think it’s adorable that you’re still in the honeymoon phase of what we’re going through. We’ve worked together and been on our own for just ‘a few’ more years, and I see the similarities. Wish we had started at your age, though!

    I also love that we can learn from people in all different stages of their nomadic/location independent lifestyles.

    Anyhow – Justin loves Remember the Milk, but if he forget to check it, it doesn’t do much good. So today, we’ll be hammering out our own SOPs! Thank you for the advice, even though robotic may sound borish, I believe the time/money/headache it will save us in the long run will make our lives even more exciting (more time to play, more happy customers, etc., etc!)

    • Mish

      Thanks so much Tearei!

      Totally agree – even though SOPs seem robotic and a bit insane for a married couple, we’re hoping they’ll help us stay married for a while longer!

      I know the problem Justin has! SO many times I’ve been convinced I know exactly what to-do items are on my Workflowy, and then I go back and check at the end of the day and it’s like “Oh… OK… oops.”

      Please do pass on any other tips you have for surviving as a digitally nomadic couple! We’re pretty new to all this and open to any advice you have to offer!


      • http://www.livinglocationindependent.com/ Tearei

        Oddly enough, as I was telling Justin about this article, he realized he did everything today he had wanted to *except* check his ‘Remember the Milk’ list to see what he should do!

        I think you two are doing a fine job, but I’ll add my two cents in if I ever see a good fit. :)

        Justin says ‘Getting Things Done’ is a must-read if you haven’t already, but I think that might be the first piece of advice given out to all entrepreneurs!

        • Mish

          Haha – Rob borrowed that book from the library years ago, and was given a fine for returning it a month late. Don’t think the book had the effect it was meant to!

          I’ve never read it, but it sounds right up my street so I really want to give it a go.

          Tell Justin good luck for remembering to remember the milk!

  • http://www.adventurous-soul.com Shayna @ Adventurous Soul

    I’m not even traveling and I feel like I need SOPs for everyday life! To get rid of that nagging, “Did I forget something…?” feeling.

    Problem is, I’ve tried multiple systems (Remember the Milk, Toodledo, Workflowy) and keeping the #&$%@ system updated and remembering to check it always takes up more energy than it saves.

    Plus, my husband is of the, um, more “spontaneous” variety. Case in point: once I went to two different supermarkets to find a particular type of beef he likes, only to walk in the door to be greeted with, “I really want to eat chicken today.” NO! Not in the procedure!

    • Mish

      Hey Shayna!

      Even if we ever decide to stop travelling, we’ll definitely still need SOPs!

      I struggle massively with to-do lists (call the car insurance company, check in online, buy a coat…), because like you, I often forget to read my own list. I think the best method for me is to add my to-dos to my Google Calendar and get Google to email me at specific dates/times to remind me. But I’ve now started to ignore those Google Calendar emails, so my solution still isn’t ideal!

      When it comes to SOPs though, it’s a lot easier. When we next have to book a flight, for example, it’s just a case of following the instructions we’ve created for ourselves until the whole booking process is over. So, e.g. after we’ve booked our flight and chosen our seats, our SOP instructs us to send the flight confirmation email to Tripit, store all the info in Evernote, and set a Google Calendar reminder to check-in online.

      Your husband is a very lucky man!

  • http://passingthru.com/ Betsy

    We have a carry-on roller bag that we refer to as “The Office.” It’s got stuff like our “Life File,” power strip, chargers, stapler, paper clips, and will hold both the Pro and the Air if need be, along with e-readers, iPod, iPhones, whatever. It was fairly easy to get into the habit of loading all work and electronics-related stuff in The Office when we were on the move. Now it’s SOP for road trip or plane travel.

    Another SOP we have is to create a notebook for each trip. Confirmations and itineraries go in there, and we stash receipts and memorabilia as we go. I use flexible plastic folders that have pockets and 3-hole brads for papers and page protectors. It’s easy to spreadsheet expenses for tax and analytical purposes from this system.

    We’re getting old and forgetful so it’s good to have a rule that something ALWAYS goes in a certain place. Otherwise, things would be completely hopeless. 😀

    • Mish

      Betsy I LOVE the idea of “The Office”. I don’t know why we didn’t think of doing that! We always have two bags of carry-on, so it makes perfect sense for one of those bags to contain all the work-related items – and to just have a list of everything that needs to be included for every trip.

      We have an online folder for each trip, which I think is pretty similar to your notebooks: PDF confirmations, itineraries, etc. And then we also travel with our “Dossier of Massive Fun”, which has things like passport photocopies, extra ID, proof of address, etc.

      I’m really looking forward to travelling again now – just so that I can create our own “Office”!

  • http://www.zenfolio.peterdomican.com Pete

    I cannot believe that you go to a post office to pay your car tax. That’s just ‘old school’! Online is fantastic.
    As a photographer, it’s got to a ridiculous stage of paranoia about taking the right things with me especially chargers. Forgetting your i- phone charger or an adapter is a costly mistake but not a disaster. Forgetting a camera battery charger is a major problem. Unless you’re in a major city you’re stuffed.
    I now pack everything in the camera bag and take items out which I don’t need placing them in a separate box. This way I don’t forget anything just bear the additional weight of carrying something I did’t need. Once I’ve been on a trip, I’ll charge everything up and then repack the whole camera bag.

    • Mish

      Hey Pete!

      Yeah it’s totally old school! But because the MOT and tax disc are due at exactly the same time, it’s just a whole lot easier to get the MOT done and then go straight to the post office for a new tax disc! Believe me, if there’s a way to do something online, I’ll usually do it!

      Forgetting a battery charger must be a massive hassle. I really like how you charge everything up once you’re home and then repack the bag – ready to go when you need to. That’s something we’re TERRIBLE at. We need to get into the habit of charging everything up once we come in rather than wait until three minutes before we need to go out again. We’ve had so many “Oh cock, my Kindle needs charging” moments right ahead of an eight-hour flight.