How to Divide Tasks Fairly Between Adults

crop person cleaning toilet with detergent and brush

The internet has numerous ideas for how to divide household tasks. You can draw them randomly, rotate them, or divide them evenly. We’ve tried them all. In the end, we invented our own method. Since we aren’t particularly interested in developing our skills or character at this point, we wanted to find a method that would allow us to negotiate chores based on personal preference. 

This article will cover:

Setting up your list

We recommend making a spreadsheet of everything you can think of. This should not be a typical chore chart. The goal is to have a discussion that accurately depicts the situation. If your list is just dishes, laundry, floors, cooking, you’re ignoring the vast majority of the work. For a typical household there should be 150-250 items including who buys presents before going to a birthday party and who schedules dental appointments, who makes sure you don’t run out of staples and who does relationship maintenance. 

The first time we decided to do this, Robin compiled the list on her own.  It took her a couple hours and when she showed Tim, he reacted strongly. “This is ridiculous! No one can do this much!”

“I’m certainly struggling,” Robin agreed. “How about you cross out everything you don’t think is important and we can just forget about?” 

Tim made a few notes. We could skip gifts for adults, for example. But out of our original list of over 200 items, he was able to cross out or adjust less than 10. 

If you’re using our mega list, you’ll need to delete or edit items to make it fit your life. If something isn’t being done by anyone but needs to be or you want it to be then keep it on the list so that it’s part of the discussion. Add anything that has to be done in your life that isn’t on the list.  Add more detail if that’s important to your discussion.  Really make it a living document.  We’ve changed our list over time as our lives have changed.

Identifying preferences

Now each person should take a separate copy of the list and identify their preferences. We have columns for “I enjoy” and “I dislike” that you can leave blank or mark however you want in order to add more or less emphasis. Remember that it’s in your best interest to be very honest because the goal is to do mostly the jobs you prefer and very few of the jobs for which you have a strong aversion. 

Opinions on current arrangement

Now you need to rate the current arrangement. If you’re both highly satisfied with the current arrangement for a particular task, there’s no need to waste your time renegotiating it. You have a separate column for this. You simply use the numbers 1-5 to mean the following: 

  1. We’re happy with the current arrangement. 
  2. We’ve fallen into routine and okay 
  3. We’ve fallen into a routine and not okay 
  4. We’re not happy but we’re still actively open to figuring it out 
  5. We’re fighting about it

Negotiating division

Now you have the information necessary to actually negotiate. It’s important to only do this as long as it can stay positive. It’s okay to take many sessions to do this. It’s better to just work on it for a few minutes and keep it positive than to turn it onto a huge fight! 

We like to start by reading each other’s list and chatting about any surprises or anything that stood out to us. While we do that, we highlight in a cool color like blue everything we are both happy with and don’t need to discuss further. We do take a moment to note who is assigned each of those tasks or if we both handle it. You might want to start differently but this may work for you.

Then start with the easy ones. Something we’re both unhappy with is sometimes easier than something that’s okay but not great. But not always! If you start discussing one and realize it’s turning out to be a rather heated discussion, stop and wait until you’ve had a lot of practice with the easier ones. It can take weeks or longer to talk through this.  The first time you do it the goal may not actually be to divide up anything but more to increase understanding of what needs to be done.  It’s common for one person to be more aware of certain types of tasks than the other so just coming to a common understanding of tasks is a good step.  It may be important to meet with a therapist if you aren’t able to come to even an agreement about what needs to be done.  If it’s only a few things, then the person who cares about them can take care of them.  But if it’s a substantial part of the list or if it’s especially hurtful to one member of your partnership then it’s important to work with a therapist to sort it out.

Transfer of responsibilities

Now comes the hardest part–transferring responsibilities to the person who will be carrying them out going forward.  We’ve found it’s not successful to just start all at once.  Decide what is the highest priority or the easiest and then add from there.  None of this is set in stone so you may end up changing the division later anyway.  Again, this is a process.  The main goal is to be able to have the discussion from a point of considering all the tasks and both people’s preferences.  We wish we could say we’ve figured this out–we haven’t!  Even when we think we’re getting close, something will change in our lives and it will go out of whack again.

Hopefully with increased information from this process you will also gain increased understanding and be better able to work as a team towards the mutual goal of a shared household!

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