Are your mornings complicated, frustrating, stressful? They don’t have to be. Just incorporate some of these ideas to create happier starts to your day.
Some of the first ideas that come to mind about creating lower-stress mornings are to…
* create “lunch units” (little lunch-sized packages of food) and store them in your refrigerator for quick lunch-making
* pack those lunches the night before you need them
* use a Crockpot
* set out as much of breakfast as you can the night before
* decide what you (and your kids) will wear the next day, and make sure that every component is wearable and presentable
* stop buying clothes that need ironing
But, let’s think a little more broadly about larger systems for easier mornings. Therefore, if you don’t have one already…
Create a “launching pad”
What I call a launching pad is a defined place near the door that you use the most that captures everything that you bring home, and holds what you plan to take with you the next time you leave. The launching pad could be a shelf, small table, laundry basket, box, small rug, carpet square, series of wall hooks, or whatever else works for you.
Chances are that you and your family members are dropping your stuff somewhere already, so I’m merely suggesting that you formalize that spot, define it as the launching pad (or whatever you want to call it), and make it the target to aim for. It becomes the one, stated home for objects that are coming and going.
When you bring things home, put them there, and then they won’t migrate all over during the evening. This includes big things like gym bags and backpacks, and small things (contained in a dish or bowl) such as cell phones, eyeglasses, wallets, and keys. Also put things there during the evening that you plan to take with you the next time you leave, and then you’ll have what you need when the time comes — with no frantic antics.
Establish and schedule daily (if possible) “administrative sessions”
Ideally, we would all make time every day to work through — to process — the paper that comes our way so relentlessly. And, I do suggest that ideal: make it a priority to schedule time every day to process your paper. But, if you honestly can’t get to it every day, or if that notion is just too daunting, then try every other day, every third day, or every week — but make a plan, schedule it, and stick to it. The alternative, plain and simple, is that the paper will pile up and possibly become overwhelming. (That may sound obvious, yet it surprises some folks that paper doesn’t go away if they don’t do anything with it.)
Once you’re ready to carry out your planned administrative session, make it as pleasant as you can. Sit in a place you like, with all the supplies right at your side that you’ll need to process your paper. Put on some music if you want to, and have a beverage or snack if it helps. Then gather all of the paper that needs processing — which, if you deal with it daily, shouldn’t be so very challenging on any particular day. This paper could come from (among other sources) your tickler file, your in-box, the mail, items you picked up during your travels that day, and things your family gave you.
Toss, recycle, or shred as much as you can, as quickly as you can. Invest the time to get off of mailing lists for good when you encounter mail that you don’t want. Recycling it is great, but the root cause is still there because you’re still on that direct mailer’s mailing list. So take the few extra minutes to write, e-mail, or call to actually get off the list permanently. It will (eventually) stop future mail from that mailer, save some trees, and prevent that mailer from selling your name to other direct mailers, which just causes a big, ugly snowball effect.
Also pass things on to your family members or others if they should legitimately be sent on. Act on things if you can do them in fewer than two minutes. File as needed (but be sparing), right then during your administrative session. Don’t file things in a “to file” file — just file them and be done with it! And, if something is going to take more than two (or five or 10) minutes to complete, schedule a time to do it. Scheduled things tend to get done because they’ve been made into priority tasks, while things that aren’t scheduled tend not to get done — it’s just too easy to ignore them or assume you’ll get to them “someday.”
Daily (or even frequent) administrative sessions are not necessarily easy to commit to and schedule, but they’re lifesavers because there will just be twice as much paper to process tomorrow. However, if you really can’t fit in a full session on any given day, then at minimum, do a quick scan of your papers, take care of anything urgent, and put anything from that pile that you’ll need tomorrow at your launching pad today.
Now, how do administrative sessions help your mornings? By knowing that you’ve scheduled times to work on your papers later, you can be confident that you’re planning rather than procrastinating, and that allows you to leave for your day knowing that the paper items in your world are under control.
Review today and plan for tomorrow
Whether you use a paper or electronic planner, at the end of each day, review everything that you had planned for that day and ask yourself some questions:
* “Did I complete everything I had planned?”
If you did, you deserve a big high-five and a loud “Wahoo!” If you didn’t, that’s very normal. Consider, though, why you didn’t: did life conspire against you, or did you have unrealistic expectations for how long things would take and how many you could accomplish? Or, did you almost achieve something but then didn’t have the necessary tools or materials to make it happen?
If you didn’t get everything done, reschedule those tasks for another day. But, if you find one in particular that you keep moving from day to day and week to week, that’s a clue that you don’t want to do it — or perhaps you don’t know how to do it — and you’re procrastinating. This might seem revolutionary, but could you just not do it? It’s not getting done now under your current system, so what if you accepted that reality and decided not to do it at all — ever? Or, could you delegate it? Or conscientiously delay it until a day when you will definitely do it? Or take a shortcut so that it gets done more quickly, but still well enough?
For the things that you did accomplish, ask yourself if they should be scheduled again for tomorrow, next week, or next month. In other words, are they recurring events or tasks that you need to schedule automatically at certain intervals so that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time they come up?
And finally, did any events or tasks result in follow-up actions that you need to take? Schedule them now.
* “What’s on tap for tomorrow?”
Look at what you have lined up and consider the chronological order in which you’ll do each thing. What’s the most efficient order and route? Also estimate how long it will take to do each thing and consider whether you’re being realistic in your expectations. If you have too much on your plate, you might as well admit it now, make changes in your plan, and skip the inevitable stress and frustration that you’ll go through tomorrow when you find out that you can’t do it all.
* “What supplies, materials, or equipment will I need to make tomorrow’s plans happen effectively and efficiently?”
Once you have a schedule that you think you can realistically manage, look at each event and task and figure out what you’ll need to have with you to do what you need to do. Put all of those things at your launching pad tonight. If there’s something that can’t be put there overnight — your refrigerated lunch or the giant science-fair volcano that’s drying in the basement — then put a note there to remind yourself to take it with you in the morning.
Create “on-the-go bags”
A diaper bag is a great example of an “on-the-go bag” — one that contains, always and everywhere, all that you need under stress to care for or pacify a crying child. Apply the same concept to every kind of activity that you do on a routine basis: dedicate a tote or duffel bag that you keep stocked at all times so that you’re ready to go to the gym, pool, or yoga class; your kid’s music lesson, soccer game, or dance class; the dog’s daycare center; your office; or those committee meetings that require lots of paperwork and binders.
If the bag holds many items, store an inventory list inside so that you never forget any contents. Restock it as soon as you get home if you use — or use up — something. That way, it will always be fully stocked and ready to go when you are. Lastly, be sure to have a separate bag for each activity — shuffling stuff among different ones will get too complicated — and store them at (or at least near) your launching pad.
A good tomorrow starts today. I read that somewhere once, and it’s so true. Planning for tomorrow a day in advance makes a giant difference when tomorrow comes. You deserve a kindler, gentler, easier start tomorrow morning, and you can achieve it.