It seems that one of those inevitable truths of life is that if your morning goes awry, it’s hard to reclaim the rest of your day. Rough mornings throw off your groove, to borrow the phrase. Having a plan usually makes a morning run smoother but even the best of plans can still leave you feeling frazzled, stressed, and drained.
Call me crazy, but I really love mornings. Even on those not-so-rare days where I went to bed too late and got up too early with little sleep in between, even then I still love the fresh promise of the new day and all the potential it holds. Still, for all my pep and hope, if the morning starts to fall apart then my day falls apart, too. I find myself losing focusing, energy zapped, my productivity next to nothing. And if by some miracle we manage to stick to our schedule, I’ve lost every ounce of sanity in the meantime and probably have a couple of new gray hairs to boot.
Last week I met with Caleb’s contact teacher for his umbrella school (I.D.E.A– it’s awesome!) and during our discussion there came one of those lightbulb moments and I realized the difference between having a morning routine vs. a schedule. A schedule has set tasks and if those tasks aren’t completed on time, then you’re left playing catch up the rest of the day. Meanwhile, a routine is merely a series of familiar tasks that happen when they happen. Got showered and dressed quicker than expected? Now you can enjoy an unhurried breakfast and perhaps even a few leisurely moments before getting started with your day.
As a homeschooling family, most of our mornings are spent at home. While we aren’t rushing to get out the door, if we’re not careful I lose track of time and the entire day can slip away. Before we know it, it’s the middle of the afternoon and we’re still in our PJ’s with unbrushed hair, eating cereal out of the box, with phonics pages half done, but the laundry is folded and put away!
The truth of the matter is that I can’t stick to a schedule. But a “To Do List” I can do! A set routine and way of doing things that is so easy I can do it pre-coffee, that I can do. The thing with routines is that they become second nature, and one task naturally progresses to the next. Having the same routine every morning helps make the complicated tasks more familiar and before you realize it, you’re sipping your second cup of still-hot java while the disherwasher’s going, laundry done, living room picked up, kids dressed, and three things are already checked off the to-do list.
My Sanity Saving Morning Routine
(and a few tips too)
– Wake up before kids & take time for myself.
This is a big one but not always easy to do with a little boy that likes to wake up at the crack of dawn. (We set rules for what he can do if he wakes up early) Ideally, I like to wake up 1-2 hours before the kids so I can do my personal devotions and prayer time, return emails, get in a 20-minute workout, and be blow drying my hair as the kids wake up. This head start on the day proves to be invaluable even if I don’t get any tasks accomplished and have spent all the time on “me.” It provides a peaceful, relaxed start where I feel fresh, competent, and in control- ready to meet whatever challenges the day throws at me.
– Allow myself the privilege of sleeping in a least once a week.
This may seem like the direct opposite of the previous tip, but hear me out. We all have at least one morning a week where there is nothing pressing to be done. And on those mornings it’s tempting to wake up at the same time and play catch up on all the things we didn’t get accomplished during the past days. Yet, I’m a firm believer that those days are the most important days of all. Hitting snooze, or better yet, turning my alarm off completely, allows my body to get the rest it needs and has been sorely lacking. Even if I was able to get 8 hours of solid sleep each night for the past week, my body will still receive a boost from waking up naturally vs. jarring awake with my iPhone’s alarm.
– Set out clothes the night before.
The last thing I need is to realize that the kids have no clean socks when I’m already running late or spend 10 minutes arguing over the blue or green shirt. When putting the kids to bed I simply reach in their closets and lay out their outfits for the next day. And if I’m feeling really productive, I’ll even take the basket of clean clothes with me and put away the laundry before tucking them in for the night.
– If staying home, wear real clothes.
While it’s tempting to stay in yoga pants the whole day, once my workout is over I get dressed as if I’m going out in public, even if I’ll be staying home. Putting effort into my appearance somehow switches the day from “casual mode” to “productive mode” and has the added bonus of keeping me from feeling embarrassed when the UPS guy stops by. Of course, I’m a huge fan of PJ Thursday. The UPS guy will just have to deal with it.
– Have a dedicated spot for clothes, shoes, and coats.
It does no good to have everything set out in advance if the kids have to look in a different spot each time. The whole idea of a routine is daily consistency. If the kids know that the shoes are always in the wicker basket by the door when I tell them to “go get their shoes on” I won’t be fielding a dozen questions or having to give turn-by-turn directions to wear to find their mud boots. Of course, teaching the kids that the shoes go IN the buckets and not next to it or in the hallway is also key.
– Realize that even the youngest toddlers can still be helpers.
Young children love to help- so let them! It might take a tiny bit longer or turn out a bit messier, but helpful children are happy children and that means a happy mom, too. By giving my littlest simple tasks to do, such as putting the dirty sippy cups in the sink, stacking the library books by the door, straightening the throw pillows, or putting spoons next to the breakfast bowls, I teach her to contribute to the family and keep her from being underfoot or bored. I may still have to go behind and ensure that the task was completed correctly, but keep up the routine enough and soon even Sammy will be a full-fledged helpful helper.
– Create “Mini Routines” with each Morning Routine.
With all the stuff to do each morning, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. I’ve found that dividing my mornings up into smaller sections, each with its own mini routine has proven to be one of the best sanity saving tips out there. For example, serving the kids breakfast is made up several tasks: first I empty the dishwasher while the kids finish waking up, then I fix breakfast (cereal or toast if we’re going simple, eggs are medium difficulty, pancakes or breakfast bake for special mornings). While the kids are eating I load the dishwasher and start a sink of soapy water so I can wash dishes off and on during the rest of the morning. Last step is putting on a pot of coffee to perk while I finish my breakfast and get Caleb started on school. One main task of “eating breakfast” just took off half a dozen things off my to do list without any extra time and little additional effort.
– Take advantage of the power of five minutes.
It really is amazing what can be accomplished in just five minutes. Part of my morning routine is taking five minutes at a time and focusing on a certain task, project, or room. Living room messy? I set the timer on the oven and blitz clean for five minutes. If the timer goes off and I’m not done yet, I just set it for another five minutes- after all, that’s the beauty of a having a routine instead of a set schedule.
– Don’t put off the little stuff.
Many times I find myself putting off seemingly small, insignificant to-do’s simply because I don’t feel like doing them at that moment. But then all those small things pile up into one big thing and where’s the sanity in that? If something will take five minutes or less, I tell myself to suck it up and just do it. And then I reward myself with chocolate. Or more coffee. Or both.
– Keep the kitchen table/island/counter clear.
This is one of those things that I didn’t realize how much of a difference it made until I incorporated it as part of our morning routine. The kitchen island is our gathering spot for afternoon coffee, where Caleb works on his math homework while Sammy colors. It’s where I go through bills and slice apples for mid-afternoon snacks. It doesn’t have to be spotless, that comes later, I just need it clear and useable.
– A routine puts the kids on auto pilot in a good way.
Every night before bed Caleb asks, “What are we doing in the morning?” and we go over all the events tomorrow holds. He gets most excited to hear that the next day is Library Day and since it’s one of our weekly routines, come the next morning he knows just what to do. Library books are gathered, an extra big breakfast is eaten, and Caleb asks if he’s earned enough stars on the reward chart to get a new Hot Wheels car from the thrift store after story time. Kids thrive on consistency. Knowing what to expect each day gives them time to anticipate their own responsibilities, prepare for any thing they don’t enjoy like nap time or homework, and allows the day to transition smoothly and naturally.
– Know that some mornings will go all wrong.
It’s going to happen. Just regroup and start fresh. After all, in the famous words of Miss Scarlet O’hara, “Tomorrow is another day.”
What’s your morning routine? Any tips keeping your sanity that you’d like to share?