14 Ways to Breeze Through Your Morning Routine

Family Matters on 01.09.12
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We've all had those mornings when it feels like we're trying to run through quicksand to get out the door. Frustration abounds while we wonder, why do mornings have to be so rough? They don't, with some preparation. An easy morning is the product of what you accomplish the day before.

Before we can have an easy morning, we need a solid daytime and evening routine. Follow the steps in this progression to make tomorrow morning your easiest one yet.

1. Plan Dinner WAY Ahead of Time

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To clear the decks for a smoother evening and therefore a breezy morning, start assembling your dinners as early in the day or week as possible. If you work, you might chop all the veggies for the week on the weekend, or chop the veggies for two dinners on the same night. You could assemble a casserole or other baked dishes so that you only need to throw the pan in the oven when the time comes.

In France, they call it mise en place to assemble each ingredient prior to cooking; they probably don't mean as far ahead as I'm suggesting. The point is, you're going to do whatever you can to further the dinner-making process very early in the day or week: measure the ingredients, chop the veggies, brown the chicken or meat. Then put the perishables in the fridge in easy-to-find containers so that when it's time to get dinner on the table, you have very few steps to contend with.

2. Use a Centralized Family Calendar

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Be obsessive about using a family calendar that is hung where everyone can see it. If you know that a permission slip or science project is due on a particular day, write it on the calendar. Consider letting older kids write important tasks or activities on the calendar so there's nothing lost in translation. If some family members use a digital calendar, urge them to synch relevant information on the family calendar.

Check your calendar each time you walk by to make sure you always know the day before what you need for tomorrow. What clothes, food, homework or forms need to be assembled ahead of time so that you aren't searching for anything on your way out the door in the morning?

3. Create Your Exit Zone

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It helps to have a designated zone or area near the door where kids can store coats and backpacks, projects, shoes, or anything else they will need to saddle up when it's time to make your grand exit.

Have a caddy or hooks there where you can keep your keys, phone, wallet, and purse or murse (a.k.a. manbag.) Pack book bags as soon as homework is complete and leave them in the exit zone. The family calendar will serve as a reference to get your exit zone prepped the evening before for any activities or events that require specific equipment or clothes.

4. Pack Lunches for the Next Day

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When the kids get home from school, let them pack their lunches for the next day so that lunch bags don't sit around getting smelly. That way there's no question of where to put their lunch bags; they get packed up and go right in the fridge. Place a sign in your exit zone that asks, "Do you have your lunch?" so that everyone remembers to grab their lunches when they're preparing for departure.

Teach your kids to make their own lunches with this simple project. By making a cheery lunch-making organizer, you kids can get a wider variety of foods while saving time. Find a plastic or canvas caddy that would typically be used for tools or as a shower caddy (clean, of course). Label the different sections with fruits and vegetables, protein, whole grains and dairy. Pack up the caddy with a selection of foods in each section and let your kids assemble their own balanced meals.

5. Set the Breakfast Table After Dinner

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Get your breakfast table ready immediately after clearing the dinner dishes. Set out the bowls, silverware, glasses and cereal boxes, if applicable.

Load the coffee pot, and if it can't be programmed with a timer, at least all you have to do in the morning is push a button to set it off. And that way there's no chance you're stuck washing out yesterday's pot while you're still bleary-eyed.

6. Place Your Clothes for the Next Day Away From the Closet

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Once you check the handy-dandy family calendar (and perhaps a weather report), you should know the day ahead what kind of outfit will work for tomorrow. While it may help, I've heard choosing an outfit ahead of time doesn't completely eliminate morning clothing battles.

My secret strategy is to place your clothes for the next day in the bathroom. That way, when you (and your kids) get up in the morning, you are all headed for your first stop - the bathroom - and you can get dressed in there before you can even consider that there might be other options. Eliminating trips to the closet will go a long way towards thwarting wardrobe temptations.

7. Tidy up the House

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I seriously hate that sinking feeling when I come down the stairs in the morning and discover that I didn't tidy up the house the night before. Conversely, it's so nice to set foot in a living room that's clear of clutter, where everything is in its place.

The first step would be to make sure everything has a place to begin with. Each night before you head to bed, do a quick once over of the living room. And I mean quick, 5 or 10 minutes max. You'll be surprised at the difference this small effort makes.

Fold the blankets, straighten the chairs and pillows, and put books and toys back where they belong. You'll get to avoid that feeling of overwhelm and disgust, and instead you'll feel neat and accomplished when you come downstairs in the morning.

8. Take Baths and Showers the Night Before

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You're not just saving the length of time it takes to bathe or shower in the morning. You save time exponentially because of all those teeny-tiny tasks that tick up the second hand of the clock: making sure you have a clean towel and wash cloth, getting the water temperature just right, potentially shaving, then drying off, moisturizing, and hanging up a towel.

Especially for those with long hair or hair that needs to be dried or styled, you will save precious morning moments if you aren't starting from scratch with a wet head in the morning.

9. Early to Bed

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If I had to choose just one, I would say this is the most important piece of advice to follow for an easy morning: get enough sleep every night. Even when things go wrong in the morning, a major difference between handling the problem well and completely going off the rails on a crazy train is whether you are well-rested or worn out.

Make sure everyone is going to bed early enough each night so they can wake up on their own, without the help of an alarm clock. This way you'll avoid those frayed nerves, and your kids will be able to think more clearly to stay on track and get out the door on time.

10. Early to Rise

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If you follow number 9 and go to bed earlier, you should automatically be able to wake up earlier without suffering. Catch up on sleep and choose a bedtime that's early enough so that waking up early won't hurt.

Having more time for a leisurely morning will help avoid rushing and panicking, forgetting things, speeding tickets, being late, and other unnecessary headaches.

11. Make Your Bed Before Your Feet Hit the Floor

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There's a way to make your bed in no time flat, before you even get out of it. Sit up in bed and arrange the pillows behind you at the headboard. Next, peel the quilt down just enough so you can straighten out the sheets and blankets and pull them up to your waist. Fold them over neatly at the top with about a 6 to 12 inch fold. Then pull up the quilt so it covers the fold of the sheets and blankets.

Carefully slip out of bed, then complete the job by pulling the quilt up over the pillows. Voila. No running from one side of the bed to the other, and an easy technique for kids to learn.

12. Follow a Progression Through the House

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Once your bed is made, head straight to the bathroom to get dressed, wash your face and brush your teeth and hair. This way there's a smooth progression through the house and less chance for distraction. Hungry tummies want their breakfast in the morning, but it only takes a minute to throw on clothes first, as long as you remembered to put them in the bathroom the night before.

If everyone is dressed first thing, then there's no trying to wrangle kids (or adults!) away from the computer, TV or toys while they're still in their jammies. (Speaking of computers, it helps to shut it down the night before so that it's not beckoning everyone who walks by in the morning.)

If toothbrushing post-breakfast is desired, then keep an extra set of toothbrushes and toothpaste downstairs and let the kids use the downstairs powder room if you have one. This avoids extra trips through the house that can lead to diversions and getting off track.

13. Make-Ahead or Quick Hot Breakfasts

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If you aren't nuts about cold cereal for breakfast, then consider making a batch of fancy old-fashioned oatmeal on the weekend with cinnamon, dried fruits and walnuts so it only needs to be warmed up in the morning. You can also do a make-ahead egg, cheese and sausage casserole or these adorable egg, toast and bacon muffins.

If you'd prefer a freshly cooked egg in the morning and don't want to take precious extra time to heat a pan, then you can follow these guidelines for nuking eggs in the microwave for a lightning fast egg breakfast.

14. Use a Timer and a Task List

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When developing a routine, it helps to use a task list and a timer to get the timing of your routine down pat. This way you and each of your kids can learn how long each task takes and what time each item needs to be accomplished to get out the door on time in the morning. Once you have your timings down, you can use the beep of the timer to keep everyone moving towards the next task.

Form your task list by writing down each task that needs to be done, from using the bathroom and getting dressed, to eating breakfast and saddling up with book bags. Mark the length of time needed for each task. Build in a buffer of a minute or two to transition between tasks.

In addition to a task list, a Google images search for "morning routine chart" will give you great ideas for print-outs that will keep your kids on track.

Hopefully with the help of some or all of these 14 tips, your mornings will start to look a lot brighter, easier, and breezier.

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