So what tricks do you use to jump start your day? Or smooth your transition to evening? Spending a week recently with Stephanie and Matt, watching little Riley, and recalling the years of juggling children with life’s demands, I thought about how my routines have changed. Not sure how I can feel as busy as ever, but that’s life.
So here are my top 10 tips for getting out the door and having a productive day:
- Get up early! I try to get up by 5:00. When I build extra time into my morning, it doesn’t throw me off to have a second cup of coffee or to check my email. I don’t have to have the extra time to dress if I’m in a rush. But my days are much smoother if I have some quiet time up front. Worth the loss of an extra half hour’s sleep!
- Have a plan before I walk out the door. If I have things to drop off (dry cleaning, etc.,) I leave it at the front door, or put it in my car the night before. I list what I need to do so I don’t have to rely on memory, especially if my to dos include appointments.
- Take lunch. I usually see this one referenced as a strategy for saving money. You know, the encouragement to save the lunch money that adds up over a month’s time. But that’s not my incentive for eating in. Mine is two-fold. We have a huge parking problem at work, so by staying put, I don’t have that issue to deal with in the afternoon. And more importantly, I use the lunch break at my desk to check my email, make a quick call, or balance my check book. Just taking a few minutes to deal with some personal chores during the day frees evening time later.
- Keep lists, whether digital or on paper. Keep phone lists, grocery lists, errand lists, gift lists. It is always surprising to me how long it can take to get around to making a simple call or two if I don’t write it down as a to do. And I have to have reminders for grocery needs, birthday gifts, etc. When I see it, I do it.
- Leave a breadcrumb trail at work for the next day, especially when you’re out for the weekend, or for a longer period of time. I can’t tell you how often this has saved me. I keep a running to do list of work projects, deadlines, and chores, on my computer, just as I do for my personal life. I still sometimes forget something or get behind, but I have very few dropped balls using this low tech system. Other low tech ideas: I leave notes to myself on my chair at work. If I have to move something to sit down, I know I’ll see it in the morning. Or I put a note, print outs for a meeting, etc. on my keyboard. And if I need to take something home with me at the end of the day, I put it in my path out the door. Again, the concept is: if I have to step over it to go home, I know I’ll see it.
- Streamline errands. I try to limit my grocery run to once a week. This cuts down on impulse spending and keeps that chore to a minimum. I actually like going to the grocery store. But I don’t need to do it every day. I especially try to limit errands after work, and I particularly limit my errands in the winter months. When it’s cold and dreary, I just want to go home. Batching errands on Saturday instead of spreading them through the week is better time management for me.
- If I don’t have a social commitment in the evening, I come in and do two things right away. I take off my makeup, and I get coffee ready to brew for the next morning. I love having most of my evening routine done long before bed time. And I love having hot coffee in the morning with no additional effort.
- ALWAYS do dinner dishes as soon as dinner is done. This is a rule I keep almost religiously. If I allow myself to get sidetracked, I find myself doing dishes at 10:00 o’clock at night, or whatever time we finish the movie, or game, etc., and I HATE that. I also hate seeing last night’s dishes when I get up in the morning. Best solution: as the old catch phrase goes, “just do it!” And then, (I realize this my not be possible with kids in the house) close the kitchen for business, except for beverages. Helps with late night snack cravings, and there’s no second round of dishes to do later.
- Go to bed at a reasonable hour. This should be an easy one, but apparently for most Americans, it is quite the challenge. So I challenge you: choose your bed time, rather than staying up until you fall over. Take control of yourself, and definitely, if you have young children, take control of them. The best gift a parent can give to themselves (IMHO) is some quiet evening time after kids are in bed. (Good for the kids to have structure too.)
- And finally, this is all easy stuff…but the key to making it work is to make it a routine. If you don’t have to think about managing your time, if you automatically write things down as you think of them, or follow a regular pattern for the beginning and end or your day, you’ll find that the small tasks that underpin your day become ingrained. And as your habits become routine, they begin to support you. You’ll find yourself more organized with less effort, and sometimes, you may be surprised that you can operate so automatically, you don’t even remember doing some of the things on your list. That’s ok…better to be able to do the mundane things of life with little to no thought. There are plenty of bigger things to put that brain power on!