The other day, I was chatting with a client about her return to work at the office next month. JoJo (not her real name) told me, "I have always hated mornings, but working at home has made it easier for me. I don't have to be completely presentable as long as I am working at 8:00. And I don't have to commute, so it's not as big a rush. But leaving the house by 7:00 completely made up and ready? Ugh. How did I even do that?"
JoJo happens to have ADHD, so time management is a particular issue for her, but neurotypical folks can use the same strategies. Because no two brains are the same, no solution is universal. I advocate an experimental mindset to identify what works for you.
Here's the plan that JoJo created with my help:
1) Shift bedtime and wake-up time gradually.
While working at home, JoJo has drifted into going to bed much later and waking up just before she needs to be online. We made a plan for her to change her wake/sleep times by 15 minutes each day from now until she returns to the office. That way, the change won't seem so abrupt, and she can accustom her body to waking up before sunrise. For bedtime, she will start a winding-down routine to help her sleep: no screens for an hour before bedtime, a cup of herbal tea, and processing the day in her Messy Planner. She'll use her alarm app to remind her to start the nighttime routine and set a timer for an hour so that she doesn't get too absorbed in journaling and stay up longer than intended.
2) Do as much as possible beforehand.
First, JoJo made a list of all the items she needs to do for a day in the office. From that list, we identified all of the things she could do ahead of time. Since JoJo is often exhausted in the evening after work, she has decided on a weekend routine, too.
On weekends, JoJo will look at her calendar for the week to identify deadlines, appointments, and errands. She also does menu planning and shopping. That's something we've been working together on throughout lockdown. When she returns to work, she'll add to that routine choosing outfits--right down to the jewelry for each day.
Before bed each night, she plans to make lunch for the next day and set out what she wants for breakfast in the morning. She has backup breakfast bars on hand in case waking up doesn't go well and she needs to eat during her commute.
She also keeps her office tote near the door. Anything she might need for work, she puts into her tote the night before.
3) Coordinate your plan with others in your household and ask for any help you need.
JoJo lives alone, but if your partner or roommate has a set schedule, you can follow their lead on what time it is and where in the process you should be.
If you have children, helping them get used to a regular routine using these same time management strategies will make the morning less chaotic. Depending on their age and abilities, encourage them to be as independent as possible, or even enlist them to help you stay on task, if that's their strength.
My spouse is retired, but he wakes up early and watches the local and then national news. I get up with him, or I ask him to make sure I'm up by a specific time. I know that I can sit with him until he has finished his breakfast, and then I must get dressed. When he switches to the national news, I should be on my way out the door. Just be sure to clue your time-keeper in on their role. I couldn't figure out why I was having a harder time getting ready on time a few months ago--he had switched up his local news-watching routine!
Even pets can be helpful. My cat begins waking me about 15 minutes before my alarm is set to go off, and the dog will bark at me if I'm not giving her meds by 7:30. If you can get a regular routine set, they will help enforce it (whether you like it or not).
4) Work backward from when you need to arrive at work and plan your morning schedule. Be sure to add a time cushion for unexpected events.
In the Before Times, JoJo aimed to leave for work at 7 am, which allowed enough time even if traffic slowed her down. Her challenge has always been doing all of her morning routines and actually leaving the house at 7. Together, we came up with a schedule for her morning (finish breakfast by 6:15, be dressed by 6:30, makeup and hair by 6:45, and so on). She'll put up sticky notes or signs in each room to remind her when she needs to move on to the next activity. She will also set an alarm on her smartwatch for 6:55 and she is committed to gathering her office tote and leaving the house when that alarm goes off.
5) Don't allow yourself to do "one more thing" before you leave. Instead, recite your "out the door" list.
"Oh, I have 5 more minutes. I can wipe down the kitchen counters." Half an hour later, you find yourself washing dishes, and you panic because you're going to be very late.
If this sounds like you, create an out-the-door list of the things you need to be sure you have done before you leave for work. JoJo's list is: "Meds, phone, lunch, keys, tote." When her 6:55 alarm goes off, she recites that list to verify that she's taken her morning medications, gathered her phone, keys, and lunch, and put them in the tote that she picks up on the way out the door.
In my house, my spouse recites my out-the-door list to help me. The last item is "cat." As with all of the items on my list, the problem is that I'm not mindful. I know I need to take care not to let the cat out of the house, but my brain is usually running ahead thinking Big Thoughts, as I like to call them. Having that reminder helps bring my brain back to the present so that I can scoot the cat away from the door as I exit.
If getting places on time is a challenge for you, figure out what your barriers are and try solutions until you find one that works for your unique brain.
Do you have a hard time waking up? Try different kinds of alarms placed a distance from the bed.
Is your challenge keeping track of the time? Using signs, alarms, and timers can help. Having a clock in every room or a watch on your wrist is important.
Are you always rushing around at the last minute, gathering things you need? Planning ahead and setting up a place for items you need to take with you can help. Having an out-the-door list for things you always need is also helpful, and can help avoid the "just one more thing" habit.
Sometimes it helps to talk through your barriers and challenges with someone who can help you try different solutions. If you face challenges organizing your time, work, or home, I'd love to help. Schedule a free consultation with me.