THE BLOG
09/25/2015 04:35 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

10 Strategies to Improve Your Morning Routine

By Laura Gaskill, Houzz Contributor

With the first weeks of school underway, and most adults settling back in to work (however grumpily) after vacations, mornings are bound to be more hectic. From searching for missing shoes, backpacks and important papers to remembering all of the minute details of shifting daily schedules, the tasks of the early hours of the day can put everyone out the door in a sour mood (not to mention late). A well-choreographed morning routine, on the other hand, can help start the day on a positive note, and can give you the opportunity to connect with your family or gain some extra personal time. Take a deep breath -- tomorrow is another day, and with a bit of planning (and these 10 strategies), it can start off without a hitch.

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First figure out what's holding you up. If you find yourself running late (or nearly late) in the morning, the first step to taking control of your time is to identify how you are spending it. Where does your routine tend to veer off track? Look over this list and see if any fit.

-Hitting the snooze button repeatedly, or sleeping through the alarm, then rushing to get ready
-Getting the kids ready takes forever
-Just sipping coffee, reading and browsing online make the time get away from you
-Can't find anything to wear
-Can't find essential items (keys, phone, bag) as you're about to head out the door
-Forgetting about things you need to bring (lunch, signed papers, gym bag) until the last second

The Strategies

1. Get dressed first. Instead of sipping coffee in your PJs, try making a practice of getting dressed first thing. Whether or not you have kids, if you leave your own getting ready to the last minute, mornings will always feel crunched for time. If choosing an outfit tends to eat up a lot of time, select it the night before, including accessories -- then you can just put it on in the morning, and you'll already be a step ahead.

2. Review the calendar over a cuppa. Make a habit of looking over the day's schedule while you sip your first cup of coffee or tea -- knowing what's on deck will help ensure that you don't forget any key papers or supplies. Whether you prefer old-school paper or an app, be sure to use one calendar for the entire household so you can sync activities. And if checking the day's schedule reminds you of some key item you need to bring with you, grab it right then and put it in front of the door where you won't miss it.

3. Use a big wall clock to stay on track. Sure, you can always glance down at your phone, but there's something about having a nice, clearly marked wall clock that makes it easier to keep schedules running smoothly. Plus, if you tend to get distracted by your phone when you check the time, this can help cut down on aimless browsing.

If you've been underestimating how long it takes to complete morning tasks, keeping track on the clock can give you a clearer picture of how much time you need to get ready and leave. You may find you need to get up earlier, or shift some activities to another time of day (like prepping lunch the night before), to get out the door on time.

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4. Use a timer. If there is a particular part of your morning routine that you either (a) dread or (b) spend too much time on, using a timer can help speed things along. For instance: Set a timer for 10 minutes to enjoy your coffee and catch up on email, but when the timer goes off, immediately get up and move on. Or set a timer for five minutes and see if you can pack all the lunches before it goes off.

For kids, using a stopwatch can be even better than a timer, since it turns getting ready into a race -- use it to time them putting on shoes or cleaning up toys, and see if they can beat their own record. Just don't make breakfast a race ... no one wants to start the day with a stomachache!

5. Dangle a carrot. It was impossible to get my son motivated to get ready for school in the morning, until we started leaving early enough to play on the playground or have a scooter ride before the start of school. Now (most days, anyway) all it takes is a reminder about the extra playtime to get him to cooperate.

And if you're the one who has trouble getting out the door on time, find a treat worth leaving the house early for, whether that's a refreshing walk by the water or a cup of coffee at your favorite place.

6. Have a precise place for every single thing you need in the morning. The more specific, the better. A dish for the car keys, a tray for your phone and wallet, wall hooks for backpacks and jackets, and a wall-mounted letter sorter can all be useful additions to the entryway, if used consistently.

Papers can be especially problematic, so it helps to be a stickler about sorting -- letter sorters are great, but only if each slot is labeled and used as intended. Sort in a way that makes sense for your household. Just make sure to have a way to keep important outgoing papers (like school forms that need to be returned or bills to be payed) separate from the rest of the onslaught.

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7. Add little conveniences to the entryway. For instance, I've started keeping a hairbrush in a drawer by the front door to give my son's hair a swipe before we leave, which saves a last-second trip back upstairs to search for it. Other items you might find helpful:
-A pen for signing school papers
-Sharpie and name labels for sticking on things before they go in the backpack
-A spare phone charger
-A stash of clean kids' socks
-Nonperishable grab-and-go snacks

8. Try some alarm clock tricks. If all the strategies in the world won't help because you simply can't seem to get out of bed on time, you may need to change your waking-up routine. Here are a few tricks to try.
-Put your alarm out of reach, so you have to actually get out of bed to turn it off.
-If you've been using your phone as an alarm, try an old-fashioned alarm clock -- they tend to be louder and more annoying.
-Pretend you have something super important to do. Have you noticed that it's easier to get up early on an important day, like your wedding, or the first day of a new job? Before going to sleep the night before, take a moment to think about what time you need to get up and why it's important that you do. In my completely personal and unscientific research (on myself), this does seem to help.
-Get up earlier gradually. If you've been waking up way too late, start shifting the time you get up by no more than 20 minutes earlier each day.
-Get to bed earlier. If you're short on sleep, mornings will continue to be hard.

9. Unpack first thing. Your getting-home routine is just as important as your morning routine in ensuring that you get out the door on time. When you arrive home, don't just fling your things down anywhere. Take the time to unpack all of your bags, hang up coats, file papers and put your keys and phone in their places. If your children are having trouble following a getting-home routine, hold off on an after-school snack or screen time until their stuff is away, and pretty soon it will be second nature.

Kid-friendly tip: Add a few low hooks. Starting young children on positive, doable habits, like hanging up their own backpack and coat, paves the way for more complicated responsibilities later on -- not to mention makes your life a bit easier! Hang a few sturdy wall hooks within reach to make the job easier for little hands.

10. Set your routine in stone. The great thing about a routine is that the more you do it, the less you have to think about it. It's like how a dancer learns a complex routine. When you practice the same movements over and over again, your body remembers. So, while it may feel a bit regimented at first, deciding on a certain order of business for your morning (and sticking to it) will make things easier in the long run.

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