Let’s face it, mornings can be rough.
In a world where we’re always connected, it’s easy to start thinking about your workday to-do list as soon as the alarm goes off. The next thing you know, you’re worrying about how to manage your day before you’ve even gotten out of bed.
“We don’t turn off electronics. We don’t tune out the distractions,” said Kathryn McKinnon, a time management executive coach, speaker, and author based in Massachusetts. “There’s constant chatter going on all around us and in our heads, and the expectation is that we stay connected 24/7 and respond immediately to any call or request for our time and attention.”
Mornings can feel busy and rushed for personal reasons as well—whether that’s kids, a partner or spouse, or the fact that you’re simply not a morning person and you really want to hit that snooze button … one … more … time.
So how can you make your mornings run more smoothly? A few simple time management tips will help you get your day off to the right start.
Get it done the night before, and don’t get too far ahead of yourself
Getting a few things done the night before can make a world of difference in the morning.
Amy Cooper, CPA, an accounting instructor at University of Alaska Fairbanks, lays the kids’ clothes out the night before and makes a plan with her husband.
“My husband and I try the night before to figure out who’s going to take our son to the bus stop, who’s going to take our daughter to day care,” Cooper said. “We try to take care of any scheduling issues the night before. It makes for a much smoother morning.”
Lindsay Stevenson, CPA, vice president of finance at 1st Financial Bank USA, packs lunches for the adults and kids in her family the night before. That way, it’s just a matter of grabbing them out of the refrigerator in the morning.
In the morning, rather than thinking about the day ahead, focus on what needs to get done right now, Stevenson suggested. Instead of worrying about the big project due later in the day, concentrate on getting yourself ready and, when it applies, getting the kids up and out the door.
“I sometimes get caught up in all the things I have to get done today before I’ve even gotten dressed,” said Stevenson.
Stevenson said her family members aren’t morning people and points out it’s best to know what works for you. Most days, she said, a microwave breakfast burrito or cereal bar is a perfectly acceptable breakfast at her house and helps get everyone out the door on time.
Make your commute work for you
McKinnon said the morning commute, especially for those who commute by train or bus, can be a great time to set goals and intentions for the day.
“Highly productive professionals plan their day and prioritize their goals each day, week, month, and year,” McKinnon said. “They pay attention to how they spend their time and are able to sort out what is urgent and important from nonessential tasks.”
McKinnon suggested keeping all of your personal and professional activities in one capture system or calendar. Use that commute time to look at when you’re available during the day and prevent overbooking.
Those who drive rather than take public transportation may not be able to accomplish quite as much, but still, the commute can serve as a time to mentally prepare for the day.
Ways to make your commute productive can vary depending on your own lifestyle and needs. Stevenson has three children she drives to school and uses that time to talk about their day ahead.
Upon arrival at the office, map your day and set your priorities
Rather than diving into email, use the first minutes of the workday to map your day.
McKinnon suggested setting three major goals for the day and associating several tasks with each one.
“You need to keep a tight control over your schedule and calendar in order to stay productive and to accomplish what you plan to do for the day,” she said.
Know when you’re most productive during the day and schedule your most important tasks and projects during that time, such as working on a big project or an important meeting. Then use the times when you feel less productive to accomplish what McKinnon calls “easy wins.” Maybe you don’t want to schedule that big meeting right after lunch but rather work on a quick email response or make a short phone call.
When it’s not possible to map your day first thing, doing a little work the day before can really save the morning. Three days each week, Cooper arrives at work just 15 minutes before she teaches her first class.
“On my teaching days, especially if I teach a 9:15 class, it’s really important that I have as much done as possible the day before,” Cooper said. “I try to limit any last-minute stuff because it eliminates the stress.”