This week we’re revisiting an episode from the TPW archives in which I talk about re-evaluating our daily and weekly routines to make sure they’re serving us.
Heading back to school? Great time to evaluate and refresh our routines
This summer I’m doing something new: revisiting a few episodes from the TPW vault. Like we did in episode 453 last month, this week we’re revisiting an episode from a few years ago that seems timely for today. This time we’re talking about reviewing and updating our routines for back to school, which we first discussed back in episode 157 as part of a back-to-school miniseries I did that year. I realize this may be more timely for those of us in the United States who are about to start a new school year (or in some cases already have!). The concepts apply any time we’re entering a new season of life, though, so in case you missed it before, here it is.
Be intentional about activities
A change in seasons is a good time to take a fresh look at the calendar and your commitments and activities. What are your priorities for this season–for yourself, your family, your kids if applicable?
- If you’re a student, are you focused on grades or building your resume? If the former, fewer outside activities probably best to allow plenty of time for study and doing excellent work on papers, etc. If the latter, then what activities would make the biggest impact?
- Same question for your family/kids. What’s your priority for them? (Everything can’t matter most; if everything’s a priority, then nothing is). If you have every kid signed up for every activity, take a look at that. How’s that working for you? If you and your kid are extroverts who thrive in that kind of full schedule, then go for it. If your priority is building a resume that will get your child into an elite school, then of course. But if not . . . if life is hectic and stressful and there’s crabbiness and exhaustion, then consider why you’re doing what you’re doing. Kids don’t need to do everything any more than we do. We need to model for them the value of creating margin in their lives–time to breathe, to think, to relax, to connect.
- For me, family came first. Protected time together. Each kid got one activity at a time. At least a couple nights a week we all needed to be home, without activities planned.
Streamline life by establishing routines
Benefits of establishing workable routines:
- Efficiency–anything we do the same way repeatedly we get better at / more efficient
- Avoid decision fatigue — especially in the morning
- For parents: Security for the kids–more calm
“Children especially need routine in order to feel safe and contained in a world that can be very busy and overwhelming. This is perhaps no more true than during times of significant transition, including the back-to-school period.” from Six Simple Routines for Back to School Sanity by Dr. Vanessa Lapointe on Huffington Post.
“When children can predict what’s coming next, they feel competent and are much more likely to cooperate.” from “Back to School: Are You Ready?” on BrightHorizons.com.
Can you give yourself a little “me” time in the morning before you must jump into the work day (or, if you’re a parent, before the kids’ routine begins?) This can be hard if, like where we live, the kids have an early start time or early bus stop time. But if possible, can give you a sense of calm, of having the day in hand, rather than feeling like you’re always trying to catch up.
Quote: “during the school year, I get up well before my children, and spend at least 20 minutes in meditation. I love that I start my day with something that is just for me — I can savor my coffee, enjoy the silence, and write in my journal. It is a sacred time that gets my day off to the right start.” from “Back to School Routines and Resolutions” by Sarah Rudell Beach on the Left Brain Buddha site.
Parents – If possible, start the day 15 minutes earlier than you need to so you have space for some actual connection with your kids. Several articles recommended this, including the one by Dr. Vanessa Lapointe (a registered psychologist and mom), who suggests
“Sitting down to a 15 minute breakfast together, snuggling up for a morning story, or sharing a warm cuppa something cozy are all ways you can get some QT in with your kids before sending them off into the demanding world of school. This routine settles their brains, priming them for an openness to learning, and shoring them up for the challenges that may come their way through the school day.” from Six Simple Routines for Back to School Sanity by Dr. Vanessa Lapointe on Huffington Post.
Sarah Beach suggests morning to-do lists or charts of the things that need to get done – she recommends Erin Condren’s customizable charts (link in her article) or having the younger kids go through magazines and cut out pictures of the things they need to do in the morning to create their own custom to-do charts. from “Back to School Routines and Resolutions” by Sarah Rudell Beach on the Left Brain Buddha site.
Kids are not as attuned to the clock as adults usually are, so they can lose track of time. Help younger kids keep track of the time by using a visual timer. Dr. Vanessa Lapointe recommends
“Time Timer (available as an app or an actual clock face) or a lighted timer such as Time Tracker, where the light slowly changes color as time ticks by.” from Six Simple Routines for Back to School Sanity by Dr. Vanessa Lapointe on Huffington Post.
- Time Timer: https://www.timetimer.com/
- Time Tracker (visual timer and clock): https://www.learningresources.com/product/time+tracker–174-+visual+timer+-amp-+clock.do
I vote for skipping morning TV–not for you, not for kids. Distraction for them. The news is almost always bad these days; maybe not the tone you want to set for your day. Perhaps play music that energizes or calms you (depending on what you need). I like to listen to podcasts while I’m getting ready, but don’t necessarily always have to fill the silence.
- Create a landing zone for backpacks, shoes, etc–anything that’s needed to get out the door in the morning. Corrall the stuff before it gets scattered.
- Wind-down time before homework (they’ve been “at it” all day) — snack, play outside, even a nap — suggest avoiding TV (if there’s an afternoon TV show they love, maybe record it on the DVR for watching on the weekend?)
- Set up a special place for homework, with the supplies they need, etc. One article offered a link to get directions for building a cute, functional desk for under $100 (DIY Ikea homework station on Your Modern Family).
- Prep for the morning
- Prep lunch–what can you do while making dinner to get lunch ready? (Get the kids involved in this)
- Homework check after dinner to avoid the bedtime panic of “I forgot to do X”
- What does everybody need for the next day–papers signed, backpacks loaded and put by the door–or even in the car
- Choosing clothes (yourself and the kids); Before bath/bed/TV, choose clothes for the next day, and lay them out or have a special hook for the next day’s clothes (some writers suggest choosing the entire week’s outfits on Sunday evening)
- Especially if you have an early day; need more sleep than you probably think in order to do more than just get through the day–if you want to excel and thrive, get to bed!
- “Most experts agree children need between 9 and 10 hours of sleep each night to be at their best, 8 hours would be an absolute minimum.” from Back to School – How to Get a Good Routine Going.
- What needs to happen so everybody can get to bed at a time that will allow adequate rest?
This can help us as adults wind down and be ready to rest. For me, I spend a little time in my Bullet Journal. Filling out my trackers, setting myself up for the next day–what needs to happen tomorrow? What do I need to do tonight to be prepared for tomorrow?
“Depending on their ages and how many children you have they may have different bed times. If this is the case, have the younger children choose their clothes for the next day before they take a bath, brush their teeth and put on their pajamas. Get them in the habit, or routine, of following a specific pattern each night. If you have them choose their clothing for the next day, take a bath, brush their teeth, get into their pajamas every night before they go to bed, you’re transitioning them into settling down. Having a set routine such as this, or any schedule you use as a family, will give them a strong sense of continuity and help them wind down.” from Back to School – How to Get a Good Routine Going
Turn off screens an hour before bed (good for ALL of us)
What if your child doesn’t cooperate?
If a child is generally not cooperative, this might require some thought and intentional action on your part. What is the root cause of that lack of cooperation? It’s not something you can quickly fix in the morning.
If a generally cooperative child is resistant in the morning, there might be an explanation for it. One writer notes: “Children may resist morning routines by arguing about breakfast food, debating about what clothes to wear, or playing when they should be getting ready to leave. Children often seek our attention in the morning, especially when we are rushing. . . . Our children soon learn that when they resist, argue, or stall, they get our attention.” This writer offered several suggestions for helping children gain a sense of control and responsibility, including:
- Encourage and remind, but try not to nag. Let them experience the consequences of procrastinating. This may mean missing breakfast or forgetting their homework.
- Establish an agreement that the TV doesn’t go on in the morning until the chores are done, if at all.
- Create a morning routine chart with your child, and involve your child by asking, “What’s next on the routine chart?” They can help cut out pictures and design the chart. Have stickers for your child to place on the steps she completes.
- Use an alarm clock in children’s rooms. This will ensure that you wake them up at the same time each morning and you haven’t gotten lost looking over your emails. This will help prepare toddlers for elementary school as well.
- Ask children whether they would like your help getting ready for school.
- Avoid lectures. Instead, asking “what” and “how” questions – such as “what happens when you don’t get dressed in the morning?” and “How do you feel about missing the school bus?” – will entice conversation with our children. These questions help children think for themselves, whereas our lectures may make them stop listening.
- Talk about times when you have procrastinated, what happened as a result, and how you felt about it. These conversations can be used as teachable moments for your kids.
- Plan ahead, and give your child enough time to succeed on his own. Remember to give reminders and establish clear expectations regarding his morning routine.
- Let your child know that you need her help and say, “I would appreciate you getting dressed so we can get to school before circle time.” This invites cooperation instead of defiance.”
(These suggestions are from From “How to Get Ready for School: Finding a Morning Routine for School or Daycare that Works” on BrightHorizons.com. There are tons of other helpful resources at this site.)
One writer suggested creating a “Calendar Central.” This is one big calendar where everybody’s activities go; it includes after-school activities, school programs, sports and dance practice schedules, and school lunch menus, etc. If your kids are older then perhaps you could share a Google Calendar or this purpose.
Babble.com offered a post with 20 Organization Tips for a Low-Stress School Year, complete with photos. It had great ideas like a family bulletin board, an after-school snack station, cubbies for school gear, using a shoe organizer for school/homework supplies. This article is an excellent resource if you need ideas for getting organized for the school year.
When it comes to organizing your home and life, I always recommend Lisa Woodruff (our guest on episode 122) and her excellent Organize365.com resources. After I’d put my notes for this episode together I was catching up on podcasts while driving and happened to listen to the latest from Lisa’s Organize 365 Podcast. I guess great minds think alike, because her episode 192 is on “Morning Routines for the Modern Day Woman”! I highly recommend you check it out. She shares in detail about her routines and why they’re different from what’s recommended by many productivity “experts.” She offers lots of great stuff in there, so definitely listen.
As we look for ideas and insights on how to manage our life and set up routines that work for us and our families, it’s helpful to talk to and listen to a variety of people–not because we’re going to copy other people’s lives, but because there is no one right way to do things. No one system, routine, or approach that will work for everyone. The point is to be intentional about it, recognize what isn’t working and what is, and adjust as needed to make sure the routines you’re following are serving you and your household.
What do you think?
Whether you’re a student or a mom or both, do you have any tips you could share on how to make your routines and systems work better at this back-to-school time? Share your tips and suggestions in the comments section below or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group, or email me!
Resources and Links
- Getting Organized in the New Year with Lisa Woodruff – TPW122
- Back to School Routine Review – TPW157
- The Quantified Self – TPW192
- From the Vault: Saying No Gracefully – TPW458
- Six Simple Routines for Back To School Sanity
- Back-to-School Routines and Resolutions
- DIY Ikea Homework Station (with built-in desk!)
- Back to School – How to Get a Good Routine Going
- Do It Now – Tips To Get Ready for Back To School
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Royse City, Texas