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My friend Brittany has a problem. She can’t get out of the house in the morning on time. No matter how early she wakes up, she can find a reason to be late. Laundry, phone calls, or lost objects are common time sucks.

“I dawdle,” Brittany reports.

Brittany doesn’t have a big issue with her lack of promptness, but her boyfriend who carpools with her does. Most days he makes her lunch while he waits for her to get her act together. She admits that she doesn’t even figure making her lunch into her morning routine any longer, if she were responsible for it, she’d be even more tardy.

“He likes having something to do while he waits for me,” she rationalizes.

Her lateness is starting to wear thin on her boyfriend, however, so she turned to me for advice. She asked if I could help her streamline her morning routine so that she could start getting out the door on time.

The first step in streamlining your morning routine is to discover how you’re spending your time. In my friend’s case, I think that her boyfriend might be a better person to track her morning processes. Either way, keep a log of how you spend your time from the point you wake up until you arrive at work. Keep this log for two or three weeks so that you get an accurate view of your typical morning. How long does it take to shower? Choose your clothes? Hunt for items you need to drop at the dry cleaners, post office, or child’s school? What throws you off track?

After you have a log of what you do, you’ll need to evaluate the information you’ve collected. What are the activities that you do every day that you can’t avoid (things like showering, teeth brushing, getting dressed, and commuting fall into this category)? List these items and their time requirements on a sheet of paper. If your commute time varies, find the average length of your commute times over the two or three-week period and use that number. Now, do the obvious and add up these numbers to make sure that you’re waking up at least early enough to achieve these essential tasks.

The next step is to evaluate those other tasks that don’t have to be completed in the morning. These are tasks like picking out your clothing, making lunches, collecting things together, or hunting for your daughter’s pony tail holder. Could any of these tasks be relocated to the evening beforehand? Could you make all lunches for a week on Sunday afternoon? How much time are you wasting every morning doing tasks that don’t have to be handled before work?

Here are some other questions to ask yourself:

How many times are you hitting the snooze button on the alarm in the morning? Do you need to move your alarm clock to the other side of the room? Resolve not to hit the snooze at all? Go to bed earlier?

Do you routinely pick out your clothes the night beforehand so that you can make sure your shirt is ironed, you know where both shoes are located, and your socks match? Do your children go through the same process?

Do you have a spot in your home where you put all items that you’ll need for the next day? Do you have a basket where your child puts forms that have to be signed for school so that last-minute tasks are kept to a minimum? Do you keep your keys, wallet, watch, and cell phone in a valet, purse, or on a landing strip so that you don’t have to hunt for them?

Do you take the time to read the paper in physical form when it might be easier to download a digital version and read it on an e-book reader or your iPod/cell phone on the subway/bus? Are you stopping to buy coffee every morning when brewing it at home would reduce the time involved (and the price tag)?

In the drastic measure department, do you need a different job that doesn’t care what time you get in to work? Is there a family in your child’s carpool that routinely makes everyone else late that you could tactfully un-invite from your carpool?

Once you work through this process, you should have a clear view of what is keeping you from arriving at work on time. Now, you have to take the steps to streamline your schedule and get your morning routine running on time.

Good luck to my friend Brittany and to anyone else trying to get your morning routine on the right track!

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This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

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    That post has been written for me… I always manage to be late almost everywhere ! Thanks for the advice !

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    Great advice, except I’m not sure about the “making all your lunches on Sunday” part. A sandwich made on Sunday is gonna be pretty soggy by the middle of the week.

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    @Michael: I’m with you, making all the lunches on Sunday doesn’t sound too appetizing to me. But you could get all your lunch supplies together on Sunday by making sure the shopping gets done so you don’t run out mid-week.

    The key to getting out on time in the morning is getting your act together the night before. Put your shoes, keys, backpack/briefcase and anything else that needs to leave with you in one spot by the door.

    If you don’t want to pick out your clothes the night before, at least check your closet to make sure you have a couple of outfit possibilities so that cuts time down the next morning.

    Be honest with yourself about the snooze button and adjust the alarm clock backward to compensate.

    Do you get sidetracked easily? If you’re hunting for a piece of paper you need to take with you, do you end up sitting down and reading through a stack of stuff and forget what you were originally looking for? You’ll have to STOP right then and ask yourself, “do I really need to be doing this RIGHT NOW”?

    If all else fails, make a cheat sheet for your routine the night before, put it by your bed and follow it to the letter the next morning. If you forgot to put something on your cheat sheet, skip it, but make a note on the sheet so you can add it in later. I offer this method for the chronically disorganized.

    I do some version of all these things because I hate to forget things. That’s why I keep a small pad and pen in my nightstand. I get in bed, think of something and jot it down next to me. When I get up, I see “Call about prescription,” so I don’t get to the end of the day and realize I’m out of something I need. I sleep much better because the paper does the worrying for me.

    Quit answering the phone when it’s time to go somewhere – the person waiting with the car running is more important than the phone call you’re taking. Give up the hunt for missing objects if you don’t need them at that moment. And do your laundry on a regular basis instead of when it’s reached crisis stage.

    Personally, I think it’s rude to keep people waiting on you constantly. You don’t have to be hyper-organized to get somewhere on time – just do a little advance planning and preparation.

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    I’m usually pretty organized before bed, but I never get get up when my alarm goes off. I did try moving it farther away, but it’s not far enough I guess.

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    This is cool, one of my most helpful things is to have a routine I follow before sleep and one I follow when I wake up. I also wake up much much earlier than I need to so I can have peaceful time to read news, email and process my tickler file.


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    “I dawdle.” That seems to be the problem. Any number of lists and preparations won’t solve that problem. She’ll just dawdle staring at the list and doing the preparations. It’s a much deeper motivation issue.

    One of my sisters would, after we finally roused her out of bed each morning, just sit on the edge of her bed with one sock on and the other in her hand and stare into space until we stuck our heads back in her room and urged her forward. This was a typical school day morning routine! She just hated going to school. But, even on the days when she was excited to go someplace during the weekends, her dawdling habits often kept her from being on time — though she was much less late than usual.

    There was nothing the rest of the family could do to make her change her ways, and we tried everything! She did much better in college and in her ultimate job b/c she could pick her schedule; and, since she became a nurse, she finally felt the need to get there on time for the sake of the patients under her care and the other hardworking nurses anxiously awaiting her arrival to be relieved of their long, tiring shifts! : )

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    Her story reminds me of something… I think it wouldn’t hurt for her to look at the subconscious aspects of all of this, too. Once upon a time, I could never get my act together and get out of the house organized or without rushing, despite having a “great” gig. One day I realized I wasn’t being too honest with myself– I hated the job and the too-inside-the-box path it put me on, but because the job was often praised as “great” and seemed to be something I wanted, I resisted admitting this to myself. Once I did admit it, though, and (more importantly) copped to the path I did want, things changed pretty quickly. I’m human, I still have my occasional rushed mornings, but it’s different now than it was then, and I find myself running into more and more people who created positive career changes in their own lives as a result of asking themselves if there was an underlying message to a given behavior.

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    In an issue of O magazine (that somebody gave me – perhaps with intent) there was an article describing polychrones and monochrones. Here:

    There are some great tips, like planning backward (which is where logging the time your morning routine takes comes in); and apportioning a good bit of your energy for the “dismount”. Since I identify with the former category, I found the article really helpful, and now have an easier time reminding myself that disengaging from an activity in favour of being less stressed in meeting time goals will help me to feel better in the long run.

    Because, I would suspect that, as in my own case, the problem in getting out of the house in the morning carries through the rest of the day. And so I’d also suggest something that I learned from FlyLady that really makes a difference — doing the parts of the bedtime routine that most affect me (the tidy-up, etc.) (oh, here: all the difference – as long as I keep it to twenty minutes or so (not into the wee hours, so I feel bagged the next morning).

    Also? Stay off the computer in the morning. See? Here it is, twenty minutes before I have to be somewhere and here I am, blabbering.

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