A few years ago, I read a Real Simple article about how several women had reformed their mornings. They wanted the daily trip out the door to be less chaotic. More calm. One woman who was responsible for getting her three young daughters fed, dressed and to school on her own actually spent what sounded like an hour the night before getting everything ready for the mornings. She orchestrated the morning madness to the point of making sure all shoe laces were loose (in shoes lined up by the door, naturally) because she claimed a single tight knot could throw a wrench in the whole works.
That image must have stuck in my mind, because when I started researching “What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast” last fall, I hunted down the story. When I reread it, though, from the perspective of being a mother of three children myself, my thought wasn’t “how smart!” I spent this past year doing three kid duty a few mornings per week (on the days my older two both had preschool). At first, I tried to get uber-organized: laying out clothes, pouring juice the night before so the boys wouldn’t be asking me to pour juice in the morning at the precise moment the baby was wailing to be nursed. But then I had a realization. I was spending my precious evening time doing nothing more productive than getting ready to face the next day. And no matter what I did — no matter what — the last 10-15 minutes were chaotic. They were chaotic if I was up at 6 a.m., and they were chaotic if we somehow miraculously overslept and got up at 8:20 to be out the door by 8:45. You can lay out shoes, but a child can move his shoes. You can lay out clothes, but a child can decide they must be changed, or he can drop his shorts in a puddle of water on the bathroom floor when he takes them off rapidly because he decides he has to go potty. The baby can need a diaper change or can spit up all over the place. The children can be angels, and then all of a sudden there can be a physically violent fight over who gets to climb into his car seat first. Some of these are what Donald Rumsfeld referred to as known unknowns. But I was always impressed by the quantity of unknown unknowns, too.
Once I realized that, I had a more profound thought: how could mornings change if you accepted that the last 15 minutes would always be chaotic? The best answer, I think, is to compartmentalize the chaos. Set an alarm for 15 minutes before your out-the-door deadline. Then relax and try to enjoy yourself before that. Linger over the breakfast table without looking at the clock. Start a 500-piece puzzle without fretting that you don’t have time. When the alarm goes off you’ll stop whatever you’re doing and run around like chickens with your heads cut off. But until then, the experience of time is vastly improved when you’re not filling all mental space with the question of what has to happen next.
Do you compartmentalize out-the-door chaos? Or have you found a way to deal with it?
In other news:
- I did a guest post for the Motherlode blog at the New York Times called “What the Most Successful Parents Do Before Breakfast.”
- Michelle Rafter wrote a fascinating blog post called “What Successful Writers Do Before Breakfast” — for which she asked several prominent writers how they spent their mornings. In very productive ways, it turns out!
- Katherine Lewis reviews #beforebreakfast for About.com: see “Make over your morning routine.”
- Modern Mrs. Darcy posts the results of her time log experiment in a post called “What I learned by keeping a time diary.“
- And I’m in Lifehacker, which is awesome.
Photo courtesy flickr user seanmfreese