The key to a calm and productive day

By Kiley Owen, PA-C

mother and daughter reading in tent at bedtimeThis past Friday I worked late in the hospital. The following morning my kids (ages 5 and 7) had their first soccer games of the season, starting at 8:30 a.m. 

It was tempting to sleep in until 7 or so on Saturday morning. But I got up at 6, mainly because I need my morning quiet time. This time of day, when the house is quiet and my mind is fresh, is sacred time for me.

As I enjoyed a cup of coffee and the peace and quiet, I thought about a game plan for the day. 

I thought about what hadn't been done over the past couple days, as I worked 12-hour shifts and my husband traveled for work. We needed groceries. The laundry was piling up. The yard needed mowed. I needed to do monthly bills. The kids probably had paperwork from school that required my attention ... .

It was all a bit overwhelming. So I decided to focus on one thing at a time.

I would start with the task of getting the kids to their soccer games that morning. 

The kids undoubtedly enjoyed some time with their grandparents over the past couple days, which is great. (We are fortunate to have my parents nearby.) But I wondered if the kids brought all their school and soccer stuff home. (They frequently leave things at my parents' house.) I had no idea where their team shirts were. Did we have clean shorts and socks for them to wear to their game? Where were their shin guards and cleats?

I know all too well how hectic a soccer Saturday morning can be, and I was bracing myself for the chaos that was about to occur.

Then I saw it, lying on the couch. A "gift" from my husband.  

No, not some trinket he picked up during his travels. He knows I'm not much into that. (We both prefer experiences over material items.)

I felt as though a majestic ray of light was beaming down on the couch, where I saw it — the kids' soccer shirts, shorts, socks, shin guards, and cleats were organized and laid out!

What a great surprise. My husband had the kids organize their stuff the night before.   

Relief swept over me. This "gift" from him meant a morning with less chaos and rushing. It meant a morning with more calmness and peace.  

colorful sweaters hanging in closetThis reminded me of a simple but powerful concept:

Success in the morning starts the night before. 

I find preparation the night before particularly helpful in these three areas:

  1. Having clothes planned and ready to wear.
  2. Having lunches prepared.
  3. Having daily "to-do" items decided.

Three reasons that preparing beforehand works to your advantage:

1. Avoiding Emergency Mode

Life is stressful enough. Why turn ordinary tasks (such as finding an outfit to wear) into urgent matters? When you do these things beforehand, it's a much calmer process. 

2. Batching

Batching simply means lumping together similar tasks to improve efficiency. Batch cooking is an example. Instead of making food for only one meal, you make enough for several meals. (You can freeze some or plan on a leftovers later in the week.)

Working on laundry? Why not go ahead and decide on seven outfits for the week? You can fluff them in the dryer, hang or nicely fold them, and have the outfits set out and ready to wear. Then you have one less task to do later. 

Putting away the dinner mess? Lunches for the next day can be prepared while the mess is out.  

3. Direction

"Either you run the day or the day runs you.” — Jim Rohn

to-do listBy taking the time to prepare for your day beforehand, you can start your day off on the right foot. A clear path has already been decided. You can avoid feeling like you are wandering aimlessly — busy but not making progress. You will feel proactive instead of reactive. 

Clearly, I'm not perfect when it comes to planning ahead. (Seeing as how my husband bailed me out last weekend.)

Admittedly, sometimes planning ahead is the last thing I want to do, particularly when I'm exhausted. For this reason, I find it helpful to do "planning-ahead" activities before it gets too late in the evening, while my brain is still functioning somewhat rationally and efficiently. :)

I try to remind myself that by planning ahead, I'm helping my "tomorrow self" to feel more calm, clear, and productive.

Kiley Owen is a physician assistant, blogger and preventive health enthusiast. This post — along with helpful links to other resources — originally appeared on her blog, makinghealthapriority.com.