5 Tips for Going Back to School Without Loosing Your Mind

School started this week for my kids. It is bittersweet. Woohoo! For 3 hours I don’t have to worry when it is too quiet, sort out squabbles, or pay attention to anything but my own work. Dang! Now we have to get up at the same time five days in a row, brush hair, pack lunches, and wear clothes other than bathing suits.

I am so happy to have my time back, but I have to acknowledge that keeping my kids organized when I struggle myself is daunting. Parenting with ADD/ADHD can be difficult. It is enough most mornings to get myself out the door, on time with everything I need.  When you add walking and feeding the dogs, and two little people that have to be reminded to get dressed, eat breakfast, brush their teeth and hair to the mix, and I am overwhelmed at times
After arriving at school, one more than one morning, with no one’s hair brushed, including mine, I decided I needed a checklist, and a schedule for the mornings. I created a routine and started preparing as much as I could the night before. As a parent, I really want to help my kids learn good habits for getting out of the house in the morning. These are my top five survival strategies for back to school.

1.  Use scrap paper and make a morning checklist. Tape to to your coffee pot, or tea cup. For a more permanent solution use a write on-wipe off, or chalk board. Hang it on door that you go out in the morning. Nothing is too trivial, create little check boxes for hair, teeth, clothes, lunches, backpack, and anything special you need to remember.

2. Layout your clothes the night before. Get the kids to lay out their clothes. This avoids the last minute “I can’t decide what to wear” moments that can really derail the morning schedule.

3. Schedule times for breakfast, showers, clothes on, teeth brushed, and out the door. Be flexible, and always allow more time that you think it will take. Set a timer to go off ten minutes before you have to leave, this allows time for everyone to make sure that they are ready to go. This really helps if everyone has to leave at the same time. If you have staggered schedules for your kids set the timer accordingly.

4. Set up a family calendar. Use it. Commit to looking at it before you go to bed, and in the morning, after a caffeinated beverage of your choice.

5. Give yourself enough time in the morning. Do not be unrealistic about how long it takes to get everyone ready, and out the door. I have dogs that have never slept past 6:30. I depend on them to wake us up, and I never set an alarm clock. If you lack furry alarm clocks, or if your dog/cat is unreliable, be sure to set an alarm. Get up when it goes off. Ban the snooze button, it is so not worth the stress of rushing around.

Breathe. Expect the first month of school to be chaos. Work with what you have, and make changes little by little.  Bonus Tip: Always make sure that you have a comb in your car in case you still forget to comb hair.

Irregular schedules and Ten Time Management Tips

OH Yeah I OWN it! (Much to my wife’s dismay.)

Time. The most difficult thing in the world to get a handle on if you have an irregular schedule. Add in distraction issues, and you have a wonderful recipe for always being “a day late and a dollar short” as my mom often says.

 I have had an irregular schedule for most of my adult life. I have worked all three shifts at one time or another, worked 8 hour shifts, 10 hour shifts, 12 hour shifts, and everything in-between. I have gone to work on days when I was not scheduled, and not showed up when I was scheduled.  I have missed events, been early for events, and scrambled to make deadlines.

As difficult as it is to manage time for yourself, when you add one, more little people, the challenges of getting everyone where they are supposed to be with: appropriate clothes, homework, lunches, wallet, purse, backpack, book bags, show and tell items, etc.  multiply like rabbits in spring.

In my quest to find a system of time management, I wasted a lot of time trying to follow different popular organizational systems (Getting Things Done, 7 Habits, etc.) before I realized that most well promoted organizational systems are written by men who assumed that: 1) everyone works Monday -Friday, 9-5;  and 2) that there is a wife and/or staff somewhere taking care of the house, food shopping, cooking, bills, and the kids.
No time management system developed by a man has any reference about how to manage and integrate childcare, kids activity schedules, house maintenance, grocery shopping, cooking, laundry, caring for older family members, or suggestions about what to do if your kid gets sick, you need to go get them from school and you have 3 meetings scheduled. Knowing a fair number of men that are active participants in the care and maintenance of homes and children, these systems would not work for them either.

 The following tips are gleaned from my personal experiences, and various time management resources. My favorites are the classic by Julia Morgenstern’s Time Management from the Inside Out (buy the book here and  ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life by Judith Kolbery and Kathleen Nadeau (buy the book here).   Both books embrace the fact that people (read most often women) work AND have other responsibilities.

These are my top ten tips to save time. Some of them might save you money too.

  1. I lay out my clothes, and get the kids’ to pick out their clothes for the next day the night before. This saves fuss and bother in the morning about what to wear. In my house we can settle who’s turn it is to wear the purple owl socks the night before and avoid tears before school.
  2. Pack all lunches, book bags, your bag, etc. the night before. If you have leftovers, pack them into lunch size containers when you clean up from dinner. This saves time and money, not buying lunch and using up leftovers. 
  3. Have a family calendar posted where everyone can see it. For parents of teens, if you  work shifts, you may want to withhold your work schedule. Keeps the kids on their toes!
  4. Make a meal plan, use it! NO,  really it does help, the last thing I want to think about at dinner time is what to make.  Make sure you schedule really easy meals on nights that are busy, or you get home late. 
  5. Use the alarms and reminders on your phone. This has saved me from being late picking the kids up more than once. I can also really focus on what I am doing instead of looking at the clock every five minutes.
  6. Keep a running grocery list. Use it. Train your kids and spouse to use it. This saves you time by not having to run to the grocery store every five minutes because you are out of something.
  7. Limit your Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Google Plus time.  Hide the icons on your phone, heck, hide your phone if you need to! We all know how much time can be frittered away on social media. Pick your time, set a timer, and make yourself put your phone down.
  8. Stop hitting the snooze button. Really. Get up, and get going. You will not get the time back, and that extra snooze time is not worth the stress. 
  9. Let go of perfection. Good enough is often good enough. Stop wasting time trying to copy those Perfect Pinterest pictures and get on with your life.
  10. Use a planner. Plan creative time to pursue your projects. Plan time to be with your spouse/partner. Plan Family time. Remember the housework will always be there. Enjoy the people in your life.
Do these tips work all the time? Am I perfectly organized, never late and always prepared? No. Recently, as I was driving the kids to school, I looked in the rear view mirror and I realized that no had combed their hair, including me! I do the best I can. And carry a comb.

Life is a journey of constant corrections to stay on course. Sail On.

I would like to say that every morning before school is like this, but that would be a lie.