In an ideal world, all of our mornings would be relaxed, unhurried times to eat a nice homemade breakfast, enjoy a quality cup of coffee, and just lounge around or read a favorite book.
The reality for many of us, though, is that mornings are about cold, ruthless efficiency: getting up, getting ready, and getting out the door for school or work. And if you have kids, they add a whole ‘nother chaotic dimension to this process.
And so, our mornings inevitably feel rushed and stressed, and we therefore start the day on precisely the wrong foot. Our brain takes that bad start, filters the rest of our experiences through it, and tinges the entire day with a poor hue.
Is there a way to ensure your mornings get off on the right foot, though, and set your whole day up for success?
Of course there is! One of the keys is streamlining — putting systems in place to ensure your morning is as efficient as possible, while also providing some ritual and joy as well.
Much of this requires prep the night before, but I’ve found it can actually be sort of soothing to prep for the next morning knowing that you’re taking a load off your future self.
1. Establish a Routine in the First Place
If your mornings feel rushed, it’s quite possible that it’s because you lack a routine at all. When it comes to streamlining, the first step is to ensure that you have a rock-solid morning routine that gets you and your household out the door with the least amount of fuss.
Without a routine, every phase of your morning is interrupted by the need to make decisions. What to make for breakfast. What to wear to work. What to pack for the kids’ lunches. What to do with the 10 extra minutes you always have after the kids leave for school and before you have to get to work. Each choice eats up time, fragments your flow, and creates decision fatigue before you’ve even left the house!
With a routine in place, your decision-making is taken care of, and your morning can largely run on autopilot.
Have a set wake-up time that isn’t deviated from; know the exact first three things you’ll do upon waking (shower, coffee, breakfast); know how you’ll spend that modicum of free time (reading a book, journaling, etc.).
Get a routine in place (remaining open to modifying it as things change), and 75% of streamlining your morning is already done. Now let’s get into some specifics.
2. Automate Your Coffee/Tea
While I tend to advocate for making time to turn your morning coffee into a ritual, I get that for some folks it’s just not that important. It’s more fuel and energy than languid pleasure. If you’re in that camp, there are a couple things you can do to automate, or at least speed up your morning beverage.
First, you can get yourself a coffee maker that has a timer built in to brew your coffee at a set time each morning, so that it will be hot and ready as soon as you hit the kitchen. If you want to maintain quality, get one with a grinder built-in; freshly ground beans will always beat pre-ground coffee thrown into a filter the night before. If you’re a tea person, you can get electric kettles with timers built in (though you do still have to add/steep the tea yourself).
In the summer months, you can also switch to cold brew if that’s your thing, which just requires the coffee being pulled out of the fridge and poured into a glass. No muss, no fuss.
If coffee is an important ritual for you, but it makes your morning a bit more harried, commit to waking up 10 minutes earlier. Just 10 minutes is all it takes, and you’ll find that it’s worth it if that practice helps set your mind right for the day. This of course goes for any other ritual you’d like to incorporate into your morning routine, and want to take at a non-frantic pace: prayer, meditation, journaling, reading, etc.
3. Pick Out Your Clothes the Night Before
While some titans of industry can get away with wearing the exact same thing every day, that’s not realistic for most people. It’s also just not very fun; your personal style should be something you enjoy crafting anew each day. What you can do is pick out your outfit the night before. If you’re bold, you can even plan out your entire week’s outfits on Sunday evening, not necessarily getting them out, but ordering them in your closet so you can just go to whichever set of clothes is next up.
This is all much easier when your clothes are actually organized rather that strewn about in a chaotic jumble.
If you have small kids, who don’t have strong opinions and won’t want to choose what they’re wearing based on their fluctuating feelings, do the same for their outfits. (Theirs are a lot easier to pick out for a whole week ahead of time, if for nothing else than their clothing is just smaller.) Note: This is especially helpful for dads who are dressing little girls. I can’t thank my wife enough for picking out our daughter’s week of outfits on Sunday.
Even if your kids are older and don’t want to decide what they’ll be wearing a week ahead of time, you can still have them pick out what they want to wear the next day before they go to bed.
4. Make Your Breakfast a Speedy, Routined Affair
There are a million ways to make your breakfast prep quicker in the morning. Most people resort to small, portable non-meals (granola bar, piece of fruit, etc.) or something incredibly unhealthy (McDonald’s). Ideally, you want to strike a balance between nutritious (at least somewhat!), real (rather than processed), and filling. But it’s difficult to get all 3 without sacrificing a good chunk of time in the morning to prep.
That’s where the make-ahead breakfast comes in handy. While there are numerous options out there on the internet (overnight oatmeal is a particularly good pick), we have two supremely delicious, real, better-for-you-than-processed options here on the Art of Manliness: make-ahead breakfast sammies and make-ahead breakfast burritos.
Both require prep, of course, but then they just go in the freezer and can be pulled out and made in a couple minutes in the morning. Make up to a few weeks ahead at a time. Not only will your mornings be streamlined, but you’ll have a delicious and filling breakfast too. Win-win.
Kids can of course eat these as well, though there are other kid-friendly streamlining options here too. Whip up a batch of protein-packed pancakes at the start of the week, perfect your microwaved egg-in-a-mug, etc.
5. Pack Your Lunch the Night Before
Not only does packing a lunch versus eating out save boatloads of money, it’s also guaranteed to be the healthier, more nutritious course. But then morning comes, and you’re rushing around, and you don’t even think about lunch before you’re already in the car. Eating out again!
Instead, make a point to pack your lunch the night before (I always thought this steamer bag idea from Primer seemed like an awesome way to easily create nutritious and delicious grab-n-go lunches). Pre-planning allows you to make healthy choices before you need to actually make those choices. And if not actually packaging your lunch for the next day, at least think about what you’re going to bring so that the mental prep, sometimes the hardest part, is done ahead of time. Often, you simply stall because you can’t figure out what to bring, and then . . . eating out again!
If you have kids who a) bring their own lunch to school, and b) aren’t old enough to prep/pack it on their own, this is a game changer. Sure, it takes work to pack things the night before, but it makes mornings so much smoother. I’ve found it’s actually easiest to do right after dinner and before you’ve even cleaned anything up. While everything is still out, pack up some leftovers, cut up some fruit/veggies, throw it in the fridge, and you’re good to go.
6. Get Up Just a Bit Earlier
While many articles about making your mornings better say to get up way earlier, I’m advocating for rolling your alarm back just 10 or 15 minutes. If you already feel frazzled by the time you leave the house, those 10 minutes will make a bigger difference than you think. Use them for those aforementioned mind-centering rituals, or even just as some extra wiggle room for troubleshooting whatever might come up.
I know it’s hard to get up earlier than you really need to, but when it’s just 10 minutes (start with 5 if you need!) it’s a lot easier to swallow. I can pretty much guarantee that if your mornings are consistently stressing you out, the 9am version of yourself will thank the version who got up at 6:15am instead of 6:30am.
There’s plenty more you can do to streamline your mornings, many of which will be applicable to your specific situation. But these things listed above are pretty much universal and can be applied to most households. Use them to get started, and then think about other things you can implement to streamline even more.
A good morning makes not only your morning better, but kicks off a compounding effect that will improve your whole day.