Back to School: The first step in setting up a routine that actually works

Whether you're ready for back to school time or not, it's here!  Check out this blog post for to help make your day- and your kids' day- run as smooth as possible! Morning routines are essential!

Three words.

Three. Little. Words. 

Seemingly innocent yet wielding all the power in the universe. 

Three words which strike a deep visceral reaction in all who hear them.   Which possess the power to bring a strong woman to her knees in seconds.  Which, whether tugging on a tightly coiled aversion or igniting a long awaited relief, refuse to be ignored.

Back. To. School.

Did you just shiver like the hyenas in The Lion King when one of ‘em said “Mufasa?”  

If not, let me say it again. 


I personally believe that there are two distinct camps in the ole’ Back to School debate.  We’ll refer to them simply as Camp One and Camp Two.  

Camp One consists of those who swear on their best friend’s dog that school just let out a half hour ago.  Those who hold up Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” lyrics with the line “school’s out FOREVER” highlighted in day-glow yellow imploring someone, anyone, to explain why this commandment is being set aside.  

They point to sweltering temperatures and wide-open swimming pools with their mouths agog in confusion.  “But...but…it’s not yet even August,” they whisper, each barely audible word forced through pursed lips cloaked in despair. “How can this be?”

Camp Two folks?  Well, Camp Two folks look like they’re the guest of honor at the house party to end all house parties.  An embarrassingly lavish house party, the envy of celebs and royals alike, the likes of which has never been previously experienced in the history of man and will never be experienced again.  

A party so magical that, for just a few enchanted hours, clothing that hasn’t fit in years hugs the body as if it wasn’t hanging mockingly in the back of your closet just the day before.  A party so purely blissful that you--the TRUE you--is finally released from the bondage in which you’ve been ensnared seemingly forever.

Yup.   Those three little words up there?  They elicit one powerful reaction once they’re uttered.  And a luke-warm response is rarely an option. 

Being a former teacher, I could rename the above-mentioned camps as Students/Teachers and Parents, but--since I’m sure there are exceptions, defectors, and spies in those two groups--we’ll just leave it at Camp One and Camp Two.  

The week before school started back for me as a teacher?  One year I vowed to sit on the couch with the lights out, no music, no TV, just so I could be completely out-of-my-mind bored, therefore causing time to pass more slowly.  I’m not proud of that fact but wanted to share it, so others who currently find themselves in a similar situation don’t feel so alone.

Regardless of where you fall on the YES-THANK-YOU-FINALLY or NO-NO-I-REFUSE-TO-ACCEPT-IT spectrum of Back to School acknowledgment, it’s comin’ up fast!  Those ten-pound packs of notebook paper and hay bale sized cartons of good ole’ Number Twos are flying off the shelves.   

We’ve gotta get you ready!

To do that, we’re gonna do three main things. First? We’ll look at the anatomy of a day in the life of you and your student(s). Next? We’ll figure out exactly where in that anatomy things have gotten ugly for you in the past.  Finally, I’ll put forth some easy to implement solutions to hopefully cut that ugly off this year before it has a chance to rear its head again.  

You ready? 

The Anatomy of a Day

So let’s look at a typical day for your family during the school year.  

For our intents and purposes, our day will begin at 6:00 am and end at 9:00 pm.  I realize that many of you get up earlier and stay up later, but starting with these parameters will leave you with some wiggle room.  

Let’s pause here for a second and talk trouble.  

One of the biggest mistakes people make when trying to schedule their day is that they divvy it up WAY too much.  Instead of automating the day, it ends up overwhelming it.  If you get off schedule by even a few minutes you’ll feel like you’re behind the eight ball for the rest of the day. 

What you want to do instead is to set your day up so you feel successful.  The key in doing that is to allocate purposeful blocks of time that allow for productivity AND flexibility within them.  You want to make yourself feel like you have options instead of rigidity.  

Now let’s look back at our 6:00 am to 9:00 pm block of time.  

We’re going to call these our waking hours.  

Your first inclination is going to be to start a to-do list that you need to accomplish during those waking hours.  DON’T DO IT.  Not yet, anyway.  Before we start looking at individual tasks, let’s figure how our day breaks down.    

There are three main time blocks that most people think of when looking at their day: 

1. Before Work/School

2. Work/School

3. After Work/School

It’s pretty much a no brainer, right?  The thing is though, there are actually FOUR main blocks of time in your day.  See, that last block of time should actually be split in half.   

From here on out, I want you to start thinking about your day in terms of the following four blocks of time: 

1. Prep for the Day

2. Work/School 

3. Decompress

4. Prep for Tomorrow

You noticed I changed the names for most of them too, right?  There are two main reasons for that.  

First of all, looking at your day just in terms of work or school isn’t healthy.  It makes it seem like your life completely revolves around work or school.  I realize that the bulk of your time is spent at work or school, but that doesn’t mean that your life should be work or school centric.  (Could I say the words “work or school” ANY more?)

There’s more to you than just what you do.  You’re a much-loved daughter of the King after all!

Secondly, the new names reflect the purpose of each block of time. They clarify what you’ll be doing during each block and will make it easier to figure out which tasks should be assigned to which block. 

Now, I’m not in your home with you.  I don’t know what goes on during those blocks of time, but I’m pretty sure it involves, at least on occasion, some screaming, crying, fighting, cursing, digging madly through piles of crap to find keys/homework/the dog, and locking oneself in the bathroom to get away from it all.  

Our goal for this school year is to minimize all that. 

(I wish I could promise you it wouldn’t happen at all, but that’s just not realistic.  The world is fallen.  Life is messy.  Stuff is gonna happen.) 

And the first step?  

The first step is simple:  

Start thinking of your day in those four purposeful chunks up there. 

I know it may seem silly, but there’s a shift that WILL happen that’s going to make a huge difference in your life.  

See, right now, the goal is to just get where you need to be.  There’s a mad rush to get up and out the door.  Craziness ensues when you finally get home again trying to do dinner, homework, and to-do items.  

A few hours later you finally face plant into your bed for not nearly long enough only to wake up to do it all over again.  Weekends, instead of being restful, are used to play catch up, and, before you know it, Monday morning arrives.  Again. 

Just getting by isn’t good enough anymore.  Making deadlines and getting stuff done by the skin of your teeth is no way to live.  For you or your kids.  

If you’re thinking you could get on board with me, I’ve got a little homework for you.  I want you to think about last school year.  Think about what worked--the stuff that you did that made the day run well/easier/better. 

Then think about where the rails came off--the stuff that you’d rather shove your arm in a meat grinder than repeat.  Take some notes.  Or better yet, leave your thoughts in the comments section.  I’d love to hear ‘em!

Keep your eyes peeled for my next post.  It’s SOLUTION filled!