Sleep & Mornings

Your Evening Routine Is Broken

Your day’s fate is sealed long before the alarm sounds. To ensure a productive, positive tomorrow, get started tonight by following these 10 nighttime schedule rules.

A woman asleep in bed, soon to be late to work again
A woman lying in a bed with white sheets, pink sleep mask on

For adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), the way we start our morning sets the tone for the day. When we leave our house behind schedule, we’re late for work, and don’t have time to think about our work priorities. Instead, we dive in, feeling stressed, instead of focused for a productive day.

If you find yourself rushing around in the morning, and are scrambling to catch up several days a week, here are some steps to turn that pattern on its head, to begin your day on time and on task.

Devise a Smart Bedtime Routine

Starting your day well depends on a good night’s sleep and a plan for organizing things you will need for the morning. The less you need to do in the morning, the more likely you’ll get to work on time. An evening routine typically involves the following steps:

  • Lay out tomorrow’s clothes, down to underwear, socks, and shoes.
  • Place items and anything you’ll need to take with you on a “launch pad” — an area near the door from which you exit every day. Items might include briefcase, car keys, cell phone, purse, coat, umbrella, a grocery list, or dry-cleaning receipts.

[Free Resource: Get Control of Your Life and Schedule]

  • Prepare breakfast. Fill the coffee pot and program it to brew while you’re dressing. Place a clean coffee mug next to the coffee pot. Set the table for breakfast, putting out cereal boxes and unrefrigerated food items.
  • Prepare lunch. If you brown-bag it most days, make a sandwich or put a salad in an airtight container. If you will buy lunch, make sure you have enough cash to pay for it. Finally, prepare — or, better yet, supervise the preparation of — children’s lunches.
  • Log off the computer and shut off the TV an hour before bedtime. Studies show that watching TV or using e-mail or the Internet within an hour before turning in wakes the brain up, instead of preparing it for sleep.
  • Take a hot bath or shower before getting into bed. The gradual lowering of your body temperature as you cool off helps induce sleep.
  • Get kids into bed (or in their rooms reading quietly) an hour before your bedtime. Adults need to wind down and relax, without being “on duty” until their head hits the pillow.
  • Make sure that your kids’ bedtime routine mirrors yours. Lay out clothes, deposit items on launch pad, bathe.
  • Get into bed at least a half-hour before lights out. Read quietly, and not from a page-turner that will tempt you to stay up.
  • Set the alarm to give yourself a minimum of seven hours of sleep and an hour before departure time the next morning.

[Better Than Counting Sheep! Your Free Guide to Sleeping Better]

Morning Routine at Home

If you follow the evening routine, your morning tasks should run smoothly.

  • Get yourself ready — showered and dressed — before helping the kids get ready.
  • Don’t turn on the TV or the computer until all departure preparations are done.
  • Leave early enough to allow 15 minutes of slack time to compensate for traffic tie-ups or gassing up the car.
  • Leave 30 minutes early if you must run errands before work.

Morning Routine at Work

  • Plan to arrive at least 15 minutes before starting time, so that you have a planning period before you start your day.
  • Do not check your e-mail first thing; it puts you in a “reactive” mode — allowing others to set your priorities. Instead, set your own priorities by scheduling all your tasks for the day. You can see when you’re committed, so you’ll be less likely to allow interruptions. Schedule regular times for checking your e-mail, rather than allowing it to interrupt and drive the focus of your day.
  • Schedule big tasks first, before smaller, easier-to-accomplish items.

How to Build a Routine

A routine requires little planning or working memory. For tasks to become habit, though, they must be practiced regularly for several weeks. Here are the ABCs of creating — and sticking with — a routine:

  • For example, your evening routine might work best if you gather your belongings and prepare lunches before heading back to the bedroom to lay out your clothes and take your shower.
  • Post the steps in your routine in a prominent place — for example, on the refrigerator door or bathroom mirror — where you’ll be reminded of them.
  • If your routine must begin at a specific time, program your watch or a timer to go off five minutes before that time.
  • When you get off track because of illness, travel, house guests, or another unexpected event, set a specific day for resuming your routine.

[Tired of Feeling Tired? How to Solve Common Sleep Problems]

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  1. Hmmmmmm – with all due respect (and believe me, I do respect anyone who does this every night), someone to whom all this sounds doable and appealing is probably not subscribing to ADDitude. This is two hours work each night prepping for an event (tommorrow morning) that is still a long way off (tommorrow morning is not now), and denying me the one thing I look forward to at the end of a long hard day – spending an hour on the Internet. So, though I absolutely see the logic in this, the reality is it would rarely ever actually happen. Great concepts though. I wonder if I took meds if tommorrow morning would seem relevant at 8 pm and if I could tolerate the tediousness of spending two hours doing all this every….single….night.

    1. I agree with Smam. Maybe a few of these would make for a good routine, but the whole list? It’s a little… intense. And laying out tomorrow’s underwear Every. Day.? Maybe that belongs on an OCD website rather than on ADDitude…

      Also, I love it when “experts” suggest only checking email at a few, pre-determined times throughout the day. Has no one else worked in a place where co-workers will walk up and say “did you get my email?” 3.5 minutes after sending said email. That’s not really gonna work for a LOT of people.

    2. I do several things on the list each night that I’m working the next day – though the coffee is set to finish brewing before I wake up. It really does help, and I’m definitely Inattentive type. My husband on the other hand, is almost definitely Asperger’s (his friend who is diagnosed listed the symptoms,and he’s got most of them). I’ve got all my evening tasks (including things like feed/water dogs & rabbits- separately (daughter has cats and chinchilla), cat boxes, clothes, prep coffee), on the dry erase board – in wet erase ink (doesn’t rub off as easy), and check them off with a dry erase pen. Having the routine really helps.

      In the mornings, I take my gym bag with me every day, even if I’m not going to the gym, so that I don’t forget it when I do go, which has helped me remember my lunch a couple of times (gym bag and lunch box go in the trunk). Mind you, it doesn’t help if I don’t put my lunch in the lunch box, but no system is perfect. I still go to bed WAY to late, and it takes me 4 hours to do what used to take my husband 2 (before a leg injury left him in chronic pain and permanently disabled). Gym bag, lunch box, purse, and jacket (when needed) all are on or by the table. I never thought to call it a launch pad, but will now.

    3. Well, it is, I firmly believe at least in signifikant part a question + matter of commitment.

      Why? Because judging a routine as something “only OCD people would ever WANT to do…” is a personal opinion, not a symptom of ADHD or any other disorder for that matter.

  2. Really, this is great advice for everyone, but maaaaybeeee we need sime tricks for these tips.
    I had very much this routine in my 30s. Up at 5, breakfast at 6, gym at 7, work at 9. Everything was prepped the night before. The work and routine were exciting and all-consuming. Routine was externally set by work demands.
    In my 50s, without such constant pressure, it takes till 1am to choose which socks for a 6am start. Let alone the rest of the outfit. And I rearrange my launch-pad immediately prior to launch.
    Great ideas while we can sustain them… about 3 days tops.

  3. I find my day often works better if I start with something that gives me positive energy. Doing a big task first can be draining, and the supposedly easier tasks can then seem very difficult. Mixing and matching effort levels duing the day – where possible – can lead to a good day overall.

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