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.
  • 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.

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.

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