Emily Fitzgerald, founder of OLS Organizing, is one of only two certified professional organizers in Indiana, and yet family life is where she finds herself most in demand these days.
As the mother of 5-year-old Violet and 2-year-old Lance, along with personalizing a new home and scheduling clients, Fitzgerald has some clever tactics for tackling morning routines.
For us there is no TV until they are up, dressed, completely fed, with shoes on ready to go. Otherwise, you’re fighting a losing battle, she says. That goes for parents too – they need to lead the way and orchestrate the whole thing. If they’re lost in Facebook, and realize they’re running late, then that’s super stressful for the kids. You have to make it a team effort.
Pencils up, and prepare to have a productive morning:
The easiest investment in getting your family on a scheduled routine is buying the largest wall calendar possible for your space, and a rainbow of fine-point markers that you can select at most office supply stores. Select a calendar color for each family member to mark appointments, practices and deadlines.
If your family is tech-savvy, or you have a child who appears to be surgically attached to their smartphone, plug in those dates into a shared Google calendar with similar color coding. That’s also convenient when it comes to keeping extended family members and baby sitters who help out in the loop.
We have three sitters – Grandpa comes one day, Grandma comes one day and then a sitter. Then there are the schedules for my husband and I – he is a teacher and coach of two sports so there’s open houses, track meets and cross country meets on there, too. When I write them on the calendar, the sitters know to look for just the pink dates to see what Violet has going on.
The night before
Designate a drop spot in your home where you place all items (library books, backpacks, outgoing mail, keys, etc.) the night before so that everyone can grab and go in the morning. Fitzgerald also uses the space to keep their puppy’s dog treats and leash while he’s being trained to go outside. It can also be used as a docking station to charge cellphones, tablets and cameras.
My brain just doesn’t function as well in the morning, so something as simple as picking out clothes is something you can do the night before because you’re thinking more clearly, she says. If I have an early-morning presentation, I will make sure my props and work bag is already in the car. It’s one less thing I have to do.
Fitzgerald says to prepare a bag for each child and for each activity that child is involved in. Keep those packed bags in the drop spot or stored in a specific location if the bags are too bulky.
Keep everything you need packed and ready to go, she says. When Violet took ballet, we had the ballet bag. When the tutus would get washed I would put them right back in the bag. They don’t go up to her bedroom to get lost; they don’t get used for dress-up. It’s just helpful to have those bags all in one central area.
Fitzgerald says a great tip to remember, especially if you’re restocking a diaper bag, is to tuck in an index card that lists the items you need for the bag. You’ll never forget that pacifier again.
For your morning routine, make sure you and your troops have synchronized your time. Fitzgerald suggests keeping a timer in an area that everyone has to pass in the morning. She says that families often lose track of time when they get into the swing of things; an auditory alert brings back the focus.
For younger children, use signs to show what responsibilities should be done during the countdown. Fitzgerald suggests parents look into buying a Time Timer ($30 to $40 on www.timetimer.com). The time displays the countdown as a diminishing red disc.
A digital timer for kids doesn’t really work because they can see the numbers but their brains can’t process the passage of time by just looking at the numbers, she says. A lot of teachers use Time Timers because they’re so visual.
Also, chances are that something is bound to confound your morning, whether it’s a last minute homework assignment or a coffee stain on your shirt. Set your timer 10 to 15 minutes earlier than your departure to account for the unexpected. However, after you walk out the door, there’s no turning back for anything that won’t burn down the house. She says often one day of embarrassment serves as a better lesson than nagging.
You have to have natural consequences – if someone forgets gym clothes, a backpack or lunch box – don’t bail them out, she says. It’s super tempting, but our mistakes are our biggest teachers.