Make the Most of Your Mornings: Introduction (Day 1)

Fall is almost here and, for most of us, that means a new schedule, the resuming of school, and leaving behind the leisurely days of summer. I don’t know about you, but I always feel inspired to get more organized and back on track at this time of year.

One area that I really want to improve in my life is how I use my mornings. I had a great morning routine going before summer, but it all went out the window in July.

We weren’t on a strict schedule and I stayed up later than I should have many nights. This, in turn, meant that I got up later than I should have many days. By the time I got up and around and took the children to swimming lessons first thing in the mornings, it seemed like our day was half gone and I had little to show for it.

Summer is almost over and it’s time to get back on the ball — starting with my mornings. Because I’ve found that when I begin the day on the right foot, the whole day goes so much better!

And I’d love to have you join me! For the next three weeks, I’ll be hosting a Make the Most of Your Mornings Challenge here. We’ll be talking about specific ways to improve our productivity in the mornings, ways to make the mornings less stressful and chaotic, and how to start the day off well.

Each week day at 1 p.m. EST, I’ll be sharing some inspiring thoughts and practical steps to take to make the most of our mornings, I’ll be issuing a simple project or challenge for you for the following day, and I’ll be giving you an update on how my morning went and asking you to tell us how you’re doing, too.

Who’s with me?

Leave a comment if you’d like to participate and tell us what your biggest challenge is to having a peaceful and productive morning. And then come back tomorrow at 1 p.m. EST for tomorrow’s post and challenge. Let’s do this!

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Make the Most of Your Mornings: Your Day Starts the Night Before (Day 2)

If you want to make the most of your mornings, you can’t just expect to jump out of bed without a plan and somehow have all of the pieces fall into place for a very productive day. No, a productive morning is usually the fruit of planning and preparation. And it begins the night before.

To change your morning, you need to first change your evening.

If you go to bed late and the house is a mess, the dishes are piled in the sink, you’re way behind on laundry, you don’t have food for breakfast or lunches the next day, and you don’t even know what appointments or events are scheduled for the next day, no wonder you wake up feeling frazzled, stressed, and behind!

If, on the other hand, you go to bed at a decent hour, your house is picked up, you have clothes laid out to wear, breakfast is in the crockpot, lunches are made, and backpacks and your purse and keys are by the door, you’ve given yourself a huge head start on a successful morning.

Instead of trying to get up at some too-early hour and cram in a crazy amount of things in the morning, focus on changing your before-bed routine first. You might find that this is the thing that transforms your morning much more than getting up early does.

In fact, if you prep well ahead of time in the evening, you just might be able to sleep in a little bit more in the mornings. (I bet all of you non-morning people just let out a collective shout of “Hallelujah!”)

How to Set Up a Successful Evening Routine

1) Determine Your Bedtime

What time do you need to get up in the morning by in order to be out the door in time or start your day off on the right foot? Write that time down and then count backwards by 8-9 hours. Whatever time you land on is your new bedtime.

This is the time that you must be in your PJs, have everything finished for the night, and be in bed. No ifs, ands, or buts. I’m your new drill sergeant and you must do what I say, okay? ;)

Sticking with a consistent bedtime just might be your number one key to morning success. When you’re well rested, you have more energy, more clarity, and more productivity. Not to mention that you usually are less stressed, less irritable, and life just looks a lot rosier when your sleep tank is full.

2) Pick Your Top 5 Evening Must-Do’s

Once you have your bedtime determined, then it’s time to determine the five things that you are committing to do every evening before bed. I know you might want to come up with a list of 25 things that seem like they’d really be good to do, but let’s keep it simple and just pick the top five must-do’s.

You can make a list of 25 ideas, but promise me you’re going to whittle it down to just the top five for starters. Keep it simple and you’re most apt to actually stick with it and follow through with it. I’ve learned that one the hard way!

Possible Evening Must-Do’s

::Clothes Laid Out for the Morning

::Kitchen Cleaned Up

::Lunches Made For the Next Day

::Breakfast In the Crockpot (Or cereal out and cereal bowls and spoons set out on the table.)

::To-Do List Made for the Next Day

::Quick 15-Minute House Clean-Up

::Everything Together and Set By the Door That You Need For Getting Out of the House the Next Day

Once you have figured out your Top 5 Must-Do’s, write them down on a piece of paper and put them in a conspicuous place. You could even print them off in a cute font, laminate or stick them in a page protector, put this on your fridge, and then use a dry erase marker to mark each item off as you accomplish it each evening.

3) Plan Your Start Time and Stick With It

Think realistically how long it’s going to take for you to accomplish your Top 5 Must-Do’s and then work backwards from your bedtime to figure out your Evening Routine start time. In most cases, your start time is going to be at least an hour before your bedtime. I’d add in some extra time, just to be on a safe side and to give yourself a cushion in case something comes up.

Write this start time down on your Top 5 Must-Do’s List, set a timer or an alarm to go off to remind you when you’re supposed to start, and just do it. Stick with this for three weeks and I promise you’ll start to see some significant improvement in your mornings — and in your days as a whole.

At the end of three weeks, you can tweak your evening routine and even add a few more things, if you’re sure you’re up to it. If you miss a few days or have a few hiccups along the way, don’t be discouraged, just pick back up where you left off the next day. And remember, moving forward — even at a microscopic rate — is still moving forward!

Day 2 Project

1. Determine a bedtime. Follow the steps above to figure out what a good bedtime is for you and commit to go to bed at that time every single evening for the next three weeks.

2. In addition, pick your top 5 Evening Must Do’s, write them down, and commit to following them for the next three weeks.

3. Leave a comment telling us what bedtime you’re committing to stick with and what your you determined were you Top 5 Evening Must Do’s.

Tomorrow, I’ll share my bedtime and Top 5 Evening Must-Do’s and will check in daily here at 1 p.m. EST to tell you how it’s going for me and to see how you’re doing in sticking with it, too.

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Make the Most of Your Mornings: Getting Out of Bed On the Right Foot (Day 3)

Now that we have our plan in place for the evening and we have a set bedtime in place, it’s time to take about the first thing that has to happen if you want to start your morning off the right foot… getting out of bed.

For some of you, getting out of bed is simple. You wake up energized, refreshed, charged up, and ready to spring out of bed and take on the world. If that’s you, you can just skip this entire post — you’ve got a handle on this already!

For many people, however, getting up in the morning can be a challenge. You wake up feeling groggy and exhausted. You push the snooze button as many times as possible because you dread trying to pull yourself out of bed in the morning. You barely make it out of bed in time to throw on some clothes, hastily put your hair up in a ponytail, and dash out the door feeling unkempt and behind.

If the latter somewhat describes you, here are some advice and ideas for getting out of bed at a decent hour each morning:

1) Go to Bed at a Decent Hour

If you want to get up feeling refreshed in the morning, your first step is to go to bed at a decent hour so that you can actually get a refreshing night’s rest! If you’re tempted to stay up later than you should, remind yourself of how great you’re going to feel in the morning when you get up. And then go to bed.

Commit to sticking with your pre-determined bedtime faithfully for three weeks. Hopefully, at the end of three weeks, it will have become more of a habit.

2) Make Sure You’re Getting Enough Sleep

If you go to bed on time, but you’re still feeling groggy and out-of-sorts every morning when you wake up, it may be because you’re not getting enough sleep. Try going to bed 30 minutes earlier or sleeping in for an extra 30 minutes each morning for a few days and see if that makes a difference.

3) Do NOT Allow Yourself to Use the Snooze Button

For the next three weeks, the snooze button is off limits. Period. If you need more sleep, set your alarm to go off 15 or 30 minutes later rather than using the snooze button.

4) Make Sure You Have Something to Wake Up For

It’s much easier to wake up excited about the day if you have something you love waiting for you when you get up. I love the early morning hour of sipping my coffee, reading my Bible, journaling, praying, planning out my day, reading, and blogging.

This quiet time refreshes me and energizes me for the day ahead. And it’s something I look forward to waking up to each day.

By the way, I’ve also found it’s much more enjoyable to wake up to a clean room and clean kitchen each morning. There’s just something about being greeted by a shining sink that inspires me. But if I know that my house is a mess, it’s less motivating for me to get up in the mornings. That’s why I try to take time each evening to do a quick clean up — it makes the mornings much more enjoyable!

5) Get An Accountability Partner

Need extra help in pulling yourself out of bed? Team up with a friend who also wants to get up on time and make a pact to text, call, or email each other as soon as you get up each morning. If you know you have to “report in” as soon as you wake up, you’re going to be less apt to roll over and go back to sleep.

6) Get Up and Do Something

Instead of lying in bed making excuses as to why it’s okay for you to sleep in, get up and do something. Even if you feel tired at first, if you get up and take a brisk walk, take a shower, or do 25 jumping jacks, you’ll probably soon forget how much you wanted to stay in bed.

Whatever you do, when your alarm clock goes off in the morning, GET OUT OF BED. It’s the first and most important step to making the most of your mornings. :)

My Day 2 Project Update

1. I set my bedtime for 9:30 p.m. Jesse and I both agreed that we think this is a realistic time for me to consistently shoot for. However, I didn’t actually get in bed until 9:50 p.m. last night. But hey, that’s progress over what I have been doing the last few weeks!

2. My Top 5 Evening Must Do’s:

::Tidy Up House

::Get Ready For Bed (Contacts Out, Face Washed & Moisturized, PJ’s On, Take Pills)

::Clothes Laid Out For the Next Day

::To Do List Made For the Next Day

::Read In Bed

Day 3 Project

1. Did you determine your bedtime and 5 Evening Must-Do’s? If so, leave a comment telling us how you did on them last night. If you haven’t decided yet, be sure to take time to do so today and leave a comment on yesterday’s post and let us know!

2. Determine what time you’re going to commit to wake up every morning for the next three weeks. Consider what your pitfalls to consistent waking up are and think about possible ways that you can help yourself be more successful. Leave a comment telling us what time you are committing to get up every morning and also how you’re going to set yourself up for success in this area.

What are your best tips and suggestions for getting up at the same time each morning?

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Make the Most of Your Mornings: Begin Your Day With a Good Attitude (Day 4)

Attitude is key to having a successful morning.

When you wake up feeling grumpy, grouchy, and out-of-sorts, it’s going to spill over into everything you do. You’ll probably feel unmotivated and apathetic, and frustrated.

If, on the other hand, you begin your day feeling cheerful, upbeat, and energetic, you’ll probably find that you’re more efficient, productive, and you just plain enjoy life a lot more.

Now, there are times in life when it’s hard to have a good attitude. For instance, if you’re struggling in your marriage, having financial issues, recovering from some sort of traumatic experience, experiencing hurt or loss, or dealing with difficult physical issues or depression, you’re probably waking up with a very heavy heart (if you even slept at all!).

Slapping a bandage on your pain and putting on a pretend happy face is not what I’m suggesting you do. Get help; don’t hide your struggles. The best way to find hope and healing is in reaching out for help from those who care and can provide you with the support you need during a dark time.

However, no matter what you’re going through, it’s never an excuse to mope, pout, and have a bad attitude. A bad attitude is only going to make matters worse.

5 Ways Start Your Day Off With a Good Attitude

Here are some practical ideas of ways to help you start your day off with a good attitude:

1) Listen to Music

Music can lift my mood like just about nothing else. If I’m feeling discouraged, putting on my headphones and turning on some of my favorite upbeat songs is one of the best ways to cheer me up.

Find some music that you love and that lifts your spirits and put together a playlist of it to have ready whenever you need a pick-me-up.

2) Smile

Even when you don’t feel like it, if you make yourself smile at others, it’s almost impossible to stay grumpy for long. Try it sometime and see if I’m right!

3) Count Your Blessings

As I shared recently, beginning my morning by making a gratitude list has helped to transform my attitude. I’d encourage everyone to designate some time during the day (in the morning, before lunch, when you go to bed at night), to recount your blessings.

Focusing on what we do have instead of fretting over what we don’t have is a surefire way to give you a more cheerful outlook on life. And even if you feel like you have very little to be thankful for, when you start looking for blessings, you’ll begin to find many more than you ever realized existed!

4) Hug Someone

When you’re down in the dumps, you might not feel like talking to someone, but make yourself go hug someone and you’re almost guaranteed to feel better. And you’ll probably boost the spirits of the person you hug, too!

5) Express Appreciation

There’s something about telling someone how much you appreciate them that always makes you feel more cheerful yourself. Make a habit of starting the day by telling someone thank you for something — whether it’s your spouse or child, a co-worker, a neighbor, or sending someone a text, email, or card to brighten their day.

Take time to notice and appreciate the little things. It will make your world brighter — and just may mean the world to someone else, too.

The First 30 Minutes of My Day = One of the Best Parts of My Day

I’ve also found that beginning my day by sipping a good cup of coffee, praying, journaling, reading God’s Word, and reading a good devotional is one of the best ways for me to start the day in the right frame of mind. My heart is quieted and I’m refreshed and encouraged for the day ahead. Truly, this first 30 minutes of my day is one of my very favorite parts of the day.

My Day 3 Project Update

Bedtime: Made it to bed by 9:45 p.m. — 5 minutes earlier than yesterday and only 15 minutes past my goal time. Progress!

My Top 5 Evening Must Do’s: Done

Wake Up Time: I decided to make a goal to be up by 6:30 a.m. every morning. I’d really like to be up by 5:30 a.m., but I don’t know that I can realistically pull that off on the weekends. So I’m sticking with 6:30 a.m. This morning, I got up at 6:20 a.m. — right when the alarm went off. Yay!

Day 4 Project

1. Did you determine your bedtime and 5 Evening Must-Do’s? If so, leave a comment telling us how you did on them last night.

2. Did you determine what time you’re going to commit to waking up every morning for the next three weeks? If so, leave a comment telling us how you did this morning!

3. Choose one simple thing that you will do every morning to help you begin your day with a good attitude. Leave a comment letting us know what you chose.

What practical ideas do you have for ways to help you start the day off with a good attitude?

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Make the Most of Your Mornings: Have a Plan for the Day (Day 5)

Waking up with your alarm clock and having a cheerful attitude in the morning are both important things, but they are not enough to make your morning productive.

You need a plan.

Without charting a course of action for the day, you’ll likely waste time, wander aimlessly, and run around in circles. You may even get to the end of the day and wonder what on earth you did with your day.

A plan gives you purpose, motivation, and direction.

When you know where you want to go, it’s much easier to make traction in the right direction. When you know exactly what you’re aiming to accomplish in a day, it’s much easier to actually get things done. A plan also helps you track your progress and be encouraged that you’re getting somewhere!

Small steps in the right direction can result in big change over time.

When I make a plan for my day, I think about not only the things that must be done (laundry, dishes, homeschooling, appointments, phone calls, etc.), but I also think about the big picture. What small steps can I take today to help me move toward where I want to be in a year from now?

Change your life by setting big goals and breaking them down into bite-sized pieces.

In order to take small steps toward where you want to be in a year from now, you need to actually have a good idea of where you want to be in a year from now. This is why I recommend setting yearly goals and then breaking those goals down into monthly and weekly goals.

When you look at your yearly goals as a whole, they can seem daunting and overwhelming. When you break them down into monthly and then weekly goals, they are much more doable.

Transform your to-do list from the mundane to the meaningful through goal-setting.

If you take it one step farther and break those weekly goals down into tiny daily goals, your huge goals have become completely manageable. Plus, knowing that you’re doing a little bit each day to inch you closer to where you hope to be in a year from now gives you a lot more purpose and enthusiasm for tackling your to-do list.

No longer is your to-do list just a list of things that must be done in order to survive; it’s an action plan of tiny babysteps that are going to give you traction toward greater success in your life as a whole. Sure, there are still going to be a lot of things that aren’t too glamorous — like taking out the trash, washing the car, and giving the dog a bath — but I bet you’ll do those menial tasks with more purpose when you know that each day you’re making microscopic progress in the right direction with your big goals.

Come back on Monday when we’ll be talking more about how to plan your day and set yourself up for success

My Day 4 Project Update

Bedtime: Made it to bed by 9:45 p.m. just barely since Jesse and I went on a date and got back later than usual. It wasn’t my goal time of 9:30, but at least it was only 15 minutes late!

My Top 5 Evening Must Do’s: Done

Wake Up Time: My alarm went off at 6:20 a.m. this morning and I’m sorry to report that I got back into bed for 10 minutes. Yes, I know, I need to work on practicing what I preach. But hey, at least I didn’t hit the snooze button. ;)

Day 5 Project

1. Did you determine your bedtime and 5 Evening Must-Do’s? If so, leave a comment telling us how you did on them last night.

2. Did you determine what time you’re going to commit to waking up every morning for the next three weeks? If so, leave a comment telling us how you did this morning!

3. If you haven’t done so already, pick 1-5 goals that you’d like to accomplish in the next year. Take some time this weekend to break those goals down into monthly and weekly goals. Then, come back on Monday where we’ll be talking more about making a daily to-do list, how to incorporate your bite-sized goals into it, and how to not overload your to-do list. I’ll also be sharing some helpful tips, printables, and resources to help you create and follow through with your daily to-do list.

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Make the Most of Your Mornings: Create a Realistic To-Do List (Day 6)

Last week, we talked about the importance of creating a to-do list that was based upon your yearly, monthly, and weekly goals. If you’ve not read that post (or you’ve not set down and mapped out some specific goals), can I encourage you to do that today? It just might rock your world! Now, onto today’s post…

We all have a lot we need to do each day. And, if you’re anything like me, you probably have a whole lot more that you want to do in each day, too.

I was just telling my husband yesterday that I have so much that I want to do that it’s a problem. I have a laundry list of new skills I want to learn, things I want to teach my children, place I’d love to visit, subjects I want to research in-depth, projects I want to attempt, people I’d like to reach out to and befriend, ministries I want to support, books I hope to read, character I want to work on… there are so many, many good things in life to choose from that putting together a daily to-do list can seem daunting.

But here’s the truth we all have to accept: none of us can do it all. Collectively, we can do a lot with our lives and make a huge impact in this world. Personally, we can make a big difference over the course of our lifetime. But we all only have 24 hours in each day.

Our time is limited and our energy is finite. Thus, we have to pick and choose the best from among the good. And we have to realize that what might be the best for others will not necessarily be the best for us.

1) Decide Your Personal Priorities

Determining what to put on our daily to-do list begins with deciding upon our own personal priorities for the season of life we’re currently in. I recommend choosing no more than five to six priorities. These are the things you will wrap your life around and what will be the basis for the majority of everything on your to-do list and all of the yearly, monthly, and weekly goals you set for yourself.

2) Start With the Basics

Before you try to save the world, you need to focus on making sure you (and your family, if you have one) have clean clothes, food to eat, and proper hygiene and rest. You’ll be a lot more effective at your efforts in other spheres of life if you make sure that you take care of the basics first.

So, think through what must be done in the course of your day. This is not what would be nice to have done, but those things that are actually necessities. For the record, the list of necessary things that must be done in a day is usually fairly short for most of us.

If you’re caring for someone who has life-threatening illness, have a special needs child, or have a lot of little ones, then most of your day is likely going to be made up of basic things. While they might mostly seem menial and mundane, remember that taking care of the basic needs of others is a very important thing to be investing your life in — even though it’s exhausting work. Remind yourself of what would happen if you weren’t doing it and you’ll realize just how important your tasks are!

3) Pick a Few Bite-Sized Pieces to Tackle

Once you have the basics on your to-do list for the day, if you still have a little wiggle room in your schedule, pick a few bite-sized pieces of your goals to tackle. These will typically be things you can accomplish in 15 or 30 minute slots, so keep this in mind when breaking goals down into bite-sized pieces. If you can’t accomplish the bite-sized piece in 30 minutes or less, it probably needs to be broken down further.

4) Prioritize Your List

I’ve found it helpful to prioritize my to-do list by marking each item with numbers in the order of priority I need to accomplish each task. I don’t always follow it to a tee, since sometimes a block of time will open up during the day and it will be perfect for tackling a specific item on my list — even though it’s out of order. When that happens, I just go with the flow and am happy to have another item crossed off the list, regardless of the fact that it’s out of order.

That said, as much as possible, I encourage you to focus on getting the hard tasks done first. “Eat your frogs” early in the day and you’ll have a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment to carry with you the rest of the day!

5) Keep it Short & Simple

As I’ve talked about before, if you want to set yourself up for success, you need to keep your to-do list short. If you put 56 items on your to-do list at the beginning of the day, you’ll probably give up before you even start because you’ll feel overwhelmed at defeated.

It’s better to plan to complete a few things and actually follow through with those things, then to set out to accomplish 102 things and just run around in circles all day trying to start a bunch of different things and finishing nothing at all.

Free Printable Daily Dockets and To-Do Lists

Looking for some helpful printable daily dockets or to-do lists? Here are a few free printables to check out:

We have a number of free household customizable management planners available to download, including a customizable daily docket.

Ann Voskamp has a free Daily Planner available for download.

Download and print a free Weekly Household Planner and Goal Sheet from Only a Breath.

Download a Daily Plan of Attack Worksheet.

Print free Home Management Binder pages from Amy Bayliss.

My Day 5 Project Update

Bedtime: Made it to bed by 9:38 p.m. Woot — I’m slowly making progress in the right direction!

My Top 5 Evening Must Do’s: Done!

Wake Up Time: Got up at 5:04 a.m. this morning!

Day 6 Project

1. Did you determine your bedtime and 5 Evening Must-Do’s? If so, leave a comment telling us how you did on them last night.

2. Did you determine what time you’re going to commit to waking up every morning for the next three weeks? If so, leave a comment telling us how you did this morning!

3. If you haven’t done so already, pick 1-5 goals that you’d like to accomplish in the next year and break them down into monthly and weekly pieces, if possible. Start looking for opportunities to add in bite-sized pieces to your daily to-do lists, as you’re able. Let us know what these goals are in the comments section.

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