How I Set Myself Up For Success Each Day

posted by Andrea | 01/2/2019

For the past 5-6 months, Dave and I have woken up between 4:00 and 4:30 EVERY single weekday (roughly 5:00 or 5:30 on the weekends).

There are mornings when it’s not super easy to “hop” out of bed, but for the most part, we are both morning people and we both LOVE how much more productive, awake, and “with it” we feel for the entire day when we wake up early.

I regularly accomplish more by 8:00am than I do for the rest of the day because I am able to work quickly with few distractions and I’m very alert and focused at this time of day (the benefits of being a life-long morning person!)

That said, our evening productivity is basically non-existent now! 

Thanks to our early alarm clock, we must prioritize an earlier bedtime so we don’t miss out on too much sleep. Our goal is to be in bed by 9:30, but sometimes it’s closer to 10.

Either way, by the time the kids are sleeping (7:30ish), we don’t have much free time in the evenings anymore — especially since we use part of our evening hours to pack lunches, clean out the dishwasher, wash dishes, finish folding any laundry, pick up the house, take showers, get ready for bed, etc. etc.

I usually have between 30-60 minutes of extra time each night after all the random household stuff is taken care of… but I’m also usually quite tired by that point, so writing a blog post, reading, or working on any sort of focused project isn’t ideal (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve dozed off in the middle of reading something at night!)

Instead, I use this 30-60 minute time-block to prep everything I possibly can for the next morning – when I’ll be WIDE AWAKE and ready to work productively.

  • I pull anything out of the freezer that we’ll eat, prepare, or bake the next day
  • I make pancake or waffle batter, or get things prepped for oatmeal, muffins, quiche, or whatever we’ll have for breakfast
  • I make sure our container of raw veggies is stocked for the next day
  • I often set the table for breakfast and have pots, pans, cutting boards, slow cookers, griddles, etc. sitting out ready for me to cook the next morning (I usually prep dinner while I’m making breakfast)
  • I make sure all backpacks, diaper bags, and any other bags are completely packed and ready to go in the mudroom
  • I have the van ready to go for various errands we’ll run the next day
  • If I’m doing laundry the next day, I’ll have the first load in the washer with the delay-start set for 3:30am, so it’s ready for the dryer by the time I wake up.
  • I respond to short emails and blog comments
  • I draft responses to longer emails and save them to send out the next morning (after reading with fresh eyes!)
  • I schedule posts to go out on social media
  • I edit photos and upload them to corresponding blog posts (this makes the writing process go faster but doesn’t require the concentration of writing)
  • I make a fairly detailed to-do list for the next day — specifically with what I hope to accomplish between 4am and 8am

Of course, I don’t do every single one of these things every single night — but these are all tasks I can quickly and easily accomplish, even if I’m a little drowsy.

And while they might not seem like much, these tasks are crucial to boosting my morning productivity!

Here’s a look at what a typical morning looks like for me…

When my alarm goes off at 4:00, I head to the bathroom (where my clothes are already sitting out) to get dressed and ready — by 4:15, I’m 100% ready for the day. 

If I’m doing laundry, I’ll switch loads at this point. Then I read through my drafted emails, edit as necessary, and send those off by 4:30.

My goals is to write one blog post every morning from 4:30 – 5:30 — sometimes I write more than this, sometimes I don’t.

At 5:30, I head to the kitchen to make breakfast and prep dinner. Dave usually eats breakfast around 5:30-5:45, so I make our breakfast first and keep stuff warm for the kids closer to 7:00.

After we eat breakfast, I finish anything I need to do for dinner (my goal is to have dinner ready for the oven, the pan, or the grill before the kids wake up). I also use this time cut up a bunch of fruit to eat throughout that day, start up the bread machine if I’m making bread, and make lunches for myself and the boys (usually just to eat at home).

By now, it’s 6:30/6:40am and time to get Nora up for school. The boys often get up with her and they all get dressed, go to the bathroom, do their hair, etc.

They sit down to eat shortly before 7:00 and Nora heads off to the bus at 7:15. I often read to them or read on my own at the table while they eat breakfast.

After breakfast, the boys usually scamper upstairs to play together (so amazing!!) while I clean up the kitchen from 2 rounds of breakfast, lunch prep, and dinner prep.

I check my to-do list, respond to any new emails that came in throughout the morning, and then basically “pack up shop” until nap time. 

By this point in the morning (8:00am) I usually have the majority of my to-do list crossed off, including most of my kitchen work for the day. This means I don’t need to think about lunches or dinner, I don’t need to run to the store for an ingredient I forgot, and I don’t need to make a huge mess in the kitchen again (unless I decide to bake with the boys!).

Clara usually wakes up around 8:00 as well, and after a quick breakfast, we take Simon to school, head to the grocery store, run a few errands, hit-up a local play group, go to story hour at the library, or visit a friend — depending on the day.

Our goal is to be home again by 11:30 for lunch. I’ve cut back on morning snacks and usually don’t offer them anymore as the kids eat A LOT for breakfast and we eat lunch fairly early.

This means everyone is pretty hungry by 11:30, but since I have lunches ready and waiting for us in the fridge, it takes 2 minutes for me to quickly hand out the prepared lunches.

After lunch, I put Clara down for her nap (around 1:00pm).

During Clara’s nap, I usually have one “planned” craft or project I work on with the boys, then they play by themselves for a bit, followed by a small snack while I read to them, and finally a TV show. I use this TV time to work on a few more of my to-dos, fold laundry, finish the blog post I started that morning, various household chores, etc.

By the time Dave and Nora get home at 3:30, Clara is awake again and we’re usually all playing upstairs or outside (weather permitting).

Dave takes over the kiddos while I finish up whatever I was working on during nap time and get dinner in the oven.

We eat at 4:30 almost every single night… and start picking up the house for the bath/bedtime process around 6:00. 

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The kids are usually in bed by 7:00 and sleeping by 7:30… at which point Dave and I start the whole process over again!

I realize this might sound like a lot when you’re just reading it, but our days honestly flow SO smoothly as these routines are now effortless and mindless — but it all starts with the fact that I prepare to be productive the night before (and actually get out of bed when the alarm goes off at 4:00).

Dave essentially does the same thing, except he prepares school stuff to work on the night before — often laying out stacks of tests to grade, or laying out lesson plans to complete the next morning.

We both accomplish SO much each morning thanks to planing ahead at night. We can then get through the rest of our day without constantly stressing about how much we have to do or worrying about forgetting something important.

I can help out at the kids school, have a play date with friends, do stuff at church, or whatever else comes up without thinking about work, or dinner, or all the other things I “need to do” — because I’ve already DONE them!

It’s VERY freeing! 

Due to the nature of our jobs, we function somewhat non-stop throughout the school year (I can’t even remember the last time I watched TV or the last time Dave and I ‘went out’ on a date), but keep in mind our family also has the entire summer to hang out at home doing as much or as little as we want to do.

Plus, we have 2 glorious weeks at Christmas, a week at Spring Break, and other various school breaks and holidays throughout the year.

It’s a different schedule than many other jobs, but it works for us and our family for now! 

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Yes, I do realize that not everyone is a morning person… that’s OK!

The point I hope to make in this post is that I use time when I’m NOT super productive (evening hours) to prep a variety of tasks I can then work on during my more productive hours (early morning).

If you are the opposite, simply use your morning hours when you’re still a bit groggy to prep things you can then work on after the kids leave for school or after they are sleeping for the night and you can focus.

There is no “right” or “wrong” way to do this!

Determine what YOUR most productive time of day is, and then focus on consistently thinking ahead for ways you can prepare to be even more productive during that time-frame.

Eventually you will develop the fantastic habit of prepping for future tasks and activities without even thinking about it!

How do you plan ahead to set yourself up for success?

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27 comments

  1. Allison Cameron

    01/11/2019

    When I first read this post, i was a bit overwhelmed. How early you get up and how much you get done is amazing! So I was thinking about it and decided I press the snooze alarm way too much. So, i started to get up at 6 am so I could get my daughter on the bus, go to the gym, and get in the office by 8:30 am. I had some success with that which felt good. I could not find time for daily prayer/meditation so decided to wake up at 5:30 am. I did that and felt even better. I do try to get to bed by 10 pm/10:15 pm and I shower at night.

    I am NOT a morning person but am happy to say that your blog inspired me and I think about the good feeling I have on the days I don’t snooze and that motivates me to get up to the first alarm.

    Thank you for your inspiration!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Wow — thanks so much for sharing!
    I definitely do NOT think everyone should wake up at 4:00, but I DO think it’s important for us to figure out when our most productive time of day is and then work diligently to make those hours of the day count! It sounds like you are doing just that — good for you!

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  2. Ana

    01/11/2019

    Do you have a post regarding preparing your pancake batter the night before? I am interested in learning your process. My cutie pie loves it when I make him fresh pancakes on weekend mornings. I have thought about preparing the batter beforehand but heard that it would not be good the next day. I use Krusteaz buttermilk prepared pancake mix – just adding water is my favorite part…I jazz it up with fun fixing occasionally but for the most part – plain pancakes are my sons favorite.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Here’s one of my pancake posts — however, no matter what recipe I use, I almost ALWAYS make my pancake batter the night before simply because I think it tastes SO much better!
    I can’t say for sure if you’re using a mix, but I can’t imagine it would make it worse to make it ahead of time.
    That said, it literally only takes me 5 minutes to whip up the mix, so it’s not like it saves that much time. 🙂

    [Reply]

    Ana Reply:

    Thank you, Andrea! I will give your recipe a try, I have all the ingredients at home so I plan on trying it this weekend!

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  3. Nicki Crain

    01/05/2019

    Getting up early every morning is the secret of increased productivity everyday no doubt! Nice post!

    [Reply]

  4. Jolynn

    01/04/2019

    Thanks for the play by play of your day, Andrea! It makes so much sense to use the more non-productive time of your day to plan for the more productive part of your day. I am VERY impressed about your 4am wake up call!!!! As a mom of young ones doing that is extremely impressive!!! :):)

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    haha! Thanks Jolynn! I go to bed earlier than most adults too!
    I can get 2 to 3 times more done in 3 hours in the morning versus 3 hours at night, so right now, it just makes sense for me to sleep earlier at night and wake earlier in the morning! Who knows how this plan will work once we have teenagers in the house!

    [Reply]

  5. Jane

    01/03/2019

    I have several autoimmune diseases that leave me exhausted and unfocused even with 9 hours of sleep. That being said, I still use your tips and tricks to be super productive during the times I’m not exhausted. Nutrient dense eating has a huge impact on how I feel and meal planning and top 5 lists have made it so much easier to keep my health a priority. For a long time I used my poor health as an excuse for why I couldn’t live “my best life” but following your blog for the last 8 years has really helped me simplify and organize my life. I wish I only needed 7 hours of sleep but since I need 9 I plan around that and still get a lot done.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    thanks for sharing Jane — I’m sorry to hear about your health struggles, but I’m thrilled my blog has played a small role in helping you simplify and better organize your life!

    [Reply]

  6. Shan K Lao

    01/03/2019

    Andrea, Thank you for your helpful and practical ideas of using time efficiently and effectively! Best wishes in the new year for you, your family, and your business!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks so much Shan!

    [Reply]

  7. Rhonda

    01/02/2019

    A couple (simple) things have helped me:
    1) thinking/planning ahead. my days and weeks are often different (not working the same days each week).
    2) using my personal planner, i started to put a little “box” next to each item i need to accomplish, rather than just crossing out each item. it seems minor, but the visual cue of the empty box reminds me that i still need to do it – and if the box is empty and doesn’t get checked off for that day, i can still refer back to it the next day.
    3) i started using a whole month supper menu for our family a few months ago, that helps a lot with planning meals. In the past I resisted because i didn’t think it would matter, but it does! even if I don’t always fill out out many days in advance. it reminds me of things we have had already and helps to organize my mind.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yes, yes, yes! Thanks for sharing Rhonda!
    I’ve toyed with the idea of planning a month’s worth of dinners (and then repeating that month’s meals for future months throughout the entire season) but I just haven’t done it yet. I feel like it would be a fantastic use of my time and energy… I just haven’t actually “pulled the trigger” and done it yet! Not sure why!

    [Reply]

    Rhonda Reply:

    I should mention that I don’t usually fill out the entire month menu…just a week at a time (sometimes less). But even that helps me a lot.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    good to know! Thanks for clarifying!

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    Shan Reply:

    Rhonda, like your idea of an empty box next to each to-do item and a monthly calendy for meals!

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  8. Lydia Senn

    01/02/2019

    That’s amazing, Andrea! You are so motivating.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Lydia!

    [Reply]

  9. Christine

    01/02/2019

    You know what… I never considered planning for the evening in the morning. I am most productive between 4pm and bedtime, but I love sitting and planning in the morning before I get caught up in the whirlwind of chores, feeding kids, and homeschooling. I always thought of it as a flaw in my personality that I needed to overcome, but I think I can see now how I can work with it. Thank you!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    definitely! It might take you a bit to figure out your best schedule and routine, but I think you’ll be SHOCKED how much more productive your evenings are if you do a little prep work in the mornings!

    [Reply]

  10. Avia Thompson

    01/02/2019

    Your “non-productive” time in the evening is more productive than most people’s productive time!! I’ve been toying with the idea of getting up earlier like you since you mentioned this a few months ago. I currently get up 5-5:30 but need to be leaving our house at 7 with kids ready to go. Another hour would really give me a boost. I was thinking that I would be doing the things that you prep at night – in that extra hour. But after reading this post I’m realizing that that hour would be a lot more productive if I did all the prepping in the evening. I’ll have to think more about it. I also appreciate that you always mention the help you get from Dave etc. so the readers like myself who have a different situation can be more realistic about what we can accomplish!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    haha — well, as I mentioned in the post, I do NOT do all of those activities every night — that was just a list of things I COULD do in the evening!
    And yes, getting out the door in the mornings is SO much easier and less stressful due to the fact that Dave and I wake up super early!
    Also, speaking of Dave, he IS very helpful and I know how fortunate I am! Thanks for reminding me!

    [Reply]

  11. Annette Silveira

    01/02/2019

    The key is figuring out when you feel most productive and using that time for all it’s worth. I am a morning person too. After about 6:00 pm literally nothing is happening except dinner cleanup. I also schedule things for different days of the week, depending on what’s going on at our house. Our granddaughter is here two days a week so nothing too big happens except fun with her. I have my to-do list in my Google calendar so everything repeats as necessary and I can delete it as I go. It really helps me keep the house the way I like it with no extra brain power.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    exactly — and then figuring out how to maximize those ultra-productive!

    [Reply]

  12. Margaret

    01/02/2019

    Since I work 3rd shift, my most productive time does vary. If I’m off, and trying to sleep at night, I often wake at 230 or 3a. I’ve learned to quit cussing and just get up and do stuff. A couple of days ago I sat down for another cup of coffee at 830a, and realized I had nothing left to do: I had already bulk-prepped a week’s dinner salads, done 3 loads of laundry (washed, dried, folded, and put away), dusted, vacuumed, and mopped, brushed-out a dog, and washed the dishes. I wish I could do yard work at night, but I can’t weed or pick up dog poop in the dark, and the neighbors would hire a hit man if I tried to mow at 4a. I am a zombie by mid-afternoon, and if I leave stuff it doesn’t get done. I would like to be able to sleep until 7a or so, but I just can’t do it.
    If I’m working I usually wake up between 430 and 5p, and I need to sip coffee and blink for at least an hour. I will put laundry in as soon as I’m awake, so it can be washing while I’m caffinating. Then I spend at least an hour doing any food prep, dishes, floors (I have dogs, and the floors need attention every day), finish any laundry, work dogs and walk them, and do any oddments from my list. Then I ride my bike (on a wind trainer for the winter–I also do it in the morning after work. April-November I commute by bike.) Then I read for as much time is left, get ready for work, and clean the bathroom right before I leave.
    Because my productive times are so odd, I do really need to plan ahead, and have everything stocked. I live and die by my to-do list.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    wow — thank you so much for leaving this detailed reply! I can not tell you how many times I hear from people who work 2nd or 3rd shift and are completely convinced they can never be super productive as a result. I have a hard time “arguing” with them as I’ve never worked 2nd or 3rd shift, so I don’t have first-hand experience. However, I had a hunch that being productive was not only reserved for people who work 1st shift!
    I really appreciate all your examples — I’m positive your comment will help others who also have different working arrangements!

    [Reply]