Many of my clients, especially those with ADHD, have such a hard time getting started in the mornings. Their internal voice is giving them a huge list of To-Dos, and whatever comes into sight around them provides more distracting demands.
Faced with overwhelming choices, many folks don’t get started first thing on anything important. They may bounce from task to task, not completing anything. They forget all about time management. Exhausted, they often take the easy way out: by escaping into the comfortable distractions of the digital world.
You see, time management requires activating the use of executive functions in the prefrontal cortex. And that takes effort. Multiple choices can overload our poor brains with the demands of making decisions. When we become overwhelmed, the emotional brain takes over and we slip into our old patterns with flight or freeze mode. Prioritizing tasks becomes incredibly overwhelming.
It was a high school client who helped me zero in on the problem for so many of us. After a few weeks in my Seeing My Time course, she shared a personal revelation. Online learning was really hard because she missed the predictable routine of going to school. Pre-pandemic, the patterns of her day were clearly scheduled. She didn’t have to make choices. Without that predictability, she was lost and floating through the day and through time.
The key word she used was “routine.”
The wonderful aspect of having routines is that we don’t have to think or make any choices. When we have a predictable schedule, we are engaging a different region of the brain which takes the pressure off of the prefrontal cortex. One big challenge of the pandemic has been this disruption to our routines!
We all have daily patterns, things we unconsciously do. Sometimes these serve us, and sometimes they do not.
A private adult Seeing My Time client has a habit of always checking his phone after he climbs into bed. Before he knows it, he gets sucked into the “digital canyon” and then does not get enough sleep.
His morning routine is similar. Before getting out of bed, he checks his phone again, getting lost in emails and news feeds. This repeated act eats up valuable time. Suddenly he is rushed and overwhelmed as he gets his workday started. As he and I examined his daily routines, he concluded that he should recharge his phone at night in another room to set up a new plan that is healthier and better for his brain and his time management.
It’s very common for our plans to be waylaid by these outside forces that grab our attention. In order to stay on track, we need routines that support the brain. So how to set up these supportive habits? First, we must look closer at our routines and analyze them.
Many experts stress that it is really important to start with intentional morning activities, which sets the stage for the whole day. That sounds great, but how do you do all of the things they advise, like exercising, improving your mind by reading, eating a brain-friendly breakfast, and still avoid creating more clutter by dumping breakfast dishes in the sink because you are late for work or school? Ahhhh!
I faced this dilemma when I decided that a personal goal for 2021 is to read one professional development book each month. To do that I needed to schedule 30 Minutes, 5 days a week to read and take notes. My morning schedule was already full and so was my workday. By evening my brain is mushy and useless for learning. If I was to read, and more critically, to remember anything that I had read, this learning time had to fit into my morning routine. How?
When I really analyzed my morning activities, I realized that the key to a successful morning was actually dependent upon my evening routine! What I did before bed was critical to support the following day. In a nutshell here is what I discovered:
Those three changes in routine have allowed me to spend quality time reading and learning. I get so excited about what I am learning. My brain is happily building new dendrites. I share my new insights daily with my clients. It is an awesome way to start my day.
I invite you to pause and look at your own evening and morning routines (or lack thereof?). Pick something that you are highly motivated to add to your morning habits. What can you do the night before to set up your successful morning? You CAN improve your routines!
Little by little…Marydee
PS: If you are looking for a system for prioritizing your To-Do list, making your plans visible and keeping them in sight and in mind, the Seeing My Time Adult Planner System and Mini-Course can help! We are still printing shipping out January 2021 – January 2022 planners!
Marydee Sklar is the president of Executive Functioning Success and the creator of the Seeing My Time Program®. She is an educator and author of three books on executive functions, as well as a trainer and speaker. Marydee has more than twenty-five years of experience working with students and adults with executive function challenges.
6 Categories to Prioritize in 2021 to Support Your Executive Functioning
Two Keys for Happier Holiday Executive Functioning
Four Lessons for Executive Functioning: A “Failed” Vacation Story
10 Tips to Support the Brain During a Home Project