A mother has her arm around her son and walks through a light-filled home to a front door. A small clock is out of focus in the foreground.

Whether your kids are going back to school in September or are continuing with virtual learning, one thing is certain: Some morning this fall, you’ll still need to herd everybody out of the house on time. “Mastering morning routine building around the house will serve parents no matter what is going on,” says Lindsay Whisen, a Toronto-based mom of two (ages five and eight) and organizational expert with Ease Up Organizing. Here are her five no-fail life hacks for school mornings that run smoothly.

Map out your entire routine—backwards.

Look at all the essential elements of your school morning—from getting kids dressed to brushing their teeth—and estimate how much time each task will take. Next, work backwards from the time you have to leave the house to get to the school bus on time and make a step-by-step schedule. “The single best thing you can do for yourself is to reverse-engineer it all,” says Whisen. Get it all mapped out down to the minute, then, to be safe, work in a couple five-minute buffers. “Families that thrive in the mornings are the ones that have mastered the timing,” she says.

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Time-Saving Tip
Take your planning to the next level by literally blocking out the time assigned to each task on an analog clock. You can post sticky notes around the edges to show kids when they should be moving to the next task. The best part is that it eliminates some of the nagging because you can say, “The clock says it’s time to fill your backpacks,” instead of constantly explaining to everybody why they need to keep moving, says Whisen.

Organize your entryway down to the last detail.

Come the end of this stay-at-home summer (and possibly returning to socially distanced schools), our homes will be in chaos—guaranteed. Try not to worry about your kids’ disastrous bedrooms or a messier-than-ever family room. Instead, focus on getting your entryway in order. The space where kids come and go from the house—and ditch their stuff—needs to be seriously organized.

Start by getting rid of the clutter and packing away off-season coats and footwear. Whisen recommends labeling a coat hook, backpack hook and shoe bin for each member of the household so that kids always know where to get (and put away!) their stuff. “School-age kids get this style of organization almost intuitively because it’s drilled into them from kindergarten,” she says. “We’re suckers if we don’t leverage the learning that’s already been done.” (And if they hate to help, we have a few tips for getting kids involved with tidying up.)

Master the art of make-ahead lunches.

If you’re not already used to making lunches the night before, now is the time to start. Being able to grab the packed food containers (or heck, the entire pre-packed lunch bag if you’ve got the space) from the fridge instantly cuts down on morning stress.

As for what to pack, leftovers are an obvious choice. For example, you can send last night’s pasta cold or in a thermos. Or you can reimagine leftover ingredients like grilled chicken by slicing it into a salad or pairing it with some cooked rice.

Even if your kids are so over sandwiches, they’re ideal because they travel well and are easy to whip up in a hurry the night before. If you really want to go all the way with the make-ahead mantra, assemble a batch of sandwiches, like tuna or egg salad, cut in half and freeze for later.

Lay out everyone’s outfits the night before.

“I pick out my own clothes the night before because it’s easier for me, so I definitely encourage my kids to do the same,” says Whisen. If your kids wear a school uniform that makes it a no-brainer, but even if they’re wearing regular clothes to school, the basic formula is the same: underwear, socks, top and bottom. Just pile them up in the same spot at bedtime each night, so kids know where to reach for their clothes in the morning.

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Time-Saving Tip
To shave time off your kids’ pre-bed ritual (and get them a few extra minutes of shuteye), put together standard weekday uniforms. That means that Mondays are one outfit (say, black jeans with a tee and hoodie), Tuesdays are something else (a favourite blue T-shirt with a pleated skirt) and so on. To keep track, list the outfits on a chart or stash them in labelled bins. This set weekly routine will minimize the number of decisions your kids need to make on the daily.

Set your alarm 15 minutes earlier than necessary.

To be clear, we mean you—not the kids. Catch up on laundry, fill out school permission forms or, better yet, enjoy a quiet cup of coffee before your crew shows up searching for breakfast. Those few extra minutes are enough to make a difference for your mental state, especially if you’re already (somewhat) organized.

“I’ve found the more streamlined my mornings are, the more I can use those minutes to fortify me,” says Whisen. “Giving yourself the time for a moment of calm before the hustle can make a big difference to the stress levels of everyone in your house in the morning.”

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What's your biggest morning-routine slowdown?
Waking the kids
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Eating breakfast
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