The Surprising Reason Why You Should Save Some Things For The Last Minute
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The Surprising Reason Why You Should Save Some Things For The Last Minute

Habits & Productivity Parenting
The Surprising Reason Why You Should Save Some Things For The Last Minute

Since I write about mornings, I am sometimes asked for tips to make mornings go well. When I read the resulting articles, some other expert will often be quoted on making lots of preparations the night before. Save time by laying out clothes! Make the lunches! Pack the bags!

That may work for some people, but in my current life, I tend not to do any of this. I will often leave dishes undone too (defying the instruction to have everything orderly so the day starts fresh).

There are two reasons for this. First, doing stuff the night before does not actually save you time. Packing a lunch the night before still takes time. It just takes time at a different time of day. Indeed, since people who do almost everything the night before still spend some time getting ready in the morning, I suspect that spreading the getting ready out actually increases the time spent on preparation, rather than being a neutral time-shifting option.

But there is a broader reason I do not make lunches the night before, and that has to do with my feelings toward leisure time. I have a toddler who inevitably gets up before I want him to. This means I have long dark mornings to fill. I can do any of these other things — making lunches, cleaning the kitchen — while he is sitting in his high chair devouring Cheerios. If I do these things the night before, I have cut into my potential leisure time, but I still have to be up with the baby in the morning.

Cutting into leisure time is a problem, and not just for me. As I study time logs, I see that one of the reasons mornings do not go well is that people stay up too late. They stay up late since people — particularly working parents of young kids! — crave me time. That time after the kids go to sleep is yours. If you do chores and morning preparations before you start the me-time, then you will stay up later to get adequate me-time. Then when the kid is screaming in the morning, your lunches may be packed and your kitchen may be clean, but you are sleep deprived. And then it is hard to start the day well.

Granted, the situation may be different for other people. Maybe you have older kids who wake up at the last possible second. Maybe you want to exercise, and fumbling around in your closet for your workout clothes will wake up and really piss off your partner. Maybe you cannot think in the morning, and so you always walk out the door without your bus pass or some such. If that is the case, then put the bus pass in your bag while you are coherent at night.

But in order to do something the night before, it should be important enough that the additional time cost and leisure time loss is worth the peace of mind in the morning. If it is, great. But putting an apple and a sandwich in a lunch box does not meet that threshold for me.


A version of this post appeared on Laura Vanderkam’s website where she writes about strategically managing time between her work and family.

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