Life is getting hectic again. The pace seems to be picking up, and even though many are still working remotely, others are once again needing to show up in person. I see this every day here in New England, where the roads have been packed with heavy traffic at all times of day. After a season of staying at home, some may be finding it hard to return to a pre-pandemic schedule and all that this entails (showering, dressing, packing a bag, commuting, etc.). Not only are we trying to find our old rhythm, but we are also carrying the stress of continuing COVID uncertainty and the changes this continues to necessitate. Getting out the door may feel harder than we think it should. We may feel a bit untethered or incompetent. We may find ourselves leaving things behind.
If you are experiencing any of these emotions, know that you are not alone. Transitions almost always require time and patience. Even when we are returning to something familiar, it takes a while to get “back into the groove.” I’m reminded of how it takes me a couple of days after a vacation to get back into the swing of things. Furthermore, if you happen to be establishing a new pattern (e.g. because of a new job, a new schedule, a new location, etc.), the challenges can feel even steeper.
Feeling confident as we navigate change isn’t easy. One way to do so is to bring structure to the way we use our time. I’ve written about many aspects of time management in the past, such as being on time and making the most of the time you have.
Another way we can improve our sense of control is by establishing systems for storing and accessing our belongings, particularly with regard to the things we need when we walk out the door. After all, it feels awful to arrive without critical items or to be unable to find our car keys when time is running short. One helpful technique for remembering is what I call “staging.” Staging creates a space (both physical and mental) to hold the items we will need when we head out for the day.
The reason we need a system like staging is that we don’t always recall what we need at the exact moment we are leaving the house. For example:
- We come across paperwork for Monday’s committee meeting while clearing off the kitchen counter on Thursday evening.
- We remember – while driving the car – that our child is supposed to wear his favorite sports jersey to school tomorrow.
- Our computer battery goes dead on a Zoom call, and we remember that we should bring our power cord with us when we go to work the next day.
- We see a friend’s post on Instagram that reminds us that we need to drop off a donation to church next week.
Our memories simply are not at their best when we are rushing around at departure time. In fact, we often have our best recall in times of relaxation. Therefore, it is beneficial to set up a mechanism for capturing these thoughts as they happen, reducing our cognitive load and ensuring we remember important details.
Here are a few ways to incorporate staging into your routine.
1. Establish a “staging area” for each person in the household
This can be a low-traffic section of the floor, a corner of the dining room table, a cubby in the mudroom, or any designated location where items can sit undisturbed. When you think of something you need to bring to your destination, either put it physically into this area right away or place a note in this area (e.g., “clarinet”, “signed contract”, “ballet shoes”, etc.) to remind yourself to get it before you leave. This is also the perfect location to place your packed bag, backpack, and/or briefcase the night before. Every time you are ready to exit the house, check this area first to see if there is something there that you need.
2. Create a list on your smartphone called “Remember to Bring”
When you are out and about and think of something you need, record it in this reliable place. Then, when you get back to your home or office, go get whatever you have listed and put it into your staging area. Once listed items are staged, you can delete them from your smartphone. Having this list helps minimize the weight of trying to remember things in the future.
3. Make a list(s) for items you repeatedly require
Many people repeatedly require the same items for specific outings, such as for a sports practice, committee meeting, class, rehearsal, etc. Also, some people have a vacation home or weekend destination to which they bring a common collection of belongings. Rather than having to continually remember what to pack, record everything you need for these recurring events on checklists. These can be physically located in your staging area (e.g. a card hung on the inside of a cabinet door, back of a cubby, near your keys, etc.) or on a digital device that you can quickly reference.
Another idea is to keep bags for recurring events in your staging area. On these bags you can attach a laminated checklist of what needs to be inside. For example, if you are a public speaker, you might list your computer, projector, power cord, dongles, remote control, business cards, brochures and copies of your book. Or, if you to love to go picnicking, you might list plates, napkins, plasticware, cups, corkscrew, trash bag, grill tongues, and wet wipes. Every time you are about to walk out the door, consult your checklist to make sure you have what you need.
This can be a helpful approach for children’s activities as well. Establish a bag with a checklist for each activity (e.g., dance, soccer, piano, preschool, art, etc.) and have children check to make sure they have all the accessories they need in the bag before heading out to the car. Better yet, pack and check the bag the night before.
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While “showing up is half the battle,” “showing up prepared” is even better.
What tips do you have for making sure you get out the door with everything you need?