Running late? How to get out the door on time, (almost) every time

This post is by Sarah Powers, Happiest Home contributor and Managing Editor, and blogger atย Powers of Mine.

how to get out the door on time

There are a lot of things in life I struggle with. Getting dinner on the table? Not my strong suit. Folding and putting away laundry? Needs improvement. Remembering to wrap birthday presents more than 14 seconds before we leave for the party? Gets me every time.

But since this site is about cultivating happiness and not dwelling on imperfections, I’m going to leave those things for now and tell you something I’m really pretty good at: getting out the door on time.

I’ve always been punctual. I don’t like being late and I have a sort of weird internal clock that almost never stops working (party trick: at any given moment I can usually tell you what time it is, without looking at a clock, with a pretty small margin of error). And although each added kid has made getting out the door harder, more complicated, and definitely a more time-consuming process, it hasn’t actually made me run any later.

I know this doesn’t come naturally to everybody (just like meal-planning, recipe-following, and making-it-all-happen-by-6pm doesn’t come naturally to me), so I thought I’d offer some ideas to those of you who need help getting out the door on time.

Here they are:

1. Clocks in every room

Clocks are pretty! There are great styles for every design esthetic. If you want to improve your on-time departure rate, try having a clock in every room. Make sure they’re relatively in sync.

I like a mix of analog and digital clocks. I find that long before kids can tell time, they are interested in the movement of the good-old-fashioned long hand and short hand – and they can understand concepts like “when the long hand gets to the nine, we need to get in the car.”

2. Focus on your “out-the-door time”

Most of our scheduled activities have a regular start time, right? School starts at the same time each day, and after-school activities don’t vary all that much. I find that the time that sticks in my head is not the time we need to be somewhere, but the time we need to leave the house. So if school starts at 8:15am, we leave the house at 8:00am, and that 8:00 is the time I focus on. I think if you keep the start time in mind, it’s easy to forget travel time, and the next thing you know you’re running late.

3. Give kids lots of prep and transition time

Little kids have no concept of time. Imagine being immersed in make-believe and having someone yank you out of it to shove shoes on your feet and cart you out the door. I notice that my kids are much more cooperative if I give them lots of reminders that we’re heading out the door soon.

“Lots of reminders” might sound like nagging, but I think there’s a difference. I tend to let them play as long as possible while I hustle around getting us ready to head out the door, but I do a lot of cheerful “hey guys, ten (five, two, etc.) minutes until we leave!” announcements so it isn’t a total shock when it does come time to leave.

4. Do some things way ahead of time

I’ve found that there are some things I can do well in advance to help our departure time go more smoothly. I pack the diaper bag and put it in the car way before we leave. I try to put shoes on my 3-year-old when he first gets dressed in the morning. I refill water bottles for everybody and keep them in the fridge or put them straight in the car well before we start to pile in. I even put my purse and the car keys on the driver’s seat ahead of time.

(Depending on where you park your car and a few other logistical factors, some of these ideas might not work for you. But I bet there are other things you can do way ahead of time instead.)

The way I see it, I’m “getting us out the door” in little steps over a longer period of time, rather than leaving everything for the final five minutes before we need to leave. (Which is Project Management 101, right? If only I could apply the same strategy to cooking dinner. Or laundry. Or Christmas shopping.)

5. Give each kid a job

Most little kids love doing things by themselves – especially if it seems like fun. When she was two my daughter’s “leave the house” job was to turn off all the lights. My three-year-old knows that if he wants his special lovey in the car, it’s his job to locate it and have it with him when we load in. Both kids have access to a low shelf in the pantry where we keep “car snacks” – foods I’ve decided are okay to eat in the car that they can help themselves to on their way out the door.

Depending on your kids’ ages and abilities, giving them departure-related jobs helps them take some ownership of the process (and just might ease your workload a bit, too).

6. Load the car 10 minutes before you have to leave

Remember that “out the door” time? To me that means the minute you put the car in reverse with your sunglasses on and kids buckled into their seats. I start loading kids and stuff into the car about 10 minutes before that time. It seems excessive, but just the buckling and schlepping takes a lot longer than you think (and goes much more smoothly if the pace can be relaxed to accommodate little dawdlers).

My garage is right off our kitchen and so it’s easy for me to go in and out a few times, gathering stuff and small people as I go back and forth. But even if this doesn’t work for you, the 10-minute rule works well as a time to begin going potty, putting shoes on, and gathering belongings.

Now, let’s discuss. Did you get out the door on time this morning? Is your departure-routine chaotic or zen? I’d also love to hear out-the-door strategies from those of you who do more walking and public transportation than I do here in suburbia. Weigh in, will you?ย 

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