I get up fairly early every morning but I spend most of my pre-breakfast time rounding up the new deals, coupons, and info for Morning Coffee. On school days, at 7 a.m., I have to turn my full attention to getting the kids ready for school. So the last thing I want is more things to do or think about when the day starts.
It's no surprise, then, that I'm happiest (and most patient with my kids) in the morning when I take some each night to get ready for the next day. I've always been good about doing the dishes and generally cleaning the kitchen after dinner (even before we had kids), but now I've added the following to my post-dinner routine:
Prep the kids' backpacks. My kids are still quite young, so I pack and unpack for them. (Now that I think about it, I should probably start involving my older son in his daily preparations next year.) I usually go through their backpacks when they get home from school, and after dinner, I make sure their homework is done and in their backpacks, along with anything else they're supposed to take the next day.
Prep lunches if possible. My husband usually takes leftovers for lunch at work, so I prepare his lunch bento-style the night before as I'm cleaning up after dinner. (These containers make getting his lunch ready super easy.) At the same, I prep any components for the boys' school lunches that I can do ahead of time. I also try to keep milk and juice boxes, applesauce pouches, and pre-sliced organic apples in the fridge at all times so I can just grab them in the morning.
Clear the dining table. Our dining table is centrally located and something of a magnet for clutter, like the mail. A few months ago, I realized how stressed I got when I came downstairs for breakfast and the dining table was still covered with pencils, scraps and other remnants of the previous night's homework. I made one simple change and starting clearing the dining table every night, and saved myself from many disheartening moments in the morning.
Prepare anything that needs to go out the door with me in the morning. This isn't an everyday thing, but on those occasions when I need to deliver baked goods or other items to school, I pack them up and leave them by the door so I don't forget them in the morning.
Mentally prepare for the next day. As I mentioned earlier this week, I make a to-do list every night, which boosts my productivity tremendously. I also plan out my schedule, thinking about places I need to go and the order in which I will go there. If I need to dress a certain way, I make a note of it (and maybe even lay out an outfit). If I didn't make the boys' lunches ahead of time, I at least plan out what I'm going to pack in the morning.
While it might seem like a lot to do in the evening, all of these steps really don't take that long. It takes maybe 10 minutes if I don't have much to do (for example, if we ate out and there weren't any dishes to wash), and 30 minutes if I have to do a lot (when I've made a huge mess in the kitchen, the dining table is covered in papers, etc.). Plus, they're all things I'd have to do at some point anyway, so it makes sense to do them when it has the greatest benefit - in the evening, when I'm calm, instead of in the morning, when having to do them makes me stressed.
If this sounds good to you in theory, but implementing a new evening routine feels too overwhelming, pick one small thing and commit to doing it for two or three weeks. Once you see how little time it actually takes, and what a big impact it makes on your mornings, you'll be motivated to make more changes!