Prioritization and organization can be overwhelming and daunting. As your life feels increasingly busy, finding time for yourself can be really challenging — and adding in children, it can feel next to impossible. But Julie Morgenstern has a solution. 

Once a notoriously disorganized person, Morgenstern confesses that she lived in a constant state of chaos. But everything changed after having her daughter. After she was born, Morgenstern says that she felt deeply disorganized, and started missing meaningful moments with her little one as a result.   To change her life around, Morgenstern started small, organizing her diaper bag, and tackling other areas of her home. “I saw being organized as a means to a much higher goal: the ability to serve my child,” she says. “ Breakthrough never occurs when you are looking at the mess. Organizing is not the destination; it’s the gateway to your higher goals.” 

Now, over 30 years later, Morgenstern has a successful organizing and productivity consultancy, is a two-time New York Times best-selling author of TIME TO PARENT: Organizing Your Life to Bring Out the Best in Your Child and You and ORGANIZING FROM THE INSIDE OUT: The Foolproof System for Organizing Your Home, Your Office and Your Life, and has taught people —from Oprah to Amazon execs, and teens to retirees—how to build day-to-day systems that work for them.

“There’s a way of getting organized that honors who you are while setting you up to achieve your biggest goals,” Morgenstern says.  She sits down with Thrive and explains how, if you do your part and take care of yourself, you can not only raise a happy, healthy child — but also become happier and healthier yourself. 

Thrive Global: What is your morning routine?

Julie Morgenstern: I’ve been doing the same morning routine since I was 13 years old. I do an eight minute routine of Pilates calisthenics — stretching, push-ups, and sit-ups. There’s no day that I skip it, no matter where I am in the world. I’ve already picked out what I’m going to wear the night before, so that I don’t have to stress about that in the morning. One thing I have done to really make my mornings more pleasant and more energetic is an app called Sleep Cycle. It’s an alarm that measures when you’re at the lightest state of sleep, and wakes you up then. It has transformed my relationship to sleep. I wake up refreshed and ready to go because it wakes me up just at the right point in my sleep cycle.

TG: How can we be productive when we have an overwhelming amount to do? 

JM:  No matter how much you have on your plate, reducing the stress of starting your day always starts with the end of the day before. One ritual that I have in my workday that is non-negotiable is that I end every single day by looking at tomorrow — plus two days beyond that. I have to know if tomorrow doesn’t go exactly as planned, how much wiggle room do I have to take on a new opportunity and move something to the next day? That  really reduces the stress every morning, because I never walk in without a plan for the day.

TG:  How do you handle, organize, and tackle your inbox?

JM: I try very hard to batch process my email. My first two hours every morning are focused creative time. That’s when I do my big thinking. If I have something to write, I try to do that first thing in the morning before I take in what the rest of the world needs from me. Then I roll my shades up for business. As the day gets later, I check a little bit more frequently,  but I try to not be mindlessly checking in every micro-moment. Be intentional: Go in with intention and see what you can respond to. Don’t just check mindlessly. 

TG: Your book, Time To Parent, has a really novel way of organizing time. Is there really a way we can divide our time to not feel that dreaded parent guilt? 

JM: The years we’re raising our kids are the most time-stretched years of a human’s life, inarguably. There’s never really been a manual on how to divide your time, or even think about it. I wanted that when I was raising my daughter. Every client I’ve ever worked with around the world was craving a manual. I did a bunch of research, figured out what kids need to feel loved and secure, and then integrated that into what I’ve known from 30 years of working with my clients. Here’s a way to think about your new role:  First, divide it into two parts — raising a human and being a human. And then each of those have four components.

To raise a happy, healthy human, we as adults need to divide our time between four activities, and they spell an acronym, PART, like doing your part for another person. We have to provide for our kids — work, make, and manage money to pay for what our kids need. Next, we have to arrange the logistics of our kids’ lives, which is a very time-consuming, tedious, sort of thankless part of the job, but is critical. We have to spend time relating to our kids, which is getting to know them for the unique individuals that they are. Finally,  we have to spend time teaching our kids — values and life skills so they can be successful out in the world. P-A-R-T, doing our part.

As adults, we’re responsible for our children’s well-being, but also responsible for our own. To be a happy, healthy human —even when you’re parenting — we have to divide our time between four activities. Those spell an acronym, SELF, as in fueling yourself. 

We have to spend time on sleep so our bodies and our brains operate and can be creative and patient. We have to spend time on exercise, whether it’s formal or informal movement, so we feel energized and confident in our bodies. We have to spend time on love, as in adult relationships, because it’s so hard to nurture another when we don’t feel nurtured. And, finally,  we have to spend time on fun. You have to build in whatever hobbies or passions make you feel like you. You may not be able to do it in the big blocks of time you did before you had kids, but integrate those self-care activities in 20-minute doses.

TG: How do you combat burnout?

JM: When one of my clients come to me feeling burned out — the very first thing I ask is, “What activity instantly brings you joy?” For some people, it’s dancing, or playing the guitar, or reading a book.  Then, we build that activity into 20 minutes a day, or a few hours once a week. Once you build in something that instantly brings you joy, even to the busiest over-packed schedule, time has a way of stretching and you have the energy and clarity to tackle all of the rest. 

TG: What is your advice for moms going back to work after having a baby? 

JM:  Women feel so much guilt about work. The only thing that is detrimental to kids is not whether we work, it’s how we feel about our work and how we project that. When a mom feels guilty working, what we do is we send the wrong messages to our kids. We’re like, “Honey, I hate that I have to work, but I have to pay for this nice house, and I have to pay for your school and our nice vacations. So I hate to do it, but I have to.” What does your kid hear? My mom hates working, but she’s only working because of me. So we send inadvertently the wrong messages. If you love your work, celebrate and share that with your kids. At the end of the day, celebrate how each of you spent your day. “This is what I learned at work today,” and, “This is what I learned at school today,” and share that together. Do not feel guilty. 

Also, don’t feel guilty at work that you are leaving at a certain time or that you have something to prove — then you’re up until 1:00 AM doing extra work to make up for the fact that you left at  5:00 sharp. In all my years of coaching, there was one population that is the most productive and efficient in the workforce — the working moms. They know they have to get out on time and they suffer no distractions; they get their work done.

TG: How do you not fall back into bad habits?

JM: You just have to stay mindful and forgive yourself when you do. When it comes to habits, don’t have too many. You know, if you have five habits in your day, it’s plenty.  Don’t overload yourself. The more conscious you can stay about your habits, the better. The truth is, you’re going to get thrown off because life and work are going to throw you curveballs. The key is once you recognize, “Whoa, I’ve fallen out of my exercise habit  or my self-care habit,” the minute you recognize it, and it may be three weeks after you lost it, I hit reset in the next hour. Forgive yourself your failures, and hit reset. We can rebuild a habit and reset a habit every next moment. 

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  • Lindsey Benoit O'Connell

    Deputy Editor, Entertainment + Partnerships at Thrive

    Lindsey Benoit O'Connell is Thrive's Deputy Editor, Entertainment + Partnerships. Prior to working at Thrive, she was the Entertainment + Special Projects Director for Good Housekeeping, Women's Health, Cosmopolitan, Redbook and Woman's Day booking the talent for covers and inside features. O'Connell currently lives in Astoria, NY with her husband Brian and adorable son, Hunter Fitz.