I Used This Time Management Strategy With My Toddler, and Now He Gets Ready in 15 Minutes Every Morning

It's not weird to use lean management principles on your kids, I swear.

by Matt Girvan

My toddler used to take forever to get ready in the morning — somewhere in the neighborhood of an hour and 15 minutes. Needless to say, this routine needed some adjustments, especially since time management is what I do (I even made the apps to prove it) and my wee one was putting my reputation on the line with his freestyle schedule. So, I did what I do in any situation of inefficiency: I made a factory floor Visual Management board and a Standard Work checklist. And it worked.

But first, a quick rundown of terms:

Visual Management: A lean tool that uses mostly images to convey how something works, it drives efficiency in factories and businesses.

This story was syndicated from Medium for The Fatherly Forum, a community of parents and influencers with insights about work, family, and life.

Daily management: a lean tool that encourages a daily stand-up at a whiteboard to talk about what needs to get done. It keeps everyone on the same page and helps keep progress going since it’s daily. Software developers adopted this concept more recently, and may refer to it as kanban boards, daily scrum, or agile development, but they’re basically the same thing.

Standard Work: a lean tool that creates a standard expectation day after day to make sure everything is taken care of, and within a certain time period.

All of the above were the tools used in the creation of this board. Obviously, my son didn’t know that — I’m obsessive but not quite to the point where I’m preaching about Lean management to a 3-year-old (yet). Still, it was these very methods that led to the huge time saving (or productivity saving, as it would be called in lean) that the board has delivered.

Don’t get me wrong — I make no claims to being the first parent to come up with this idea. Lots of parents make charts, chore wheels, and visuals for their children to follow, but something that tends to get overlooked is the element of ownership. My boy had to be involved in making the board for this visual to work.

For instance, he chose all the pictures for the chart. I did the search of what I wanted to convey, and he chose the pictures that he understood best (and of course, the funniest pictures were his favorites).

He also helped me laminate the pics, print the images, cut out the cards, put magnets on the back to stick to the board — all of this meant he felt like it was his and he made it, it was not something thrust upon him. We picked them to convey the message because he can’t read yet, but also because in lean we always try to use images (even for adults) because the brain processes images faster than text. Images are especially useful in a workplace with international clients or coworkers whose command of a given language can vary.

All of the images are attached to magnets so we can add or take away things over time. The board changes, and he rolls with the changes. This has simultaneously made him feel more comfortable about both structure and change. Not only that, but he sees what’s coming for the week ahead and can prepare accordingly. Previously, he would feel anxious about going to pre-school. Now, he sees the pre-school days coming way ahead and so when the day arrives he is totally ready.

  • The top of the board is the days of the week. They’re listed out with the picture of the god that the day was named after and with the planet the day is associated with. This makes it easier for him to understand the different days and makes it easier to remember than just a word. Also, the days have the name written in English and Spanish so I tell him both names to improve his Spanish.
  • The bottom right of the chart is his evening checklist.
  • The bottom left of the chart is a morning checklist. He looks at the pic then does the action, say brush teeth. Then he checks it done. The act of checking something done for him seems to be as important as it is for an adult: he really gets a good feeling from it.

The best part is, he seriously enjoys all this stuff now. Before this, it was a huge chore to get him to brush his teeth and get dressed in the morning, and bedtime was pretty much a nightmare, too. Now, instead of saying “It’s time to get ready for school” or “It’s time to go to bed,” all I have to say is, “C’mon let’s do the board,” and he loves it — really loves it.

In addition, it’s easier to help him with his tasks since he already knows what needs to happen, and it’s fun to see him enjoy them. An added bonus is that my wife and I can look at the board to see what needs to get done, instead of each of us mistakenly assuming the other took care of it.

It now takes about 15 minutes to get him ready in the morning, with zero fighting, whining, or tantrums. And the other night he wanted to go to bed early just to do the board. Parents, you know what I’m talking about here — those tantrum-free minutes back in your day are pure gold.

Matt Girvan is co-founder and president of My Gung Ho, LLC, which creates apps that help individuals thrive in their personal and professional lives. He is also a Lean Management Consultant specializing in design, operations, and supply chain.