Operation Easy Breezy School Mornings

Operation Easy Breezy School Mornings

It’s 715am and there is madness running rampant through the house. My 5 year old is screaming and totally melting down because he can’t find his “special” shirt. My 6-year-old is keeping himself busy with his baseball card collection and is dressed in his ultra accessorized Golden State Warriors gear. My husband is half dressed, brushing his teeth and responding to a client via email on his phone. I’m in the kitchen making three meals at once; breakfast for the hAngry kids that they decide to complain about as soon as they hear it’s not pancakes; lunches for the kids; and stressing out to put a crockpot dish together in hopes of avoiding an evening like the morning. It’s a school day.

This is how it used to be for us almost every day with the exception of pancake days when we wouldn’t get any sass about breakfast. This was a terrible way to begin each morning. There was way too much yelling, tears, and stern tones for a 1 hour period. I decided that something had to change. Our current system wasn’t working for anyone.


This is about one Mama’s journey to create a sustainable solution to messy, maddening, and manic mornings with the help of Lean Manufacturing Principles.

My name is Sarah Cheek. I’m a tenured Intensive Care Unit RN turned Lean Expert, mama of two “spirited” boys Ben (7) and Henry (6), wife of 10 years, and soul calling entrepreneur. During my children’s early years, I was a woman who I didn’t recognize or expect to see being a mom.

The demands and intensity of raising two boys(practically twins), working full time; learning the foreign language of Lean Manufacturing and Excel after only ever speaking anatomy and science; supporting a husband through a career change, managing a household, and an every growing to-do list was more than I could handle.

I always prided myself as being a master juggler, but I didn’t have enough limbs for this level of disruption and responsibility. As a result, my body communicated it’s failure to aqueous in the form of severe anxiety. This didn’t help matters.

Who was I? Where did the strong, playful, lovable, grateful, meditative woman go? I was brought to my knees on a daily basis.

I had no control of my life. I was completely inefficient. All of my habits and inconsistent systems around life were created when I was in complete survival mode.


After struggling with this reality for several years, a light bulb idea went off. What if I applied what I was learning and teaching at work to my home life? After all, Lean is about increasing the value for the customer, employee, and business.

I want more value in my life!

I want more time!

I want more quality time with my kids!

I want to look back on these years with a smile!

I want to be the me I know I am!

Task by task, pain point by pain point, I began applying Lean all over my life and experienced a dramatic transformation. Morning routines were a BIG pain point, hence the creation of:



Ben aka The Tornado; he leaves a mess behind wherever he goes

The Tornado

Henry aka Mr. Meltdown; don’t let this cute face fool you, not a day goes by without at least 2 intense meltdowns

Badass Parents (Sarah & Brian)

Badass Parents

Lean Tools Applied:

Kanban: visual cues and signals used to communicate expectations to multiple people

Mistake Proofing: build in quality at the source of the action

Daily Management: how are we doing at achieving our goals?

Standard Work: the recipe for success; new behaviors for the system to work

External Set Up: what things can be done in advance of the morning to require less to-dos

Eliminate Waste: there are 8 wastes that are the culprits for inefficiencies, stress, frustration, and overwhelm; identify and remove

Morning Kanban Board: Kanban is Japanese for signal. The board communicates the status of each product’s (child’s) status in preparation for release. The boys were very involved with making the board

Kanban Board

Parent Standard Work: Mom and Dad’s recipe for success, includes wake up time, meditation, shower, and dressed for the day.

Breakfast Menu for the Week: posted for all to see

Measures for Success

  1. Leave house by 8:10am
  2. # of meltdowns
  3. # of breakfasts in the car
  4. # of forgotten items
  5. # of reminders
  6. Parents Stress Score 0–10


Day #1

Kids were wildly enthusiastic. Mr. Meltdown ran upstairs within 5 minutes of waking to report that all but 3 tasks were complete and they were all mommy dependent.

Kids were waiting for breakfast fully ready for school. I was the reason we barely made it out by 8:10a due to breakfast taking longer to make, darn bacon.

Opportunities: On bacon mornings, put in oven before I get in shower.


  1. Out of house at 810a exactly
  2. 0 meltdowns
  3. 0 breakfast in car
  4. 0 forgotten items
  5. 0 reminders

Parents Stress Score 0–10: 4

Woo hoo!

Stay tuned for Day 2

Day 2


  1. Out of house at 810
  2. Zero meltdowns
  3. 1 reminder (goal zero)
  4. Zero eats in car
  5. Zero forgotten items

Parents Stress Score 0–10: 7

This morning went well with the exception of Mr. Meltdown who requires a little more time to wake up, sleeping in later than usual. Despite this, he still maintained a happy demeanor and was totally engaged in the Kanban Board.

The opportunity for a smoother morning was highlighted for me while making lunches. This is an excellent chance to apply the Lean Priniciple of External Set-up. Let me explain what this life changing principle is about.

So Lean Management is all about eliminating waste from experiences. There are 8 wastes (touches, steps, creations, damn its, brain space, waiting, stuff, and transports).

With set up, it’s all considered waste because what is the “customer” or person being provided a service doing while you are setting up? Waiting.

The goal with set up is to do as much ahead of time as possible so that when your “customer” arrives, they don’t have to wait.

Set up is broken down into external and internal.

External is all set up that can be done prior to the customers arrival.

Internal can only be done while the customer is present.

An example of this is the NASCAR pit stop. The crew gets everything ready as much as possible in advance of the racer (customer) coming into the pit.

The clock starts when the car pulls into the pit. The goal is to minimize the time doing internal setup actions like changing the tires and putting gas in the car.

Make sense?

So in the case of our school mornings, our clock starts as soon as we wake up.

We are all customers moving towards a common direction of getting out of the house.

Any barrier to us smoothly reaching our goal is evaluated for waste.

Making lunches and breakfast in the morning delays breakfast from getting into hungry bellies. So, I’m going to experiment with making the majority of the lunches the night before (converting internal to external set up).

Stay tuned for how it goes.

Day 3


  1. Out of out at 809
  2. Zero meltdowns
  3. Zero reminders
  4. Zero eats in the car
  5. Zero forgotten items

Parents Stress Score 0–10: 3

It worked! Making part of the kids lunches the night before made the morning a breeze for all involved!

The kids were racing to see who got their charts completed first. I was diggin the competition even though it ended with them throwing the other’s magnets on the floor. Boys.

The ownership that each one is taking over their side of the board is impressive. My heart skips a beat with excitement when I see them quickly studying the chart to see what else is left to be done.

They are building confidence and fostering independence in themselves, especially the younger one. He used to be super whiny in the mornings and want to have an adult with him to do each task. Not anymore!

Sarah Cheek·
10 min
7 cards

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