Life keeps getting in the way of my quest to turn my family into robots | Emma Brockes

Dinner, bath, book, bedtime: every school year we stick to the timetable for a few days. Until the variables start creeping in …

There is a protocol at New York City public schools that allows for early entrance in the morning if you sign your kids up for breakfast. Customarily, the school gates open at 8.30am (and shut, as we know too well, at 8.33am, after which you are marked late and forced to shout at your children in the street). But if you arrive 30 minutes early, you can get them up the steps and into the building for a Department of Education-issued muffin and milk and be back at your desk by 8.30am. This is the holy grail in our house, a piece of flawless efficiency that sets the stage for the rest of the day. In three years of school, we have achieved it twice.

The quest for the perfect timetable is one I’ve been periodically engaged in since high school. Then, it was a matter of coloured pens and folders. If I could find the right combination of highlighters, stickers and capitalised sub-heads, I could pass into the golden zone of faultless revision notes, gateway to the state of nirvana. This ambition faded in my 20s and for some of my 30s, when life was single-focus enough to make timetabling simple. Now, in my 40s and with two kids and their interests to manage, the desire to nail a frictionless existence has come roaring back. It is particularly strong at this time of year, when the back-to-school vibes are strong. This year we’ll do it, I think. We’ll parcel out our time into 20-minute segments, and before we know it we’ll be robot-efficient.

Emma Brockes is a Guardian columnist

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