I am a big fan of routines, systems, and principles.
There’s something about order and structure that make everything better.
It’s comforting, and calming knowing how your day will begin and end.
When your day is structured to get your best work done, you begin every workday with a sense of clarity, purpose, and satisfaction.
Darren Hardy, editor-in-chief of Success Magazine and author of The Compound Effect argues that a person’s morning and evening routines are the “bookends” of a successful life.
When you build better morning and evening routines, you prepare your brain to be better equipped to face the varying challenges each day brings.
If you swear by morning routines, you could get even more out of your day by creating an evening routine.
Building routines aren’t easy. It takes self-discipline, and practice to make it work. But the good news is that once you’ve practised a routine for a good number of days it gets harder not to do them.
Stick with it, and your life will never be the same.
Evening routines can set you up for a for a better day tomorrow.
Here is a familiar routine you should give up: After work, you eat dinner, sprawl out on the couch, binge Netflix, you keep using your smartphone until you practically fall asleep, struggle to get a good night sleep, wake up tired or late, and start your day without knowing exactly what needs to be done.
Long before the week is over, you’re burned out and know you won’t hit this week’s goals.
How do you get out of this rut?
Better morning and evening routines!
A routine at night means better time management.
“Maintaining healthy habits is a good idea at any time of the day, but certain ones can give you more bang for your buck when done before bed,” says Rachel Daniels, RD, senior director of nutrition at Virtual Health Partners in New York.
In his book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, Mason Currey writes about the habits, routines, and rituals of hundreds of artists, including Benjamin Franklin, Karl Marx, Charles Dickens, Pablo Picasso and Ernest Hemingway. Their daily rituals varied wildly, but routines put them in an optimal state of mind to do their best work every day.
Currey came to this conclusion, after studying their habits.
In the right hands, [a routine] can be a finely calibrated mechanism for taking advantage of a range of limited resources: time (the most limited resource of all) as well as willpower, self-discipline, optimism. A solid routine fosters a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies and helps stave off the tyranny of moods.
The close of each day is just as important as the start. Use these habits to get ready for tomorrow and minimise the resistance you encounter in getting things done every day.
1. Get Ready for Tomorrow Today
This is one of the most important things you can do before tomorrow morning.
Planning for tomorrow changes everything.
Spend your last 20 minutes every day to reflect, process, and prioritise for the next day. End your day on purpose.
At home, most people get their work clothes ready, exercise gear out and ready for morning exercise, and get all the relevant documents that they need to use for the next day ready before they sleep.
To prepare better, you could write down how you want to spend your morning. If you do this, you will wake up and know exactly what you need to do to make your day a success.
You will become more effective and more productive because you’re ready and everything is within your reach.
Conversely, if you’re not ready for the next day, imagine what can go wrong.
You wake up late, can’t decide your clothes, you forget where you put your important documents for the meeting, etc.
Your day will be in a mess.
So always plan your morning the night before.
2. Create a Shutdown Ritual
Our lives are incessantly bombarded and interrupted by emails, texts and phone calls — much of it unnecessary — keeping us plugged in and unable to relax even when we are not working.
You gotta get your brain out of “work mode” to have a better and relaxing evening.
It’s easy to take your work back home or even to bed, making it difficult to fall asleep as you think over job-related problems.
Give yourself a buffer period between the time you read your last email at work and the time you go to bed.
Plan your evenings to help you clear your head. It will help you go to bed feeling less stressed and allow you to sleep better, with a clearer mind.
The idea is to get your head out of work before you lie down to go to sleep.
Michael Woodward, Ph.D., organisational psychologist and author of “The YOU Plan,” agrees. “The last thing you need is to be lying in bed thinking about an email you just read from that overzealous boss who spends all their waking hours coming up with random requests driven by little more than a momentary impulse.”
Create a ritual so you can detach from work the minute you sign off.
As soon as you step through the front door, start the after-work ritual that will help put more mental distance between you and your workday.
Time with family, a simple exercise, spending time on your passion project, watching your favourite show, and reading things you could consider.
It could be anything that relaxes you and that is replicable each day.
Truly successful people do anything but work right before bed. They don’t obsessively check their email, and they try not to dwell on work-related issues.
In his book, Drive: The Surprising Truth about what Motivates Us, bestselling author Daniel Pink suggests creating a ritual at the end of the day to help you gain control of your evening.
“Establish a closing ritual. Know when to stop working. Try to end each work day the same way, too. Straighten up your desk. Backup your computer. Make a list of what you need to do tomorrow.”
Create your ‘shutdown ritual’ today to disconnect from the workday tonight.
By creating your own ritual, one that focuses on control and positivity, you’re essentially rewriting every day with a happy ending.
Create a relaxing ritual tells the brain that the working day is over.
3. Establish a Restorative Place to Unwind
If you look at a screen all day, you need physiological and psychological resources to help you wind down.
If you are mentally tired, sitting down and watching television all night is probably the least effective way to unwind.
Find somewhere you feel comfortable, happy and relaxed — and spend 20 minutes there just to focus on calming yourself.
It could be a place to do absolutely nothing.
But it doesn’t necessarily have to be a place of solitude.
“The point is it is your space to settle inner tension, allowing for the renewal of one’s coping resources, contemplation and buying time to gather thoughts,” says Prof. Mark Cropley, a leading psychologist at the University of Surrey specialising in health and stress.
The most important thing to remember is to create a relaxing ritual that tells the brain that work is over.
“Getting changed and having a shower as soon as you arrive home signals to the brain that you have finished for the day, as can short household chores — so long as you don’t usually see them as work,” says Prof Cropley.
4. Make Time to Reflect
“At the end of each day, you should play back the tapes of your performance. The results should either applaud you or prod you.” — Jim Rohn
Benjamin Franklin famously asked himself the same self-improvement question every night:
“What good have I done today?”
Reflection is a simple practice that can put things in perspective for you.
That can take no more than 5 minutes a day but can have a tremendous effect on your day tomorrow.
Remember to take some time to reflect on the positive moments of the day (whilst you ponder over what can be improved) and celebrate the successes, even if they were few and far between.
Laura Vanderkam, author of “I Know How She Does It” and “What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast,” adds: “Taking a few moments to think about what went right over the course of the day can put you in a positive, grateful mood.”
Research shows writing down what you need to do the next day relieves anxiety and helps you enjoy your evening
These are a few questions you can focus on for a purposeful evening of reflection:
What you did and didn’t get done?
How do you feel about it?
If you could have done it in less time and how would you approach it?
What were the things you did that weren’t important or even necessary but felt urgent?
What would you change to be more productive tomorrow?
5. Focus on Mastery Experiences
The time after work is yours to manage.
Some people spend time on their passion projects and work towards their dream career or vision.
Or better still, you can focus on personal development.
Do you want to learn a new skill or language?
It’s the opportune time you can leverage to master a new experience.
Or you could improve stuff you’re good at and try to get better.
Actively engage in a hobby, don’t passively sit on the couch.
The daily grind can easily overshadow passion project like writing a book, starting a blog, learning a new language, starting an online business, creating art, learning an instrument, designing, learning to code, collecting and selling vintage objects etc.
Extracurricular outlets don’t just boost your sanity — they feed back into your day job and can actually make you more productive.
Using 30 minutes or less of your evening to pursue something meaningful to you will immensely improve not only your total well being but a sense of self-worth.
Make time for something you have a natural interest in.
6. Read Something You Enjoy
Experts agree that reading is the very last thing most successful people do before going to sleep — US President Barack Obama and Bill Gates are known to read for at least a half hour before bed.
Reading is a great de-stressor.
It’s the perfect kind of evening ritual: it forces you to lie down and cut out the distractions.
Choose books you enjoy.
It can be whatever you want — inspiration, fiction, anything — but find some time to read and grow and put your mind in a state of learning.
When you go to sleep, your brain is going to consolidate what you just read, which is pretty nice.
If you prefer to read in bed, choose paper books. They will calm your brain and help you transition into sleep quicker.
The potential disadvantage of a digital reader is the amount and type of light coming from screens which can be disruptive to your sleep.
7. Cut Out the Blue Light!
Blue light from tablets, laptops and smartphones interferes with falling asleep because it suppresses melatonin, an essential hormone for sleep.
Devices can be very stimulating and stimulation is the last thing you need when trying to fall asleep at night.
If you are going to have your computer open, in an emergency situation, try using the f.lux software.
It tracks the cycle of the sun in your time zone and latitude and then adjusts your gadget’s levels of blue light to match.
Or, you could dim your device.
A recent Mayo Clinic study found that dimming the brightness to about 50% keeps blue light low enough to not interfere with sleep.
But, digital gadgets aren’t the only culprits; to avoid blue light from your lamps, switch to bulbs that have a low colour temperature.
Richard Wiseman, professor of psychology at the University of Hertfordshire and bestselling author of Night School: Wake up to The Power of Sleep, adds:
“Ten minutes of a smartphone in front of your nose is about the equivalent of an hour long walk in bright daylight. Imagine going for an hour long walk in bright daylight and then thinking, “Now I’ll get some sleep.” It ain’t going to happen.”
So no screens, at least an hour before bed.
8. And Prioritize Sleep!
It can be easy to minimize the importance of sleep, but it’s absolutely essential for optimum performance.
Good sleep on a regular basis is critical to maintaining balanced mental, emotional, and physical health.
Stick to the same sleep and wake schedule.
Remove clutter and items that remind you of work from your bedroom.
Thomas Oppong is the founder of AllTopStartups and writes on science-based answers to problems in life about creativity, productivity, and self-improvement.