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Let me know if your mornings sound like this: You wake up an hour before you have to leave the house, rush around to get ready, swear up and down you’re forgetting something, grab a protein bar and run out the door.
Once you get to work, you’re a chaotic mess and already overwhelmed before you’ve even gotten to your desk. You’re burned out and can’t focus.
If this sounds familiar, you’re in good company.
Every good day starts with a great night. It’s only when you’re rested and you’ve tied up all of your loose ends from the prior day that you can really tackle each new day.
People’s professional and home lives are becoming increasingly intertwined, which makes the boundaries that create a work/life balance pretty blurred.
Many people are working from home, switching back and forth between letting the dog out to joining a conference call to grabbing Amazon packages off their front porch all in the same timeframe, as we’ve constructed a culture of being available 24/7.
While there are a lot of strategies for recreating necessary boundaries, having an evening routine after work is among the most effective. So in this article, we are going to look at 23 evening routine habits that you can adopt to end your day that will set you up for a better tomorrow.
Let’s get going.
1. Establish a “Shut Down” Ritual
You know when you try to turn your computer off and you have a lot of tabs and programs running, and you get a ton of pop-ups asking if you’re sure you want to exit? Think of your brain in this same way.
You can’t just shut it down with a simple click before closing some loops because it will still be trying to run the programs and find solutions to ongoing issues.
Your “shut down” ritual should take about 5 or 10 minutes, and once you’re finished, you will have a grasp on what you got accomplished that day and what needs to be done the next so you can defer all work-related issues until the next day.
To shut down your mind and allow yourself to have a restful night’s sleep, do a brain dump every night to close down any pending demands, or at least have them out of your brain and onto paper so you can address them at another time.
Look at your calendar and tasks and do a quick check-in on where you stand with your projects, then come up with a plan to address these things for the rest of the week. Write down everything that is weighing on you, from overdue doctors’ visits to big projects you have in process at work.
Then have some kind of signal that your work is finished for the day. For me, this is closing my laptop. Once it’s closed, it doesn’t get reopened until the next day and I stop thinking about anything that’s on it.
You could also say something out loud to yourself like, “My work is done today” or anything else that firmly signals that it’s time to switch gears.
2. Plan for the Next Day
As mentioned, part of your “shut down” routine should be planning what and how you’re going to address ongoing issues and projects. This will involve prioritizing everything that’s on your plate (the Eisenhower Matrix can help you with this) and deciding what you can reasonably accomplish tomorrow.
Remember what Benjamin Franklin said: Failing to plan is planning to fail.
Determining your plan for the coming day allows you to identify your most important tasks in advance—before the pressures of the day start coming at you. In the best scenario, the first few hours of your day would be spent handling your most challenging, yet important, tasks–your MITs.
The morning will be the calmest part of your day, so being able to focus all of your attention on a task that will have the greatest positive impact on your life is best done during this time.
And, once your MITs have been completed, you can consider your day to be a success because you’ve done three things that will bring you closer to achieving your long-term vision.
These are the tasks that, amidst your busy schedule, may otherwise be put off. But by committing to getting your MITs done ASAP, you will ensure these necessary duties get accomplished.
3. Pack for the Next Day
Packing up the night before is like doing your future self a favor– and you will thank yourself for it.
Sure, it doesn’t take long to throw some leftovers from the fridge into your lunchbox in the morning, but just grabbing the lunchbox itself and running out of the door is even faster. And, if you prepare yourself as much as possible, the time will add up and your mornings will be a breeze.
What can you take off your plate in the morning? If you go to the gym after work, pack your gym bag (and even put it in your car), set your clothes out for work, pack your lunch (and your kids’ lunches and school supplies as well), and set the coffee maker on a timer so it starts brewing as soon as you wake up.
Taking these steps will decrease your chances of forgetting something the next day, and it will prevent you from experiencing decision fatigue before you even get to work. Waking up will feel less like a chore if you’ve set yourself up the night before.
4. Spend Time with Your Family
Those with lofty goals and high-achieving entrepreneurs often get so focused on continuing their success that they forget about the reason they probably work so hard in the first place–their families.
It’s easy to get lost in planning, executing, and making your goals become a reality and forget to take a look at the bigger picture of life and enjoy what your success is actually doing for you.
But you’re supposed to work to live, not live to work.
Set aside time every night to spend with your family. Sit down to dinner, help your kids with their homework, play a game with the family, participate in whatever your family does at night.
Reward yourself with this luxury and it will pay off in the long run when you look back on your life.
5. Get a Full Night’s Sleep
You’re probably thinking that’s easier said than done, but once you get into the routine of it, it’s simple to do.
Sleeping well directly impacts your mental and physical health, and your overall quality of life. Without exercising healthy sleep hygiene, your energy during the day can go downhill, taking your productivity, motivation, and emotions along with it.
You’re in good company with 50-70 million other Americans if you spend your evenings tossing and turning. But, you can make some changes to your lifestyle to help fix this problem. Check out these resources for some help:
You may think you can get by on less sleep than what is recommended for you, but here is a whole TED talk on why it doesn’t work like that.
6. Clean and Organize
Waking up to laundry on the floor and dishes in the sink will only start your day off by facing obstacles. However, if you spend 20 minutes every night doing a quick tidy-up ritual, you will find your morning much easier to navigate as you’re trying to get out of the door.
By putting things away, you will avoid the slippery slope of living in a disaster area and feeling distracted in the morning.
What’s more, walking into a frenzied work environment first thing in the morning sets your day up for chaos.
Clear your digital space before closing up for the day to avoid being confronted with endless tabs and programs that aren’t relevant to the work you’re doing the next day. Working and living in an organized environment is an absolute must if you want to feel in control of your life.
7. Use the 10-3-2-1-0 Formula
This simple technique suggested by fitness coach Craig Ballantyne will help you wake up feeling rested so you can get more done in the early hours of the morning. Not only will you get to bed earlier by following this formula, you will sleep better as well.
10 hours before bed: No more caffeine
3 hours before bed: Stop consuming food and alcohol
2 hours before bed: Stop working
1 hour before bed: Turn off all screens including your phone, TV, and laptop
0: The number of times you hit “snooze” in the morning
It takes about 10 hours for your body to eliminate itself of caffeine and get rid of its stimulatory effects.
Finishing your meals and alcohol three hours before bed will help prevent you from experiencing heartburn, which can interrupt your sleep. While alcohol might make you tired at first, it disturbs your natural sleep cycle and can rob you of valuable deep sleep.
Complete your “shut down” ritual at least two hours before bed so you can have uninterrupted time with your family and put work problems aside.
Shut down your electronics an hour before bed because the blue light will disturb your sleep. You can read instead, meditate, take a bath, or spend time talking with your spouse.
Finally, don’t give into the temptation to hit the snooze button in the morning. Doing so will make you late for your planned day and make your morning routine rushed. Plus, going back to sleep can ultimately make you wake up even more tired than you would have been if you just got up as planned.
8. Practice a Spiritual Habit
A lot of people use the word “spirituality” these days– especially those in the younger generations. In fact, a survey conducted by Pew Research found that millennials are less religious than those who are two generations above them. However, they feel an equally strong sense of spirituality and gratitude.
Here are a few ways you can practice spirituality:
Doing some reflection and processing the events from the day can help you on your journey to self-discovery. As one of the most ancient forms of self-help, journaling gives you more insight as you explore your ideas, impulses, feelings, memories, goals, and wishes through writing.
Journaling is a practice that is often suggested by spiritual mentors as being an effective way to gain a heightened sense of self-understanding and compassion. Finally, journaling will help you find inner stability and identify (and put an end to) self-destructive behaviors.
Communicating with the higher power that you have connected with can further influence how you perceive that power. For some, this may be talking to God, while others may look toward Allah, Brahma, the Tao, or a variety of other forms.
Practicing gratitude has been said to be a form of spirituality in its own right. Deepak Chopra, a prominent figure in gratitude, meditation, and spirituality, shows a powerful connection between gratitude and spirituality in this article.
He notes that the origin of the word “gratitude” comes from the Latin root gratus, meaning to please and welcome. Chopra argues that “gratus” is the root of many words that signify celebration and being in contact with a higher power such as grace and gratification.
This root word signifies seeing value and benefit, which can be considered to be a remedy for suffering. Therefore, it could also be considered to be a form of spirituality.
Meditation is also essentially a spiritual practice of its own. Meditation is the process of concentrating on your own consciousness, which eventually leads you to discover that your consciousness is infinite.
When you’re meditating, you’re getting in tune with your most inner self and developing yourself spiritually. According to spiritual practices, people’s ultimate goal is to merge their mind with Infinite Consciousness (which is the ultimate reality) and the only way to do this is through meditation.
You might assume that in order to be a great achiever, you need to focus your reading on business or self-improvement books. And while continuous learning is important, focusing on these things right before bed will get your wheels turning and your mind moving, which can prevent you from being able to sleep.
You may end up staying awake, ruminating over new ideas or a business strategy you want to try, which is not a great beginning to a healthy night’s sleep.
Instead, read a fiction book or a biography that allows you to escape into someone else’s world. Read a book that is relaxing–even if it has an educational twist to it.
This will keep you focused on the story you’re reading instead of taking your mind to the variety of things you need to do to improve your life.
Reading a relaxing book for 30 minutes before turning off the lights will help you fall asleep quickly and wake up feeling creative and rested.
10. Practice Something You Enjoy
Your free in the evening is completely controlled by you.
If you have a hobby you enjoy, this may be the time to engage in that. Or maybe you’re working on a project that will move you closer to achieving your dreams, or you want to focus on learning a new skill. The evenings are a great time to use to try out new experiences or improve upon your current abilities.
Instead of passively sitting around on the couch, engage in something that is meaningful to you in some way, whether that’s learning a new language, practicing playing an instrument, creating art, or working on a collection. Check out these popular hobbies for men and hobbies for women if you’re looking for something to try.
Spending time doing things you enjoy will impact your daily attitude, which can increase your productivity. So spend 30 minutes pursuing something meaningful to you at night, and you will notice a big difference in your overall well being and sense of self-worth.
You probably spend a lot of time thinking about the future, and maybe significantly less time reflecting on where you’ve been. And while it’s good to focus on moving forward instead of regretting past mistakes, this tendency also prevents people from doing some solid reflection.
Take some time every night to reflect on your day, thinking about what went well and what could have gone better.
Did you face any unexpected challenges? If so, how did you handle them? How might you handle similar situations in the future? What can you do to prevent the problem from happening again?
Doing some reflection at night will help you gain insight into your performance and increase your self-awareness regarding your ability to problem-solve. With this insight, you can make those small improvements that are needed to end up with major results in the long run.
12. Think of One Thing That Excites You About Tomorrow
This is an effective and powerful way to ensure you will get up earlier than necessary and jumpstart your day.
Thinking about the things that tomorrow could bring–seizing new opportunities, seeing more results, meeting new people, making new decisions–will feel both motivating and empowering. Having these things at the front of your mind will inspire you to jump out of bed when the time comes.
Accept your day for what it was, no matter how it went. Remind yourself that you did your best and that is something you can feel good about.
There’s nothing you can change about today–you made all of the best decisions that you could at the time with the information you had.
Don’t carry any burdens of the day with you into tomorrow because this will only keep you living in the past. If necessary, you can choose to be twice as productive tomorrow by making accepting and letting go one of your evening routine habits.
14. Make a To-Do List
So often we lie awake thinking about what we need to get done the next day, afraid we may forget something important. Taking ten or fifteen minutes to create a to-do list allows you to put that worry aside.
Set the intention that once the item is on your list, you won’t think about it again until tomorrow. This sends a message to your mind that all is okay and there is no need to dwell on the task tonight.
15. Do Preparation For Tomorrow’s Dinner
Your slow cooker can be your best friend. It is possible to prepare an entire meal, put it in the pot, and just turn it on before you set out the next day. A warm, healthy dinner will almost magically be ready when it is time.
Even if you don’t want to rely on a slow cooker, there are always dinner preparations that can be done in advance, such as chopping vegetables, marinating meat, or whipping up a side dish that can be thrown in the microwave to warm up.
Doing this will help you prepare healthy meals, avoid stressing about what you are making, and create a less stressful environment in the evening.
16. Take a Walk
While it isn’t advisable to do strenuous exercise in the hours before bed because exercise can be energizing, a leisurely walk around the block will help you release tension and clear your mind.
The endorphins released will calm your thoughts and body. You can use the time to listen to some music, a podcast, or a book if you prefer, or spend time just enjoying the beauty around you.
17. Make Time for Intimacy
So often we are too busy worrying about all we need to get done that we forget to stop and spend time with our special loved one. This itself can lead to even greater tension.
Make time in your schedule for intimacy. A good session of sex can release tension, refocus your mental energy, and release endorphins that will help you drift off to sleep peacefully.
18. Try Aromatherapy
Aromatherapy doesn’t have to be difficult. When you get home, put some essential oil in a diffuser and go about your nightly routine, allowing the aroma to reach your mind and help it relax.
You can put your diffuser in the living room or your bedroom. You may want to use a bed spray instead to spray your bed before lying down.
Pick a scent that you really enjoy. Both lavender and chamomile are known to have relaxing properties, but any scent that speaks to you and makes you feel happy will work.
19. Have a Light Snack/Cup of Tea
You don’t want to go to bed with a full stomach, but hunger pangs are not conducive to a good night’s sleep. Try some cheese and crackers, fruit, or a bowl of warm cereal.
Tea comes in a variety of flavors. You can even find blends specifically made for winding down at night. If tea isn’t your thing, try a cup of warm milk. It has been proven to release chemicals that calm your mind and help you sleep.
20. Spend Time with Pets
Pets, especially dogs and cats, have long been known to relax us and make us happy. We so often take them for granted. Make time in the evening to play with your pet, take the dog for a leisurely walk, or simply just sit and pet them. Both you and your pet will benefit from the interaction.
Dogs have such a laid-back way of approaching life and love attention. A cat’s purr has been proven to heal and calm. Any positive interaction with a being that wants only your love can be rewarding.
21. Practice Gratitude
So often we spend our evenings thinking about all the bad things that happened during the day. We don’t allow our minds the chance to renew in order to deal with the next day.
Spend at least fifteen minutes each evening thinking about the positive things that happened. They don’t have to be major events.
The vending machine actually had your favorite treat, the customer at work who mentioned they enjoyed you waiting on them when they come in, or your child’s last words before they drifted off to sleep were “I love you.”
You can journal these things or simply spend time thinking about them and being grateful.
22. Try Progressive Relaxation
You might be surprised by just how much tension your body holds onto. Getting into the habit of releasing that tension will allow you to relax and get a better night’s sleep. You could get into a stretching routine or try progressive relaxation.
Starting with your toes, tighten the muscles and hold for ten seconds. Slowly release. Move up your body, one muscle group at a time. Tighten the muscle group, hold, then gently release. This is best done while lying down.
23. Put on Music/Relaxation Sounds
While some people relax better in complete silence, most people benefit from some noise that can help quiet their thoughts.
Make it a point to put on some music that relaxes you right after dinner. This sends a signal to your brain that it is time to slow down and relax.
An alternative to music can be playing nature sounds or a combination of music and nature.
I personally find saxophone music combined with ocean waves to be particularly relaxing. Each person is different, however, and you will need to find what works best for you.
Final Thoughts on Evening Routine Habits
It can be hard to build routines into your life. But with a little discipline, sticking to these routines will set you up for success.
The good thing about routines and habits is the more you practice them, the more natural they become. They eventually become so ingrained in your day that it’s harder to not do them.
So end your day on purpose and stick with it. You will find your days to be much more productive when you have a high-quality night.
Finally, if you want the perfect morning routine, then check out this seven-step process for creating a morning routine that will become a vital part of your daily life.)
Connie Mathers is a professional editor and freelance writer. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing and a Master’s Degree in Social Work. When she is not writing, Connie is either spending time with her daughter and two dogs, running, or working at her full-time job as a social worker in Richmond, VA.