Many productivity hacks focus on your morning routine, and how to maximise those precious hours before the sun rises high in the sky. But while many productive people get a lot out of maximizing their morning routines, barely any attention is ever given to what goes on once the sun goes down.
After work winds down for the day, you have several hours in the evening that are yours to do with what you wish. How you use this time could have a dramatic impact on your life and happiness. Here are some of my ideas for improving productivity in the evening.
1. Too many projects on the go? Set the timer
Are you one of those people who finds evenings paralysing? There are so many things you could be doing – finishing chores around the house, building that chicken coop, learning guitar, finishing that novel – but the list is so long you feel as if you can’t start any one thing for fear nothing else will get done. So, instead, you do nothing. How do you combat this project ennui?
This was an idea I got from Barbara Sher’s book Refuse to Choose. In it, Sher talks to a woman who wants to work on many different projects in the evenings, but never starts anything for fear she won’t get to work on any of the others. Sher suggests using a timer to create a “classroom” system – you set the timer for 30 minutes, which you use to work on one project, and then set it for 30 minutes again, and pull out another project. It’s like a school day where you work on each subject for a short period of time. Bit by bit, all your projects will move along.
My husband uses this method to practice music each night. Because he plays multiple instruments, he uses the timer to cycle through them so that he will stay on top of his studies.
2. Put projects within easy reach
Often, I want to work on a project instead of blobbing in front of the TV, but it is just too much effort to find all the pieces I need and get started. It’s much easier to sit down on the couch and say I’ll get to it tomorrow. So guess where I end up plonked every day of the week?
Combat this evening laziness by creating a “project box” – a shoebox or other appropriate-sized box that contains all the things you need to complete your project. For example, if you’re like me and you’re trying to finish a painting, you place all the paints and canvases, your water container and brushes, and reference images into a box. My husband is making a model train, so he keeps all his tools and steel pieces in another box. We store our project boxes in a cupboard in the living room, and when we want to work on them we just pull the boxes out, throw a movie on the TV, and get to work.
3. Unplug from the world
If you want to get stuff done in the evening, stop checking your phone every few seconds. It’s as simple as that.
Look, you are not going to miss out on anything if you have a few hours a day not tethered to your phone. What if someone sends you a great Snapchat? You’ll get it in the morning while you’re waiting for the bus. What if your friend invites you out for dinner at the last minute? You’re already in your onesie on the couch, eating peanut butter from the jar while watching Game of Thrones. The cat is sleeping on your lap and we all know that with Cat Gravity in effect (Cat Gravity determines that the weight of a cat when it’s sleeping contentedly on your lap is 100x it’s usual weight) you’re not going anywhere.
Turn off your phone, and go do something interesting.
4. Speak Affirmations
Affirmations are a way to set your intentions for the following day and put yourself in a frame of mind to create positive change. As you look back over your day and think of what you could have done a bit better, you can get into the habit of beating yourself up for not getting enough done. And this leaves you tossing and turning in bed, tired and irritable.
But tomorrow is another day, and I think it’s important to go to bed feeling empowered and pumped for the next day. Affirmations are usually a simple sentence you use to focus your intention, and for best results, speak them into the mirror before you go to sleep, or while you meditate. “I believe in myself,” “All my problems have a solution,”, “I trust myself” and “I am doing work that I fulfills me and makes me happy”. Here are 38 affirmations from Dr. Carmen Harra that can change your life, and The Only 100 Positive Affirmations You Will Ever Need from Prolific Living.
5. Plan the Next Day
Usually, when I sign off for the day, I stop thinking about the things I need to do and just focus on enjoying my evening. Apparently, I’ve been doing it wrong. Productivity expert Brian Tracy wrote in Eat That Frog about the importance of setting up tasks for the next day the night before. That way, when you drift off to sleep, your subconscious gets to work on all the problems and ideas you need for the following day.
I’ve started using this technique for my job – managing WorkflowMax’s project management blog – I plan the topics I’m going to write about for the week on a Sunday evening, and when I wake up in the morning and start typing, I find that the ideas just flow.
6. Eat a Healthy Meal
Buffer recently posted a fascinating article explaining how what we eat has a tremendous impact on our productivity. Food puts you in a good mood (a study showed that two cheeseburgers can give you the same amount of pleasure as an orgasm. Yes, really), but what we put in our bodies has a tremendous impact on our energy levels and what we can get done.
So ditch the microwave meal or takeaway container and teach yourself how to cook nutritious and healthy meals at home. If you need a snack, look for brain-boosting foods like fish, dark chocolate, nuts, avocado, raw carrots, or blueberries.
7. Read or Meditate before sleeping
I’ve always had trouble sleeping – if there’s something I’m stressed about or worry that’s plaguing me, I find it hard to switch off and get to sleep. On the flip side, if I have an idea I’m excited about, I toss and turn while my mind works a mile a minute to think it through. Either way, I’m destined for a night of poor sleep.
So I developed the habit from a young age of reading a chapter of a book before I went to sleep – my mind drifts off focusing on the characters of the books instead of my own troubles or ideas. As long as I don’t read for too long (more than 30 minutes and I find I stop feeling tired), I’m more likely to sleep well if I’ve enjoyed a few chapters of a book.
But not everyone is a reader, and I get that. A great alternative to reading before bed is to meditate for a few minutes. It does the same thing – clears your head of all those random thoughts, ready for sleep. One of my friends loves to smile while she meditates – she says it helps her to focus on positive energy.
If you work a busy 9-5 job or look after a family, the evenings are often the only time you have to work on your own projects or enjoy your hobbies. Don’t waste that time because you’re too stressed, tired or unmotivated – supercharge your evenings and get more done tonight!
Steff Green is an author, blogger and off-gridder who writes about project management, the entrepreneurial spirit, and small business tips over on the WorkflowMax blog. WorkflowMax is a clever project management tool designed to take care of leads, quotes, job management, time tracking, collaboration and invoicing on one simple platform. Sign up for weekly tips on productivity, project management and business advice.