What do you typically do after work?
If you’re like many people, you probably eat dinner and then watch something. According to Nielsen statistics cited by The Atlantic, Americans now spend over half a day interacting with media.
While there’s nothing wrong with chilling on the couch in the evening, new research shows that if you want to have a better day tomorrow, you might want to do something different tonight. What you do in the evening has the power to shape your thoughts, feelings, and energy the next day.
Developing an evening routine that helps you have more energy and think more positively at work can lead to many important benefits. It can improve your reputation at work, help you think more creatively or be more productive, or give you the initiative you need to ask for a raise or apply for a promotion.
So what should you be doing after work? And what activities should you avoid? Let’s take a look.
How Activities Influence Productivity
A 2019 study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology looked at the evening routines of 183 employees over 10 workdays. The purpose of the study was simple: Researchers wanted to explore how different activities influence the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that people experienced the next day.
These workers filled out a questionnaire three times per day. In the morning, they described how they were feeling. Mid-day, they described what types of proactive behaviors they were doing, if any, such as taking the initiative on a project, doing something to create positive change in the workplace, or taking control of a situation.
In the evening, employees described what they did after work. For their evening activities, the employees were asked whether each activity gave them a sense of mastery, such as learning a new language or playing a sport, as well as how that activity made them feel. They were also asked how well the activity helped them relieve stress and detach from work.
Researchers discovered that the employees who engaged in activities that gave them a sense of mastery were more motivated to create positive change at work the next day. They also reported feeling more relaxed, inspired, and joyful than the other employees.
The employees who engaged in activities that helped distance them from work, such as meditation or listening to music, felt relaxed but didn’t experience the same “take charge” feelings, such as excitement and inspiration, at work the next day.
Researchers also discovered that having the freedom to choose what you do in the evening can lead to more proactive behaviors and positive feelings the next day. For example, people who have many obligations to meet after work, such as caring for an aging parent or young children, are less likely to feel proactive the next day simply because they have less freedom to choose what they do in the evening.
How to Create a Better Workday This Evening
The study illustrates an important point: Sitting and vegging out in front of the TV isn’t likely to make you feel positive and inspired at work the next day, but participating in a sport or learning a new skill probably will.
Here are some things you can do tonight to have a better workday tomorrow.
1. Start a Hobby
Engaging in a hobby in the evening is one of the best ways to create a more productive day at work tomorrow. But too many of us don’t have a hobby at all. We go to work; come home and do chores, take care of our kids, or work a second job; and then crash into bed where we wake up and start the whole exhausting cycle all over again in the morning.
Hobbies, on the other hand, are something we do simply because we love doing them. There’s no feeling of “have to” or sense of obligation. Hobbies are relaxing, fun, and stimulating.
They also provide several important health benefits. The Washington Post reports that hobbies can help lower blood pressure, manage anger and stress, improve physical and psychological functioning, and even improve memory.
Hobbies can be great for your career too. Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerburg, quoted in CNBC, states that hobbies show prospective employers that you have passion and drive. If you’re ready for a career change, you might even be able to turn your hobby into a business.
What’s Your Ideal Hobby?
Stop and think about what you’ve always wanted to learn but never made time for. Some popular hobbies include:
- Playing golf
- Skiing or snowboarding
- Adventure traveling
- Wild foraging
- Horseback riding
- Scuba diving
- Bird watching
- Rock climbing
- Gourmet cooking
- Embroidery or knitting
- Drawing and painting
- Restoring old furniture
Life Skills Hobbies
- Canning food
- Home renovation
- Homebrewing and winemaking
- Fixing up classic cars
- Learning survival skills
Games/Mental Challenge Hobbies
- Playing chess
- Researching family genealogy
- Playing an instrument
- Building model cars or trains
- Stand-up comedy or improv
This list is by no means exhaustive. Any activity that excites and interests you can make a great hobby. Just be sure to set a budget for hobby expenses so you don’t end up spending more than you can afford.
2. Learn a New Skill
The study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that any activity that helps give you a sense of mastery increases the likelihood that you’ll take charge at work the next day. Hobbies fit the bill here, but so does learning any new skill or technique that will better your life and career and give you a greater sense of control over your destiny.
So think about the knowledge and skills you use regularly in your career. Which of these skills do you need to work on to do your job better? Which would help further your career down the road?
For example, good communication skills are a must in every profession, and that includes business writing skills and foreign language (you can learn a new language with Babbel). If your communication skills are lacking, spending time in the evening to strengthen them could pay off significantly. You could take a writing class or read a book such as “4 Essential Keys to Effective Communication” by Bento Leal III.
If you’re not sure which skills would help you in your current role, talk to your boss or a trusted colleague. Ask them which of your skills – or weaknesses – they think could use some work.
It can also help to think about the tasks or responsibilities you struggle with at work. These challenges often point to a knowledge or skill gap. For example, if giving the weekly presentation to your team makes you break out in a cold sweat, then you need to work on your public speaking skills. If you have trouble working with others, then you’d probably benefit from learning how to be a better listener or collaborate more effectively. Conflict resolution skills are also key to working effectively as a team.
Learning skills to benefit your professional life pays off in two key ways: It provides a sense of self-mastery that results in positive feelings and a take-charge attitude the next day, and it gives you the tools you need to succeed long-term.
3. Go to Bed Early
This one’s a no-brainer. Getting enough sleep is essential for having a productive, energized day at work. Yet the National Health Service reports that one in three people don’t get enough sleep, which the Centers for Disease Control defines as seven or more hours per night.
Regular poor sleep and sleep deprivation also negatively affects your health. They’ve been linked to obesity, heart disease, lowered immune function, decreased fertility, decreased brain functioning, and diabetes. Regular sleep deprivation might also shorten your life expectancy.
So how can you get better sleep?
Turn Off Your Devices & Dim the Lights
To get the best sleep, doctors recommend not looking at a screen and, ideally, dimming the overhead lights in your home two hours before bedtime. The blue light emitted from phones, tablets, and TVs tricks your brain into thinking it’s still daylight. That, in turn, reduces the amount of melatonin your brain releases. Melatonin is your body’s sleep hormone and helps you get deep sleep.
Your home’s overhead lights have the same effect. A study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that exposure to room light suppressed melatonin production in 99% of study participants and shortened melatonin duration by 90 minutes compared with dim light.
You’ll likely get better sleep if you turn off all bright lights and avoid screens two hours before bed.
Cut the Caffeine
According to a study published in Risk Management and Healthcare Policy, 90% of American adults consume caffeine on a daily basis.
To sleep better, limit your caffeine intake to no more than three 6-ounce cups per day. And don’t consume any caffeine past 2pm to make sure it won’t keep you up in the evening. Keep in mind that coffee isn’t the only source of caffeine; foods and drinks such as black tea, chocolate, and energy drinks also contain caffeine.
Exposure to bright outdoor light helps keep your circadian rhythm healthy and functioning properly. It can also help reduce feelings of depression and seasonal affective disorder.
If you work in an office all day, make time to get outdoors during or after work. Eat lunch outside or go for a walk as soon as your workday is over.
The type of lighting in your workplace can also affect how well you sleep at night. A study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment, and Health found that blue-enriched white light improved alertness, mood, performance, and sleep quality compared with regular white light. Including this type of light in your workspace, whether it’s the overhead light in your office or a lamp on your desk, could lead to higher productivity and better sleep at night. Look for a light such as this INLIFE Energy Lamp from Amazon.
One of the best ways to ensure you sleep long and well is to get enough exercise. A study published in JAMA found that regular, moderate-intensity exercise significantly improved participants’ sleep quality and duration.
Just make sure you don’t exercise right before bed; for some people, exercise is so stimulating that it can actually make it harder for them to fall asleep. Avoid exercising less than two hours before you go to bed.
Fight Insomnia Naturally
If you still have trouble sleeping, try using some natural sleep aids to fight insomnia. For example, taking melatonin right before bed might be all you need to sleep better at night. You might also sleep better by sprinkling some lavender essential oil on your pillow or mixing it with water in an aromatherapy diffuser in your bedroom. Lavender is well-known as a natural sleep aid.
4. Plan Your Day the Night Before
How many times have you lain awake at night thinking about everything you need to do the next day? This type of worry is unproductive and causes stress.
Instead of keeping your to-do list in your head, take some time to plan out your day right before bed. Identify the top three priorities you want to accomplish tomorrow and make a list of your commitments, such as meetings or school pickups. It will give you a sense of control over what needs to get done and relieve the worry that you’ll forget something important.
Writing nightly in a journal is considered by many success coaches and productivity experts to be a keystone habit – that is, a habit so powerful that it leads to a number of other positive, transformative behaviors.
Nightly journaling can help you detach from work and deal with the stresses and frustrations of the day – which, in turn, can help you sleep better because you’re not stewing about all these feelings during the night. It can help you identify thoughts and feelings you weren’t consciously aware you had. It can help you identify meaningful goals and create a plan to make them a reality. It can also help you look at your life from another perspective and identify things that need to change.
You can boost the positive effects of journaling by taking a few minutes to write about what you’re grateful for. Gratitude can increase your happiness and help you realize how abundant your life really is. At the end of your nightly entry, write down three things you’re grateful for. You might be surprised at how life-changing this simple practice can be.
6. Streamline Your Routine
If you have a long commute or multiple kids to get out the door, then streamlining your morning routine is essential. Anything you can do in the evening to prepare for the next day will be well worth the time you spend.
For example, try taking your shower in the evening instead of first thing in the morning. Prepare your brown-bag lunch, work with your kids to get everything they need for school into their backpacks, and put your work bag in your car. You might also consider transitioning to a capsule wardrobe to make getting dressed quick and easy.
Preparing for your morning the night before is one habit of wealthy and successful people. A streamlined morning routine could make it easier to wake up early and sneak in a workout, meditate, or make a healthy breakfast, which are three activities that can have a powerful, positive impact on your workday.
Finding Time When You’ve Got a Full Plate
Taking time to engage in a hobby or learn something new is all well and good when you have some time to set aside. But as the Journal of Applied Psychology study found, people who have a high degree of external obligations, such as caregivers or those working a second job, often don’t have the freedom to choose what they do in the evening. When you’re a single parent with a mountain of household chores, for example, it’s incredibly difficult to step away and devote some time to your own needs.
Another study, published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, backs this up, finding that people with lots of responsibilities outside of work experienced less vigor and engagement at work the next day compared with those with fewer obligations.
So if you’ve already got a full plate, what can you do?
One strategy is to team up with someone else in the same situation. For example, if you’re a parent who desperately needs an hour in the evening, team up with another parent and swap kids: They watch your kids for you on Mondays, and you return the favor on Thursdays. This strategy won’t give you an hour each evening, but it’s a start. If you have trouble finding other parents, check Meetup; there are parenting groups in most cities, including single-parent Meetup groups.
Another strategy is to look at where you do have an hour free of your normal obligations. For many people, that might be their lunch hour at work. Instead of wasting time going out to lunch, pack a healthy lunch from home and use that extra time to get some exercise or learn something new. While it might not provide the same benefits you’d receive by doing the activity in the evening, taking the time to do something for yourself can still help you relax and feel fulfilled.
Research shows that what you do in the evening can significantly affect how well you perform at work the next day, as well as how happy and excited you are in the process. Taking time to engage in a hobby or learn a career-related skill can give you a sense of self-mastery and the feeling that you’re in control of your life.
The energy and positive feelings you get from a fulfilling evening can also give you the drive and initiative you need to do your best at work. Over time, that will help strengthen your reputation and possibly open doors to a raise, promotion, or new job.
What do you do to unwind and achieve a sense of fulfillment after work?