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Evening Routine Ideas That Can Lead to a More Productive Workday

What do you typically do after work? If you’re like many people, you probably eat dinner and then watch some television. According to Nielsen’s 2020 Total Audience report, Americans spent over 12 hours per day interacting with media during the first part of that year.

There’s nothing wrong with chilling on the couch watching Netflix, playing video games, and browsing social media. But 2019 research published in the Journal of Applied Psychology shows that if you want to have a better day tomorrow, you need to do something different tonight.

Changing up your evening routine can improve your reputation at work, help you think more creatively or be more productive, or give you the initiative to ask for a raise or apply for a promotion. And taking a few small, actionable steps can help you achieve peak performance at work the following day.

How Your Evening Routine Can Influence Your Productivity

The Journal of Applied Psychology study looked at the evening routines of 183 employees over 10 workdays. The purpose of the study was simple: Researchers wanted to explore how various activities influence the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors people experienced the next day.

These workers filled out a questionnaire three times per day. In the morning, they described how they were feeling. Midday, they described what types of proactive behaviors they were doing, 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 proficiency, 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 proficiency 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 More Productive Workday This Evening

The study illustrates a critical point: Vegging out in front of the TV isn’t likely to make you feel positive and inspired at work the next day, but doing something productive or physically engaging probably will.

Fortunately, there are many things you can do tonight to have a better workday tomorrow.

1. Start a Hobby

Engaging in a hobby at the end of the day is one of the best ways to create a more productive day at work tomorrow. Some hobbies can even help you earn more money. But too many of us don’t have a hobby at all.

We go to work, come home, do chores, and perhaps take care of our kids or work a side hustle like DoorDash driver or online teaching. And then we hit the sack, where we wake up and start the whole soul-sucking cycle all over again in the morning. It’s an exhausting daily routine.

But hobbies are something we do simply because we love doing them. There’s no sense of obligation. Hobbies are relaxing, fun, and stimulating.

They also provide several significant health benefits. A 2009 study published in Psychosomatic Medicine analyzed the leisure activities of 1,399 study participants. It found that those who participated in more activities had lower cortisol and blood pressure, a lower body mass index and waist circumference, lower levels of depression, and higher levels of positive psychological states.

The COVID-19 pandemic compelled more people to pursue hobbies they previously didn’t have time for. James C. Kaufman is a professor of educational psychology at the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut in Storrs. He tells the American Heart Association that a pandemic hobby can help take your mind off negative news and fears.

When you’re creative, you can slip into a state of “flow” in which you’re completely caught up in what you’re doing. This positive disconnect can be valuable whether you’re experiencing stress at work or in your personal life.

Hobbies can influence your career too. Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg tells CNBC that hobbies show prospective employers 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.

Think about what you’ve always wanted to do but never made time to learn. Some popular hobbies include:

Outdoor Activities Craftsmanship Sports
  • Restoring old furniture
  • Metalsmithing
  • Leatherworking
  • Pyrography (wood burning)
  • Woodworking
  • Bookbinding
  • Building dollhouses or room boxes
  • Fixing classic cars
  • Running
  • Golfing
  • Dancing
  • Skiing or snowboarding
  • Yoga
  • Tennis
  • Martial arts
  • Archery
  • Rock climbing
  • Cycling
Arts & Crafts Mental Challenges Life Skills
  • Gourmet cooking
  • Scrapbooking
  • Embroidery, crochet, or knitting
  • Journaling
  • Photography
  • Drawing and painting
  • Pottery
  • Calligraphy
  • Writing
  • Origami
  • Sewing
  • Canning
  • Baking
  • Home renovation
  • Candle or soap making
  • Basket weaving
  • Homebrewing or winemaking
  • Auto repair
  • Volunteering

This list is by no means exhaustive. Any activity that excites and interests you can make a worthwhile hobby. But set a budget for hobby expenses so you don’t end up spending more than you can afford.

2. Learn a New Skill

The Journal of Applied Psychology study found that any activity that helps give you a sense of proficiency increases the likelihood you’ll take charge at work the next day.

Hobbies fit the bill here. But so does learning any new skill or technique that can better your life and career and give you a greater sense of control over your destiny — whether or not it becomes something you enjoy and do regularly.

So think about the knowledge and skills you regularly use 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, effective communication skills are a must in every profession, and that includes business writing skills. If your communication skills are lacking, strengthening them could pay off significantly. You could take a writing class or read a book like “4 Essential Keys to Effective Communication” by Bento C. Leal III.

If it’s your foreign language skills that need work, you can learn a new language with Babbel. You can also master a new language quickly through courses offered at Udemy.

If you’re unsure which skills would help in your current role, talk to your boss or a trusted colleague. Ask which of your skills — or weaknesses — they think could use some work.

It can also help to think about the important 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 makes you break out in a cold sweat, work on your public speaking skills. If you have trouble working with others, learn how to be a better listener or collaborate more effectively. Conflict-resolution skills are also vital for working effectively as a team.

Learning skills that benefit your professional life pays off in two key ways: It provides a sense of proficiency that results in positive feelings and a take-charge attitude the next day, and it gives you the tools you need for long-term success. That’s true whether you work with a team at a large corporation, you’re working from home, or you own a small business.

3. Go to Bed Early

This one’s a no-brainer. Getting enough sleep is essential to having a productive, energized work life. Yet the United Kingdom’s National Health Service reports that 1 in 3 people don’t get enough sleep, which the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) defines as seven or more hours per night.

Persistently poor sleep and sleep deprivation also negatively affect your health. According to the CDC, poor sleep has been linked to obesity, heart disease, lowered immune function, decreased fertility, decreased brain functioning, and diabetes. Frequent sleep deprivation might also shorten your life expectancy.

So if you’re having trouble getting a full night’s sleep, how can you get better sleep and wake up refreshed the next morning? Start by changing your bedtime routine.

Turn Off Your Devices & Dim the Lights

To get the best sleep, doctors recommend avoiding screens and 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 reduces the amount of melatonin, the sleep hormone that helps you get deep sleep, your brain releases.

Your home’s overhead lights have the same effect. A 2010 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 dim the lights in the evening. Additionally, the Cleveland Clinic recommends avoiding screens one hour before bed.

Cut the Caffeine

According to a 2018 study published in Risk Management and Healthcare Policy, 90% of American adults consume caffeine daily. To sleep better, limit your caffeine intake to no more than three 6-ounce cups per day.

It’s also important to time your caffeine consumption to avoid disrupting sleep. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that consuming caffeine six hours and three hours before bedtime both significantly contribute to sleep disruption. So if you want to be in bed by 9pm, don’t consume any caffeine past 3pm for a better night’s sleep.

And remember: Coffee isn’t the only source of caffeine. Foods and drinks like chocolate, black tea, and energy drinks also contain caffeine.

Get Outside

Exposure to bright outdoor light helps maintain a healthy circadian rhythm. It can also help reduce feelings of depression and seasonal affective disorder.

If you work all day indoors, 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 2008 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. If you can’t influence the overhead lights in your office, invest in the Miroco light therapy lamp from Amazon.

Exercise

One of the best ways to ensure you sleep long and well is to get enough exercise. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Physiotherapy found that moderate-intensity aerobic exercise improved sleep in older adults.

But don’t exercise right before bed. For some people, exercise is so stimulating it can actually make it harder for them to fall asleep. According to a 2019 study published in the journal Sports Medicine, engaging in vigorous exercise one hour before bed can make it harder to fall asleep and reduce your total sleep time for the night.

Pro tip: If you’re struggling to find a workout that gets you motivated, try Aaptiv. They have thousands of workouts and add more than 30 new classes each week.

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.

You can also try drinking some herbal tea at the end of the day to aid relaxation and promote sleep. Traditional Medicinals Nighty Night tea contains passionflower, catnip, chamomile, and linden flower — all herbs that help your body relax and allow you to drift to sleep.

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 according to The American Institute of Stress, it can cause stress and anxiety.

Instead of keeping your to-do list in your head, take some time to plan your day right before bed. Identify the top three priorities for tomorrow and make a list of your commitments, such as meetings or school pickups. Jot them down in your planner so you don’t forget. It gives you a sense of control over your responsibilities and relieves the worry you’ll forget something important.

5. Journal

In a column for Inc., organizational psychologist Benjamin Hardy calls writing in a journal nightly a keystone habit — that is, a habit so powerful it leads to numerous positive, transformative behaviors.

Throughout history, many extraordinary people have used journaling to transform their lives.

  • Founding father Benjamin Franklin journaled throughout his life and used his journals to reflect on his strengths and weaknesses and improve.
  • Leonardo da Vinci used his journals to sketch the first underwater breathing apparatus and figure out how to use concave mirrors to generate heat.
  • Celebrated literary blog Brain Pickings lists Anias Nin, Virginia Woolf, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Oscar Wilde as just some of the famous writers who regularly wrote in a journal throughout their lives and careers.

According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, nightly journaling can help you detach from work and deal with the stresses and frustrations of the day. That can help you sleep better because you’re not stewing about all these feelings during the night.

It can also help you identify thoughts and feelings you weren’t consciously aware you had. Use it to identify meaningful goals and create a plan to make them a reality. It might also influence you to 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. According to Harvard Health, 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 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, 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. Transitioning to a capsule wardrobe also makes getting dressed a cinch.

Popular business writer and coach Brian Tracy also suggests writing a to-do list the night before. He theorizes that for every minute you spend planning your day, you save 10 minutes in execution.

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 also have a powerfully positive impact on your workday.


Finding Time for a Productive Evening Routine

Taking time to engage in a hobby or learn something new is fantastic 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. For example, when you’re a single parent with a mountain of household chores, it’s tough to step away and devote some time to your own needs.

A 2012 study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology backs that up, finding that people with lots of responsibilities outside work experienced less vigor and engagement at work the next day than 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. And the more parents involved, the more evenings each of you has free.

If you have trouble finding others in the same boat, 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 daily obligations. For many people, that’s their lunch hour at work. Instead of wasting time going out to lunch, give yourself more time and save money by bringing a healthy lunch from home. Use the 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.


Final Word

The Journal of Applied Psychology research shows that what you do in the evening can significantly affect how well you perform at work the next day and how happy and excited you are in the process. Taking time to engage in a hobby, listen to an inspiring podcast, or learn a career-related skill can give you a sense of proficiency and the feeling 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.

Heather Levin
Heather Levin is a writer with over 15 years experience covering personal finance, natural health, parenting, and green living. She lives in the mountains of Western North Carolina with her husband and two young sons, where they're often wandering on frequent picnics to find feathers and wildflowers.

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