There has been a lot of buzz lately around creating a solid routine. With the likes of authors like James Clear (Atomic Habits) and Charles Duhigg (The Power of Habit) and many more writing incredible pieces on Medium (thank you Ben Hardy!), we are seeing how powerful habits can be. But many of these studies, the research and arguments focus on the morning routine as the all-important element in being successful.
I think that just as importantly, maybe even more importantly, is how you set up your morning routine for success the night before.
That is, taking advantage of the time before bed to organize the following day.
The less you have to think about at night, the less you worry about, and the better you can sleep. The better you sleep, the more productive and happier you are, and the more success you will achieve.
A consistent evening routine will help you:
Feel less overwhelmed in the morning
Get a better nights sleep
Brain dump your issues before you sleep
Give you more ease in the morning to enjoy your kids, partner, coffee or book
Free up more time when you first wake
Lower your stress hormones (Which are typically highest in the morning)
Eat healthier (because you already packed your lunch for the day and planned your dinner)
Break bad habits
Have a more productive day
Design your perfect day
See why your evenings are just as important for establishing a routine?
Here are seven evening routine hacks you can start to implement today so that you can sleep better, have more energy and be focused:
1 - Organize your meals
Whether this is mentally preparing what you will eat the next day or actually making it the day or night before, it means knowing in advance your meal choices for the day. Not rocket science I know, but things as simple as prepping your coffee or kettle the night before, having your kids put out their breakfast (bowl/spoon), packing all lunches, cutting up your veggies for your morning eggs-n-veggies and planning your evening meals. All these efforts save you time, frustration and help you eat better.
Some of you already follow a meal plan (woohoo), but there are always things that fall outside of it, like lunch meetings, coffee dates, kids activities, or unexpected guests. By laying out your weekly plan for food, you will escape the “WHAT’S FOR DINNER?” shenanigans that happen when everyone is clawing at you for food at 5:30 pm, especially if you are not prepared.
Meal planning does not have to be complicated. You can cycle the same two breakfasts every morning, the same two lunches, and the same four dinners if you need. (If you’re like me and hate cooking, this strategy is the best option! Less worry and less clean up.) And if you have a few extra dollars to spare, you can sign up for healthy meal delivery plans like Territory, HelloFresh, Amazon Meal Kits, and many, many more.
2 - Prepare your body and mind for a good night’s sleep
Going to bed peacefully takes effort. If you don’t have an established routine, it makes it even harder to fall asleep, or you end up waking up often or sleep too lightly. To avoid this, I start my nightly routine at noon. Yes, right at lunchtime! This is when I start paying extra attention to the things I consume, the distractions in my day and the thoughts circling around my mind. Here are some tips for preparing your body and mind for bedtime:
Stop drinking caffeinated beverages before noon. Caffeine can stay in your system for up to 8-hours, if not longer, so you need to let that sh*t pass before you hit the hay.
Drink tons of water all day, but not within an hour before bed. When you’re body has ample hydration it can process things better: like waste removal, breathing, body temperature, brain function, and more. Your body needs a lot of fluids during sleep for its operating system to run at peak performance. But the key is to not set yourself up for frequent bathroom visits. So you want to make sure you go pee like your kids do, right before you go to sleep.
Avoid social media. “Yeah yeah,” you’re probably thinking, but social media actually depresses you. You need to go to bed happy, or else you risk sleep deprivation by way of delayed sleeping and anxiety. Not only that but, as you know, blue lights emitted from your screen mess up your internal clock, forcing your subconscious mind to think “Bright light! Day time! Get up!” which is the last thing you need.
Read your 10-pages. To actually get my reading in, I schedule time each night before bed to read 10-pages. It also serves as a trigger for my body to relax and know it’s almost time to sleep.
3 - Use timers and alarms for everything
If you have younger kids, using timers can be a huge help. Use timers to help establish and maintain routines for them, and yourself, so that you can get your tasks done.
For younger kids. We set three alarms on my phone, 7:00 am, 7:15 am and 7:00 pm. Each alarm reflects a certain critical time of day, either “get to school” or “get to bed!” Using these alarms helps guide their behavior and gets them ready on time. For timers, we use the Miracle Time Cube Timer for things like brushing their teeth, doing certain chores and ‘time-outs.’ When the timer goes off, it indicates a hard stop to the task at hand. This helps to move things along so that they are ready for bed.
Put your lights on a timer. I have a Himalayan salt lamp on an outlet timer in my room. It goes on at 5:30 am and then again from 7 - 9 pm, which indicates ‘evening routine time.’ Once the light goes off at night, it means bedtime. Super hack: If you have a TV in your bedroom, plug it into that same outlet timer, so you have no choice but to tune out and turn off.
Use a Pomodoro technique. You can install Chrome extensions or use the Miracle Cube as I suggested above. The idea: Start and complete a task or a component of a task in the set time. After the time’s up, stand up, shake it off, and then restart your next task.
4 - Review next day’s agenda
You will always go to bed a little more at ease if you are well aware of the next day’s meetings and tasks. By reviewing your schedule for the next day, you not only set yourself up for a good nights sleep, but you also wake up knowing what superhero cape to wear and what needs to get done (and you won’t be unpleasantly surprised by anything.)
Big rocks. Ask yourself “what’s the ONE thing I have to do tomorrow to move the needle?” Is your morning set up to achieve it? It all starts with the morning mindset so make sure you are set up for success before you even go to bed. Wake up and only focus on that one task.
Fill the empty slots. Sounds silly really, but imagine someone else controlled your calendar and had the liberty to schedule anything they wanted? You’d be anxious and stressed. So take the time to fill in those slots with productive work or tasks. This could mean adding in travel time between meetings, brainstorm time, creative writing hours, etc. The idea is to OWN YOUR CALENDAR.
5 - Brain dump your issues
Ever wake up at 1:30 am panicking about something you have to remember to do in the morning? Then you toss and turn for another hour worrying about forgetting it, then you think of something else and then something else? Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? If you often get anxious while trying to fall asleep because the thoughts of the next day worry you, you need to start brain dumping everything into a notebook.
Keep a pen and notebook next to your bed. I use Fieldnotes and the Pilot Pen which allows me to quickly jot down the things I recall in the night without having to turn on the light. I keep the notepad out in the night if there is something I wrote on it as a reminder, otherwise, I’ll keep it in my drawer.
Write down anything. Whatever is buzzing around your mind, write it down. It does not have to be coherent, or even important...just get it off your mind. It could be a task, an idea, a reminder, or a thought about something that has been bugging you lately. What it is is not as important to actually get it out on to paper.
6 - Set up your environment for success
Your environment is the #1 factor to achieving productivity, and in conquering your day. Since most people are most productive first thing in the morning (Creatively/mentally), then it makes a whole lot of sense to clean up your workspace before you go to bed. Get it ready for the morning with only the things you need to produce the great work you must complete as well as creating the ultimate bedroom sanctuary. Here are ways to make that happen:
Clean up everything that you can as you start winding down for the evening. Kitchen, living room, laundry, all of it. Yes you are tired, yes you had a busy day, no you don’t want to do this, but it certainly makes it more enjoyable to wake to a clean and tidy house. This especially includes your workspace (if you work from home) and your path to getting the kids out of the house seamlessly in the morning. Is the necessary laundry done Are bags packed? Is the coffee ready to be brewed?
Get rid of distractions in your sleep space. When we were sleep training our boys, the biggest piece of advice that helped us to get the kids to sleep through the night was to reserve their bedrooms only for sleeping. That means no toys or playing in their rooms. The association between the sleep environment and actual sleep needs to be boring, dark, cool, but safe. The same can be said for your bedroom; make it a space that is dedicated to making you feel calm, which may mean you have to remove that TV! The only activities you should be doing in your bedroom are sleeping, reading and s-e-x. ;)
Post words of inspiration. On your fridge, your bathroom mirror, behind the bathroom door, on your phone and computer screensaver, wherever you see something the post, print and post some morning motivation for you.
7 - Go to sleep at the same time
Lastly, you need to put your head to rest at the same time every night. Don’t let your routine fluctuate unless you really have to. Your circadian rhythm is a beast to train, and while you know it or not, your body needs a very consistent night routine to use your sleep time for replenishment. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can stay up an extra 30 minutes here and there ‘just because.’ Your hard-stop sleep time means everything to your body, whether you like it or not. And let’s face it, an extra episode of Breaking Bad is NOT going to make you a more successful mom, entrepreneur or partner the next day.
Your evening routine will predict not only how you emotionally start your day, but also the full effectiveness of your time. Having an established night routine compliments anything you do when you first get up and helps to set the course for a great day.