While there is an undeniable incentive to adapt our routines to the ever-changing direction of life, I am in favour of establishing habits which consistently reinforce our wellbeing and productivity. For example, starting the morning with a walk followed by a healthy breakfast will set you up for a better day than an aimless scroll through your phone and packing your bag within five minutes of departure. Healthy routines keep us grounded and focused. They deliver benefits ranging from better sleep to an optimistic, energised mindset.
Creating a pattern of meaningful tasks to follow on a regular basis inhibits procrastination, damaging habits and collapsing into disarray. I’ll illustrate I mean using the evening – the time slot with which this blog post is concerned. You have just returned from work or finished a major school assignment, but bedtime is still a few hours away. Suddenly, you don’t quite know what to do with yourself and resort to social media with an arbitrary TV programme flickering in the background. Here, I do not wish to perpetuate the biased rhetoric of doom and gloom surrounding technology: when used with purpose and in moderation, it can have a positive impact on our lives. What I am trying to say is that a mindful usage of the internet should involve occasional detoxes. In general, moderation is the way to go.
If you find yourself feeling sluggish in the evening or struggling with sleeping issues such as insomnia, try either reducing or eliminating screen usage after the sun goes down. Instead, incorporate worthwhile activities into your pre-bedtime hours. A routine does not have to be excessively intricate or even be a routine in its entirety. Many of us live within tight schedules and changing circumstances. Some days you may have five or six hours at your disposal in the evening, at others times – you may return at a much later hour and wish to narrow the gap between entering the door and sleep as much as possible. Travelling is a noteworthy example because being in a different country fundamentally disrupts the structure our lives take at home. However, incorporating just one or two worthwhile activities (which can take as much or as little time as you wish) into your nighttime routine is enough to engender a sense of stability, reduce stress and improve your sleep hygiene.
Below, I’ve compiled a list of things for you to try incorporating into your evening. Doing them all would be challenging to say the least (lol), but I encourage you to experiment and see what works best with your lifestyle, be it a structured process or just a handful of things to throw in and still derive the benefits of valuable habits.
1. Write (by hand, if possible)
Whether an article, a short story or a simple reflection in your diary, use the evening to develop your writing skills in the absence of distractions. Bonus points if you opt for the traditional pen and paper: some tasks certainly demand the greater efficiency of typing, but handwriting has an unmissable therapeutic value. Moreover, many people experience an improvement in their writing when pursuing the craft by hand. There could be a scientific reason behind this, but I like to attribute it to the lesser barrier between ourselves and the words.
2. Read, widely and diligently
Reading is both an ideal wind-down activity and a means of broadening your horizons, filling the evening hours with anything from new information to a world entirely different to our own. All of us can benefit from finding room for the wonders of language in our schedule. Explore different genres and publications: newspapers, magazines, journals. Set yourself a specific goal, such as reading a chapter or a certain number of pages every day, within a specific time slot. Half an hour in the morning and half an hour in the evening can enormously increase your overall ‘book count’.
3. Light physical activity
Rigorous activity too close to bedtime can cause restlessness and insomnia. Sometimes, my schedule demands I go to the gym later in the day and when that’s the case, I ensure exercise does not interfere with my sleep by leaving at least two to three hours between my workout and intended bedtime.
If you wish to incorporate some movement into your evening routine without overburdening your system, opt for a light yoga flow or walk. Less rigorous than a gym session or a spin class, a few thousand steps will still pump air through your lungs and keep you connected with the surrounding world. There is a certain serenity to evenings, when a setting sun dyes clouds with a soft gradient and a few stars punctuate the sky. It is a beautiful threshold and perhaps my favourite time to be in nature. In particular, if you find yourself wakeful, go outdoors for a few minutes to reduce the chances of a sleepless night.
4. Engage in conversation
Social media is not the only way to stay connected. Use your evenings to sit down and speak to people in your household. Phone up a friend or a relative. Experience the satisfaction of leaning about their lives, sharing your experiences and discussing interesting ideas. A good conversation can have the same soothing effect as a good book.
5. Create a wind down study routine
Studying any later than an hour before bed is inadvisable. Focus on maximising your productivity in the morning and during the day to avoid studying into the night which in itself, like strenuous physical activity, can engender insomnia. If you are more productive later in the day, however, studying could be an integral part of your evening routine. As bedtime approaches, try performing a ‘lower intensity’ activity – the academic equivalent of a gentle walk. For example, you won’t see me starting an essay at 10 o’clock, but going through flashcards or reading an interesting article about one of my topics.
This kind of ties in to the above, but does not have to be related to your school/university programme. Here, you can cheat slightly and use the Internet (in moderation), for that it will be done with the intention of capitalising on your ability to learn something knew, or enhance your knowledge on a topic of interest, due to the wonders of modern technology. Time invested in self-development is never wasted. If you’re a student, reading books and publications about the subject/s you study will increase your aptitude in tests and exams, while making learning more satisfying by tying the content to the real world.
(However, as aforementioned, try to leave a substantial gap between learning and the time you intend to go to sleep to be filled with something less demanding because it can be hard to fall asleep when your brain is overflowing with information).
7. Physical organisation
To avoid early morning disarray, prepare everything you need for the upcoming day before going to sleep. Pack your bag, assemble your outfit, place your keys in a memorable place. Do not leave any loose ends to increase the tranquility of those crucial early hours and leave time for activities more meaningful than rushing about looking for your wallet.
8. Mental organisation
We all love to-do lists and calendars. Some people like to do them upon waking up, but I prefer to start my mornings knowing exactly what I must do. Overview your schedule and when you must be in particular places, as well as writing out your tasks/assignments in order of priority. We all plan in different ways, but setting aside a time slot in your evening routine to lay the groundwork for the upcoming day is something I would highly recommend.
I like to do this while on a walk (see above), other people prefer meditation or the discipline entailed in sitting down with the pure intention of being, thinking, reflecting. During the day, external necessities and immediate concerns prevent your mind from roaming over matters such as self-discovery and broader, philosophical questions. Do not fear quieter moments. There is satisfaction in a wondering mind and when we can, we should exploit the opportunity to really think, without worry or judgement, about ourselves, our beliefs and the world around us. Moreover, practicing such mindfulness is one of the best way to deter sleepless nights.
10. Journal and reflect
Since acquiring the habit of writing down my thoughts on at least a weekly basis, I fell in love with how a stream of consciousness can be ironed out into something more precise and coherent. Writing a few sentences is an easy activity which helps to make sense of the millions of things flooding our heads. Give yourself the opportunity to reflect on your productivity, habits, emotions. Or, start a bullet journal to reap the benefits of an artistic outlet and an organiser simultaneously, leaving a space after each day or week to note down your thoughts.
11. Cook for the next day
For many of us, accessing a kitchen and preparing homemade food during the day is not an option. Here, mealprep comes to the rescue. If you find yourself going through hours without food or are tired of store-brought options, dedicate some time to cooking your meals in advance. Some people like to mealprep once or twice a week, others set aside half an hour each evening. Find your optimal strategy and make sure not to neglect good nutrition, which is a vital component of success.
12. Watch a film or a documentary
Once again, not ideal for a complete technological detox or a ‘daily basis’ activity, but a potentially meaningful, cultural pursuit if you are selective about the entertainment you choose to consume.
13. Find a new hobby or work on your side projects
Never underestimate the power of trying a new activity in revitalising your mental state and engaging your brain while delivering emotional fulfilment – evenings are an optimal time to switch our focus and pursue a leisurely, yet productive endeavour. If you’re unsure about what you’re creative/mental outlet should be, no need to panic. The choices range from playing chess to starting a blog, and there is no harm in trying out multiple things until you find the one most compatible with your personality and skills!
Reducing hoarding and the number of physical obstructions in your life translates into a sharper mental state, better focus and conscious spending habits. Moreover, a sense of fulfilment emerges from disposing of bags of redundancies, making your home cleaner and fresher. Many items are in a good enough state to be donated to charity. Regular decluttering can be turned into an easy enough habit to be implemented into an evening routine: it need not require an elaborate survey of each room in your house and the reduction of your wardrobe by 80% (although, I empower you to do this if you wish!). Start small by, for example, forming an organised work space and sifting through your stationary for anything that’s broken or useless.
15. Go to sleep earlier!
It is not for no reason that many people have changed their lives by going to sleep and waking up earlier. Social media and technology, by overwhelming our system too close to bedtime, renders this difficult. Provided you’ve managed to switch off for a few hours and pursue a purposeful evening routine, altering your sleeping pattern and reaping the benefits of rising with (or before) the sun should not feel less like a chore or a burden.
An optimal evening routine can aid everything from your sleep to your intellectual development, while laying the foundations for an energetic, productive morning once you find a set of activities that work for you. Let me know in the comments: do you have a daily routine and if so, what does it typically involve? Or are you more spontaneous and do a range of things depending on your mood/whereabouts?