Imagine tomorrow as a perfect day. You have plenty of energy, you are productive at work, present at home, and overall… Asian Efficient. How would you feel at the end of the day?
What would others start to think if you started stringing these ‘perfect’ days into ‘perfect’ weeks and months?
Where could you be in your career, relationships, and physical appearance a year from now with 365 ‘perfect’ days?
“The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up.”
― Paul Valéry
So let’s wake up. Here’s how you can have that perfect day tomorrow – by changing what you do tonight.
Here are the The 7 Ps of a Highly Effective Evening Routine:
- Personal Growth
- Physical Environment
- Powering Down
Let’s get started.
Processing is about recapping your day. What were your most important tasks (MITs) that day?
If you don’t know, that’s the first barrier to your ‘perfect’ day. Without narrowly defined objectives, your energy will be spread thinly over too many areas to create a meaningful difference.
Think of a magnifying glass in the sun. If you focus the light on a small enough point, most things will catch fire. So if you focus your energy on a small enough point… your work and life will start to catch fire (in a good way!)
With your 1-3 MITs in mind, ask yourself the following 3 questions:
- “What went well?”
- “What didn’t go well?”
- “Are there any bottlenecks that I need to address?”
Reviewing your projects is a way to ‘put them to bed’ for the night.
To get an even deeper process, close your eyes and pretend that the entire day was recorded. Take your mental recording, put it in the VCR, and hit fast forward. Since it’s VHS, there might even be a little line crossing the middle of your mental screen.
If you are too young to remember VHS, a DVD, BluRay, or mp4 will work… it’s just not as old school.
Compress your 16 waking hours into five minutes.
Doing this type of meditative practice will give you the ultimate closure for the day.
During those five minutes, you will often remember tasks that you had let slip through the cracks… a forgotten phone call, an apology you should have made, an email you needed to write.
Capture these thoughts by keeping some recording device at hand.
Writing down your incomplete tasks will allow you to close the day without any worries of forgotten work or un-tended to responsibilities.
Other processing ideas include journaling, reviewing your values, or a quiet walk.
Whatever processing method you choose, make sure your day is fully reviewed, so that nagging thoughts don’t keep you up at night.
Plan tomorrow. Write down your 1 to 3 most important tasks for the next day.
Your most important tasks are your highest value activities. MITs will make the largest contribution to your work, your family and to your life in general.
You may have to ask your boss, coworkers, friends and family to get clear on this.
MITs are often a job that you and only you do. And if the job is done well, it will make a real difference.
A personal example of 3 MIT can be seen below.
Notice how I have both personal AND work related MITs.
It is important to keep both areas of life in balance. If one side suffers, it will affect the other.
After you’ve determined your most important tasks, you will also want to review any to-do’s, meetings, and potential bottlenecks that you’ll have to plan your MITs around.
Write a list or set strategic reminders for your to-dos, and make sure your meetings are in your calendar.
The important thing is to have a plan. There is never enough time to do all that you want to do.
There are always too many books to read, places to visit, projects to undertake, and errands to run to get your life’s inbox to zero.
When you start to realize the fact is you will never get caught up, you have two options:
- Run around like crazy trying to get everything done.
- Prioritize your MITs.
Option #2 is preferred.
Prepare for tomorrow tonight.
Your body is like a machine that uses rest, food, and water to generate energy.
Every day, your body requires that energy to survive, to think, to do well, to be happy. You don’t get infinite energy.
To be more productive, you must guard your mental and emotional energy and only spend it on your most important tasks.
Mental and emotional energy levels are at their peak at beginning of the day after a good night’s sleep.
Every choice you make uses up a portion of your energy.
As your energy dwindles, each decision will become harder and harder. Eventually your fatigued brain will look for shortcuts.
There are two shortcuts. Either the brain will choose to act impulsively, rather than think through the consequences (“Sure, I’ll post that on Facebook. What could go wrong?”) or avoid making the decision altogether.
Avoiding the choice will often create bigger problems in the long run (“I don’t want to think about finding all of the ingredients to cook a healthy dinner. I’m going to McDonalds.”).
Mental fatigue is more malicious than physical fatigue because you are not consciously aware of being tired.
A limited mental energy reserve explains why we tend to break resolutions at the end of the day. After 12 or more hours the energy levels of your willpower tank are empty… spent on both significant and inconsequential decisions made that day.
You simply can’t make decision after decision without paying the price.
However, there is a trick to conserving your energy.
The trick is to make fewer decisions.
The fewer decisions you have to make, the less emotional and mental energy you expend. This energy can be diverted to your most important tasks.
An example of decision preservation could be seen with the late Steve Jobs and his unique choice of clothes. Every morning he put on a black turtle neck and jeans. He invested that saved ‘outfit picking energy’ into successfully creating and marketing Apple products.
Another decision preservation case can be seen with CEO’s of large organizations.
Most CEO’s have gatekeepers, usually secretaries or personal assistants, who will stiff-arm many of the distractions and requests that would otherwise bombard them. With fewer distractions to make decisions on, they can focus their energy on their most important task of running and growing their organizations.
So what if you don’t want to wear the same outfit everyday and don’t yet have a personal assistant? How can you save your mental and emotional energy?
Easy. Have many of your small decisions already made for you the night before.
To do this, you could:
- Prepare your lunch or decide the exact details of your lunch plans.
- Prepare healthy snacks.
- Layout your wardrobe including:
- work clothes
- exercise clothes
- business cards
- Have your work materials organized and waiting for you at the door.
- Set your coffee machine on a timer.
In addition to saving mental energy, you are also saving time by batching all of these tasks together. For example, it would be easy to prepare all your snacks on Sunday or pick out that week’s clothes in one go.
4. Personal Growth
Look at your most important tasks.
Is there any training you could take to improve in that area?
Would learning to type faster help you be more efficient at your job? Maybe taking an online course on communication would improve your ability to present your ideas. Perhaps you are a bit of an insomniac and need to learn the tools for falling asleep quickly and getting deeper sleep so you can be clear headed and focused during the day.
Whatever area you would like to improve, devote 15 minutes of your evening routine on improving that particular area of life.
The time spent making yourself more proficient at your important tasks you will come back to you many times over through increased skill and efficiency.
5. Physical Environment
Look around your room. What type of person lives in that type of environment? An artist? Nature lover? A neat freak? A slob?
What type of person do you strive to be?
“Your outer world is a reflection of your inner world.”
Create the type of environment of someone who takes care of themselves.
Tidy up for now. A neat environment lends itself to better sleep.
If you are not happy with what your bedroom or other living area say about you, use your personal growth time to change that.
6. Power Down
You have processed your day, planned tomorrow’s most important tasks, prepared the little things that will conserve your energy, done a little personal growth work, and created a comfortable physical environment.
Having done the 5 above P’s, you’ll find yourself in a more relaxed state.
Enjoy this time and start to unplug for the night.
An ideal evening has you going to bed early enough to be fully rested for the next day. For those who need help with the math, if you wake up for work at 6am, you should be asleep no later than 11pm to get the minimum 7 hours of sleep your body requires for peak performance (ideally, you want to get 8-9 hours).
That may sound like old man/lady status for some, but you will be dramatically more alert and productive if you get the proper amount of rest. You’ll also feel better.
Power-down all electronics
TV, computer, tablets, and anything else with an enticing, glowing screen that can keep you up well into the night. To get into this habit you may need to set a reverse alarm clock on your phone to remind yourself of your electronic curfew. 10pm is a good place to start.
You should also consider setting your cell phone to do not disturb mode.
Mine is set to go into this mode from 11pm to 6am. I still allow calls from ‘favorites’ to come through in case there is an emergency.
These settings are easy to change in your phone. Follow the 2 minute rule and do it now… or picture me saying I told you so the next time an email wakes you up at 3am and you can’t fall back asleep.
Turn off all of the bright overhead lights and use shaded lamps to illuminate your home. This will allow your body to release the hormones that start the sleep cycle.
Candles can also be a relaxing (and romantic) way to light things before sleep.
If your job or side hustle requires you to work later in the evening, download F.lux, a free program that alters the color spectrum of your computer to mimic the patterns of sunlight in your region.
Tea, oil, bath, incense
On high stress days, an additional powering down practice you can include in your evening routine is a warm bath with epsom salts to draw stress related toxins from your body.
Drinking non-caffeinated tea like Chamomile, Valerian, or Lavender, while not scientifically proven to have sedative powers, are used as a nighttime ritual for many. There are also essential oils and incense that proclaim sleep inducing properties.
Reading a story can help get your dream muscles going. Personally, I can never get past a few pages before my eyes start to feel heavy.
Okay. The 7th habit was originally Hydrate… I just couldn’t resist having 7 p’s in a row.
So the last step to your highly effective evening ritual is to drink 16oz (500ml) of water right before bed and then set a 20oz (600ml) water bottle next to your night stand.
The 16oz (500ml) at bedtime will hydrate you AND work as a natural alarm clock. The wake up call comes from the need to immediately relieve yourself the next morning (this is the Pee part).
The 20oz (600ml) by your nightstand will help serve as a trigger to drink water first thing in the morning. The benefits of waking up to water are numerous:
- Renew cells. Drinking water first thing in the morning increases the rate at which new blood cells are produced. More red blood cells will carry more oxygen to your brain allowing greater alertness and focus.
- Keeps you healthy. Water flushes toxins from your body and balances your body’s lymph system …your lymph glands help you fight infections
- Purifies your colon. Drinking water on an empty stomach cleanses your colon, making it easier to absorb nutrients.
These 7 Ps will set you up for ‘perfect’ days. Days in which you get everything that is really important done efficiently, so you can enjoy your life.
Everyone’s ultimate goal is to live a long, happy, healthy life.
Processing your day, planning and prepping the next, devoting time to personal growth, creating an enjoyable physical environment, powering down to get proper rest, and… um… peeing, will get you there.
Do you have any highly effective evening routines? Share the knowledge in the comments.
I’ve been reading on the importance of night routines on AE, so it’s great to come across this thorough piece, Zachary! The last point on your list really made me smile.
Love the article. However, I did have some problems with the statements surrounding drinking water. Could you link me to a scientific paper supporting the idea the drinking water first thing in the morning increases the rate that blood cells are produced? I love me some science and this doesn’t make sense to me.
Great platform, for me I used to write my to do on my agenda including electronic notes every single action and task I am following until is determined.
Posting plans on your office board is also a tool that will let you think and follow up the progress of your projects and goals.
All of this is good…except drinking 500 mL before bed. Obviously the author is not a middle aged woman. An alternate suggestion for those of us who prefer to stay in bed at night is to stop drinking at 7PM. Then drink a big glass first thing in the morning.
Haha. You are right Ruth. I am not a middle aged woman ;-)
If drinking water before bed is going to cause the ‘call of nature’ to wake you up multiple times during the night, that would not be very efficient.
Ideally, we want to be hydrated AND well rested, so I like your idea of the big glass of water in the morning.
I’m similar to you Libby.
If I process things too close to bedtime, it will get my gears cranking at a time I’m wanting to wind down. Although, I’ve noticed the more consistent I am about processing, the less – “oh shoot. I forgot I have to do that tomorrow too.”s – I have and the less wound up I get.
However, to answer your question, I do my 7p’s in the order written. I’ll usually process, plan and prepare right after dinner which is around 7:30pm for me. Then I am free to enjoy my evening until about 9:30 when I start to power down for the night.
But I’m an earlier riser (5:30am), so adjust your schedule as necessary.
Great post! I wanted to know if you had a time that worked best for these things? If I do the planning for the next day too late, my brain just keeps coming up with stuff or ideas and I can’t fall asleep. Same thing with work review. I have to do it around 6 to make work officially stop & cell phone/computer go off at 9 pm. Just wondering what times you implemented the 7 Ps at & if you played around different times, etc.
I’m over-weighted. Hydrating right before going to bed would harm my sleep, since on average I have to pee 4~6 hours after taking 2 full glasses of water. Furthermore, I suppose it wouldn’t work for people suffering from diabetes as well. Any thoughts?
Hydration is right in line with a primary care practitioner’s recommendation for a diabetic patient. Insulin doesn’t work of the person is not properly hydrated.
Prush your teeth