Power Habits - Evening Routine
This is the second in my series of “power habits” - routines when practiced consistently over time provide a strong compounding effect. In my first post, I discussed beginning the day with a powerful morning routine that generates energy that pushes you through the day. In this post, I discuss the evening routine, where we bookend the work day, transition to personal time, examine the day to look for valuable lessons learned, and prepare for sleep.
Power Habits - Elements of a Successful Evening Routine
1. Close the Professional Day — A key step to ensuring good sleep and an interruption-free transition to your personal life is to close out the work part of the day. The focus in this step is to know what you are not doing so that your mind can let go. Here are my typical steps to get this done:
Collect Incoming Communications — I use the Getting Things Done (GTD) organizational method made famous by David Allen. I highly recommend that system to organize your world at a high level. One of the central themes of GTD is being comfortable not doing things, which requires you to have a handle on all the things you could be doing and making a conscious choice not to do any of them. A critical first step in that process is to corral all the incoming inputs like emails, phone calls, texts, mail, etc. Before I leave the office, my goal is to survey all of those and summarize them in one place so I am comfortable with not working on them that night. See my post Project Planning for Lawyers — Upping Your Game in a Chaotic World for more on project management.
Inbox Zero — I am one of those odd professionals that operates on a “zero inbox” system each day. What that means is that every email I have received will either be handled or filed away in a variety of email folders such as “Action Needed,” Action Needed - Low Priority,” “Read-Review,” “On Hold-Waiting,” or “Someday-Maybe.” I find this discipline gets me along way toward the collecting step.
Review Daily Action Plan and Weekly Action Plan — Anyone that has any degree of success will presented with more opportunities than they have time to entertain. That means success is largely based on choosing the right actions in the face of endless interruptions. Some of the best tools I have found are to set a Daily Action Plan and a Weekly Action Plan to keep you focused on those high-value opportunities. The Daily Action Plan is your one “must do” task plus your next two most important ones. The Weekly Action Plan is your four most important targets for the week. The action step for this power habit is to review what you committed to do today (Daily Action Plan) and what you are committed to do the rest of the week (Weekly Action Plan).
Set Tomorrow’s Daily Action Plan — To truly let go of the day and plan tomorrow, I select my Daily Action Plan tasks for the next day in light of my weekly progress. I enter those tasks into my workflow management tool called “Things” as well as enter them into an app called “CommitTo3,” which shares my three commitments with my team to get peer accountability. Note - for lawyer’s due to our confidentiality concerns, I write my tasks at a high general level.
With all of that done, your day is complete and you are ready to begin transitioning to your personal time.
2. Transition to Personal/Family Time
Back in the early 1990s when I was an engineer at The Boeing Company, I had an early morning work schedule that allowed me to be at the gym by about 4:00 pm each day. In the military, unless we were on a mission, we had a clear break in the day between training and personal time. However, as I became a professional in a highly competitive service industry (law), technology evolved to constant connection and communications, and my role as managing partner/business owner became more prominent, my professional life blurred with the other areas of my life. In high-stakes litigation, there really isn’t much end to the day.
This creates an obvious problem of closing the professional part of the day and starting the personal part of the day. Email is one glaring example where work can be an omnipresent intrusion. I have found that picking an activity, preferably physical, is a helpful interruption between work and personal life. If you can’t engage in a physical activity, then I have found an activity that uses another part of your brain is also effective in breaking up your day. For example, if you work involves heavily left brain activities like law, switching gears to a right brain, creative activity can help the transition.
Another important step in the transition is to cut off business communications — emails, social media, Internet surfing, voicemails, etc. It’s nearly impossible to make the shift to your personal/family time while holding an iPhone. In fact, even having an iPhone in the same room, I have found to intrude on my attention. Best to put electronics away when you make the shift to personal time.
3. Examine the Day
As explained in Power Habits - Morning Routine, I think journaling is an invaluable activity. The evening routine is a great time to examine your day to look for lessons learned, areas of improvement, celebrate wins, reflect on helpful insights. As part of my evening routine, I do the second half of my journaling, which includes another round of gratitude, celebrating wins, and identifying lessons learned/areas of improvement. The compounding effect of this last step is enormously powerful. It is easy to justify not journaling for a day or two since not much value is to be gained from this. But 90 days of journaling in a row generates large gains.
4. Prepare for Sleep
Some advocate setting your mind in a positive direction before going to sleep as a means of getting your subconscious mind to work on your success while you sleep. I do not know if that works or not. But I do believe that right before going to bed, these activities have powerful effects:
Quick review and positive visualization on tomorrow’s Daily Action Plan tasks,
Set something you are looking forward to doing in the morning (helps with an early morning routine), and
Repeat a set of positive mantras or future me visualizations.
Final Thoughts on Evening Routines as a Power Habit
As I explained in my morning routine post, the focus for the morning time period is to earn wins before you start your day as well as engage in activities that have a strong compounding effect over time. Evenings can be devoted to protecting the morning routine by eliminating as many choices and tasks as possible that typically have to be done in the morning. For me, I set out my clothes for the next day, pack my gym clothes, pick my Daily Action Plan tasks for the next day, and generally have lined up the dominoes for success — the night before to minimize distractions in the morning. Evening routines like morning routines are flexible, and there clearly is no right way to do one. See additional resources for ideas on other activities.
Putting the Evening Routine Power Habit into Action
What: Dedicate 10-20 minutes to close out your professional day, begin a transition to your personal/family time, reflect on your day to uncover lessons learned, and prepare for sleep.
Why: A commitment to an effective evening routine, consistently practiced, is one of the most impactful changes you can make to increase productivity, reduce stress, and develop self mastery. A consistently practiced evening routine sets you up for success in your morning routine.
Apply: Commit to perform an evening routine Monday through Friday for at least 10 minutes per day for the next 30 days. Make it a priority over checking work emails when you get home.
I hope you have found this blog post helpful and welcome comments from readers.
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In addition to Thriving Attorney, Darin M. Klemchuk is founder of Klemchuk LLP, a litigation, intellectual property, and transactional law firm located in Dallas, Texas. He also co-founded Project K, a charity devoted to changing the world one random act of kindness at a time. Click to read more about Darin Klemchuk's practice as an intellectual property lawyer.