First Published:  | Last Updated: February 4, 2021

The gist: Productivity experts love to talk about their morning routines, but it's the evening routine that really matters. Here's why and how to build the best one you can.

When I say the word "routine," what's the first one you think of?

Well, if you're as much of a Friends fan as me, it might've been this one. 😝

Otherwise, morning routines were probably the first ones to come to mind, because they're everywhere.

As a society, we're obsessed with morning routines...because we're obsessed with mornings.

And overall, that's a discussion for another day. πŸ™„

(And that's partially had here.)

Today, I specifically want to talk about the part of establishing a morning routine that usually goes unsaid:

You need a good nighttime routine first.

That's right, the song from SMASH was right: we need to start tomorrow tonight.

"Yes, I'm laying odds on tomorrow, so let's start tomorrow tonight." - Pre-Hamilton Leslie Odom Jr. playing Sam Strickland playing Frank Sinatra. (God, I loved Smash.)

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Why your evening routine matters

The mindset behind optimizing your morning routine is that it sets the foundation for a good rest of the day.

Fair enough.

However, my gripe with most advice from The World of Working Smarter is that the advice doesn't dig to the root of the problem. And the same thing is happening here.

Yeah, sure. It's true that if you want to have a good day, having a good morning helps.


But, but, but...

That advice doesn't realize how freaking HARD it is to have a good morning. Especially if you're not practicing energy management regularly.

Most of us are sleep deprived, so waking up is hard.

Whether it's an alarm, your kids, the sun, or even your own body giving you the wake-up call in the AM, it's all too common the call comes too soon.

Expecting perfection out of ourselves then and there?

Pshhh...Talk about unrealistic expectations.

The truth is, if you want to optimize your day, you need to start way before you even wake up in the morning.

You need to start the night before.

As the SMASH song goes...

"Start tomorrow tonight."

Because if you want a "productive" or "optimized" morning (which, btw, IS optional), you'll want to wake up energized.

And if you want to wake up energized, you need to sleep as best ya can.

And if you want to sleep as best ya can, you need a night routine.

Whether or not you care about having an ultraproductive morning, your evening routine's more important than your morning one.

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My own evening routine

When I first started working remotely and started building my new routines and habits, I made the decisions not to work mornings (before 11am, as I defined it). This is where my slow mornings came from.

Because of this, I wasn't super worried about having an "efficient" morning routine.

I was, however, focused on having an intentional one.

Efficiency just wasn't the intention. Self-care was.

Mornings were totally set aside for doing whatever I needed to do to care for my physical and mental health and prepping for the rest of the day.

What that looked like day to day changed a lot, given my health situation at the time. Some days it was getting outside and going for a walk, other days it was not getting out of bed until I absolutely needed to.

What remained constant, however, was my crappy sleep before the morning routine started.

At the time, my body couldn't sleep longer than 4-5 hours at a time, so I threw myself into improving my sleep hygiene (another post for another day).

I started looking at the quality of rest and sleep hygiene more than my morning routine and what happened AFTER I woke up.

First up: that time right before bed.

Here's the routine I eventually established:

  • 11pm: Turn down lights to "fake the sunset" (this is a tactic from the book Make Time where you start lowering the lights more and more as your bedtime gets closer), turn devices to dark mode & lower brightness (this happens automatically), and put on blue light blockers.
  • 12am: Make myself stop working (I'm a night owl and 11pm is my creative peak, so this gives me a good hour to work in that zone without staying up TOO late) and turn down more lights. Eat a small snack so I can take my meds, at which time I also take melatonin.
  • 12:15am: While the melatonin kicks in, I read a nonfiction book or some notes from one I've already read, depending on how much brainpower I have left at this point.
  • 1am: Learning time is over and I put on a short, light podcast (usually the day's Pop Culture Happy Hour) while I "reset the room" with a quick tidy and get ready for bed in the bathroom.
  • 1:15: At this point I can fall asleep pretty easily, so I hop into bed and fall asleep to a sitcom I've seen a million times before. The sleep timer turns it off after one episode, but I'm usually asleep within 15 minutes.

But I get that this routine isn't for everyone!

I'm a creative night owl with no obligations that require waking up early.

It's a unique (and lucky) spot.

What if you're a morning person?

What if you're not, but have kids that wake you up at 6?

Here are some more ideas for habits to add to your night routine.

Pick, choose, and experiment with what works for you.

Are you ready to start working brighter?

Productivity isn't black and white, it's personal as hell. And there's no single lifehack or framework to solve your problems. 

Sign up to get weekly tips and stories to help you create your OWN definition of productivity working better and brighter.

Evening routine ideas

1. Faking the sunset

Like I said earlier, this term is a tactic from Make Time, but turning the lights down as it gets later is a pretty common tactic.

Doing it intentionally and proactively though, is different.

It's turning the lights down as a "symbol" or ritual, and doing it before your eyes hurt from keeping them peeled open.

Level up this night routine idea with special mood lighting and blue light blockers if you're still using screens.

2. Stretch your body

If you spend most of the day sitting in the same position, a good stretch before bed will help loosen you up.

There are lots of great nighttime stretch routine YouTube videos, but my approach to stretching is a more holistic "wiggle a little to figure out what's tight, then stretch it til it's loose" one. 😝

3. Unplug from screens

Listen, this isn't something I'm willing to do yet, but it might be great for you!

Setting a time to turn off all your screens is a great work wind down ritual. I just get pulled to screen-related hobbies as well lol.

4. Reset the room

I mentioned this one above, but want to expand on it more.

To me, resetting the room involves two things: a quick tidy of the mess made during the day, and setting up my workspace for the next day.

The two activities go together and happen simultaneously.

Setting up without tidying means I'll continue working in clutter. Tidying without setting up my workspace means one more thing to do in the morning.

5. Plan and journal

Again, two habits that complement each other and blend together well are journaling on the past day and planning or prioritizing for the next one.

This is a great way to reflect on your day, measure your progress, measure your progress, track your habits, and more. (I happen to do it in the morning though.)

6. Meditate

If you enjoy meditation, your evening routine is a time to do that.

Or, if you don't necessarily enjoy it but your mind is racing when you try to go to bed, this is a way to help mitigate that (eventually).

7. Relaxing hygiene

This is one habit I can definitely improve on: a slow, relaxed, mindful skincare routine or routine for other personal care and hygiene.

It can be so relaxing to get ready for bed with a low (but safely) life shower or bath pampering yourself.

Come up with your own real ideal evening routine

To come up with your own real ideal evening routine, try out the Brighter Bookend Bundle in the Work Brighter Shop. It will walk you through planning and implementing a morning and evening routine that work together to make your days brighter. πŸ¦„