How to take the evening off when you never leave work
I remember the day I got my first Blackberry. That shiny black symbol that you were indispensable to someone. That you were so vital to the organization they couldn't bear to not be able to ask you something at a moment's notice.
How cute was I?
In reality, it became my ball and chain. I could never miss an email or let a call go unanswered whether I was on vacation or it was just late at night.
Even if you have never been in a corporate role, I know you're smiling at sweet innocent young Diane coming up in the big old world.
Because you know you have a way tougher taskmaster than my little Blackberry – your business.
Sure you have downtime on vacations when you're off tech, or on the weekends when you're screaming encouragement to your kid from the sidelines and you're probably really proud you survived it.
BUT what about every day? Do you switch off from your business every day or are you mentally making lists while watching TGIT, responding to emails in bed or “engaging” on social from the loo?
When you live and work in the same place, you can always see that last task or idea beckoning to you out of the corner of your eye so how do you shut it down and leave work at work?
An evening routine is key for business owners.
We see a lot about having a morning routine. Every entrepreneur has morning gratitude, some form of meditation, then some movement. It's great but it's designed to set you up for your day as a person rather than necessarily in business.
And then lots of people have nighttime routines, which is maybe the bubble bath and the soothing music or the blue blockers and dark bedroom. This is all about promoting really good sleep.
The evening routine is all about preparing your business.
And it's twofold.
First of all, it gets you prepared for tomorrow, because you don't know what surprises may be coming your way. Could it be a diabolical case of food poisoning headed your way or maybe your email going down? You might need to focus your whole day on firefighting.
The evening routine allows you to remove some of the business stuff that's sitting with you and put it into a more accessible format to allow someone to cover for you.
If you need to think through how this cover would work in practice, click here to build an Any Day Crisis Plan.
And it allows you to draw a line in your working day. It gets you to the mindset of, “Okay, I'm finished work. I'm now at home. I know what's happening tomorrow, I'm prepared for it, I don't need to think about it. I can be 100% present here.”
As entrepreneurs, a lot of our burnout risk comes from the fact that we work and live in the same place. You can always see work out of the corner of your eye. So we're always a little worried about whether we covered everything or are going to remember everything for tomorrow.
The evening routine will clear that guilt for you and allow you to have some downtime.
If the thought of downtime makes you feel guilty, don't worry.
That space you allow yourself is not lost to the business either. Downtime is so often when the genius happens. The next idea doesn't come when you're elbow-deep in the weeds of, “I need to post this on social media. I need to plan this thing. I need to write that sales copy.” Genius happens when your brain has had a chance to chill out and process.
So not only are you pushing yourself towards burnout by not doing it, but you're also preventing yourself potentially from having that breakthrough that you've been chasing.
What does an evening routine cover?
You need to cover just three things:
• clear your tech
• clear your space
• clear your mind
Clear your tech
Tidying up your tech simply means delete it, file it or assign it.
We all have our favorite tech blackholes. For me, email, in particular, is a space I can easily feel overwhelmed in. In corporate, I used it as my to-do list so I have terrible email habits. But if for some reason I wasn't around, and somebody else needed access to something, and it was floating somewhere in my email that's not going to be helpful. So I try to clear each day's emails at the end of the day using delete, file or assign (to a person or a to-do list).
My other favorite place to stash things is on my desktop. Sometimes when things get really bad those icons get so tiny and become so stress-inducing. Again you're just asking delete, file or assign. Make sure the File is somewhere accessible like the cloud not on your hard drive or it's not helping the situation.
Across all this cleanup, I try to have like a one-touch rule.
For example, if I've opened an email, I decide what to do with it:
• delete it
• assign it as a task in my project management system
• schedule it, if it's somebody wanting to catch up with me.
• File it:
o Save attachment in Google Drive
o Content ideas got to the Trello board.
It's all about getting it into something that's organized where you'll be able to find it if you need it or your team can access it if you're unavailable.
My other rule is if it'll take less than two minutes, do it immediately.
If the email needs to be forwarded to someone, I forward it to them and I move on. Sometimes, noting down the task and then revisiting it later is going to take longer than just getting it done now.
Clear your space
Think about how you feel coming into wherever you work in the morning when your desk is covered with a bunch of slightly toppling pads of paper with pens strewn everywhere versus when you come in and your desk is clear and all you have to do is turn on your computer. That's a completely different vibe that tells you the kind of day you're set up for.
Also, think about the number of times you have cleared up your desk and found the post-it with that thing that would have been great on that special national day that you were going to post content on and now you missed it.
My brain thinks in post its and colorful sharpies so by then end of the day my desk's usually a disaster. I clear post it's and notebooks considering, delete (throw away), file or assign each time.
Clear your mind
That game-changing idea you had at 5 pm (or whatever time you finish work for the day) will probably be forgotten by 8 am tomorrow.
Once I've cleared everything else, I've probably already freed up some items from my remember list which is why I like to leave to last.
So first you want to get rid of what I call the “remember list”. Remember to do this, remember to do that, remember to do the next thing, and any of those little like notes to self. Braindump everything without judgment just get it down on a list.
Then categorize it as delete (forget), file or assign. Often this will just hit a to-do list or calendar entry but remember the two-minute rule!
An extra step for the peace of mind
Once I've cleared those three areas, I look at tomorrow's calendar. I'll check for things like
• what's coming up
• is the tech set up for any meetings – do I have the links I need etc
• if I have anything to back to back and considering when am I going to eat to get through that period or when's my bathroom break?
Then I'm also thinking about what could go wrong tomorrow. When are things due, have I kept space for that, what may need to get bumped first in a crisis? And I'll to jot myself some notes while it's fresh, so I have a plan while I am calm versus trying to work it out in a panic.
Post It for Productivity
The absolute last thing I do is I write a post-it to myself, of what the first thing I need to do tomorrow is and stick it on my screen.
We can all have to-do lists in our project management tool and they can all have deadlines but one of the biggest productivity problems we have is we sit down and we have so much to do that we don't know where to start.
As humans we hate an open loop so if you can just get started on that task or to-do list, human nature will drive you to finish it. Real procrastination is more about not starting than not finishing so this post-it gives me no excuse to avoid starting.
But I don't have time….
Like any new habit, start by trying just one thing.
And in this case, I would set a time limit. That way you only need to find five minutes to start. And as you see the results of that five-minute exercise, you'll naturally look to expand it. But allow the time to increase slowly to max 30 minutes. After that, it becomes a time block and feels like part of the workday instead of a neat wrap up.
Also as you do it, you will start to spot your real problem areas (like email for me) and, if it's the worst day ever, and you only have five minutes, set the timer and just clear that area so you feel like you have less to catch up on.
Also, this ritual that switches off your work mind, at the end of the day so, if it's been the worst day ever, you need your brain to recover and sleep.