Morning habits are easy to come by as they usually form out of necessity. Start the coffee (or tea) pot, walk the dog, make lunches, get the family out the door, start your commute. The morning ritual is just a slight modification of this; adding in the things that you want to do to help grow your productivity. Maybe it’s 30 minutes of yoga, or deep breathing exercises, or simply reciting your affirmations while making the kids’ sandwiches. Whatever it is, it helps ground you, focus your mind, and start the day off in the best possible way to help you achieve your goals.
So, why not a nighttime ritual as well?
Well, nights can be unpredictable. Evenings are the ‘remainders section’ of your day. Anything that you didn’t get to, or that cropped-up at the last minute, gets pushed off until the end of the day — after all of your “must do’s” are ticked-off the list. It’s also when we socialize. A last minute gathering after work, or a dinner-date, or getting sucked-in to a made-for-TV movie. Most of us don’t have an alarm clock beckoning us off to bed (not a bad idea though, see below), and as a result, we push it to the end, rush through a face-wash, and pass-out with an e-reader resting on our chin.
The next morning we wake with a “Where was I?” and start the cycle over again.
If any of this sounds familiar, implementing a nighttime ritual, no matter how basic, can help you wake up with the focus you need to crush your goals for the day. Experiment with different combinations until you come up with whatever works for you, and have something you feel you can easily stick with.
Start by determining when you need to wake up and then count back the number of hours of sleep that you would find ideal, and try setting that as your non-negotiable bedtime. From there you can schedule your routine. (To help with this have a look at the Bedtime feature which is built-in to the Clock app on iOS devices, or the third-party SleepyTime app for Android.)
Let’s say you estimate it’s going to take you 40 minutes to get through your routine, set a reminder for yourself 40 minutes before your planned bedtime and see how it works. This is a fluid process. If your numbers are way off, adjust and try again. Don’t be discouraged. Experiment!
The following are some elements you may want to incorporate into your routine:
- Journal / “Brain Dump”. Close out your day by jotting down any thoughts, loose ends, or memos that would otherwise be taking up space in your active memory. Keeping a 5 or 10 year journal (1 page for each calendar day of the year, broken down into the separate years) is a great way to track your progress over time, and it only takes a few minutes per day. Remember to call out any achievements and good things that happened throughout the day. This will help fix a positive mindset for the following day. Check out the The 5 Minute Journal – a great tool for this (available as a physical journal or as an app).
- Make a To Do List. It is likely that a number of action items will arise during the journaling process, and it’s good idea to keep a running To Do list open to capture them while journaling. This will help quiet the mind and reduce the stress caused by having to remember these items.
- Tidy Up. Taking a few minutes before bed to put things away and straighten up helps calm the mind and can lead to a more restful sleep. The process of tidying itself has been shown to quell stress and anxiety, and the finished product leads to fewer distractions. Not to mention the time it saves you in the morning by knowing where your things are without having to paw through a pile of laundry and half-read paperbacks.
- Meditate. The immediate and long-term benefits of meditation are undisputed, and if you don’t believe me just ask Google. But far from having to spend a week at a mountain-top resort, wearing white pajamas and sneezing from the incense, you can get results from just a few minutes a day. Whether it’s a five minute breathing exercise, or a twenty minute guided journey, adding meditation to your life will help reduce the pain, stress, anxiety, and depression you may be experiencing. All that without a prescription. Grab an app and get started.
- Power Down. Screen-time should end at least 30 minutes before you plan on shutting your eyes. The blue light emitted from mobiles, tablets, and e-readers can trick your brain into thinking that it’s daylight and start to disrupt your circadian rhythm – which can ultimately lead to mental and physical problems. Many devices have built-in nighttime modes (such as Night Shift for iOS), and there are various third party apps available such as f.lux. Ideally though, you set your alarm, and put your device face-down on the bed stand, not to be seen again until morning (or until you wake up in a cold-sweat after dreaming that last night’s Instagram post of your homemade sushi roll has garnered zero likes).
- Read. Again, ideally, it’s the good, old-fashioned ink-on-pulp variety, instead of something with a battery and touch screen, but either way reading has many benefits. One study showed that reading for as few as 10-minutes a day can significantly reduce stress-levels. Another study found that activities such as reading that stimulated the brain served to reduce cognitive decline brought on by age by as much as 32%!
Make it fun and stick to it
The most important part of creating a ritual is finding one that benefits you and is easy to stick to. Chances are, your reserve of willpower is depleted by the end of the day. If given the choice between a spoonful of ice-cream, and 30 minutes of activities you’ve grown to dread, you might as well take it out of the freezer now so that it has time to soften. Pick a combination of elements that fit your style; things that you will look forward to doing on a regular basis. Then make the routine your own, make it fun, and start watching your productivity grow.