Morning routine tips from successful entrepreneurs offer an inside look at how top performers make the most of their entire day. Yet, evening rituals are just as important as their A.M. counterparts for being productive from start to finish, day in and day out.
Whether you’re creating a more serene sleep environment or getting a head start on the next day, your nightly routine can be your best strategy to wake up feeling productive the next morning.
Get a head start on tomorrow by tapping into nightly rituals these CEOs, bestselling writers, and productivity gurus swear by to feel more refreshed and productive from dawn ‘til dusk.
Family, Reflection, And The Dreaded Email Inbox
For many people, the workday doesn’t end at 5 PM. Half of all full-time American workers clock in more than 40 hours per week, and 34% of employed Americans work on weekends. Balancing work obligations with meaningful family time is an important part of building a successful evening routine.
Kara Goldin, CEO of Hint Water, makes family time a priority first. “When I get home, my typical evening routine starts with my family. I put the laptop away and spend time with my kids, talk about their day, learn about what they're doing in school, their friends, etc. Once they get ready to start their homework, I get started on mine—catching up on emails,” she told me via (of course) email interview.
Aiming to go from 1,000 daily emails to inbox zero has its perks, she wrote. “Email is where most of my communication happens. So as I start catching up on emails, I can figure out what the next day, or few days, will look like.”
If you’ve read Lean In, this routine likely sounds familiar. Sheryl Sandberg’s commitment to leaving the office at 5:30 for family dinnertime pushes back against Silicon Valley workaholic culture. She finishes work later in the evening, and turns her phone off before bed to minimize distractions.
How you can do it: Flexible hours and telecommuting options are on the rise. Talk to your supervisor about strategies to balance family responsibilities with work projects. At home, set aside a dedicated workspace so your family knows when you’re on the clock. Silence your phone during family time so you’re not tempted to jump at each notification.
When you do tackle some to-do’s from home, catching up on correspondence after work hours may even get you a higher response rate, an article in Forbes suggests. Recipients may not have another pressing task, increasing the chances that they’ll hit “Reply” right away.
There’s something to be said for unstructured brainstorming or reflection, too. Maya Angelou liked to read aloud to her husband after dinner from her day’s writing. She wasn’t inviting feedback. Instead, hearing her words out loud was a good way to reflect and take mental notes of areas to revise the next day.
Wedding dress titan Vera Wang also likes to use evenings for creative reflection. She plans designs “conceptually if not literally” in the sanctuary of a beautifully decorated bedroom.
Practice Good Sleep Hygiene
Sleep hygiene doesn’t refer to washing your sheets and pillowcases (although that’s not a bad idea). It’s about taking steps to make it easier to sleep well. Without some cues that it’s time to wind down, you may have trouble quieting your racing mind once you’re in bed. For company leaders, remote workers, and others who often take work home, it’s especially important to create boundaries between work time and relaxation.
There’s no hard and fast routine that works best. Experiment until you find the right sleep hygiene methods for you. Here are some good practices to try:
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, or other drugs for several hours before bed
- Set a regular bedtime
- Drink some warm milk or herbal tea, or have a light snack
- Try a screen-free activity like meditation or reading
- Eliminate as much noise from your bedroom as possible
- Keep your bedroom dark (the heavy fabric of blackout curtains can minimize light and muffle some outside sounds for a two-in-one fix)
- Don’t linger too long in bed. It’s better to do your lounging on the couch and head for bed only when it’s time to sleep. That means avoiding the snooze button the next morning, too.
Research suggests that adjusting your sleep hygiene is one way to treat insomnia. Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, agrees. A longtime insomniac, Ferris now follows a diligent routine for the hour before he goes to sleep. He swears by tea with apple cider vinegar and honey, a chapter or two of a book, and a soak in the bath.
What he selects to read is important, as he explains in his video, “I’m not going to read something like a nonfiction business book that’s going to keep my problem-solving apparatus in sixth gear. That’s not helpful, I need to turn that off. So I’ll read fiction.”
Mimi Ikonn, Youtube and Instagram star and co-founder of Luxy Hair, isn’t quite as regimented as Ferriss (who, after all, specializes in squeezing the most out of every minute), but she follows a similar approach. In her video, she and her husband use candles to “set the mood” for evening relaxation. Mint tea, meditation, and skin pampering help Ikonn feel physically and mentally ready for bed. Shutters and blinds in the bedroom create a darker environment to aid sleep.
To Sleep Or Not To Sleep?
You’ve probably heard of countless mega-successful people who seem to thrive without sleep. Jack Dorsey worked 16-hour days to devote full-time attention to both Twitter and Square. Marissa Mayer, Elon Musk, Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump, Sergio Marchionne of Fiat, and more run on 4-6 hours per night. Should you try to follow their example?
Surviving on a glorified power nap has more to do with genes than motivation. An estimated 5% of the population only needs a few hours to feel refreshed thanks to a rare genetic mutation. Most people need seven to nine hours a night, but that doesn’t mean they’re getting it.
Upwards of 50 million adults in the United States have a sleep disorder, and 30% of adults get 6 hours or less per day. Unfortunately, you can’t reset the amount of sleep your body requires. Trying to “hack” your way down from eight hours to four is likely to backfire, leaving you groggy or even increasing your risk of an accident.
Arianna Huffington found this out the hard way. In her TED talk, she admits to breaking her cheekbone when she fainted at her desk due to exhaustion. She now advocates “sleeping your way to the top” to maximize productivity and inspiration. Extra hours awake aren’t worth much if you sacrifice your health.
...Or Get Creative
If you’re up anyway, you might as well make good use of the time, right? Night owls may find that their peak hours happen well after most people’s work day is done.
David Neeleman, founder of JetBlue, worked until 2:00 a.m. when he was CEO. He reportedly saw his ADD as a source of creativity and energy to keep the company growing. Working after his family went to bed and sending ideas when they were fresh in his mind were effective strategies to help launch JetBlue as a competitive airline.
Fewer artists and writers are night owls than you might expect, but there are some notable exceptions. Pablo Picasso, one of the most prolific painters of all time, preferred to work at night. Neil Gaiman, whose writing has won multiple Hugo, Locus, and Nebula awards, was a notorious night owl in the early years of his career. He wrote the majority of his Sandman graphic novel series between 8:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m.
Gaiman is also a good example of someone whose peak hours shifted over time. Kids, health changes, and aging can affect productivity. If you don’t know when your most productive hours are, or suspect they’ve changed, we know some tricks to help you figure it out.
How you can do it: Night hours might inspire you to have more confidence in your creative abilities, one study found. Art students, more so than management students, rated themselves as increasingly creative after 10 PM. Try spending some time on creative work every night for a week or two. If the muse seems to appear more often, you may have found a shortcut to creative inspiration.
A strong evening routine doesn’t just set you up for better sleep or help you take advantage of creative working hours—it sets the tone for the next day, so you’ll feel more productive from the moment your alarm goes off in the morning.
Are you an early bird or a night owl? Where do you draw the boundaries between work and relaxation in your evenings?