People are always telling you how to maximise your mornings, but your morning routine — whatever it may be — is fine. What you really need is an afternoon routine.
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The idea of waking up early, sitting down to breakfast, and writing a few pages in a journal sounds great. But in practice, it rarely works out so cleanly. After a while, you start sleeping in a little more. Then you skip writing, because you're in a rush to beat traffic. And who has time for breakfast, anyway?
Don't get me wrong, it's good to start your day off on the right foot. For me that means chugging a glass of water, walking the dog, making a quick protein-rich breakfast, then having a cup of strong black coffee. After that, I sit down to scan for important emails, check Slack, put on some music that matches my mood that day, then get started writing. It hasn't changed much for me in the last few years.
But come afternoon, my energy dips. I'm still full from lunch (food coma time), I'm drained from my morning writing session, my focus starts to fade so I start to mindlessly browse the internet, and my video games and Netflix queue are whispering sweet nothings in my ear. You probably know the feeling. The afternoon is when distractions have the most power — you're fatigued, irritable and way more impulsive. So I had to come up with a routine that kept me productive in the afternoon yet still acknowledged my natural workflow. Here's what I recommend.
Get Up and Move
First, get up from your desk and move your body. If you just sit there, your malaise will only get worse. I moved my daily workouts to the afternoon instead of the morning, and I now I feel more refreshed and energised. You don't have to run or lift weights to reap the benefits, though. A simple walk around 3PM — ideally outside to get some fresh air near some nature — will snap you out of your funk. Even if you can't go outside, take a walk around the office anyway. Move your body at the same time every day so your brain knows you're still getting stuff done.
It's important to get regular exercise, even if it's a little activity here and there. But we don't all have the time or money to invest in a gym membership, and many of us already work long hours that make it difficult to get out and exercise. Here are some clever ways to get a little activity anywhere you happen to be.
Work on the Easy Stuff
Enter the "easy list". There are some aspects of every job that just aren't that difficult. You know, housekeeping, organising, repetitive tasks and general correspondence. Save all of that stuff for the afternoon when you can switch on autopilot and power through all of it while listening to your favourite tunes. For me, this means responding to emails, finding stories to pitch, doing research for other stories, editing photos, and organising files as need be. Unless one of those things is urgent that day, I don't bother with it until after lunch. It's just me, my headphones, some upbeat music, a sparkling water, and a zoned-out sprint through the tedious stuff I've gotta do. You'd be surprised how much this change alone will do for your day.
Everyone wants to check out early on Fridays. Weblog Asian Efficiency suggests completing your low-energy tasks so your day is easy, but still productive.
Spend Just Five Minutes on That 'Big Thing'
If, and only if, you need to finish a larger project, tell yourself you'll just work on it for five minutes. Actually set a timer on your phone or whatever and do whatever you can in that five minutes. You might get into a good workflow and defeat your afternoon slump in those five minutes. If you do, be sure to reward yourself and reinforce that behaviour. If you don't stick with it, that's OK, don't punish yourself. Go back to the easy stuff for a while and try again later.
For many of us, procrastination isn't necessarily a matter of laziness but of being daunted by the challenge of a large task. To get over the initiation anxiety, plan to work on a task for five minutes. No more.
Kill Your Darlings
Regardless of what type of work you do, we all have "little darlings", or personal favourite elements we think are necessary for our work but actually aren't. In writing it often refers to eye roll-inducing words or phrases, but the concept can exist in any type of work. That extra fancy graphic in your PowerPoint slide show, for example, or that flashy line of code that doesn't actually improve the user experience. Basically, the things you personally love but haven't thought critically about.
Well, at the end of the day you're pretty much over it, right? That's the time to strike. The classic saying is, "write drunk, edit sober," but I prefer the "write drunk, edit hungover" approach (no, I don't write drunk every day). When you're hungover — or in this case, burned out at the end of the day — you do not care about all those little things you thought were so dreadfully clever earlier in the day. Use your irritability to your advantage and streamline what you've done.
You may have heard the old quote 'write drunk, edit sober', but it might actually be better to edit when you're still hungover.
Plan Out Tomorrow
Last but not least, spend the last hour to half-hour or so of your day making a plan for tomorrow. Decide what to prioritise and what you need to get done in the morning when you're awake and full of energy. Everything else can be moved to your afternoon "easy list". I also usually spend this time writing memos to myself as well. That way, when I get in the next morning, I have sticky note reminders all over telling me what needs to get done and I'm not wasting my mental energy trying to remember everything.
Every time you go through the day and wind up behind, you tell yourself 'Tomorrow will be better.' Then you go to sleep with no idea how you're going to accomplish that. If you want to break the cycle, start on tomorrow today.