7 habits you can adopt after 5 PM to help you decompress after a busy day

Many people have busy schedules almost every day — their days are packed with high-priority tasks, meetings, hundreds of emails, phone calls and messages, and sometimes one project after another.

To prepare yourself for a better day, maintain calm and focus in the midst of your busy workday, it pays to get your evenings right.

While many people focus on their morning habits, the truly successful people know that what you do in the evening is just as important. It’s not just vital to start your day right, but it’s also crucial you finish it right.

A relaxed evening can make tomorrow incredibly better — a calm evening can help you achieve more, think clearly, and do work that actually matters tomorrow.

These evening habits are just a reminder — you already know the importance of these lifestyle choices. It pays to make a conscious effort to make your evenings more relaxing.

1. Do you have a shutdown ritual? Get your head out of work

Our lives are incessantly bombarded and interrupted by emails, texts, and phone calls — much of it unnecessary — keeping us plugged in and unable to relax even when we are not working.

You gotta get your brain out of “work mode” to have a better and relaxing evening. This is probably one of the most difficult things to achieve because of our hyperconnected modern life.

It’s easy to take your work back home or even to bed, making it difficult to fall asleep as you think over job-related problems. Give yourself a buffer period between the time you read your last email at work and the time you go to bed.

Michael Woodward, Ph.D., organizational psychologist and author of “The YOU Plan,” explains, “The last thing you need is to be lying in bed thinking about an email you just read from that overzealous boss who spends all their waking hours coming up with random requests driven by little more than a momentary impulse.”

To make it easier to embrace this habit, plan other activities to replace work-related tasks — quality time with family, a simple exercise, spending time on your passion project, watching your favorite show with your loved ones, or reading your best book. It can be anything that relaxes you and that is replicable each day.

2. For optimal digestive results, eat at the same time every evening

Your body clock and metabolism interact in complex ways — meaning it’s not just what you eat that matters to your health, but when you eat also matters. A regular eating schedule improves also improves your sleep.

Just like with exercise, your body remembers how many hours there are between dinner and bed, says Dr. W. Christopher Winter, MD, medical director at Martha Jefferson Hospital Sleep Medicine Center.

Lack of sleep and short sleep duration have been linked to higher calorie intake and poor-quality diets. Having set times for eating and sleeping can help you separate the two activities.

3. A daily review allows you to put your day in perspective

A review of what went well, what can be improved or what you should stop doing can help you evaluate your progress in various areas of your life.

It’s also an opportunity to summarize your biggest takeaway from the day. To make it a habit, choose to answer a few questions: What happened? What worked? What didn’t work? What can you be proud of? What can you learn from and then let go? What can you improve on tomorrow?

Once you develop the habit of checking in, you’ll find that it’ll be easier to stay move the needle daily. You could also write down how you want to spend your next morning — plan your morning deliberately to start your day on purpose. If you do this, you will wake up and know exactly what you need to do to make your day a success.

4. Brain dump can help you reset your brain and increase your mental clarity

Apart from a personal review, writing things down can help you prioritize, clarify thinking, process your emotions and provide release from confused or negative thoughts.

A brain dump is an act of getting all of your thoughts out of your head so you are able to focus on one idea at a time. It’s basically a time to organize everything on your mind: your worries, questions, needs, wants, important and urgent tasks, and everything on your mind.

Judy Willis MD, a neurologist, and former classroom teacher explains: “The practice of writing can enhance the brain’s intake, processing, retaining, and retrieving of information… it promotes the brain’s attentive focus … boosts long-term memory, illuminates patterns, gives the brain time for reflection, and when well-guided, is a source of conceptual development and stimulus of the brain’s highest cognition.”

A brain dump is one of many ways to declutter your mind every evening, and it can be done in a matter of minutes.

5. If you choose to exercise, do it at least a few hours before bed

Sleep is the most important period for recovery from the daily load. According to a study on Exercise, Sleep, and Cytokines, an exercise in the evening is believed to cause the muscles to help people sleep more soundly.

If exercising is part of your evening routine, you probably shouldn’t move straight from there into the bedroom.

When your adrenaline levels, heart rate, and body temp are high, it can be difficult to fall asleep. Give yourself a few hours before bed so those levels can fall. “In sleep hygiene recommendations, intensive exercising is not suggested within the last 3 hours before bedtime,” writes the authors of the study on “The Effects of Vigorous Late-night Exercise on Sleep Quality And Cardiac Autonomic Activity.

6. Lose yourself in a great book — read something that will engross you completely

When you get into a good book, you lose yourself in a whole new world. After a busy day, a great book can take your mind off everything else. John Grisham works well for me. William Gibson, Stephen King and Ann Patchett, are other great options. Just get lost in their world.

It can be whatever you want — inspiration, fiction, anything — but find something that puts your mind at ease.

Experts agree that reading is the very last thing most successful people do before going to sleep — Barack Obama and Bill Gates are known to read for at least a half-hour before bed.

Reading is a great de-stressor. It’s the perfect kind of evening ritual: it forces you to lie down and cut out the distractions.

If you prefer to read in bed, choose paper books. They will calm your brain and help you transition into sleep quicker.

7. Aim to disconnect from digital devices at least an hour before sleep

Turn off the phones, turn off the computer, and shut off the outside world for a little while. These things just raise your stress level. Go offline and forget about the online world!

This one’s a major problem for me and I can’t pretend that I make much of an effort to do this already. But I 100% want to spend less time on my phone in the evenings this year. I’m choosing to read more though.

If you choose to read, Just try to avoid reading through a screen and instead opt for a paperback copy or dim the brightness. A recent Mayo Clinic study found that dimming the brightness to about 50% keeps blue light low enough to not interfere with sleep.

Richard Wiseman, professor of psychology at the University of Hertfordshire and author of Night School: Wake up to The Power of Sleep, argues, “Ten minutes of a smartphone in front of your nose is about the equivalent of an hour-long walk in bright daylight. Imagine going for an hour-long walk in bright daylight and then thinking, “Now I’ll get some sleep.” It ain’t going to happen.” Devices can be very stimulating and stimulation is the last thing you need when you want to get a night of better sleep.

It can be really tough to build new routines into your evenings. It takes intention and discipline. It gets easier with practice — the good thing about routines and habits is that the more you do them, the easier they become. So stick with it and you can prepare yourself for a better morning.

This article first appeared on Medium.