If mornings are your most productive working time, what happens when a baby comes along and you need to catch up on sleep? Nicky Raby shares some brilliant tips for becoming productive in the evening…
Learning to be productive in the evening
Pre baby I was a morning person. I would naturally wake just before 6am, often feeling refreshed and optimistic about the possibilities of the day. The stillness of a quiet house brought such a sense of clarity. Morning was the time when I felt most creative and energised.
Sometimes I would have an urge to move by either stretching on my yoga mat or heading out for a run. Mostly I would head straight to my desk and scribble. I was never short of ideas and the process of working at this time felt easy and free flowing.
These days I am usually fast asleep at 6am or at least attempting to…sometimes in my own bed…sometimes in the bed in the baby’s room. Usually in an uncomfortable position and frequently with a bashing, curious hand exploring my face.
Becoming a parent to a lively baba brings an unpredictable flavour to night time proceedings and sleep becomes the end goal in whatever shape or form. The routine we have found ourselves in can often involve a wake up of 4:30am so the hours between 5am and 7am have become my most precious sleeping hours.
I could power on through as I have done occasionally (with copious quantities of caffeine) but this is not sustainable. Why don’t you work during the day, you ask? Yes I can do the occasional email, but to be honest, I find mega multi tasking stressful. I need complete concentration. The notion that your baby ‘plays quietly’ in the corner of the room whilst you work is a myth. Mine wants to be shouting in supermarkets!
I am a freelance coach, actor and writer and am lucky enough to create my own hours. Before I had my son, I was technically ‘available’ in the evenings, however my mind and mojo were in shutdown mode. This is still my natural instinct – once the baby is asleep all I want to do is to collapse on the sofa with a plate full of carbs: my training food for the night.
But with emails, deadlines and projects still in the mix (life goes on, after all) I knew I had to shift gear and train myself to operate on a new schedule.
Here are some of the strategies I have used and developed not only for myself but for my clients who are also busy, multi tasking parents.
How to become productive in the evening…
1. As you head towards the crescendo of the ‘bedtime routine’, allow yourself some extra time to make the transition for you too. Start the dinner/tidying up/winding down juggling act fifteen minutes earlier. If your evening becomes your ‘creativity window’, make it easy for yourself.
Don’t leave your house in chaos that is going to be overwhelming to tackle once the kids have gone to bed. A sea of toys, random pieces of toast decorating the kitchen floor and a stack of dishes (just me?) can really play havoc with your productivity levels. You may either want to tackle ‘operation house’ or curl up in a heap and watch Grand Designs where the houses look pristine and Scandinavian. Either option moves you away from work mode.
2. Good enough is good enough. The house may not look perfect (see above) and dinner may be something you have thrown in the oven but it’s all good. If you are fed and watered and have a clear space to work, then great. If you are working on a major project or on a deadline – don’t choose that night to recreate a version of a recipe you saw on Masterchef. Keep it simple and don’t give yourself more work and stress.
3. Manage distractions. This may be turning off your phone, closing down tabs on your laptop or telling those around you that you are unavailable… maybe just for an hour – don’t scare them. You are reachable in an emergency but not for someone to ask you something very quickly. Set your boundaries and stick to them. Being productive in the evening is about having focus.
4. Set a goal for each session. When you are tired, your mind can wander, so I use the stern approach. I write a clear to do list of what I want to achieve eg. clear my inbox, write 2000 words, prepare marketing materials. Clarity will help you to avoid grazing. I get clear on the nitty gritty of the task, so I never let myself put ‘marketing’ as that is so overwhelming. Instead I break down ‘marketing’ into five or six systematic tasks.
5. Optimise your phone. My phone is usually strapped to me and guiding me time wise, weather wise and kindly keeping me up to date with the rest of the world. But to-do list apps (I like Wunderlist) and the notes section are particularly useful too. Therefore if an idea comes to me during the day (or, more likely, around 4:38am) I don’t lose it. Working this creativity muscle throughout the day alleviates pressure at night and keeps my head brimming with ideas.
6. Work smartly not hard. Pre baby I spent hours fiddling around with graphics (I am not even a graphic designer) or rewriting webpages or watching webinars. These days I don’t have the time or energy to mess about. I go for the big wins ie. what is going to bring in money? What is going to elevate my business? What tasks will make an impact? Always question why you are doing something and make sure you have a sassy explanation.
7. Programme your mind for success – even if you have to ‘fake it until you make it’ a little. Flavour your work session with a little positivity, reminding yourself of the benefits you gain from working this way. Approaching a work session with a negative, exhausted attitude will only prolong the process.
8. Choose a shut down time and stick to it. Give yourself plenty of time to switch off so you can rest.
Follow Nicky on Twitter: @nickyraby
Do you manage to be productive in the evening? What are your tips? We’d love to hear them in the comment section below…
Image credit: mousepad by eighteen32, stationary by lessandmore, desk from designspiration