You Need an Afternoon Routine
People are always telling you
how to maximize your mornings
, but your morning routine-whatever it may be-is
. What you really need is an afternoon routine.
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 energized. You don't have to run or lift weights to reap the benefits, though. A simple walk around 3 p.m.-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.
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, organizing, 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 listening to your favorite tunes. For me, this means responding to emails, finding stories to pitch, doing research for other stories, editing photos, and organizing 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.
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 behavior. If you don't stick with it, that's okay, don't punish yourself. Go back to the easy stuff for a while and try again later.
Kill Your Darlings
Regardless of what type of work you do, we all have "little darlings," or personal favorite 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.
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 prioritize 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.