Set Yourself Up For Success With An Established Nighttime Routine
“The president’s day actually starts the day before,” Michael Lewis wrote in his Vanity Fair profile of President Obama. As part of his nighttime routine, the former President would spend an hour or so prepping for the following day: reviewing briefs, checking schedules, and knowing where he needed to be when.
There are many common habits of successful people, and one is having an established nighttime routine. Just like children, adults flourish with routine, and pre-bed rituals can help boost the following day’s mental and physical productivity. Whether it’s planning your day in advance like President Obama, cultivating a conducive sleep environment, reading a book or something different, nighttime routines are a crucial step in setting yourself up for success the following day.
In addition to planning out their days, successful entrepreneurs have a few other common traits in their nighttime routines. Try them out and see what works best for you:
Prioritize Yourself: Take ‘Me Time,’ ‘Family Time,’ or Even ‘Netflix and Chill’ Time
In the running circuit, some experts advise one day of rest for every mile raced. For marathon runners, that’s a 26-day break after the big race. Just like the body, the mind needs to rest as well, and after a long day of work (or even just life), your mind needs a change of pace.
Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, breaks Silicon Valley’s unspoken workaholic rule and leaves the office at the same time, no matter the day. “I walk out of this office every day at 5:30 PM so [that] I'm home for dinner with my kids at 6PM.,” she says. Later in the evening she’ll check emails and finish any outstanding work issues if need be, and then turn her phone off once more to cut distractions and focus inward. But she always takes time to prioritize herself and her family.
Your mind needs this. Many of us get so caught up in work that we forget about “me time,” which is wrong. Make sure you don’t forget to prioritize yourself and your family and take time each day to step away from work stress to simply relax and unwind. Whether it’s spending an hour with your partner without checking your phone or just enjoying an episode of This Is Us, your mind needs a break at the end of the day.
Unplug (Literally and Emotionally)
Just like you need to unplug your mind, you need to unplug your devices before bed (yes, this means your iPhone). Richard Wiseman, author of Night School: Wakeup to the Power of Sleep, explains "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.”
Blue light (the light from your phone, laptop, and table) interferes with your body’s natural production of melatonin (which regulates the circadian rhythm), causing restlessness. To put it plainly, your smartphone and tablet are hindering your sleep; turn them off.
After passing out at her desk from exhaustion, Ariana Huffington banned electronic devices from the bedroom as part of her nighttime routine in order to fully unplug. "I hit my head on my desk. I broke my cheekbone. I had five stitches on my right eye. So I began the journey of rediscovering the value of sleep," she said in a 2010 TEDWomen talk. She now advocates “sleeping your way to the top”; this means prioritizing a good night’s sleep, which will, in turn, set you up for maximum productivity the following day.
Practice Quality Sleep Hygiene
Sleep hygiene is about more than just washing your sheets and making your bed: it’s about taking the necessary steps to ensure a good night’s sleep. An estimated 70 million Americans suffer from some sort of sleep disorder, and entrepreneurs are said to have more sleepless nights than their counterparts. Part of it has to do with a brain that never seems to turn off: working through unfinished problems, anxiety about the next day, and more. Sleepless nights lead to fatigue, with leads to an unproductive day.
There are many natural ways to get a better night’s sleep, among them maintaining a consistent sleep schedule and going to bed and waking up at the same time every day (yes, this means weekends too), not checking emails in bed (again, blue light is bad), and having a comfortable bed and room temperature. No matter how busy you get, make sure to prioritize sleep to avoid burning out. No matter how smart you may be, no one performs at max capacity when they’re sleep deprived.
Tim Ferriss, the author of The 4-Hour Workweek, fights his insomnia with a diligent nighttime routine. Every night, about an hour before he goes to sleep, he takes a hot bath, sips tea with apple cider vinegar, and reads a book. He explains that his choice of reading is a crucial part of his nighttime routine. “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.”
Exercise: Walk, Practice Yoga, Be Active
In 2013, The National Sleep Foundation conducted a study called “Sleep in America” which showed that people who exercised before bed slept better than those that didn’t. We’re not saying go to Crossfit at 9 PM and get your endorphins pumping; rather, take a leisurely walk, engage in yoga, or some other type of non-aggressive physical activity. Put the phone down and reflect on your day or yourself while doing it.
Joel Gascoigne, co-founder and former CEO of social media sharing content platform Buffer.com, walks for a minimum of 20-minutes every evening as part of his nighttime routine. He explains, “This is a wind-down period, and allows me to evaluate the day’s work, think about the greater challenges, gradually stop thinking about work, and reach a state of tiredness.” Exercise is not only heart-healthy, but a great way to decompress after a long day, and is certainly a great way to calm your mind and further tire your body before bed.
Redirect Your Mental Focus: Read
Reading a book (not your tablet) is a great way to unwind and calm your mind before bed. In addition to relaxing and perhaps learning something, it’s also a great de-stressor: one study found that ready for just six minutes can reduce stress by 68%.
Reading before bed is another common trait amongst successful entrepreneurs. President Obama reads for pleasure for at least 15 minutes before bed each night, and Bill Gates reads for an hour as part of his nighttime ritual. The genre is irrelevant; even fiction novels have been shown to improve emotional intelligence. The goal is to simply redirect your energy and mental focus to something new, something unrelated to the day’s events, to help calm your mind and prep your for a good night’s sleep.
Reflect on Today and Set Goals For Tomorrow
Benjamin Franklin was well known for his rigorous nighttime routine. Prior to bed each night, he would take time to reflect upon his day by asking himself “what good have I done today?”
This approach is taken today by many successful entrepreneurs who take time each evening to not only reflect upon the good and bad of the day, but also to write down any concerns that need to be addressed the following morning, as well as set goals for the following day. Use the MIT approach: write down your “Most Important Thing[s]” for tomorrow, and when you wake up you’ll have a clear agenda to set you up for success.
Analyzing and recapping your day can help show you what you did write and highlight any shortcomings which need to be improved upon in the future. Brian Scudamore, founder of 1–800-GOT-JUNK, writes down any concerns on a piece of paper every evening before bed, helping to minimize anxiety.
Investor Marcus Lemons jots down a list of everything he needs to accomplish the following day and sets them as “before noon” priorities. This way he was up each morning with a clear morning agenda, ready to take on the day.
While highly successful people have common threads to their nighttime routines, everyone is different, so what works for some may not work for everyone. Try a few of the above and see how you feel. If writing down your worries begins to feel like a burden, stop. Similarly, if you’re exhausted and don’t feel like reading a book, don’t. Let your body and mind direct you towards what works best, and let that set the tone for your nighttime routine.