We’ve read a lot about how rising early can lead to success. But how you use your time before you hit the hay can be just as important to achieving (and exceeding) your goals.
Whether you’re someone who values a solid six to eight hours of sleep (like Arianna Huffington) or a self-professed night owl (like President Obama), here are some end-of-day rituals that highly successful people have in common.
1. Tackle one project or task after-hours
There’s something to be said about the peace and tranquility of your workspace once the bustle ends. At the beginning of your day, identify one key item on your to-do list that requires full concentration without distractions — it can be as big as prepping for an investor meeting or as small as disputing a charge with customer service. Knowing that you’ve dedicated time after-hours to getting this task done allows you to be more present throughout the day.
2. Write down three things to accomplish the next day
Kenneth Chenault, the CEO of American Express, makes a list of the top three things he’d like to accomplish the next day. That way, it’s easier to prioritize come morning, and you don’t waste precious work hours figuring out how to get started.
3. Turn off your work brain
Once you leave for the day, it’s important to disconnect from the workday. That means doing an activity — exercise, cooking, going to dinner with friends, watching your favorite TV show — that gives you a break from thinking about work. And it’s even more important to try not to bring work stresses to bed. The National Sleep Foundation reports that it’s much harder to relax and ready your body for good sleep if you associate your bed with thinking about work.
4. Power down one hour before going to sleep
Wind-down time is critical to recalibrate, ready yourself for a good night’s sleep, and get your mind and body in shape for the day ahead. National Sleep Foundation studies have found that using electronic devices within one hour of going to bed can result in difficulty falling asleep and fitful, unrefreshing sleep. Researchers have also found that the blue light from electronic devices can send signals to the brain to stop producing melatonin — the exact hormone you need to fall asleep. So as tempting as it is to respond to some email before you turn in, it’s a good idea to restrain yourself. A restful night sets you up for productivity the next day. A restless one knocks you off your game.
5. Read a chapter or two of a book
Barack Obama, Bill Gates, and Arianna Huffington are all champions of devoting time to reading before bed. They each set aside at least a half hour of nighttime reading as a non-negotiable item on their to-do lists. International business speaker and author Michael Kerr says that browsing a variety of sources for both inspiration and information helps fuel greater creativity in people’s lives.
6. Put down the glass of wine
For many, alcohol can feel like a great way to unwind. But the National Health Institute has found that drinking an hour or less before bedtime actually prevents you from getting the quality sleep you’re going for. Alcohol inhibits your body from falling into the deeper, more restorative sleep cycles that your body needs to repower itself.
7. Set aside time for brainstorming and self-reflection before bed
According to a study by Mareike Wieth and Rose Sacks, professors of cognitive and physiological science at Albion College and Michigan State University, test subjects were better at creative problem-solving during the time of day when they felt most tired. The study links the ability to achieve those aha! moments with the times when your brain isn’t on constant guard — i.e., when you’re sleepy and your thoughts are meandering instead of being tethered by linear, analytical thinking.
In Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, author Mason Currey shares the personal routines of figures throughout history and reveals how founding father Benjamin Franklin asked himself the same question every night before bed: “What good have I done today?” Reflecting on the day’s work and outlining what he could improve the next day guided Franklin on his path to, in his own words, moral perfection.