Rethinking your evenings


Looking back over 2020, I wasn’t happy with two things: 1) My daily routine and 2) How I let myself keep getting sucked in by the news.

That’s understandable of course, with a new baby in the house and a global pandemic raging. But it didn’t feel good to just chalk it all up to 2020 and leave it at that. After all: You can’t change your output without doing something about your input. 

And so I came up with a new evening routine to try. Nothing too shocking. But trying something different has already given me so much in return that I’d like to let you in on it.

I knew something had to change. But what?

When I thought ahead to Q1 and possible experiments to try, the way I spent my evenings soon came to mind. I was letting myself be pulled in by whatever was going on in the news and on Twitter, and ended up going to bed too late too often. That meant I wasn’t as present for my family at night and was low on energy during the day. 

I thought: What do those evenings do for me, anyway? It wasn’t as if I actually sat back and enjoyed the downtime. And though I had my laptop open, it wasn’t as if I got much done. The result was a false sense of effectiveness on both fronts. 

I took the first step while formulating goals for the quarter. I went ahead and used a browser plugin to block all digital news sources. I used an app to set up my iPhone the same way. On Twitter I unfollowed politicians and people who share mostly news-related stuff. I traded in my digital access to the newspaper for the daily printed edition, to see if I could concentrate my news consumption around my lunch break.

The combination of blocking, and then replacing with something you look forward to, seemed to work. It instantly gave me more focus and peace of mind during the day. 

By Jove! a quarter past eleven

With all my smart tools, plans, and hacks, I try to make optimum use of my workday. Maybe you can relate. But how often do you think about what you do with the rest of your day? In his 1908(!) book How to live on 24 hours a day, Arnold Bennett draws us this picture: 

You don’t eat immediately on your arrival home. But in about an hour or so you feel as if you could sit up and take a little nourishment. And you do. Then you smoke, seriously; you see friends; you potter; you play cards; you flirt with a book; you note that old age is creeping on; you take a stroll; you caress the piano… By Jove! a quarter past eleven.

You then devote quite forty minutes to thinking about going to bed; and it is conceivable that you are acquainted with a genuinely good whiskey. At last you go to bed, exhausted by the day’s work. Six hours, probably more, have gone since you left the office – gone like a dream, gone like magic, unaccountably gone!

We have different distractions today, but the idea’s the same. Without thinking, I’ll click my way through the whole evening and read the same news stories again. And putting off going to bed? It’s just all too familiar. 

The key for me is taking the time to be more intentional. Think about how you’d like to spend your evenings. Once I thought about it, my wish was threefold: To go to bed with a clear head. And earlier. And to fill my evening with things that make me happy.

Time for an experiment

I decided to try an experiment for a week: At 8pm I’d put away all devices (phone, iPad, laptop) until morning and be in bed by 10pm. I resolved to pick up a book in that gap. 

Clear rules. 

And again that combination of block and then replace with something I would genuinely look forward to. Those first evenings were difficult, I’m not going to lie. But by mid-week I said to Joàn, Those two hours with a book feels like vacation.

The next week I decided to make some adjustments. I put my phone in airplane mode as soon as I stopped working (around 6pm). I replaced Be in bed by 10pm with: Stop reading at 9:30pm and wind down for the night. I still feel the urge to look at my phone in the evening, but the alternative feels far far better. I go to bed with a clear head and start my day with more energy. 

This week

Maybe you’re thinking, Um. Rick? I spend my evenings like this all the time. Have for years now. Or maybe you think this would never work for you. Well, how I decided to spend my evenings isn’t the main thing here. I wanted to tell you about my little experiment to get you thinking about your own evening hours. So you can start filling them with intention, instead of letting yourself be sucked in by whatever happens to come your way. Or whatever limited options your habits present. So come up with something new to try. Then: 

  • Start with small steps

  • Make use of the powerful combo: block and replace

  • Give your experiment at least a week

Let me know how it goes!

Have a good week,