When I encourage people to create a work ethic that is more in tune with the design of their bodies, I present a diagram that shows how our biological rhythms change over a 24-hour period.
It shows how precious the morning can be, for it’s in the morning that our mental alertness and our capacity for accuracy and discrimination is at its highest, sleep scientists say. If you are a night owl, this fresh dose of energy still arrives, just later in the day.
The fact that we are given this gift anew, every single day, makes me marvel at the generosity of nature’s cycles.
Every 24 hours we get an opportunity to clear the slate and start the day afresh, thanks to rotation of the planets around the sun, which generates the natural light-dark cycles to which our body clocks are attuned.
No matter how bad your day, you only have to wait another 12 hours or so before you can reboot. That strikes me as very forgiving.
However, you will only get the fresh start if you reclaim the night for its rightful purpose of bringing the day to a close, rather than continue flat out until the moment your head hits the pillow.
What could you do to bring your day to completion, so that at night you can get in sync with nature’s opportunity for rejuvenation, rather than take the day’s left overs into bed?
I’m not talking about sleep hygiene here, though that is really important too.
I’m talking about simple rituals and routines you can enact well before bedtime, to close the loop on your working day, even and especially when your to-do list is not all ticked off. Without such practices you risk missing the night train, and on waking, finding yourself lagging behind with an energetic hang-over, unable to get back in rhythm.
Here are some ideas for bringing a sense of closure to your working day.
At the end of the day:
- allow 15 minutes to reply to any important emails or phone messages so they don’t stay on your mind.
- allow another 15 minutes to make a decision about any outstanding tasks or decisions. Write next to each item, when you will attend to them.
- if you have to stop work in the middle of a task, write yourself a post-it note to remind yourself where you are up to, and what the next step is.
- acknowledge what you have done in the day, not only what remains undone.
- clear your desk, even a little bit, by stacking your papers for example and putting a paper weight on them. Embrace physical acts of shutting , closing, filing and finishing.
- turn off your computer really consciously. You can turn this act into a ritual that signals closure by adding a simple mantra as you switch off, such as “finished for today,” “enough for now” “time for renewal”. I place a piece of silk cloth over my computer screen for added closure.
- notice your body-mind state as you leave the office, whether that’s at work or at home. Through the quality of your movement, leave an imprint you want to return to: calm, clear, care-ful.
- if there are any issues from the day that are bothering you, find 15 minutes to journal about it, record your thoughts on voice memo, or debrief with a friend.
- decide on your own personal clock-off time, and commit to it. Really clamp down on ‘just checking’ your devices out of habit.
- if you are tempted to push on into the night despite your fuel tank running low, remind yourself that every extra minute or hour you invest beyond the natural quota of energy this day has given you, will yield ever diminishing returns.