How to own your evening and win tomorrow (5 Evening Habits)


Morning habits are all the rage. Yet, a great day starts the night before.

What to do

Adopt 5 game-changing habits to own your evening and win tomorrow.

Why it works

A good evening has three key ingredients. First, you want to switch from work mode to non-work mode. We “could fill any arbitrary number of hours with what feels to be productive work”, according to Cal Newport. Yet, that’s not a recipe for success. It’s a recipe for burnout. Conversely, ending your work day by systematically moving from work to leisure – including preparing your next day – is vital for great time off.

Second, you want to avoid what Harvard professor Ashley Whillans calls time confetti. As our leisure time gets fractured by digital technology, we use our free time for tiny bits of easy, fast distraction. Thus, our free time only comes in tiny snippets. This time confetti makes us experience time famine, or feeling hungry for time. The major factor contributing to time confetti is our smartphone. Being deliberate about our phone usage – and having alternatives to spending most of your time off on it – is key.

Third, you want to be able to fall deeply asleep quickly. The best way to pull that off is by activating your parasympathetic nervous system. Also known as the “calmness system”, its high activation is vital to slowing down a racing mind. As it turns out, you can quickly activate that system by changing how you breathe – even after a particularly stressful day.

How to do it

1) Have a shutdown routine. Here’s Cal Newport’s version in three simple steps: do a final email review; update your to-do lists and notes; then set your goals for the next day (see no. 2). “If you strictly follow this shutdown ritual”, he writes, “you’ll soon discover that not only are you working harder when you work, but your time after work is more meaningful and restorative than ever before”. If you want to delve deeper into Newport’s shutdown routine, check out my recent how-to article.

2) Create a 3-3-3 plan for tomorrow. Productivity isn’t about squeezing in more things, but doing the right things. Oliver Burkeman’s 3-3-3 Method will let you set tomorrow’s goals right: focus for 3 hours on your #1 thing; timebox 3 shorter tasks (e.g. email); and plan 3 maintenance tasks (e.g. health). If you want to learn more about how I use that method to win my days, here’s my article on the topic.

3) Practice intermittent digital fasting. Cutting down screen time will curb the worst excesses of time confetti, improving your leisure time and sleep dramatically. To cut your screen time in half (or more), do intermittent digital fasting (IDF): put your phone into its own bedroom (not yours!) 1 hour before bed; let it “sleep in” for at least 1 hour after you wake up. Use that evening hour to take a walk, give the people you care about some undivided attention, or finally start that reading habit (see no. 4). If you want to go pro on IDF, read this.

4) Read a book (non-fiction or fiction). The late Charlie Munger said: “In my whole life, I have known no wise people […] who didn’t read all the time – none, zero.” Chances are you’re no exception to this. What you read (non-fiction or fiction) doesn’t matter. Entrepreneur, investor and philosopher Naval Ravikant (pictured above) said it best: read what you love until you love to read.

5) Do the “physiological sigh”. It’s the quickest & most effective way to activate your “calmness system”, says Prof. Andrew Huberman. Here’s how to do it: inhale deeply through the nose for two seconds; inhale again through the nose for one second; then exhale fully through your mouth for six seconds. Repeat this for 1-5 minutes to calm down and fall deeply asleep even after a stressful day. If you want to learn more about the “physiological sigh” and other brutally-effective techniques, here’s how.

Adopt these habits to own your evening and win tomorrow.