Some evenings when I get home from work, it takes everything I have not to set down my purse, grab my laptop, turn on Netflix, and zone out on the couch until bedtime. However, those few hours at the end of the day are sacred and should be treated as such. It’s generally the best time we have to run errands, spend quality time with people we love, exercise, relax, watch Gilmore Girls, etc. So how do you hack your evening to ensure you accomplish as much as possible and not resort to the dreaded couch potato? Consider these five productivity hacks to make the most of your night:
1. Look for pockets of time you can utilize
If you know you’ve got a long to do list and only a certain amount of hours to finish it, you want to make sure every second counts. If you have a long commute home, or even just a ten-minute bus or subway ride, use the time to draft some emails (but don’t send them if you’re on a phone!), prioritize your tasks, or even catch up on the news you didn’t have time to read during the day.
2. Make eating easy.
On an especially busy night, the last thing you want to worry about it is what Pinterest-worthy dish you’ll be throwing together. When I don’t want to get started in the kitchen—but don’t want to feel guilty for spending tons of money on a meal—I’ll head into the nearest Panera or Cosi and order a kid’s meal. That’s right, a kid’s meal. (Please don’t judge.) They’re generally easier to make, which means you’ll be in and out a lot faster, they’re always cheaper, and generally restaurants won’t care how old you actually are. Bonus: kid’s meals usually come with decently-sized portions, so you’ll stay full without feeling like you ate too much.
3. Keep your shoes on.
When I asked some of my friends about their secret suggestions for having a productive evening, one friend shared a weirdly wonderful tip: Keep your shoes on. She said that the second she takes her shoes off she’ll start to feel too comfortable, and therefore a bit lazy, so she simply keeps them on until she’s completed everything she needs to do. It sounds strange, but having your shoes on really does add a sense of urgency and will encourage you to go, go, go.
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4. Work out your mind and your brain together.
Squeezing in a daily workout can seem daunting and time consuming, but it’s ultimately something you know you need to make time for. The best way I’ve found to motivate myself to break a sweat, and feel like I’m being productive at the same time, is to multitask. Whether that’s watching a documentary while you’re on the elliptical or listening to an amazing podcast while you’re on your run, you’ll feel like you’re doing double duty and making the most of your time. (My suggestion? A forty-minute run outside accompanied by the Call Your Girlfriend podcast, featuring the brilliant Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow.)
4. Make a productivity playlist.
One of the best ways I’ve found to pace my evening is to put together a productivity playlist. Pick out some instrumental tunes (so the music stays helpful, not distracting) and create a playlist that’s about an hour long. This way while the music is playing you’ll have a rough idea of how much time you have to complete your tasks without obsessively checking the clock. My favorite way to use this hack is to turn on the playlist while I’m cleaning up. That way I’m encouraged to get everything done before the songs run out, and it adds a little bit of fun to an otherwise boring activity.
5. Have a set ending time.
No matter how much you have to do, if it seems like you have all evening to do it, chances are procrastination will quickly take over. The best way to combat the urge to slack off for a few minutes (or hours) is to set an ending time for the evening. Maybe you’ve decided 10 p.m. is the hour you’ll stop running around and start winding down. Having this set time will help you prioritize what actually has to get done that evening and how long you realistically have to do it. Plus, working toward something at the end of the night, whether it be a cup of tea or a phone call with a friend, is the best motivator.