6 Steps to Master the Art of Workday Evenings

It’s so easy to slip, to get stuck in a rolling, ritual rut that has you grinding your teeth all day at your desk: the annihilation of exhalation. By five o’clock, the manifestation of afternoon lethargy has filtered fully down from your head to your tightly packed toes, and every part of you is ready to buckle.

You grab a couple of beers from the fridge (forward thinking prevents return trips), collapse from a height onto the sofa, put up your sore feet and turn on the TV. Yes, it’s another rectangular screen, but it’s doing all the work for you, so it’s totally different from your desktop computer. Your thumb duly switches between your email inbox and your Facebook feed (at least refreshing is in there somewhere), as you lazily ponder whether the period between Eggheads and the news is enough time to microwave your multi-buy chicken tikka masala.

And why not? Why shouldn’t you be able to cocoon your still suited self in cushions until you and your phone reach a critical level of low battery and need to make the trip upstairs to recharge? After all – you’ve been at work all day.

Except, have you?

Whilst working nine to five is, as we all know, for service and devotion, when you think about it, it is only eight hours. Just one third of your day.

It sounds strange when it’s broken down like that. It did to me, anyway. It just seems like a comparatively small fraction to attribute all your energy, creativity and activity into. There are so many things in life that I feel excited about doing and achieving, but I find myself excused on the understanding that I can’t do anything but collapse once I get in the door from work. At 6pm I find myself going through the motions to live, rather than living for going through the motions.

As a passionate person, realising that, has broken my heart and made me realise that something absolutely has to change.

I had a chat to my boss where he told me I couldn’t just ‘really live, you know’ whilst still getting paid, so I decided to do some research on how to work and live. And here it is, broken down into 6 simple habits, a little manifesto that I call:

The Quest to Feel Alive for More than 9-5

1. Find and Designate a Restorative Place

Mine’s the bath. Yours could be a chair in the garden, the cupboard under the stairs, the dog basket, but it’s got to be somewhere peaceful and comfortable. Not silent necessarily, or dark, but comfortable. Somewhere where you can release the tension of the day one by one from your muscles and feel yourself slowly melt into whatever holds you. Grant your body the opportunity, and your mind the time, to consciously switch off from your working day. And do this every day. It may take five minutes, it may take twenty five, it may change. Allow for that.

2. Pursue Your Natural Interests

These aren’t things that you aspire to achieve, they aren’t things you feel you should have accomplished by now in your life. They are, in fact, the instincts that inspire those things. Instead of timing your run, or measuring it, or critiquing it, just run. Don’t squint and stumble through Rachmaninov, stopping each time you fail to stretch your fingers over an octave and a third, bash out some power chords instead, improvise and see where it takes you. Do what feels natural – and, if that for you is Rachmaninov or the London marathon then congrats, you’re an astounding human.

3. Just Say No

So, it’s the birthday drinks of one of your work friends. They’ve been giggling all week about getting tipsy on a Tuesday night: rebel, rebel. However, they’re not in that 8am meeting on Wednesday, and as you’ve bought a TV this month, Tuesday is your only chance to get cheap Dominos. If you did join them, would you be thinking about garlic and herb dip and Holby City? If so, SAY NO. Take care of yourself that night. Enjoy each and every calorie of that pizza. Breeze into that meeting on Wednesday having had plenty of sleep and send out an email invite for Saturday evening drinks instead.

4. Create a Pre-Sleep Ritual

When you wake up in the mornings, you get in the shower, sing along to the radio, down cups of coffee as if it was a Friday night and your cab to town had arrived early: you work yourself up for the day. But where’s that gradient when it comes to the evenings? Crashing onto your mattress at midnight and half-heartedly hoping that your automatic alarm clock is still automatic by morning isn’t going to do you any favours when it comes to a relaxing and securing a stress-free night’s sleep. Consider, instead, a ‘wind down ritual’. Listen to instrumental music. Read a chapter of a book. Drink a mug of herbal tea. Stretch. Breathe. And then sleep.

5. Turn Your Bedroom into a Sanctuary

Everyday starts and ends here, so make it a place that you want to be at the start and end of your day. Hardwood floors? Put rugs down at the sides of your bed so you’ll have something soft and warm underneath your feet when you get out of bed (yesterday’s damp bath towel doesn’t count). Keep the light low, the clutter down and the electronics out. Distractions are great while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil, or when you’re commuting – but not when you’re in bed. You don’t need distractions there. If you’re mind is fizzy and unable to settle for thoughts and anxieties, tire it out. Keep a journal by your bed and write them away. It’s all about blank spaces: use the blank space in your journal to offload upon. Use the blank space in your bedroom to settle upon. Use the blank space in your mind to sleep upon.

6. Look Forward

Every day, make sure you have something to look forward to that evening. Have a focal point whilst you’re at work, that just thinking about reminds you that from 5pm you’ll have it good. Indulge, once a day, in something. A long walk, an expensive milkshake, a scalding bath with a new trio of tranquil Tesco tealights. Do something ludicrous, do something simple, but every evening, do something.

When you return from work this evening, take a minute. Let yourself into the house, lean back against the front door and take sixty seconds to consider the course of your evening.

Are you looking for something more tonight?



Last summer I got on a train to Bournemouth and spent three days there on holiday. By myself.

‘You’re such a loner!’ Sadie told me.

‘Yes I am.’ I smiled back.

My beautiful best friend had meant it as an insult. She’d meant it in the same vein as ‘freak’, as ‘tragic’ as ‘poor Mara can’t get anyone to go away with her so she’s going by herself HOW HILARIOUS’.

First of all there was a mix up at the hotel I had booked. The reason I decided on Bournemouth was that it was the cheapest room I could find on the internet. It was £15 a night for a single room with one small window. On the first morning of my solitary summer trip I received a call from Giles, the hotel owner who said, ‘I’m so sorry (really so sorry) but that room doesn’t exist. I don’t know what that silly internet told you but there’s absolutely no way you can have that room.’ He explained that there was only one room left on site. It was a double room with a sea view and a corridor and a bath and he could offer it to me at the discounted price of £50 a night. I then explained to him my position as a poor student, with absolutely no money to spend and return train tickets already purchased.

‘Okay,’ he said. ‘Just this once. And don’t tell my wife.’

I spent my time walking, writing and watching the sea. I really love the sea – I always have – it’s awe, I think, of how constant it is, how effortless. For food, I hopped between budget supermarkets and budget cafes. I tried bubble tea for the first time – that was pretty great – I’d been wondering about that for ages and ages. On the last night I was feeling a bit rubbishy because I hadn’t had a hot meal or any vegetables for three days so I walked across the road to a very small Italian restaurant. I sat outside at a corner table for one and ate breadsticks and penne arrabbiata with fresh tomatoes and fresh pasta and fresh chilli under the orange patio heater. The restaurant manager must have taken pity on me eating alone because he brought me two free glasses of house white wine. It was honestly one of the best eating out experiences I have ever had (and not just because of the persuasive power of wine).

In the evenings I’d embark on the five minute downhill trail to the waterfront where I’d take my shoes off and walk along the line where the sea meets the beach. There were one or two late night dog walkers but other than that I had the whole place to myself. It was magical. The lack of social interaction and otherwise conversations with friends found an outlet in conversations with myself. Not out loud (I didn’t think I should give Sadie’s jibes any more ammunition) but in my head. In the same way you get to know someone through staying up all night in conversation – I was getting to know myself in a way that I never had. I was starting to like myself in a way that I never had. I liked my independence, I liked my motivation (the best writing I’ve ever done was on that trip), I liked the way that for the first time I had started to put myself first – because for those three days there was nobody else I needed to please.


I love my friends and I can’t tell you how much I value my family, but I wouldn’t change the company on my Bournemouth experience for anything. When I have the money and opportunity to do it again and when, once again, I hear, ‘loner!’ I will say ‘thank you so much’.

Because what a wonderful compliment – to be happy with yourself. People struggle for lifetimes with that and I’ll never not be grateful for those three days for making me the happiest loner in the world.

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