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?

Rejection Perfection: A Guide to Getting Back Up

No matter how many times people tell you that you’re special, that you’re too good for them at that job, that ‘I’d hire you!’, having your job application rejected is crushing. When you’re applying for a job, you mentally put yourself in that role to decide whether or not it’s for you. From there it’s cover-letters and a CV polish and face-to-face interviews, trying all the way to decide what the company wants and how you can become it. It’s a contortion act – and when you’ve strained your back and twisted your ankle and pulled a muscle in your neck from all that vigorous nodding; to get rejected leaves you on the floor.

1. Take a Day

Cry. I’m giving you permission. Punch a pillow. Turn up Beck’s ‘Loser’ (I’m a loser, baby, so why don’t you kill me, that one) and sing along as loud as you can without annoying the neighbours (or annoy them if you like, but make a note to apologise later – they’ll understand because they’ve been rejected before, too). Binge watch TV and put three frozen pizzas in the oven (you can’t afford Domino’s).

But for goodness sake, only do it for one day.

2. Pick Yourself Up

Set an alarm, make some strong coffee and sit back down in front of your computer. Email the company and ask for some feedback (you can do this even if you haven’t had a face-to-face interview). This is a win-win.

Win 1: If they give you a list of reasons, a few pointers, some advice for improved interview skills – fantastic. You won’t make those mistakes again – moreover – you’re now going to be aware of these weak spots and be able to give them the time and attention they need to be turned into skills.

Win 2: If the response you get is that you just weren’t the best suited for the job then that’s great, too. Nobody wants a job they’re not suited to – and nobody wants a boss who also thinks that.

3. Dust Yourself Off

The Japanese have an art form called Kintsugi. It involves putting back together broken pottery and painting the cracks with gold lacquer. As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as something beautiful, something admirable and individually unique. Being broken isn’t something to be ashamed of – quite the contrary – it’s an opportunity for a whole new creation.

Look at your weaknesses and see if you can find a way to make them work for you. For example if you’re shy, anxious, lacking in confidence; sell yourself as an introvert. If you feel like you’re an outsider then sell yourself as one. You have an outsider’s point of view, your constant seat on the fence has given you the observational skills of a hawk. You know what needs to happen – and they need to know that.

4. Start All Over Again

So, you’re back on your feet (however wobbly). Wonderful. What’s next?

Revision Time.

Write a to-do list and (this is the best piece of advice I’ve ever been given) make the first thing on the list ‘write to-do list’. That way by the end of the list, you’re already one task down with one big fat tick.

There are thousands of advice articles out there from people who know what they’re talking about on how to improve your professional profile. Look them up, look lots up, get some ideas, and work on your next approach. View this as a fresh slate, a new and exciting opportunity to once again start the journey to where you want to be.

At the end of the day, the more times you write a cover letter, the better writer you’ll be. The more times you’re interviewed, the better you’ll be at professional interaction.

And the more times you pick yourself up off of the floor – the stronger and more future-proof you’re bound to become.