Drawing a Line Between the Day and the Evening

dinner table

We’ve all done it, and some people make it a regular habit: you make a list of things that need to be done during the day, all of which take more time than you thought they would, and then as the day transitions into evening, you’re still working on that list. Things like laundry get pushed back until after dinner, and before you know it, it’s midnight, and you fall into bed wondering where all that time went.

If you work in an office environment, things can get out of control even faster: you stay at the office late to finish up something you don’t want on your agenda for tomorrow, or worse, take the work home with you to finish it there. The line between your work time and your personal time gets more and more blurry, and soon the only time you have for yourself is the occasional weekend.

I used to be the perfect example of someone who was perpetually in burnout mode. I was getting a lot done, or at least I was busy with stuff all the time, but for some reason I never felt accomplished. This is because the whole concept of accomplishment requires an element of being able to step back and appreciate what you’ve done. The point of cleaning the house is so you can enjoy having a clean house. Enjoyment requires sitting down and relaxing and appreciating the comfort of your surroundings. It’s that last part I had trouble with; I never got done with my work until late in the evening, and by then I was too tired to appreciate anything but my pillow. I probably would have been a lot happier with a dirty house and more free time.

One of my dormmates in college used to set an alarm for himself. Everyday at 6:00 PM his alarm would beep, and no matter what assignment or paper he was working on, or how deep into his work he was, he’d put it down right then and there, clear the desk, and that would be the end of it until the next day. The rest, he said, was evening time, and “evening time is not work time.” We all used to make fun of him, but as the years passed and I became completely overworked, I realized that he was onto something. After all, he was the only person I knew in college who never had stress attacks, consistently made good grades, and always got all his assignments in early.

Now, not everyone can be that structured. Some people are just not wired that way. But certainly there are levels of compromise. At the very least, you have to start believing that not only do you deserve to have free time in the evening, but that it is just as necessary (if not more so) than the other items on your to-do list. After all, evening is when your family and friends are around you, and nothing is more important than being with them. As the old saying goes, no one on their deathbed ever says, “I wish I’d spent more time at work.” If the balance in your life is not right, you have to do whatever it takes to make it right.

In order to make this work, you have to prioritize, and some things will just have to wait until later. There are certain things for which the timing is not so flexible, like set appointments, or getting to a certain shop that closes early. But everything else on your list can be done in order of importance. The things you do first thing in the morning should be the things that absolutely cannot wait until tomorrow, and things that need to be done every day, like exercise. Once you have those out of the way, the pressure lessens a little. Many times we want to think that everything on the list is essential, but usually that’s not the case. If vacuuming is the last thing on the list and it doesn’t get done before the evening alarm, the carpet will still be there tomorrow. Really, it will.

There are things you have to do, there’s no way around that. But running yourself ragged day in and day out with no designated down time ends up being counterproductive. You’ll actually get more done in a shorter period if you’re well-rested and happy, because you’ll be able to concentrate better and work more efficiently. It may take some experimentation to get the balance right, but once you find a formula that works for you, you can start enjoying more free time, while still managing to get everything done.

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