The Quest to Feel Alive for More than 9-5

Elizabeth Jenkins-Smalley

Elizabeth Jenkins-Smalley

Editor In Chief at The Executive Magazine

Mara Patraiko, at Agency Central gives The Executive Magazine her tips for increasing activity, energy and creativity by falling into a more effective work/rest balance.

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 more and more I was finding myself making excuses on the understanding that I couldn’t do anything but collapse once I got in the door from work. At 6pm I found myself going through the motions to live, rather than living for going through the motions.

As a passionate person, realising that, broke my heart and made me see that something absolutely had to change.

These are the six steps I took to master the art of workday evenings.

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 congratulations, you’re astounding.

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?

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