THE FIRST HOUR of the workday is easy. You’ve had sleep and coffee, and your war of attrition with an office nemesis over fridge space won’t start until after lunch.
It’s in the hour after work – when exhaustion convinces you that, really, you don’t need any cardio today, and an entire tube of Pringles is just a drop in the bucket over a lifetime of eating – that you start to get into trouble. You worked really hard and deserve a sit-down and, oh, four or five hours of Red Dead Redemption. But that single hour after you leave work could be the most important one of the day for your wellbeing, and you can engineer it to do you right.
Day-end lethargy is almost a natural reaction to your physiology and circumstances. Energy dips to its lowest point in the afternoon, and the psyche you leave the office with has a way of following you home. Plus, the very thing you normally rely on to get things done – willpower – is lagging; it’s like a muscle that becomes fatigued as the day wears on. “It’s very hard to override a mood. When you’re tired and feeling low, it’s utterly convincing,” explains Dr Charles Raison, a professor at the School of Human Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. But these forces aren’t impossible to resist. Here, three strategies to keep the after-work spiral from sucking you in.
1. FEED YOURSELF SOMETHING BEFORE YOU GET HOME
It’s not your fault you come home in a hunger fury and inhale a bag of chips – which don’t have to be prepped – before dinner. That’s your starving brain directing you to eat whatever you can find. Right now.
So get yourself some on-theway- home food, says Paul Salter, a registered dietitian and certified strength and conditioning specialist. “One of the biggest problems I see is expecting to make it from lunch to dinner without feeling hungry,” he says. Eat a small high-protein, high-fibre snack later in the afternoon or on your commute. Try roasted chickpeas (they come in tons of flavours now) or something like snap-pea crisps. Beef jerky is good, but it’s even better if you pair it with a high-fibre food.
2. HIT YOUR REBOOT BUTTON
You need a buffer between your day and your home. So take one thing you do to start your day and reprise it as soon as you get in the door (or before leaving work). Could be as simple as brushing your teeth, doing a couple rounds of pushups, showering, changing your clothes or meditating. “This makes you feel as if you’ve restarted your stopwatch, so you can leave the dirt of your day behind,” Raison says.
3. DO. NOT. SIT. DOWN.
Sitting down right away can be the kiss of death to a healthy evening. But if you’re going to do it, at least don’t collapse. That posture leaves you unenergised and defeated, studies from San Francisco State University show. Instead, get in a “He-Man” position, advises academic researcher Erik Peper. Place a pillow at your lower back so you’re upright, and keep your knees slightly apart, arms to your sides. This lets you breathe easily and rest better, he says. And it leaves you with – rather than drains – plenty of energy for what’s next.
OKAY, IT’S A MORNING THING, BUT . . .
Load the dishwasher before you leave home. Clutter creates psychological chaos, and research from DePaul University shows that it’s one of the biggest predictors of procrastination. When you walk in with stuff strewn about, you don’t feel “at home”. No one’s demanding total tidiness. Just load the dishwasher, say, before leaving in the morning, advises organisation expert Andrew Mellen.