How do Adult Human Beings get shit done after work?
October 7, 2013 8:11 AM   Subscribe

I have an intense 9-6 office job that is mainly editing fiddly details in legal paperwork and talking on the phone about fiddly details in legal paperwork. I'm also in charge of two people. When quittin' time rolls around, I am brain-fried. I'd rather not be so I can do things after work that are at all productive. Ideas?

Save for a lull here or there, there's hardly any downtime during business hours, so that's a lot of squinting and squaking. A couple of times a week I come in early or stay late. By the time I get home, walk the dog, tidy up and have dinner, it's like 8:00 PM (my fiancee usually gets home at around 7:30 PM and we have dinner together.)

I imagine this is the situation for a lot of people, but plenty seem to be getting stuff done after work whereas I am spending nights half-paying attention to crime procedurals on Netflix while clicking back and forth between Feedly, Tumblr, Facebook and MeFi until it is time for bed at around 10:30-11:00 PM. I occasionally try to turn off the TV and computer and read a book or something, but I end up spacing out. I feel unproductive and like I'm wasting a lot of time that could be put to better use (or at least to having actual fun instead of what I described above.)

We're going to be having kids in the near future (how "near" hasn't been decided yet, but near enough) so I want to start working on my evening mental stamina sooner than later.

There's additional difficulty in that I have an attention-related condition which is treated but at 6:00 PM, between the treatment wearing off and the workday concluding, my brain begins to turn back into a pumpkin. Also, I can't have stimulants of any kind past early afternoon.
posted by griphus to Health & Fitness (52 answers total) 195 users marked this as a favorite
Two suggestions.

This sounds backwards, but how much exercise are you getting? I get up at 5am three or four times a week before work to get in some miles, and it makes my whole day more productive.

It also try to enforce 10 PM as a "no later than" bedtime. That way after dinner I only have an hour or so to get all of my stuff done for the next day. Not a lot of spacing out to be done.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:18 AM on October 7, 2013 [11 favorites]

You need a decompression hour. Mine is fixing dinner. It's where I turn my brain off and just DO.

Yours can be working out, cleaning, or fixing dinner.

The way this is productive and not a hassle is to have shopped and planned on the weekend.

For example, tonight is Pizza. I made the dough yesterday, so it's in the fridge now. I have to warm it up for 30 minutes, so I'll make a salad, cut up fruit, feed the cats, wipe the counters, all stuff concentrated in the kitchen. Then I'll stretch the pizza crust, and assemble the pizza. While it cooks, I may do some light cleaning.

All of this allows me to shift gears and refresh.

Perhaps you walk the dog, whatever it is, it's an activity which doesn't require much thought, but it is an obvious cue for your brain to close out work mode and shift into home mode.

Once everything is sorted out, we loaf around for the rest of the night.

Work IS tiring, and that's why leisure is so nice.

I'll say that before the internet and television, folks used to read newspapers and listen to the radio.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:18 AM on October 7, 2013 [5 favorites]

I have an extensive collection of ridiculous T-shirts, many of which I will wear under my work shirts. When I am done with the day and really need to be Done With The Day, I will take my work shirt off in the parking garage and throw it in my trunk. I am no longer At Work Etrigan; I am now Ridiculous T-Shirt Wearing Etrigan.

There's a similar tale (that I can't find at the moment) about a guy who stops at the tree in his front yard each evening and "hangs his worries" on it. Literally physically mimes taking invisible burdens off his back and hanging them on the branches. The tag line is that the next morning, they don't seem so heavy.

Get yourself some ritual -- one that is totally divorced from things you have to do, like walking the dog or fixing dinner -- that can let your brain disengage from At Work Griphus to Ridiculous T-Shirt Griphus or Worries Hung On Tree Griphus or Listening To Heavy Metal Too Loud In The Car Griphus. That fried feeling can go away fast if you give your brain a reason to let it go.
posted by Etrigan at 8:18 AM on October 7, 2013 [40 favorites]

You might benefit from some 'shut-down' time immediately after getting home or after dinner- whenever you feel like your formal work for the dsy is done. Lie down, zone-out, and do nothing. If your fiancee wants attention (I say this because I would) you can cuddle but NO talking. Take at least 15 minutes to do this before trying to return to any sort of productivity. Youre basically asking us how to run yourself ragged without a break. This should help you reset- to be clear, its meant to be a break from all stimuli.

posted by cacao at 8:20 AM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

1) sleep less and get some "going out on the town" in
2) get a workout in there somewhere
3) kill your TV

But really? I have the same type of job, same type of schedule, and feel similarly brain fried @ end of day. Normal.

Keep in mind that tidying up, dinner and dog walking are PRODUCTIVE. Don't beat yourself up on those.

Alternatively, depending on your income, outsource those things (takeout, cleaning lady and dog walker) and use that time to "get stuff done"- that is, stuff you consider more important than cooking, dog walking and cleaning.

Finally, make sure you live in a geographic area that allows for "things to be done" midweek. In my experience, big cities like manhattan and Chicago allow for midweek out and about-ness after work.

Rural areas and the burbs? Everyone is doing what you are doing after work.
posted by slateyness at 8:20 AM on October 7, 2013 [8 favorites]

Can you wake up earlier to do Productive Things Outside of Work? If you normally go to sleep at 11 pm to wake up at 7 am to go to work at 9 am, instead go to sleep at 10 pm to wake up at 6 am and enjoy the extra hour before you go to work at the same time.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:21 AM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Turn off the screens. It's just more sitting and staring. I'm a writer/editor and need to do this as well, but it's hard to turn it off, Vincent D'Onofrio is so delicious to watch. Sedentary all day plus sedentary at night is no good for brain or body. Paint your bedroom walls, paint still-life fruit, run instead of walking with the dog, work out, etc. Music on the ipod, or fiction/feature podcasts, but no brainwork of the kind you do all day. Silence is good too, but physical motion & creativity are called for here, to balance your 9-6.

When you have kids it's ok if your brain turns into a pumpkin at 6 p.m. The kid play/dinner/bath/bedtime routines require a different kind of energy than the brainwork anyway. Once you have kids you will not have time for Law & Order reruns anyway, so might as well cut them out now.
posted by headnsouth at 8:22 AM on October 7, 2013 [11 favorites]

There's additional difficulty in that I have an attention-related condition which is treated but at 6:00 PM, between the treatment wearing off

I feel you. I got around this by taking my meds when I get to my desk in the morning (which gives me a couple of extra hours at the end of the day) and stacking it with some late-afternoon coffee.

Oh, and I have an 18-month old, and let me tell you, for those first few months the ability to force yourself to function on >4 hours of sleep is a life saver.
posted by Oktober at 8:23 AM on October 7, 2013

I come home and immediately take a nap. About 35-55 minutes, then it's dinnertime, and then I feel like doing some things. It really helps.
posted by xingcat at 8:23 AM on October 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Have you seen the unfuck your habitat tumblr? I'd link to it, but I'm at work.

The idea is that you spend 20 minutes doing habitat stuff and then you take a break. A real break. This is sort of like the pomodoro method, but the writer is funny.

My solution to getting more done is that I don't watch television of any sort except maybe once a week I'll catch an episode of The Daily Show online.

Also, I take public transportation, which affords me time to read and knit that would otherwise be spent shaking my fist at other drivers. I realize this is not a solution that is comfortable or possible for many people. But if you can work some light reading or audiobook time into your commute, that might help you feel like you're getting some entertainment accomplished.
posted by bilabial at 8:25 AM on October 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

It kind of depends on what you want to get done.

I, personally, do it by scheduling stuff as best I can.

If I know a friend is coming over for some Patio Time after work, damn straight the floor is getting sweeped.

For fun stuff, I subscribe to the usuals: Wordless Series, Brooklyn Vegan, PopGun, etc. And I buy tickets in advance, so it would be a waste of money if I didn't go.

I also scour the web for weird little adventures I can get into, most of which involve some planning that takes up a few nights—for example, I've spent the past few nights researching New York Evacuation Day, so I can drag friends on a Revolutionary War walking tour in November, and figuring out which tavern is having the best traditional live music for the jigging to. I'm still surfing the web while listening to a procedural drama, sure. But it's not idle surfing.

If it's less "social fun," and more "take care of myself," I typically get home and go for a nice run. That helps me work through stuff, and get mentally re-invigorated. Then I grab a book about astronauts and go out eat some pasta by myself. No screen time!

Basically, it's about keeping physically active, and planning ahead. If not, the pull of the TV and laziness is too great.
posted by functionequalsform at 8:26 AM on October 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

I love my job, but it is high stress and I am absolutely fried when I get home. I solved this problem by getting up (much) earlier. Like 4:45 to 5:00 earlier. Mornings are spent on my hobby (papercrafting), my other hobby (writing), and household maintenance (paying the bills, updating the budget, doing laundry, etc.). Eventually the toddler wakes up, and then my productive time is over and I take on toddler duty until I go to work.

When I get home in the evenings, I throw dinner together (my spouse has evening toddler duty), we eat, and I don’t feel guilty for playing with my kid and zoning out until I crash. If I go to bed at 9:00, that's still 8 hours of sleep.

The good news is that when you do have kids, once they’re sleeping through the night, they’ll have an early bedtime for quite a while. And when they finally do go to bed, you will be so exhausted and relieved that you have JUST ONE MOMENT of peace and quiet, spending an hour watching crime procedurals and browsing the web will sound like heaven.
posted by asnowballschance at 8:26 AM on October 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Change your regular shower routine, so instead of morning or night, you shower when you get home from work. Then put on clean, casual clothes (no jammies) and make dinner feeling like a vibrant, refreshed, alert person. A few times a week, plan meals that don't require a lot of work.

Also, could you take some sort of evening educational thing, either with your partner or alone? Book groups and writing classes leave me stimulated, productive, and changed for the better.
posted by mochapickle at 8:30 AM on October 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

Could your job go part time? Or work-from-home? I think 40+ hours is a ridiculous standard and after only 13 years of it I'm ready to explode, and cannot imagine doing this for 20+ more years! I don't even want kids and frankly I don't understand how anyone who works full time can even consider adding more people and chaos to their lives, but HEY. I am considering switching my 8-5 and beyond job to one in sales so I'm at least out of the office more, but that might just be a grass-is-greener solution and not a good one.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 8:36 AM on October 7, 2013 [5 favorites]

How's your diet? When I cut most carbs/liquor/sugar out of my diet, I was surprised to realize my energy level skyrocketed. I went high protein, ate lots of greens, and had lots of little snacks through the day. All of the sudden, I had an after work life and more energy for the gym.
posted by Lieber Frau at 8:43 AM on October 7, 2013 [9 favorites]

You may not like this solution, but it works for me: eat very, very clean. For me, this means only fish, poultry and eggs for protein, and tons of fruits and vegetables. No grains, they drag me down. Juicing helps a lot too, and there is a big difference between juicing and smoothies. Take a good multi vitamin - I like the Alive brand, and Bluebonnet. Drink a lot of water, or my favorite - fresh squeezed lemonade made with stevia instead of sugar or artificial sweeteners. No caffeine, alcohol or artificial sweeteners.

After a few days of this, you should have tons of energy. I work a very physical job with continuous walking and a fair amount of lifting/carrying 15-20lbs in each hand, and at least 3 days a week I do 13-15 hour shifts, but I am full of energy when I get home - as long as I have been eating clean.

Also, I'm 53 years old. So if it works for me...
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:52 AM on October 7, 2013 [8 favorites]

Pick up a book at my house? Ha ha, very unlikely. Anything I want to read, I bring it on the subway (thank you, Kindle) and read it on the way to/from work. YMMV depending on how long your commute is.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:54 AM on October 7, 2013

What exactly do you want to get done in a typical day? I mean, working a full shift, taking care of your pet, tidying up, making dinner, reconnecting with your fiancee, and having a little downtime sounds like a pretty normal, productive day to me.

Like others have said, adding exercise (perhaps before work) might help too.

Personally, I find that getting more than the basic evening stuff done will only happen for me about once a week. So maybe plan for something extra (book club, theater, catching up on bills, whatever) once a week, and the rest of the week give yourself permission to decompress in the evenings.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:54 AM on October 7, 2013 [5 favorites]

I think this is totally normal, sad to say. Esp. for fiddly mental work and document work.

Paying attention to nutrition + getting a little more exercise will make a big difference. Eating less sugar = suddenly had way more energy, weirdly.

I also pay $30/year for an app on my phone that keeps my whole life organized because if i did not have it i would be fucked. a lot of the tasks in it are little recurring things that i tend to slide on if i don't have reminders all the time.
posted by zdravo at 8:54 AM on October 7, 2013

Don't know if you drink or not, but one ritual my Dad used to have was, you come home, say hi to the wife and kids, change clothes... and at the same time each night, you have one, single, not-too-strong Drink. A beer, a glass of wine, a single cocktail. (I suppose you could substitute a smoke or whatever your vice of choice is, but the thing is not to get wasted, just to have a small buzz, and no more.) Enjoy it with your feet up and maybe the news or a bit of facebook or whatever. And when the drink is done, get on with dinner, social stuff, etc. The thing is, you have Had A Drink, so even though you're barely impaired, you shouldn't deal with anything serious like work; you're off the clock, you've got a tiny buzz, it's time to... do whatever else. Play with the kids, work on your fanfic, play a bit of video game, read a book. The ritual, plus the touch of alcohol, seems to work pretty well for separating the "work" from the "play" time.
posted by The otter lady at 8:57 AM on October 7, 2013 [6 favorites]

A lot of the suggestions above are healthier than this, but I find a coffee in the late afternoon helps prevent me from crashing. I'm in the same boat right now, working a day job but working in my own craft in the evenings and gearing up for a big event.
posted by Pademelon at 9:03 AM on October 7, 2013

I think I'm sorta the opposite of some of the people above but I find I can get more done in the evening if I don't go straight home after work. This can include going to a cafe to work on a paper or a freelance job, meeting friends for dinner, exercising, and so on. I find once I go home for the night my concentration's pretty much shot.
posted by mlle valentine at 9:10 AM on October 7, 2013 [6 favorites]

We live this. We are busy all day at work, and by the time supper is cooked and eaten and our kid gets his homework done and is put to bed, it is usually around 8pm. We are ZONKED. I go to the gym before work in the morning and that helps me a bit, but we still are pretty low energy in the evenings.

Our "solution" is to basically accept we aren't going to be excessively productive in the evenings on weekdays. We are usually in bed around 9:30-10. We take some time every night to just chill out, talk, snuggle, maybe play a game or watch an episode of Supernatural or something, but basically we just allow ourselves to crash. On the weekends is when we get stuff done. Laundry and major cleaning and grocery shopping and meal planning happens on weekends. During the week we usually try to clean and tidy and get small chores done before we start to make supper, but that is just to keep things from getting properly insane by friday. We also try to cook supper meals that we can have for the supper the next day too. Yesterday my husband made his legendary French Onion Soup, and he actively made enough so that we can have it again tonight. Cuts down on time and prep dishes and hassle. Some evenings we take half an hour and each go off to our own room and do our own thing. He usually surfs the net, I usually play some stupid game like Plants vs. Zombies. It is what we each consider decompressing and relaxing. Afterwards we come back together and do something together.

I also find that changing in to comfy clothes/jammies when I get home from work kind of awesome. My husband often likes to have a beer or a glass of wine while supper is being made.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 9:11 AM on October 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

Ok, well, a lot of things came to mind.

First: why do you have to be productive at night? Is there a novel you are trying to write? A business you are trying to start?

If not, then there is no shame in being relaxed and enjoying your down time. You earned it!

However, if there is something specific you want to do, like some kind of art, an exercise goal, or house renovation, then the trick is to schedule time for it by cutting down on other tasks. "Honey, Tuesday is gonna be takeout pizza, I have some work to do on my novel." "I need to go to bed early Friday night so I can get up on Saturday and get the living room painted/run that 5k."

And even if you have specific stuff to do, don't do it every night. Have off nights! Relax! You need it!

Oh and when the kid(s) are little? There is no productive. Productive is "did everyone get fed and get enough sleep? Yes? Ok, well screw the dishes, I'm going to bed/going to watch an hour of trash TV." When they're really little, you'll be doing good to wash your hair and change your clothes.

The other thing that occurs to me is that I live with someone who constantly used to fret about wasting time, but that was mostly because he was in a job he hated and didn't have time for the things he really wanted to do. Once that changed, the fretting mostly went away. I have no idea if that's the case for you, of course. But if it is, maybe your off hours should be focused on changing that situation.
posted by emjaybee at 9:34 AM on October 7, 2013 [8 favorites]

I really feel you, and not just the beat-after-work but the kid-in-the-near-ish-future and the attention issues. I've found that the things that work best for me are 1) running in the morning, 2) being organized - planning meals in advance so I have the appropriate ingredients, knowing where clean work and workout clothes are, 3) occasionally outsourcing cleaning or grocery shopping and 4) cutting myself some slack.

My dream day that includes work (okay, so not really a dream but hang on) would involve running, yoga, volunteering, making something delicious for dinner, doing something around the apartment, maybe getting a manicure and/or a pedicure, maybe talking to a family member, maybe blogging, and definitely having quality time with my partner. It is almost impossible for me to do all of that on a weekend day, let alone a weekday. So I cut myself some slack. If I get in a run in the morning, I can do something after work like buy groceries or volunteer. If I made dinner the night before, we can eat leftovers and I can do yoga.

I can't do everything all the time so I have to make choices. But I can set myself up for success by preparing.
posted by kat518 at 9:37 AM on October 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

Setting goals is the only way I can ever get anything done.

A couple three years ago I decided I wanted to lose weight. I got home, changed from my work clothes to gym clothes, and got my ass straight to the gym. Maybe a quick bite in between but that's about it. The goal was important because there were many, many times when I was driving home from work (hour-long commute, ugh) where I thought 'I'll just take a nap and THEN go to the gym' but I didn't because the smarter part of me would pipe up and say 'No you idiot, that won't help you reach your goal.' And hey, 9 months later I lost 120 lbs.

I didn't pile on a ton of goals to fill my time in the evening, either, but it made me feel a thousand times more productive. I just had that one goal 'lose weight' and did it by 'going to the gym.' I felt much better about spending my free time in the evening just loafing around because I had gone to the gym and accomplished something small in the day to hang my hat on.

Most recently, I have decided to get serious about writing after identifying the situation you outlined above as a serious source of dissatisfaction in my own life. I set a goal to finish my novel by November. I figured out how many words I would need to write per day, made a spreadsheet to keep track of what I wrote, and got to it. I got home from work, made dinner, cleaned house, played with my daughter, had dinner, walked with my wife, put my daughter to bed, spent more time with my wife, went to the gym and sat down around nine or ten and I knew what I had to do: I had to write. And I did. In fact, I finished my first shitty novel this weekend!

I don't know what 'productivity' looks like for you but I think figuring that out and making it into a goal could be really helpful.

TL;DR : when I set a clearly defined goal for myself I always have time.
posted by Tevin at 9:44 AM on October 7, 2013 [10 favorites]

Dog walker or doggy daycare a couple days a week? The only way I can anything done after work is when I don't have to walk the dog. Or maybe your fiance can walk him.
posted by fshgrl at 9:45 AM on October 7, 2013

Can you ride a bike to/from work? Exercise does wonders for your energy level and I find that when I commute by bike I have way more energy all day long. Same for when I workout, but the bike commute is a nice two-fer.

Alcohol for decompression never made me more productive. Better to go straight out for a jog. Or take the dog someplace nicer than just around the block. Pile in the car together and drive to a nice place to walk so that walking the dog is actually time with your financee and not just a chore on the list.

What is "fun" to you? What would you rather be doing? Make a list of those things and start scheduling them. You want to go bowling? Make a plan with some friends for a bowling night. See Opera? Buy two tickets and start hunting for a friend who will use one. You want to learn yoga/capoeira/karate/ballet? Pull together some local schedules and make a plan. You want to cook more? Start planning recipes, and when you can't think of anything else to do, wash vegetables and chop onions and then tomorrow night you can make dinner a whole lot faster. Invite 1-2 friends to come make beer with you the Wednesday after next. You have until then to get your supplies in order.

Seriously, my best actual life hack is that when I'm really fried I go wash vegetables and chop them. I listen to podcasts and prep future meals.
posted by amandabee at 9:46 AM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have, at various points over the past 10 years, taken two different approaches to the problem of being really dissatisfied with the 9-to-5 workday slog that made me feel like my life was wasting away.

Approach 1: Start scheduling things after work in advance, so even when I was tired and didn't feel like it, I'd still be doing something other than just going home, making dinner, watching TV, and falling asleep. This could be a class, this could be a club you join, this could be making Wednesday night "date night" where you meet your fiancee/spouse at a restaurant and have a proper sit-down meal. (Or movie, or poetry reading, or whatever.) Even just planning to go to the gym after work made me feel less like my life was slowly slipping away through endless days of dull routine.

Approach 2: Rather than trying to be out-and-about on weekday nights, I focused on coming home and getting all my "life stuff" done on Monday through Thursday nights. That might mean grocery shopping for the week on Monday after work, doing laundry on Tuesday, cleaning the apartment (not just picking up, but actually scrubbing the toilet and vacuuming) on Wednesday, and other miscellaneous chores or errand-running on Thursday. This was done with the intention of "clearing the deck" for the weekend, and I'd focus on making sure we had plans (weekend trips to nearby towns, or backpacking, or going to an all-day festival, or visiting a museum, or whatever) for both days every weekend. To the extent our budget allowed, I tried to do actual weekend trips (staying overnight somewhere on Saturday) as often as possible. It's surprisingly easy to fritter away a weekend on running errands and doing weekly or monthly chores that pile up, and that makes the 9-to-5 grind much worse.

Overall, I ended up preferring the second approach; having really fun weekends full of hiking and travel and apple-picking and wine tasting and biking to local microbreweries and whatever else made it feel totally okay to just do "real life" on Monday through Thursday. Also, I like to think that come January when a little iminurmefi is running around, I will really appreciate having been intentional for a few years about doing fun travel and weekend adventures when it was still possible.
posted by iminurmefi at 9:46 AM on October 7, 2013 [17 favorites]

Take a nap after work. Or exercise. Or some other way to wholly decompress (which TV doesn't work for me, but sometimes reading does, depending on the material).

I also try to run necessary errands before work. I plan all my dentist/doctor appointments, going by the post office, etc for before I go to work.

Lastly, I outsource everything I can to others. I hire someone to come clean the place and do our laundry. I automate almost all of my bill payments. (Certainly mortgage, utilities, insurance, etc.) I'm willing to pay a bit more to order things online and have it delivered, just so I don't have to go to the store myself.

But I think in general, it's pretty normal for someone who's actually working full time hours to be tired at the end of the workday. That's partly why you see so many stay-at-home parents. Not because it's nicer to have a parent at home, but it's sometimes not physically possible to have both parents work full time and take care of children. And it's sometimes more economical to have one parent stay home than hire a nanny. (FWIW, a lot of double income families I know who are relaxed and happy do hire nannies for full time care or have grandparents help out extensively until their children go to kindergarten, and then hire someone to supplement school.)
posted by ethidda at 9:55 AM on October 7, 2013

I have the exact problem you have. I am a morning person. I go to bed early, and get up early. I am saving some of my most productive time for myself, and not giving it all to my employer.

If I do need to accomplish something after work I don't rest before I get it done. I have found as soon as I sit down I am done for the night. If I use the momentum from the work day, I can get a few other tasks done.

I also find I have more energy when I am eating whole foods, and not sugar, processed carbs, and preservatives. I exercise four times a week, but food makes the biggest difference in energy levels for me.
posted by ohjonboy at 9:57 AM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

You will need no evening mental stamina once you have a kid! But you will need mild organizational skills and the will to wake up at 6am every morning (ha ha FML).

So, you need to do two and a half things here:

1. Figure out what you want to do, like specific things and not just a vague sense of guilt or shame. That vague feeling is understandable and in some ways comfortable. Especially if you had parents who attributed your difficulties to character flaws instead of, you know, everyone having difficulties. However, that vague feeling of shame is not fun or interesting. You don't need it. It's not even as fun or interesting as screwing around on the internet. I don't get jack shit done after 8pm. Why? Because I'm tired, and so are you. It's okay to be tired. It's my prime TV/movie watching time, and that's okay.

1. a. Make a to-do list that is individual things that you can do pretty easily. These can include brain-dead tasks that will free up your time when you're not so (understandably) tired. Give yourself unlimited permission to check them off with an "L" (for later) instead of finishing them. Put easy shit on here like "drink water". YES, I AM THE KING OF WATER DRINKING WOO. Throw them out when they start making you nervous. Fuck you, to-do list! You are not my shame boss! But seriously, don't let them become tools that you use to shame yourself. EVERYONE gets tired. EVERYONE. It is okay and you are okay.

2. Find other, better times to get things done that you don't have the energy for at night. You could try getting up at the same early-ass time every morning and doing things before work, or first thing in the morning on weekends. I get much more done now that I have to be out of bed at 6am (did I say FML)

Good luck, you inherently great person!
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:12 AM on October 7, 2013 [14 favorites]

I second the shower after work suggestion. It helps me rid myself of all the stress, and it's considered a stimulant.

I also started drinking cold brew coffee so I can drink coffee at 2pm and not have the acidity keep me awake later that night. Huge difference if you are a coffee enthusiast.
posted by effluvia at 10:15 AM on October 7, 2013

The other thing I should note about to-do lists is that they're an organizational tool, but also a self-rewarding tool. So if you do something productive, put it on the list afterwards and then check it off. Look at that to-do list! Accomplishments everywhere! Give yourself more credit for the things you do, and you will be more motivated to do things.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:15 AM on October 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Get more sleep

Don't watch tv

Prioritize and Minimize*

* very little of life has to get done. If you can change your mindset from one of 'ugh gotta do this, then do that, then do the other thing' (in which case you are constantly wishing to be somewhere else doing the next thing) into 'and now I am doing this' then the peacefulness of just being here and now will sink in. So I'm against the grain here, but I say nix the to-do list, it just fills up with shit and it will never be done until the day you die.

That being said, they don't call it the rat race for nothing. But don't get me started on class politics...
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:18 AM on October 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

I dig jazz. One thing that helps me be able to focus on stuff that I'd rather be doing, is to distract the part of my brain that gets distracted and give it something else to do, and it also keeps me awake. Jazz for me is relaxing and stimulating simultaneously. Do you have any music that you enjoy that you can listen to and simultaneously easily ignore so you can stay focused on the stuff you'd rather be doing?
posted by Nanukthedog at 10:28 AM on October 7, 2013

I've been in a similar situation, and here's a few things that have worked for me:

-Have a non-screen activity for when you get home from work. Cooking, exercise, walking, cleaning---something that involves using your body and not looking at a screen. Going from one screen to another makes it hard to concentrate

-Try early rising instead of late working. Some people, even night people, find themselves working better in the morning than at night. I find that when I need to do creative idea-farming, night is better, but when I need to do organized writing or editing, morning is better

-Visualization! This was huge for me. First thing in the morning, part way through your work day, or on your way home, take a minute to imagine yourself doing exactly what you need to do. Picture it in detail, with particular emphasis to how the first five minutes will go. This can create a feeling of being on track and in flow, and makes it much easier.

-Give yourself a realistic task list for each at-home work session, and know what your reward will be for finishing. If you can say "When I'm done doing _______, I get to _______," it's very motivating. But! Your task list must be realistic, so you don't keep cheating yourself out of rewards.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 10:43 AM on October 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

I struggle with the same thing, but have been experimenting with solutions over the past year or so. This is what's worked for me:

1. Instead of taking my dog for a walk, I take him to the neighborhood off-leash park for a half hour or so almost every night, right after work. I don't do it specifically to shift gears (I do it because my dog needs to run or else he will drive me insane) but there is just something so zen about watching dogs play. They're so in the moment, and it's refreshing. I also often end up chatting with the other dog owners - even if it's just small talk about our dogs, it's nice social time.

2. I keep dinner simple. I usually make something fairly involved on Sunday to have as leftovers during the week, so lunch is my "main meal." Dinner is often just a sandwich and a salad, or an omelette, or a slab of meat baked with some veggies, or something simple like that.

3. I don't watch TV. This doesn't mean I don't watch TV shows, but most of my TV watching is on Hulu or Netflix over my roku. This makes it easier to just set aside one or two nights a week for TV-watching, where I get to watch a few episodes of TV I actually really like. I also don't have cable and only get a few channels over my antenna, so channel-surfing is limited (however, when the CW affiliate used to show an hour of The Office and an hour of 30 Rock, I did a lot more spacing out in front of the TV - fortunately, they cut that out).

4. OK, this is hands-down the most effective thing I've tried, but it's really hard to stick to: I instituted a no-screens-for-the-first-two-hours-I'm-home rule. When I can actually stick to this, it's brilliant. But again, it's hard to stick to.

5. I try to have social plans at least a few nights a week. Doesn't have to be anything spectacular, but an after-work drink with a friend, or meeting a friend at the dog park brightens the middle of my week and makes me feel less like a 9-5 zombie.

6. I also take ADHD meds, and I agree with the person above who suggested taking them when you get to work. I also take the extended-release kind, and I find they tend to last into the early evening.

7. Reading: I found a few years ago that I'd virtually stopped reading books for pleasure, and I missed it. So I found a few books that I knew I would love, and wouldn't be able to put down, and read them. I didn't try to make myself read books I felt I should read (ie, classy literature or depressing non-fiction). I read the Hunger Games and George RR Martin and a few soapy chick-lit novels. It worked so well that I now pretty much only read books I know I will enjoy. So simple, but it worked for me.

8. Have something you want to be productive for. What do you want to accomplish? Get fit? Write a novel? Get good at some hobby? If the choice is between watching TV and vaguely "being productive," of course you'll choose TV, why wouldn't you? But if the choice is between watching TV and working towards a goal you really care about, then TV will be less of a draw.
posted by lunasol at 11:17 AM on October 7, 2013 [5 favorites]

Oh, and you may notice that most of my points are NOT geared towards "productivity," but rather towards making sure my downtime was nice and refreshing. I agree with the others that if you don't have something specific you need to be productive FOR, it's totally fine to be lazy and just decompress in your downtime, but I do personally find that my downtime is nicer and more refreshing when it's not ALL spent watching mediocre TV.
posted by lunasol at 11:33 AM on October 7, 2013

I feel like myself and ALL of my friends have went through this question in the last few years. (late 20s?)

I think the answer might be partially making peace with the fact that most people don't get as much cool off-hours activities in as it seems.

and partially that, after 5 years of working full time, I feel like just in the last year or so I've started to feel less like a useless drained balloon after work. you just get used to it to an extent.

getting a little more sleep helps for me. staying up til midnight looking at things on the computer SEEMS fun, but I'll feel way better tomorrow if I hit the sack at 10:30.

also I like to view things like "dog walking" "cooking" and "cleaning" as fairly productive things to get done. for a lot of years I barely slogged to those most days, so you're doing pretty good in my books :)
posted by euphoria066 at 12:08 PM on October 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

Drink more water. I guarantee this will be a hidden panacea to After Work Inertia.

Take a nap after work - 30 minutes.

Be quiet. My job is relentlessly distracting (I work a State hotline and by 5pm I don't want to hear human voices AT ALL.) Go home and read a book in a quiet room. Ask your SO for an hour of "no contact."

Definitely kill your TV and preferably your Internet for at least an hour or two after work. Do something that relaxes your body and engages your mind; the Tube and the 'tubes probably won't.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 12:34 PM on October 7, 2013

I will enthusiastically nth exercise on this one; however, it usually isn't a simple voilà! for most people. Waking up at 5am to work out is really not a viable option for many, and even if you get it done, you will most likely get hit with lethargy sometime in the afternoon. For me, the best time to exercise is in the evening, right after work (for what it's worth, I work from about 7am-7pm, sometimes later). The days I REALLY don't want to do it are the days that I usually need it most. If I go home and sit down and tell myself I have 30 minutes until I need to get my ass to the gym, I won't do it. You literally need to make the gym-straight-after-work your standard routine. Afterward, you will feel invigorated, refreshed, and ready to relax without feeling like you're about to fall asleep. It sounds like you have a desk job, so although you are mentally drained, your body has really gotten no physical activity at all.
posted by goblue_est1817 at 4:00 PM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hi. I'm pushing 40, have a wife, two children under the age of 7, a knowledge worker job that I have come to loathe, and non-hyperactive ADHD. I'm trying to incorporate as much time in my day as I can to doing creative work as a salve for my problems and secretly (but usually not out loud) hoping one day I can turn it into a job I don't hate. You may have seen me in such films as Your Future Bathroom Mirror.

I'll give you a run-down of what I've found to work for me, and I'm going to repeat a lot of what's been said, but this is basically a thing I struggle with too and here's what I've found works:

You said taking stimulants too late can be problematic, but would even delaying your dosage by an hour be doable? I've found that delaying my Ritalin until 9:00 am (I take one 12-hour dose per day and that's it) means I limp a bit in the early morning but have something extra in the tank for early evening.

Also, on the diet tip: it's kind of amazing the difference this can make. I can tell you from experience that decreasing the amount of processed and chain restaurant food you eat and upping your fruit and veggie intake is literally like taking an extra mild stimulant dose. That and sleep have such a big effect that I've found the pills are nigh-useless for focus if I'm not eating at least somewhat well and am running on too little sleep.

Water? Fuck yes. Water.

Exercise when you can find the time. Even if you're tired. Especially if you're tired. Again, big difference in your energy/focus level. Outside if you can. Nothing while watching a screen.

Part of what makes me feel brain-dead is a day full of stimulation from media. I've learned the value of having hobbies that don't require an electrical outlet. I've even started writing first drafts with the screen turned off. I rarely listen to music in the car during my commute so I can have the quiet. Seriously, when you have kids? Quiet is going to become a very precious commodity. Have quiet spaces and times.

The list thing that the young rope rider mentioned is a killer tip. I do the Getting Things Done system (ish) and have created an ADHD context. It's basically a "hey, you brain-dead dumbass, you can do these things now" list. i have another called Laser Focus that I don't even look at unless I'm running strong. I love it.

Lastly, dirty secret: Writing is one of my creative hobbies, and I sneak writing breaks at work as little rewards. If it's possible for you to do something similar with writing or drawing or making songs on your smartphone or whatever, I'd recommend it.
posted by middleclasstool at 7:36 PM on October 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Many times I've left work thinking that I just wanted to go home and stare at the TV and I was too tired and fried to enjoy anything. On the occasions where I went and did something else anyway - maybe I had pre-paid tickets for a play, or had already paid for a class - I nearly always got a second wind from the event and left feeling refreshed.

By the same token, if I just sit on the couch after work then that's pretty much all I will do all night. If I immediately put on my running shoes and get outside, or start making dinner - then I get a boost of energy and I usually get more done.

Also, try to leave the office at lunch time, even just for a few minutes. Go for a short walk and get some sun.
posted by bunderful at 8:12 PM on October 7, 2013

griphus: "There's additional difficulty in that I have an attention-related condition which is treated but at 6:00 PM, between the treatment wearing off and the workday concluding, my brain begins to turn back into a pumpkin. Also, I can't have stimulants of any kind past early afternoon."

Firstly, plenty of people don't get shit done after work. Or they just plain work less than you, at less taxing jobs. They don't rebalance their 401ks, or shop around for car insurance, or do their taxes at night after work. For example, I used to think open source programmers were a far more productive beast than I, but a lot of them are just underemployed, sometimes by lifestyle design.

So assuming you've successfully calibrated after-work hours expectations, the thing I'd be conerned about is food. Blood sugar levels are known to correlate with willpower and focus. If you eat lunch at noon, waiting till 8PM for dinner is counterproductive. If your dining with your fiancee is important to you, find a bridge snack.

The other bit of advice I have is to schedule it out. Make a list of stuff you want / need to do, then put it on your online calendar. Even stuff like Netflix shows. And having done that, reduce your cognitive load -- if you're watching a show, it's because you've made a deliberate choice to do so, so watch the show deliberately. mefi/tumblr/facebook will still be there during your internet time.

When you have a kid you won't have this kind of scheduled luxury, you'll have to have built up habits by then.
posted by pwnguin at 9:10 PM on October 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

I found that my focus, productivity and ability to relax increased stupendously after I got rid of my smartphone and my internet connection at home. Once I leave work, I'm disconnected from the internet. It's so peaceful, and I have oodles of time in the evenings and on weekends; and I have regained my ability to engage in more stately-paced activities.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 1:14 AM on October 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

I have recently changed my routine from waiting until the weekend to get chores, housework and errands done to using one weekend day for that and the other is totally off limits, usually Sunday. I won't even visit my parents on that day. I love having one day completely and utterly off. Knowing this, I get my stuff done during the week and other weekend day and I don't mind it so much because I know I will have one full day completely off and mine to do as I please. Turns out I like during laundry after work much more than on the weekend. The tedium helps me relax, and I tend to quickly iron all of my clothes, which is also very relaxing. Last night I did my, my husbands and daughters laundry in two hours, including the ironing. That is a big load off my mind :) Having most everything done, put away, shopping done and food stocked by the weekend feels so awesome. So maybe rather than trying to relax, use that numb brain and restless energy that you normally use for web surfing or other "relaxing" activities and get to work till you pass out. The weekend is all yours!
posted by waving at 7:01 AM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, planning is going to save your life here, particularly post-kids. You'll be surprised how much you've got in the tank if you can just get over the hump of starting. I don't know about you, but if I'm having a low-focus day, the very question "what can I do right now" is so difficult to answer that it's emotionally draining. But if I can make myself just start a thing, I find I perk up and dig into it.

Two nights ago I was fuzzy and didn't know what to do and I thought you know what, fuck it, I'm going to read comics. And I did, and I fell asleep doing that, and stayed in the haze the whole time. Last night I forced myself to go for a very short 1-mile jog and do some work on a Christmas present for my dad. I was in the same fuzz starting out, but within no time I was feeling happier and more alert. I wound up staying up an extra hour.

One thing I'm experimenting with is planning my evening activities in the morning. I don't always follow through, but I do way better than when I'm brain-dead and thinking "I dunno, maybe I'll just hit the refresh button on my recent activity page again."
posted by middleclasstool at 8:10 AM on October 8, 2013

posted by waving at 11:33 AM on October 8, 2013

I completely and utterly empathize with your conundrum. I also work in a legal environment, although as an assistant/secretary to an attorney, and my brain is just exhausted at the end of the day. I work 8-4:30 and commute an hour each way. So when I get home it is a race to find food, accomplish chores, homework and hopefully get a workout/run in. I am stressed A LOT (although a big part of that is my current struggle to complete my BA, a history of depression and tension with home life) and have recently had increasingly severe health issues as a result. One way I’ve found to decompress on that hour commute home is to listen to talk radio/ audio books, especially if they are funny. So far my list includes a couple Doctor Who serials, Craig Ferguson’s biography, a mix of short stories from turn of the century writers, a daily Spanish podcast, BBC’s Cabin Pressure and Free Beer and Hot Wings radio show. Audiobooks or really light chat show type radio is really good for working out as well if you get bored of your music mix.

As someone who has suffered from intermittent burnout quite a bit in the last few years, I urge you to remember to take time to recharge your brain. If you don’t you will regret it!
posted by Driven at 9:39 AM on October 9, 2013

Try doing a 25 minute or 30 exercise video as soon as you get in. Sometimes when you get back home, you're exhausted, but I find that a 25 minute or 30 minute structured break gives me wayyy more energy than slumping in front of the computer or tv.
posted by thelivingsea at 8:59 PM on October 11, 2013

I registered just for this reply (long-time lurker, first time-commenter).

I can relate a lot to what you have going on. My wife and I had our first baby 8 months back. I work full-time and she works 12+ hours a day, 7days a week.

When I finish work, my job is to pick-up the baby girl from my wife's shop, take her home, bathe her, feed her, and get her to bed. In addition to this, I take care of her full-time over the weekend.

Time and energy at a minimum. I go a week straight without being able to even turn on my computer. Work is actual work, which means there's no free-time there. They drain my brain for every once during those 8 hours.

before, when I did get free-time, I just wanted to get lost in distraction. Movies/tv, reading, lurking all the usual sites...nothing constructive.

A few years ago, back when I was working 80+ hours a week I started drinking to find distraction. Things got bad and my health declined and I started having pains in my chest, apparently from stress. Since then I've cut down my hours to just 40 a week but now with the baby taking all my other time, I find myself drinking again when I've got the free-time. On the week-end I will stay up late drinking, get like 3 or 4 hours sleep until the baby awakes at around 8am, then go sleep deprived while watching her all day.
It's actually kind of nice believe it or not. I love the kid with more heart than I thought I was capable of. I live for her smiles despite all the hardship.

And what is perhaps the strangest element of all this, Those late weekend nights when I drink, I now feel a plethora of creativity. I'm writing music again, writing scripts for some future filmmaking projects, starting to get back into photography.

Hell, I even started downloading and installing random distro's of linux after not having touched it for years and have started writing reviews on that as well as other things.

Maybe it's the drinking, maybe it's the valuing the free-time I have so little of, maybe it's sharing in the creation of life. I don't know.

I just feel a resurgence these days.

So hang in there. You haven't got it too bad. I think it will get better as well.
posted by cicadaverse at 5:13 AM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

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