The evening walk

February 3, 2013productivity

A few weeks ago I restarted one of my favorite habits: a daily evening walk. I want to share a couple of reasons why I love this habit so much, and how I recommend starting it if you find that you want to give it a try.

Disengagement from the busy day

One of the key reasons that the evening walk has become a crucial part of my daily routine is that it provides a powerful way to quickly become fully disengaged from the activities of the day and the plans, worries or excitement I have lingering.

I’ve written before that I believe the evening routine is just as important as the morning routine, when trying to create a lasting early waking habit.

In a recent interview with Leo Babauta, Mark Sissonrecommended a tech cut-off time in the evening:

Set a tech cut-off time before bed. Shoot for at least an hour before you go to sleep, but strive to extend that period to two hours.

For me, the evening walk provides the perfect tech cut-off time and is a key reason I am able to sustain habits through the whole week.

Deliberate reflection

I recently set a goal of becoming a more frequent content creator, rather than simply a consumer or curator. I share a daily 3 minute voice clip on SoundCloud, I blog here usually twice a week and I create and share a video once a week.

With this high frequency of sharing my thoughts through various forms of content, I need lots of ideas in order to be able to keep up that pace. Therefore, I started reflecting a lot around when exactly the breakthroughs of the ideas come - when the inspiration comes to me.

What I realized, is that I have most of my ideas for blog posts, sound clips or videos through the combination of two things:

  1. Spending time discussing startup and life challenges and ideas with my team, or with other founders.
  2. Time to reflect on the discussions I’ve had, to ponder the ideas by myself and let thoughts emerge with clarity.

After this discovery, I started deliberately working to do these two things even more. Firstly, I offer Help with your startup and generally have 30 minute office hours sessions with 6-8 people a week. Secondly, I scheduled time for the reflection to happen and the inspiration to hit me: by having a daily evening walk. Most people leave this to chance, their “inspiration” time being when they are in the shower. I try to be much more deliberate about it.

The walk helps me wind down for the day and sleep better when I return, and it also is a time when I find I have inspiration for blog posts and voice clips, as well as many product, vision and culture ideas for Buffer.

How to start an evening walk habit

If the evening walk sounds like something you want to try, I’d love to share some practical tips to start doing it. In the last two years I’ve lived in the UK, San Francisco, Hong Kong and Tel Aviv and during my time in each of these places I always quickly formed a specific and automatic evening walk habit.

1. Aim to walk for 20 minutes

I’ve tried shorter than 20 minutes and I’ve also done 30 or 40 minutes at times, and I’ve found that 20 minutes is, for me, the most ideal duration for the evening walk. It’s short enough that it’s easy to fit it in each day, especially when forming the habit to begin with. It’s long enough to gradually let go of the day to day excitement or worries, and let your mind wander and reflect on a higher level.

2. Plan a precise route, and stick to it

One of the most important aspects of the walk for me has been to quickly decide a route, and stick to it. The route should be very specific, down to almost each step. When creating a new evening walk habit, I plan each turn and visualize walking it in my mind. The power of this specificity is that it quickly becomes automatic and you forget about where you are going or what you are seeing, and can start to reflect inwards on what you are doing and whether you are happy. I usually walk much more slowly than my normal walking pace, and find I can start to ponder changes I want to make in my life.

3. Think backwards from when you want to sleep

To utilize the evening walk as a core part of your morning routine, the key is to think about when you want to awake, ensure that you will get 7-8 hours of sleep, and then work backwards from there to decide exactly when you should set off for your evening walk. Having a specific time to walk out of the door each day makes it much easier to create the habit. I leave at 7:30.

Photo credit: Tambako the Jaguar

Thanks for reading

If you have any comments or feedback on this article, I’d love to hear from you. The best way to reach me is on Twitter.

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