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Evening Routines: An Often Overlooked Tool of Effective Students

It is crucial to remember that success at school has a lot to do with what happens outside of the August to May, Monday to Friday grind. Succeeding in school sustainability requires a holistic approach. That’s why we work with students at home. Teachers cannot go home with their students. They cannot aid with distractions after dinner or procrastination over the long weekend. However, these gap periods when students are “on their own” are growth opportunities. In other words, students who master the time spent outside of the classroom are often the most successful in school.

In recent posts, we have shared several ways to help students take advantage of these growth opportunities. We have delved into the mechanisms of learning loss, the hidden opportunities of summer vacation, and the habits and learning models of the most successful learners. In this post, we’re diving into one of the most overlooked tools of successful students: evening routines. Many students are great note-takers, planners, and relationship managers, but far too many overlook this crucial habit. We have discussed the importance of habits and routines in previous posts, especially pre-study rituals and morning routines. Like morning routines and pre-study rituals, the evening routine is designed to set students up for success by boosting momentum and creating a path of least resistance. However, the significant difference is evening routines are focused on preparation and restoration, while pre-study rituals and morning routines are all about priming and action.

So, why are preparation and restoration vital to student success? Most students are chronically exhausted physically, intellectually, and emotionally. The grind of the school year is rough, especially without some kind of reset practice. That’s where goals, habits, and routines come in. We want to make sure students recognize progress, learn to rest appropriately, and set themselves up for success by building and sustaining momentum. Therefore, an evening routine is just as crucial as note-taking, time management, and all the other compensatory skills we teach through our unique EF-driven curriculum.

Designing an Evening Routine

The key to designing an evening routine is understanding a student’s goals. For instance, if a student perpetually feels rushed in the morning, then preparation must be prioritized. If another student complains about low energy and grogginess during his or her first few classes, we need to focus more on restoration. All in all, students should write down three to five goals for their evening routine and place them in a highly visible location. It would be even better if these goals were in a checklist format on a whiteboard or sticky note. As Dr. Atul Gawande discusses in his book The Checklist Manifesto, the art of the checklist enhances productivity and produces increased awareness and satisfaction to aid habit adoption.

Let’s take a look at an example evening routine:

  1. Confirm, using a planner, that all urgent school work is completed. Also, refresh yourself on any tutorials and teacher meetings taking place the next day. If necessary, confirm the drop-off and pick-up plan with whoever drops you off at school to ensure promptness.
  2. Set your alarm for the following morning, ensuring adequate time to eat breakfast and prepare for the school day. Place phone and computer in charger far away from the bed. The blue light from these devices is the enemy of sound sleep.
  3. Collect all materials needed for school, including books, binders, gym clothes, and permission slips. Place all of these in the backpack and put the backpack near the door.
  4. Complete all evening preparation tasks: shower, brush teeth, etc.
  5. Lastly, go to sleep or find some non-technology activity to pass the time until you fall asleep, like reading a book.

This evening routine combines crucial preparation steps with ideal sleep habits. Both are necessary. Notice it’s also straightforward and can be completed in less than twenty minutes if needed. Far too many students arrive home late after sports or other activities, rush through homework, and quickly fall asleep without planning for tomorrow. This results in an anxious morning, forgotten items, and drowsiness during morning classes. By clarifying the evening routine, students can set themselves up for success, building momentum and crushing goals all year long.

Tips for Easy Adoption

As with any habit, adopting an evening routine is somewhat challenging. Therefore, as a parent or coach, it’s crucial to get a student’s buy-in and give them practical ideas to help build this habit. First, discuss the benefits of an evening routine with your student, focusing on both the academic and mental health boosts that come from evening routines. Next, write down the clear objectives in a checklist format, so students don’t have to remember what’s next. Checklists also have the added benefit of keeping score; as students knock an item out, they check it off and get a dopamine hit, which helps with habit formation. Next, create some kind of habit tracker and don’t break the streak. Whether students have a rudimentary calendar with checkmarks for days completed like Jerry Seinfeld or some other way of checking progress, it’s crucial to add a visual component to every habit. Lastly, mirror and praise the behavior you wish to see as a parent or coach.

Closing Thoughts

Evening routines are just one weapon in an arsenal of tools and resources students need to succeed. For more ideas on how to help your student thrive, please check out our other posts. To set your student up with a one-on-one academic coach, please reach out today!

Evan Weinberger


Staying Ahead of the Game offers unique academic coaching & tutoring services to help good students achieve greatness.

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