Everyone knows that as summer comes to an end, so does the long hours of sunlight. Unfortunately, fall is notorious for shorter days, and if you live in the Midwest like I do, unpredictable weather. Nobody likes commuting to work when the sun isn’t even out yet or watching the last rays of sunlight disappear on your drive home.

It’s in our nature to associate night time with going to bed. After all, our parents spent years teaching us that once the sun started to go down, it was time for bed. If you have kids, you know now that was just a tactic parents used in order to get some peace and quiet after a long and hectic day. Most days all I want to do when I get home from work is put my feet up and do absolutely nothing. So how do you stay productive after work even though the days are getting shorter?

Check out these 10 tips and tricks to make the most out of your days when you get home from work when the leaves change colors:

#1 Get the Right Amount of Sleep

Juggling a social life, love life, career, and family can be extremely difficult. Add in getting enough sleep, working out, and taking care of yourself and there’s not enough time in the day, especially when there’s less sunlight in the fall. That’s why when it comes to staying productive, getting enough sleep is key.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, a good night’s sleep is crucial to our overall health and well-being. The recommended hours of sleep for adults is 7-9 hours. Throw in the average 8-hour work day, with a 25.4 minute commute each way, and the time it takes you to get ready in the morning, and you’re looking at 5-7 hours of time left over when you get home. Of course, the time left over will vary per person, but the bottom line is knowing your limits. Don’t oversleep, as that can make you more tired, or break your back trying to get everything done in one night. It’s just not possible! If you only have enough time to cook dinner and help your kids with their homework on a Monday night, then that’s okay! Do the dishes or vacuuming the next day.

#2 Wake Up Early

I know this one is a little bit of a stretch but hear me out. Waking up early may sound dreadful now, however by getting up earlier, you’ll have more time to mentally prepare for your day, fuel up with breakfast, and enjoy some quiet time. If the lack of sunlight makes you more sleepy, invest in an alarm clock that mimics the sun. Your body will feel more awake and by waking up early, you can get things squared away before others are even out of bed.

It doesn’t matter if you get up 30-minutes earlier or an hour earlier, you’ll be surprised to find that you have more energy during work. That’s because you’re giving your body and mind more time to wake up and prepare for the day versus if you were to just roll out of bed and rush in to the office. There are also things you can do before work that you may not want to do afterwards, like exercise, watch the news, or enjoy the cool, crisp air with your cup of coffee. Waking up in the morning with the intent to be more productive will keep the productivity running through your veins during and after work. It’s a win-win for you!

#3 Exercise

Exercising, whether it’s before or after work, is a decision everyone should make, especially in the fall. That’s because dedicating time out of your day to exercise will not only increase your overall health, but also make you happier, improve your sleep, and sharpen your focus. This can be beneficial for people who live in cold climates that may lack Vitamin D, from the sun, in the colder months. In fact, every time you exercise your heart rate increases and gets blood pumping throughout every inch of your body, including your brain. All of this activity releases endorphins, also known as a natural, feel-good chemical in our brains, increasing your energy levels and giving you more stamina. Plus, it takes a minimum of 30-minutes a day to reap the benefits of exercising!

There are countless ways to add easy, simple workouts to your day so that you never feel like you’re running out of time. Of course, everyone knows the common excuses like take the stairs instead of the elevator or park further away from a store front. But, how about adding small workouts to tasks you already do every day? For example, if you brush your teeth in the morning, as you should, try adding lunges to your routine. Or instead of watching TV on the sofa, watch it walking on the treadmill or do squats. I once had a boss who swore by walking on the treadmill every night while she drank wine. You can even do household chores that you’re dreading, like raking leaves, and get in an excellent arm workout. If all else fails find a workout partner who already works out daily. That way you don’t need to remind yourself to exercise, because your friend will!

#4 Stay Out of Comfy Clothes

Unless you’re working out or going to bed, you shouldn’t be wearing comfy clothes. Trust me, after a long day at work, the first thing I want to do is put on sweats when I get home, especially if it’s cold and already dark outside. As someone who used to work from home, wearing sweats, although tempting, can be counterproductive. I’ll be the first to admit that I much more productive on the days I got up and got ready than the days I stayed in my pajamas.  Of course, this doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to be comfortable. By all means if you want to wear jeans and a t-shirt, and your company allows casual wear, then go for it, but leave the pajamas or sweats for bedtime.

A study by Karen Pine, a professor at the University of Hertfordshire, concludes that people perceive themselves and their image through what they wear. By wearing a Superman t-shirt, her students’ egos were boosted and felt physically stronger than students who weren’t asked to wear a Superman t-shirt. Although a t-shirt can’t actually give someone super-human strength, the mere act of wearing it changed their attitude and how they felt about themselves. Therefore, if you dress like you’re going to go to sleep, then chances are you’ll be tired and unproductive all day long.

#5 Unplug

It can be difficult to fight the urge to slip into something comfortable after work, but I think it’s even harder to unplug ourselves from the digital world. I mean think about it—we surround ourselves with technology, whether it’s a computer, tablet, cell phone, or TV. When I get home, even after spending all day on a computer, sometimes I want to sit down and check Facebook, or binge watch shows on Netflix. However, constantly plugging into technology can make anyone lose their focus.

Aside from removing digital screens from the picture, try to unplug from work in general. It’s easier said than done, but leave work life and home life separate. Once you clock out, you shouldn’t be thinking about your job, or deadlines, or how many emails you’ll have to respond to in the morning. You wouldn’t get anything done at work if you spent all day thinking about your anniversary dinner or child’s school play, so don’t think about work when you’re at home. Instead, focus on yourself or valuable human connections by spending time with your significant other, going for a walk, or playing in the leaves with your kids. The options are endless, and you’ll be surprised how much you can get done when you aren’t glued to a screen or thinking about your career.

#6 Go Out

Now that you’re keeping your phone tucked away and out of sight, it’s time to go out and have fun! While going out might not be something that is productive after work, you must treat yourself so that you don’t burn out. Working hard at your career and being an awesome parent, great student, or having a tidy house is tough stuff. Going out with friends, family, coworkers, a significant other, or even by yourself can leave you feeling refreshed and ready for the week or satisfied and ready to start your weekend!

Just because the days are shorter doesn’t mean you should stop going out or that your options are limited when it comes to having a great time. In fact, fall is one of the best seasons to do things outdoors because the weather isn’t too hot or too cold. Autumn is perfect for apple picking, wine tasting, and attending brew fests. It’s also the perfect time to watch a movie at a local drive-in theater or see all the leaves sporting their new colors on a nature hike. Even if you don’t like spending time outdoors, the options are limitless. Take a cooking class, go dancing, or go tailgating at football game.

#7 Plan a Vacation

You know what else you deserve? A vacation! Still don’t believe me? Well, what if I told you that your productivity actually suffers from not taking vacations? It sounds crazy, but your overall well-being can suffer from your lack of time off. We try to tell ourselves that working MORE makes us more productive, when in reality, it does the exact opposite. In fact, studies show that employees who take time off from work, even if it’s a staycation, perform better at their jobs, improve their productivity, and experience higher job satisfaction.

Having a vacation planned and knowing that it’s coming up, whether it’s inexpensive like camping or visiting family out-of-state, makes me feel less stressed at work. I know everyone wants to travel south when the weather starts getting chilly, but you don’t have to travel to Mexico or the Bahamas to call a trip a vacation. The ultimate goal of a “vacation” is unwinding and getting rid of unwanted stress. Even if you don’t have the funds to go on a trip, take the time off anyway. Relax by taking a hot bubble bath with your favorite scented candles or reading a book by the fire. These will warm you up and melt the stress away. Whatever you do to let loose, do it. You’ll be doing yourself a favor.

At the end of the day, if your productivity falls short or you couldn’t get something done that you had planned to do, don’t get bent out of shape. There will always be days where it seems like everything is going wrong or you have so much that needs to get done that you want to scream. And there’s not enough coffee in the world that is going to change that. This might happen because you’re fed up with being cold, miss the sunlight, or you aren’t ready to see all the Christmas decorations yet. Rather than beating yourself up about all the things you could have gotten done after work, choose to forgive yourself. Life can be tough, and we could all use a day off.

If any of these things have something in common, it’s that the best way to stay productive after work is to take care of your overall well-being. No matter what you decide, do what’s best for you!

About the author

Kyrsten Ledger

Kyrsten is a promo expert with a passion for branding . Her vast knowledge of promotional giveaways and marketing has led to several articles and published work for PPB Magazine, a publication from the Promotional Products Association International.