3 steps to an after-work evening routine that sets you up for daily success, says decision-making expert

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If you want to be more productive at work, you may need to switch up your after-work routine.

That's according to James Clear, a decision-making expert and author of the New York Times bestselling book "Atomic Habits." Clear, who has studied habit formation and personal improvement for more than a decade, says your 5-to-9 habits can have a significant impact on your performance at your 9-to-5.

"We all have these habits and these behaviors that impact how we feel and whether we show up in a consistent manner," Clear said in a MasterClass at Work video series, which launched last week. "The things that you do at home, you're carrying into work each day." 

"Everything is connected," he added. "I mean, if you're not sleeping well at home, it's hard to perform well at work. If you're distracted at home and you have fraction attention, [or] your time is divided, you don't have as much capacity for the time that you're working."

You can optimize your at-home habits with some simple lifestyle changes, Clear said. Here's what he recommends.

Designate zones in your home for specific purposes

Trying to answer emails in bed isn't a great idea: Associating both sleep and work with bed makes it "harder for your brain to parse which [action] it should do" when you're there, Clear said.

The solution: Dedicate specific rooms or "zones" for specific purposes.

"Let's say you're trying to build a new habit of reading," Clear said. "But whenever you sit down on your couch, you find yourself getting distracted and turning on the TV."

Instead, try creating a "reading zone" by setting up a chair or nook that's comfortable, inviting and pointed away from a screen.

"You can apply that same kind of philosophy ... to any habit that you're trying to build," said Clear. "The more that a habit is tied to a particular context, the more that it's tied to a dedicated zone where you do it, the more likely it is that that habit is going to stick."

In a workplace context, this can look like taking personal calls away from your desk, limiting distractions or turning off your work phone at the end of the day.

Limit your screen time so you don't end up 'scrolling mindlessly'

If you spend too much time on your phone, you're not alone. Thirty-one percent of U.S. adults, more than 80 million people, are online "almost constantly," says a 2021 survey from Pew Research Center.

But increased phone use may be stunting your professional success.

"The choices that you make on your screen at home often end up shaping where you spend your time at throughout the workday," Clear said. "For example, maybe you download Instagram when you're at home, but then you find yourself scrolling mindlessly when you're at work."

Many of us keep our phones right by our sides, Clear added. That makes it easier for us to grab it without thinking for a scroll session.

"Most people check their phone every 15 minutes or less, even if they have no alerts or notifications," research psychologist Larry Rosen told CNBC in 2018. "We've built up this layer of anxiety surrounding our use of technology, that if we don't check in as often as we think we should, we're missing out."

To cut down on screen-time, allocate specific times for cell phone use, turn off unnecessary push notifications, store your device away from your bed at night and take distracting apps off of your home screen, Rosen recommended.

Focus on the basics: Sleep, food and exercise

If you want to succeed at work, don't skip the basics, Clear said. That means you should be:

  • Sleeping a healthy amount each night
  • Eating healthy, well-balanced meals
  • Exercising consistently

These may seem like a no-brainers, but more than one-third of U.S. adults sleep less than seven hours per night, according to a 2014 Morbidity and Mortality report published on the National Institute of Health's website.

Less than 15% of U.S. adults meet the recommended intake for fruits and vegetables, a 2019 report found. And only 28.3% of men, and 20.4% of women, exercise regularly, according to 2020 data from the National Center for Health Statistics.

Making "small changes," like adding another fruit or vegetable to your plate, or going on ten-minute walks, can help you steadily progress toward good habits and healthier routines, Clear said.

Other experts agree. "I never load up on high-carb foods, I never take more than two days off from exercising, [and] I never get less than seven hours of sleep a night," Christopher Palmer, a brain expert and professor at Harvard Medical School, told CNBC Make It in December 2022.

Refraining from these practices helps him stay "sharp, energized and healthy," he said.

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