Daily shutdown ritual
When facilitating productivity training and keynotes, people often ask me for my number one productivity strategy. The thing that helps me feel the most on top of my game and helps me consistently excel at work, is intentionally closing my workday by using my purposefully-designed (and refined) end-of-day checklist.
Why is intentionally closing our workday so important?
The reasons for intentionally closing our workday are many. Essentially it’s about:
- Setting yourself up to maximise effectiveness the next day
- Creating inner calm and reducing stress by being organised and feeling in control
- Freeing our minds to leave work at work, to be present with friends and family and enjoy our personal lives.
The Zeigarnik effect describes how incomplete tasks dominate our attention. In the 1920s, Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik discovered that incomplete tasks stick in peoples’ memories, whereas completed tasks are quickly forgotten. International productivity consultant David Allen refers to unfinished commitments as open loops, explaining that when open loops are tracked in our psyche, they require energy and attention to track and maintain. They drain our energy and we don’t even realise it.
Simply walking out the workplace at the end of a day (or before going on leave) is likely to see unresolved issues and unfinished tasks entering our thoughts throughout the evening (and/or whilst on holiday). This increases distraction and stress, making it difficult to be present, difficult to enjoy your personal life, and difficult to rest and recharge.
The good news is that closing the loop doesn’t require resolving the issue or fully completing the task. The Zeigarnik effect can be significantly reduced by recording and planning how we will later complete the task. Hello up-to-date and regularly reviewed to-do list!
As Gretchen Ruben author of the Happiness Project (a fascinating book and well worth reading) attests, for most people, outer order contributes to inner calm, and inner self-command. An orderly environment helps us feel more energetic, creative, and cheerful. Intentionally shutting down our workday is a foundation habit for creating outer order.
How to shutdown your workday
I recommend shutting down your workday with a checklist that is grouped in four categories that I call the 3Ps & S. Process, plan, ponder and shutdown.
First on the checklist is processing work that has accumulated during the day. Review the day’s meetings, emails, voice messages, instant messages, texts, and add these items to a to-do list in Outlook Tasks (or similar). This is often the most time consuming of the shutdown activities but arguably the most important. Documenting the tasks, clarifing the next steps, and assigning time to complete these tasks closes the open loops from the day. This helps you create outer order, be organised, and feel on top of your game.
The planning section of the checklist prompts you to review the next workday’s calendar; noticing both the commitments and the time available to get things done. It also prompts you to prioritise your tasks, and allocate time in your calendar to Eat that Frog. To make sure you are productive throughout the afternoon, schedule your lunch break (click here to read my post 7 Productivity Tips to Save The Day).
The pondering section is my favourite part. Your checklist prompts you to ponder questions such as: What went well today? What have I learnt and/or been reminded of today? What am I grateful for today and who could I thank? What progress do I notice? You don’t necessarily have to write answers to all the questions, but by noticing progress, you’re leveraging the insight that the most motivating condition we can experience at work is progress towards something personally meaningful.
The last item on the checklist – shutdown – is taken straight from Cal Newport’s book Deep Work (page 151). As Newport recommends, say “Thanks <insert your name>. Today’s workday is now complete” and then symbolically turn off your computer. This final step can seem a little over the top, but it really does help make a clearer psychological transition between work and home life; enabling you to leave work at work.
Optimally, once you’ve shutdown, don’t check emails on your phone. Be mindful of your screen time and perhaps set your phone to Do Not Disturb mode.
How long should I allow for an end of workday shutdown ritual?
The process of intentionally closing out your day requires continued resolve. It will likely keep you at your desk for an extra 15 minutes and can be tempting to skip. Ironically, it is likely that on your busiest days, processing the day’s emails and capturing all the extra tasks will take longer. But it is so worth it. Being organised, feeling in control, creating momentum and noticing progress is energising, motivating and – it works!
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