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How a Shutdown Ritual helps switch off after work

Jon Osborne
2 min read

Working from home drastically reduces the distance between work and rest. It’s easy for the boundaries to get blurred. How do we stop work from creeping into our evenings, relationships and sleep – when the two might be only a metre or two away?

Cal Newport’s book Deep Work provides a call to action for focused, undistracted attention while working. He considers the question of how we can better rest in order to increase our focus. Newport refers to a series of psychological studies suggesting that prolonged conscious deliberation does not help decision making or problem-solving. Instead, prolonged conscious thought about a topic can even lead to a worse outcome.

Instead, he suggests engaging with the challenge and then switching off. This allows the subconscious mind to get to work, which is what leads to “aha” moments of revelation.

In other words, if you want to be more switched on, it’s important to switch off.

How do we do that when work and life are under the same roof?

One of the strategies suggested I’ve found to be effective is the shutdown ritual. At the end of the day, it’s a way of putting thoughts about work to rest until tomorrow. Essentially, this involves reviewing any incomplete tasks and making sure they’re captured so they can be revisited at the right time.

Here’s what my current shutdown ritual looks like:

  1. I review all the tasks that I did that day, crossing off the completed tasks.
  2. I move any uncompleted tasks from today until tomorrow. Part of this is accepting that I did what I did, and declaring that anything else can wait until tomorrow. (My TODO list is nothing fancy, just a text note on my computer).
  3. I review my email, flagging anything I need to respond to tomorrow
  4. I journal for 5 minutes on what I achieved today. This is not a checklist, it’s about noticing what was important to me – which is often something that would otherwise have gone unnoticed.
    While I’m no saint, I often think of St Ignatius of Loyola, who insisted that his disciples “reflect daily on where was God and where was not God”.
    For me, the reflection is: where was their life, and where was there not life.
  5. I close my computer, tidy everything away from my desk, and clear up my workspace. This is an important part of closing the ritual. After this, my work is done, and I vow not to think about work until 8 am the next day.

What does your “end of the workday” ritual look like, and how does it help you rest for tomorrow?

This article originally appeared on the author’s Website page.