An experiment in an end of work ritual

Why?

Have you ever physically ended your work day left the office but mentally you are still there? Have you ever tried to fall asleep and you can’t stop going over what you plan to do the next day? Have you ever gone over and over an email or a conversation that you are going to have the next day hundreds of times instead of going to sleep?

This used to happen to me all of the time. I get so invested in those items that I just can’t shut down and focus on other things. I have tried not checking email after I leave the office or trying to add in a home life transition ritual to signal to my brain that it was time to transition to other things – but those things did not work during busy or stressful times. I got a little better at this through trial and error but it ended up requiring a force of will to make it happen and some days my willpower was just gone and it was hard to shut down my brain.

What

I wanted to share my experience with the method proposed in Deep Work by Cal Newport.  I think that the main problem was in how I was ending my day. Often times I get to the end of the day and I just bolt out of the office because I had somewhere to life to help out with.  I didn’t have a good process of getting closure on the work day.

Last month I finished the book Deep Work by Cal Newport. I loved the book and I highly recommend it and his first book So Good They Can’t Ignore You for anyone that wants to develop a career. In the book Cal gives a recommendation on a shutdown ritual that I have now implemented it has worked for me.

First, Cal’s theory is that we all need to step away from focus on an item to allow our brains time to recover (just like an overworked muscle) and that our conscious and unconscious mind indulge in idleness. If you are curious as to the theories and scientific research of willpower, attention restoration theory (ART), and the various scientific studies that create the basis of this theory I would encourage you to read the book itself – it is fantastic.

However, you can not move on to systematic idleness (which allows you to recover from deep focus and work on the bigger ideas and breakthroughs) unless you have assured yourself that you have accounted for all of the lose ends.  Your mind will know that you have everything in its right place and will relax.

How

Specifically from the book:

In more detail, this ritual should ensure that every incomplete task, goal, or project has been reviewed and that for each you have confirmed that either (1) you have a plan you trust for its completion, or (2) it’s captured in a place where it will be revisited when the time is right. The process should be an algorithm: a series of steps you always conduct, one after another. When you’re done, have a set phrase you say that indicates completion (to end my own ritual, I say, “Shutdown complete”).  –Cal Newport Deep Work

 

Cal provides his exact process in detail in the book but I am going to share my variation on it.  BTW, I really enjoyed this book and I plan on sharing some additional insights from this book in future blog posts.

 

 

 

 

First, I want to discuss my note taking organization strategy. I use Evernote for my second brain, but any highly searchable note taking tool and process will work. I have a master to-do list note, a daily note, a monthly note, notes for recurring committees, and notes dedicated to each of my initiatives/projects/deep work items that I focus on. I spend most of my time per day only in my daily note. This allows me to keep a steady focus throughout the day on what I am working on and trying to accomplish.

I pick a time towards the end of the day and being my shut down process. I do not leave the office until this is 100% complete.  I might do some more simple things after this is complete like respond to emails or read through some interesting articles, but nothing else that requires deep focus.

1. I write a line in my note and type out End Of Day Ritual.
2. I go through any emails in my inbox and reply if they can be accomplished in < 3 minutes if not they become actions in my to-do list [GTD style].
3. I go through all of my actions in the @daily note and update them and add new ones to my master to-do list — if it is something that needs to be complete the next day I put it in tomorrows @daily note right at the top.
4. I go through the calendar for the next day and make sure I have prepped for anything that I need to (I do this in the morning too)
5. I write out how I felt about the day itself – the good, the bad, anything and everything and just get it off of my chest (yes, dear diary style – this really works!)
6. I close out everything on my computer and shut down (not sleep or hibernate). Shutting down signals that the day is complete.

Cal suggests that this takes a few weeks for it to kick in an feel good.   I noticed benefits in the first week and it kept getting better over the next month.  I had 6 weeks left in a critical deadline when I started this and it really helped me stay focused on the urgent items and allowed me to still progress the important items at the same time.  In addition and most importantly I felt like I had a very clear head when I was not in the office.   I slept better and I was much more present with my family — which was the point in the first place.

Try it out and let me know about your results!