I used to have a hard time shutting off my work when I began working from home full-time several years ago. I’d start playing with the kids and chatting with my wife, but my mind would still be at work, thinking about editing the title of a new blog post, rehashing a strategy for a client, or worrying about everything I had to do the next day. Having those thoughts in the back of my mind constantly prevented me from fully enjoying family time or just disconnecting from work to relax.
Then mornings would come around and I’d struggle again, only this time to get back into work mode. I’d end up procrastinating on tasks because I was feeling sluggish and unfocused about what exactly I should be working on. As a result, my productivity wasn’t nearly what it could’ve been.
Over the past few years, I’ve developed a solid morning routine and a routine before bed every evening. But what about a shutdown process for the end of each workday. I have since created a quick 15-minute shutdown routine that’s made my evenings and mornings much better. Here’s a breakdown of that routine.
Clearing Off My Desk
A previous job I worked for many years ago had a clean desk policy. At the end of the workday, everything had to be cleared from the desk and put away in drawers. At the time I thought that was a pretty stupid idea. Looking back though, there was a method to the madness.
Out of the 5 tips listed here, this is my most important. A cluttered desk makes it hard to leave work in the evenings and even harder to get started the next morning. That’s why I always try to completely clear my desk at the end of each day. Since I work from home, I walk in and out of my home office throughout the evening and if I leave my desk a mess, it honestly drives my anxiety through the roof.
I tend to keep my desk and office as a whole looking as if nobody uses it. Everything is either put away in drawers, filed away, or (if it’s unnecessary paperwork) get’s shredded.
This does two things for me. First, it signals to my brain that work is over for the day and it’s time to shift over to family time and work around the house.
Second, having nothing on my desk in the morning allows me to start my day fresh, in a positive mindset, and focused on the top 3 tasks of the day.
Review Emails and Other Messages
Reviewing emails and messages only takes about a minute. I scan my inbox and messaging platforms to make sure I haven’t missed anything that needs immediate action before I leave work.
Even if I’m 99.9% sure there isn’t anything I need to do, the act of reviewing my inbox and messages signals to my brain that I’m closing the email/text loop for the evening. This way I’ll be less likely to wonder if I’ve left anyone hanging later in the evening.
At first, you’re going to need to resist the urge to continually check your email throughout the evening. I have been guilty of that. With smartphones now, we get inundated with alerts and notifications. It takes discipline, but you’ll get there.
Review Weekly To-Do Tasks
As a part of my productivity system, I keep a list of all the tasks and projects I’m working on for the week. I briefly scan this and decide if there’s anything on it that I need to work on the next day.
This not only keeps me on track with my weekly goals but assures me that I’m making progress on my longer-term objectives.
Set My Top 3 Tasks For Tomorrow
Based on my email scan, checking messages, and review of my weekly to-dos, I place a sticky note on my desk in front of my computer and jot down the three most important tasks I want to get done the next day.
I write them as short bulleted action items and then draw a line underneath them. Using sticky notes gives me a visual representation of what needs to be done and allows me to physically cross them off the list as they are completed.
Set My Evening Goals
While the first four steps are about closing out my current workday and making it easier to get started working the next morning, this final step helps me be equally as productive at home.
Underneath my 3 tasks for tomorrow, I write down one or two small intentions I have for my evening. For example, it might be: “Go top off the gas in my truck” or “mow the grass.”
It might not sound like much, but it does give me a sense of accomplishment that I not only completed my 3 tasks for work but that I also completed one or two tasks around the house. Then it’s time to kick back with a cold beer on the front porch as I ponder on a day well spent.
By spending the last 15 minutes of my workday going through my shutdown routine, I’m more intentional and aware of my work life balance. It’s a win-win and takes only 15 minutes.
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