how to successfully shut down after work

How to successfully “shut down” after work

Working in the evening after you’re supposed to have finished work is a big productivity sin. Not only does it eat into your personal time when you’re supposed to be relaxing or spending time with friends and family, but it can even hurt your productivity.

As Cal Newport discusses in his book, Deep Work (check out the book summary):

“If you keep interrupting your evening to check and respond to e-mail, or put aside a few hours after dinner to catch up on an approaching deadline, you’re robbing your directed attention centers of the uninterrupted rest they need for restoration. Even if these work dashes consume only a small amount of time, they prevent you from reaching the levels of deeper relaxation in which attention restoration can occur.”

That’s right – that innocent little dip into your inbox could be doing more harm than you think…

I used to struggle with this problem quite a lot. Being self-employed and not having an office to leave at the end of the day means the edges of my day are a little blurry.

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Here are a few simple things I’ve done to help shut down after work.

Set a “shutdown time”

No matter whether you’re self-employed or work for someone else, you should define and stick to a specified “shutdown time”. This is the time at which you’re going to cease all work for the day.

Working more than hours 40-50 hours per week doesn’t increase productivity and can have physical and mental consequences –fact!

Of course, stopping in the middle of an important piece of work isn’t advisable, which is why this next step is crucial.

Use a “Shutdown complete” task

Each day, about 10-15 minutes before you hit your shutdown time, you should go complete a shutdown procedure to close all open loops and plan the following day (this advice comes direct from Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work).

I now have a recurring task in my Asana account set to repeat each day at 5:30pm and it looks like this:

shutdown task

As you can see, I have a few subtasks to complete in order to close my open loops for the day.

By going through this procedure it’s easier to shut down mentally. If you skip this step and just leave at your shutdown time, you risk these open loops consuming your attention in the evening. By sorting through your inbox, task list and calendar, you can plan how and when to continue with any work that’s in progress the following day instead of worrying about it all evening.

I also find it highly satisfying to mark this task as complete each day and being my day to a close. I even say the words “shutdown complete” to my wife Hayley so she knows I’m done. That way she can hold me accountable and if she sees me sneaking in some work she can ask tell me to stop working.

Start “Do not disturb” from shutdown time

Now you need to make sure you’re not going to be disturbed by pesky mobile notifications.

For a start, I highly limit the applications that are allowed to put a notification on my screen. I use the following notification settings:

  • iMessage – On.
  • Phone – On.
  • Facebook Messenger/Slack – Sounds, notification centre and lock screen off (only badge notifications on).
  • Mail – Everything off (even badge icons).
  • Twitter/Facebook – Everything off.

I keep audible and visual notifications off for most things as I’d prefer to check things like Facebook Messenger, email and Slack when it suits me (rather than allowing myself to be interrupted when it suits other people).

“Do Not Disturb” is a great feature that will override all notification settings so that your apps won’t disturb you after a set time. I used to have “Do Not Disturb” start at 9pm before I go to sleep. Now though, I start it at my shutdown time (5:30pm) so that any texts and phone calls don’t disturb me in the evening.

And there you have it – a few simple tips for shutting down in the evening. What actions do you take to shut down, let me know in the comments!