Why you should close out your day with a Shutdown Ritual or “Personal Retrospective”
Any productivity junkie or agile practitioner knows both the benefits and pitfalls of taking on a lot of work. Let’s focus on how and what a powerful shutdown ritual can do for.
When immersing yourself in multitudes of projects, you won’t have any time to veer off-path. Sure, you might push boundaries with fatigue and scope. But jumping in head-first means you have no time to 2nd guess. Taking on the mass work means it must get done. This very notion is what sparks forward personal momentum, inspiring you to perform and deliver.
Of course, the above paragraph highlights the positives – and it should come as no surprise that this approach can be a double-edged sword.
After all, “happy, happy, fun-time” isn’t a synonym for enhanced productivity. Pushing yourself to accomplish more by its very definition is wrought with challenges. With that comes taking giant leaps from your comfort zone and swimming in unfamiliarly murky personal waters.
The above factors are conducive to uncertainty, stress, and anxiety because you’re taking these giant leaps forward.
Upping productivity and striving for personal/professional growth requires managing the negatives and leaning into the positives. It also means teaching yourself how to be mentally healthier or you’ll burn out like a crazy diamond. Building a personal retrospective into the end of your workday can help lighten that cognitive load.
Digging into Deep Work
When you take on a too many projects or even just a few of them that really test your mettle, it can feel chaotic.
I’m not going to rely on the old cliché of “fake it ’til you make it,” but you’re often learning as you go and navigating endless moving parts. So, day-to-day, you’ll find much of your work is incomplete or up in the air.
In response, you havt to incorporate a sense of stability in sureness into this process.
This brings me to the concept of using end-of-day retrospectives or shutdown rituals. Cal Newport explains it in his excellent book Deep Work as such:
“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.”
As Newport points out, settling on the steps you need to deal with the nagging goal or making sure your ideas are recorded let’s your conscious mind stop fretting about the future, and let go into the now. The shutdown routine/retrospective is familiar to anyone who’s spent time in the agile space. Still, it goes beyond functionality, as it eases your anxieties and silences an otherwise unquiet mind.
Cal Newport’s idea isn’t new to him. Plenty of smart people have raised shutdown ritual ideas of their own.
Through establishing a plan and trusting your process, you’ll let go of your work, which will recharge creativity.
The Wise Words of Don Draper
Don Draper was the creative director at an ad agency. His advice to one of his team was to stop scrutinizing slogans for the night, and if they still held up in the morning, they’re good to go. Don also used whiskey and personal destruction to move on from his day so… don’t be like Don, even if a little whiskey is fantastic now and then.
The philosophy behind the above advice is you need to disengage from your work to look at it objectively and logically.
As discussed in an article from Forbes, stepping away is integral to gaining clarity and applying different approaches.
Consuming yourself with work doesn’t give you that perspective. You’ll end up slamming your head against a wall, trying the same old thing, and fail to move forward. Yet, surveys show 45% of employees working outside regular hours and, unsurprisingly, 44% of respondents feeling burnt out at some point.
Furthermore, studies prove that work-induced exhaustion and burnout stagnate your productivity levels.
I’ll take it one step further. You must go beyond physically removing yourself from work and psychologically detach yourself from it. Another study showed accomplishing this distinct separation between thoughts and work helps prevent burnout and protects your well-being.
The Caveat – or Why You Need a Shutdown Ritual if you’re a Superstar
I could scream to the skies about the need for you to psychologically detach yourself from work.
In fact, even if you found the inner strength to physically drag yourself away from work, letting go mentally is a whole different ballgame.
Harvard research studying “The Power of Small Wins,” looked at how positive momentum linked to inner work happiness brought them to the idea of the “progress principle.” When they looked at what triggered a “best day” and what caused a “worst day” it was progress and set backs. The found, quite simply that
Steps forward occurred on 76% of people’s best-mood days. By contrast, setbacks occurred on only 13% of those days. (See the exhibit “What Happens on a Good Day?”). . .Events on worst-mood days are nearly the mirror image. . . Here, setbacks predominanted, occurring on 67% of those days; progress occurred on only 25% of them.
The researchers found the intrinsic elements of catalysts (actions that directly support work, including help from others) and nourishers (things like words of encourgement orshows of respect) as coinciding with best days, while their opposites: inhitbitors (actions that fail to support work) and toxins (things that discourage or undremine events) led to bad days. You’ll notice, as the research showed, that the positive attributes are directed at the work, while the negative ones are directed at the person.
Why is this important? Because building small wins and little gains into your end-of-day shutdown ritual can help you build on a pattern of leaving your day with a feeling of accomplishment and catalyze you for the next day. At the same time, it can help your overall mental state by letting goof those inhibitors and toxins. In this way a personal retrospective becomes a personal work cleanse, to set you for another good day tomorrow.
Therefore, incorporating these shutdown rituals becomes a non-negotiable necessity for work life balance. All the same, you must execute this retrospective correctly.
How Can You Implement Your Shutdown Ritual?
The shutdown ritual will silence those nagging voices about incomplete work. Instead, you’ll trust that the work will be completed because you’ve committed it to tomorrow’s to do list and focused yourself on disconnecting and recharging process. Following this routine will improve your subconscious mind and help you plan for tomorrow by letting go of today.
First, create a checklist for all your outstanding tasks, wherein each item must be complete for you to fully disconnect.
Don’t set it in stone. Add and remove items as you see fit. Instead, you’re writing it down, storing it electronically, or using an app (which we hope to build soon, but a version of which can be found in the Dendri dashboard)
Here’s one framework of what to keep on your list:
- Review your daily tasks and decide what to do tomorrow.
- Ask yourself what went well today and what didn’t.
- Put together a weekly plan to identify your task list for the proceeding week.
- Establish what your calendar looks like for the next 2 days of your future.
- Make necessary schedule updates for the remainder of the week.
- Have an outline ready for your day tomorrow.
- Tidy your desk and pack up, so you start with a clean slate tomorrow.
This is one method that’s just a little bit of writing, but serves as a jumping-off point to hone and craft your own retrospective or shutdown checklist. The key is utilizing the steps that help you be the most productive and creative while allowing you to recharge. There are other things you can add to make the ritual work for you.
Sprinkle in bits of your own needs
Craig from the Morning Effect, includes:
- End your day with a phrase that signals your workday is over. If those thoughts come back, just repeat the mantra.
- Build in some time during your ritual to wrap up any request or work that’s not going to be easy to let go of. Finish that one or two things that won’t be easy to let go.
- Add something for your subconscious mind to chew on overnight. This could be a creative idea or one big picture decision you need to focus on. You’re tricking your brain into focusing something else so the anxious onslaught of “all the things” doesn’t come rushing back.
The method I’m showing you isn’t the only one out there. Strategically disengaging from work is a longstanding technique leveraged by successful people to let go of their busy ideas and step away from their growing task list.
Other Ways to Bolster Your Shutdown Process
Something evident in the checklist is noting how those tasks set you up for the following day. Yes, that offers peace of mind, but it doesn’t actively disengage your mind from work.
Experts suggest chats after hours with friends, light reading, or listening to music. You could even try to decide what color you want to color your bathroom. One other suggestion is to come up with a magic phrase for yourself. A simple mantra like “now my workday is done” to make your shutdown complete. Or to quote the admittedly not-very-great show “The 100” “Ai gonplei ste odon. (My fight is over).”
But a shutdown ritual isn’t just about walking away from your to do list to focus on your personal life. Having a shutodown ritual can improve your decision making by letting you build a routine of actions for your personal time as well. In other words, don’t neglect your worries that may not have anything to do with work related thought. If there’s something at home that your brain keeps coming back to in moments of idleness, trying writing it down as well.
Likewise, if there’s some small piece of the thing that you can take as a quick win, try to find the mental energy to know it out before jumping into your shutdown routine. Clearing your mind isn’t all about making sure tomorrow’s to do list is in order and anything that needed an urgent response is checked off. Instead, a personal retrospective is about finding space to carve out for yourself to let go of stress and be okay telling your brain that it’s time to stop working about unfinished tasks. Something else — your shutdown routine… has it covered.
Don’t be ruled by stress
Stress drives productivity when it doesn’t consume you, but many high performers struggle with an overactive brain that just won’t stop. Making sure you schedule shutdown for a specific time trains your brain to know when it’s time to let go. Allocate schedule space toward your concerns and stay true to that schedule. Most pressingly, never let it seep into your other activities. Make it a habit of doing your personal retrospective at well defined times, and protect your simple ritual the same way you would any other important habit. While this ‘worry time’ is sacred, the whole point is for these issues to stay out-of-mind when you’re disconnecting.
Moreover, remind yourself that self-trust is a pivotal key to success. The chances are if the work isn’t done on certain dates it is okay to wait.
Lastly, prioritization is a must for productivity, and your own psychological well-being should be your top priority.
Planning and sticking to a workday shutdown ritual may be a major step to improving your productivity and letting yourself make the mental shift into a better work life balance. So make today the day that you dinish that last e mail and and come up with a shutdown routine that let’s you let go of your work related thoughts and free yourself for comfortable, cognitively peaceful chats at the dinner table.
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