How to establish a shutdown ritual

Reading time: Less than 5 minutes

Do you have a good shutdown ritual? You should! Here’s how to implement one that will work for you…

When I wrote about how to leave writing stress behind a few weeks ago, I mentioned that I had a daily shutdown ritual.

One reader (thanks, Jan!) posted a comment asking for more info and several friends asked me about my shutdown in person as well.

So, here are the deets:

I’ve been doing a daily shutdown for about 10 years — from the moment I heard about the idea in writer and computer scientist Cal Newport’s blog.

The concept just made so much sense to me! I work hard during the day — don’t I deserve some time off at night? Why should I let worries about work consume my thoughts 24/7? 

My daily shutdown focuses on tasks I want to do but that require low energy and, generally, don’t need a lot of brainpower. I do them at the end of the day because they let me stay organized and help me feel ready to take a break. 

The specific tasks are listed on a chart I keep on a clipboard to the right-hand side of my keyboard. It is always at hand and it’s set up with tick boxes for each day of the week. My ritual includes eight steps. It takes me about 30 minutes and I generally do it between 5 and 5:30 pm although occasionally earlier and very, very rarely, later. Since I’ve started keeping this list I have almost never worked after 6 pm.

I provide a link to my sheet, below, but before you even glance at it, please understand that my precise list will not work for you because our working lives are different! Like a set of fingerprints or a snowflake, each daily shutdown is unique. Also, the number of tasks I do, eight, is not magical. You might have two tasks or 13. Do what suits you!

Now that you know those provisos, here’s a link to an MS Word version of my shutdown and in case you don’t have that software, a PDF one.

More info on the eight items on my list, below. Note that time estimates are rough and vary significantly from day to day:

1-Check latest GID reports & reply (10 mins) 

My Get it Done group is an accountability program for anyone writing a book or a thesis/dissertation. This group gets a lot of attention from me because each participant is required to report in to me daily. I check their reports first thing every morning (when it takes me at least 15 to 20 mins) and again at the end of every day. And I comment on each report. This feedback is essential for group members because it allows them to feel connected and engaged. If you’re interested in Get It Done, the next group starts July 1 and I’ll be hosting an online info session about it June 14. Email me if you’d like to be included.

2-Respond to today’s tweets (3 mins)

I spend no more than five minutes on twitter each day. About three of those minutes occur at the end when I scan any tweets including my name, @pubcoach, and thank readers who’ve retweeted me.

3-Track product sales (2 mins)

My book 8½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better is still selling and I fill the orders myself. I check my sales records daily and immediately print out address labels for any purchasers then affix them to a book, which I pre-packaged in a bubble envelope earlier in the month. (I drop off all books sold during the week to the post office on Fridays.)

4-Do bank account tracking (3 mins)

After a lifetime of being somewhat sloppy with accounting, I now review all my personal and business bank accounts every day. I copy what’s happened into an Excel spreadsheet, not because I need the info, I don’t — the bank has it — but because it forces me to pay more attention.

5-Track today’s achievements/goals* (2 mins)

Each morning I make a paper list of what I intend to accomplish that day (this list is one of the other items that goes on my clipboard). Then, at the end of the day, I go through that list and put a DONE or (less often) a NOPE beside what I did or didn’t do. This tracking/accountability to myself means I have a lot more DONEs than NOPEs. (I have put an asterisk beside this item because I think it’s the one task you might want to copy for your own shutdown ritual as well.) I also note one lesson that I learned during each day.

6-Shut down Wunderlist (1 minute)

I keep my to-do list digitally, in a no-charge piece of software called Wunderlist.

Here’s what I like about it:

  • You can attach a due date to every task and then look ONLY at the tasks due on a particular day.
  • You can sort your tasks into various categories. I put tasks that can (probably) be done in five minutes or less into one category and tasks taking 30 minutes or more into another.
  • You can get access to your Wunderlist account anywhere – on your phone, on any computer so it is always instantly accessible.

(I have also heard good reports about a software called ToDoist, although I haven’t tried it myself.) At the end of each day, I go through all my Wunderlist items and get to hear a jaunty DING! when I’m able to mark a task as completed.

7-Update client hours list for the day (1 min)

A small number of my clients want to be charged by the hour. If they fall into that category, I will have recorded my working time for them using an app called Time Tracker. Once a day, I transfer the TimeTracker data over to an Excel spreadsheet.

8-Review Feedly (8 mins)

I follow about 70 blogs each week. This may sound like a lot, but only a small handful of these bloggers post daily. The majority are once a week; some are once a month and others are even less frequent than that. Feedly is a free, online-based software that allows me to see all these blogs in one spot and scan through them quickly and efficiently. If the headline tells me I won’t be interested in the subject, I’m able to skip it. But I get many worthwhile ideas for my own blogposts from my reading here.

Many experts suggest using an end-of-day ritual to plan for the next day, but I’ve never been drawn to that. Besides, I find it invigorating to plan my day in the morning so I can get excited about what I’m going to accomplish that day.

One very recent addition to my shutdown ritual is a result of writing this post. In the last 10 days I’ve started saying a phrase to myself to mark the end of the day. Cal Newport suggests saying “schedule shutdown, complete,” but I find that comment to be too cold and mechanical for my tastes. It makes me think of something HAL, the robot from 2001: A Space Odyssey  might say. Instead, I tell myself, “no more work today!”

This phrase is not only a good reminder to me that I shouldn’t have to worry about work after dinner — it also helps me stop checking my email via my phone during the evening.

Having your own shutdown ritual is a terrific way to end work and will allow you to feel more relaxed and refreshed the next day.

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My video podcast last week aimed to help writers make their research time more productive. Or, see the transcript, and consider subscribing to my YouTube channel. If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email, Twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast. 

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Have you ever used a shutdown ritual? What has worked best for you? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section, below. And congratulations to Jan Maroscher, the winner of this month’s book prize, Pitch Anything by Oren Klaff for a May 14/19 comment on my blog. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by June 30/19 will be put in a draw for a copy of  The Life You Can Save, by Peter Singer. To leave your own comment, please, scroll down to the section, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest.