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The simple trick to end every workday on a high

Amantha Imber
·4-min read
Using laptop to study
Establish a 'Shut Down ritual' that is simple, yet effective. (Source: Getty)

Maintaining boundaries between your work and non-work life is challenging. It can be tough when you work from home, especially if your home office is in a space used for non-work activities, like the kitchen or living room or bedroom.

And it can also be a problem when working from the office, especially if you are in the habit of taking work home with you.

This often results in no official start or finish to our workday, which makes work and non-work life blur together.

To avoid this happening, consider creating a ‘Shut Down ritual’ to delineate the end of your workday with the start of your ‘night life’ and finish your workday on a high.

Here’s how easy it is

Creating an effective Shut Down ritual is as simple as completing two sentences.

The first sentence you should write is: “Today I made progress on….” and simply write down the things you made meaningful progress on. It might be a report, a presentation, strategy work, anything, really.

Research from Harvard Professor Teresa Amabile shows that making progress on projects that matter is the biggest contributor to our motivation and engagement at work.

But when our at-home workdays all blur together (as they have a habit of doing), we don’t naturally stop and reflect on the progress we have made. Asking yourself to deliberately reflect on your daily progress should make you significantly happier at work.

The second sentence to write is: “If I get X done tomorrow, it will be a great day.”

This sentence helps you focus on the most important thing you need to achieve to make meaningful progress. It also eliminates the overwhelm that can often characterise our day when we have a million things we feel like we need to achieve.

Once you have identified this one thing, put it in your diary for tomorrow using ‘timeboxing’ – that is, schedule a meeting with yourself in your diary to do this activity.

By scheduling it in your diary, it prevents co-workers from blocking out your time with their needs and ensures you can prioritise the most important thing that you need to get done.

So to summarise, your Shut Down ritual is to complete these two sentences:

  • “Today I made progress on ….”, and:

  • “If I get X done tomorrow, it will be a great day.”

The final piece of the strategy is putting in place a trigger to remember to actually write these sentences. Stanford behavioural change expert BJ Fogg has found that the key to creating new habits is to make them “tiny”.

In other words, think about behaviours that are really quick and simple to do – which is exactly what your new Shut Down ritual is, given it only involves writing two sentences. And connecting new habits that you want to form with existing habits is one of the easiest ways to make the new behaviour stick.

How to make the ritual even easier

Think about what existing behaviour you could link the writing of these two sentences to so you actually remember to write them.

For example, you might use the act of closing your laptop to be the trigger that prompts you to write your two sentences as your Shut Down ritual.

Or you might use the habit of deciding what to have for dinner to be the trigger to then take 1-2 minutes to complete your two sentences.

In research conducted by Inventium, we found that the simple act of completing this Shut Down ritual (even just 1-2 times per week) lead to a 46 per cent increase in productivity and a 23 per cent increase in wellbeing (that is, people experienced more positive than negative feelings).

Not bad for a five-minute time investment at the end of your workday.

Dr Amantha Imber is the founder of behavioural science consultancy Inventium and the host of How I Work, a podcast about the habits and rituals of the world’s most successful people.

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