How to spend the last 30 minutes of your day & turn off your work-brain
Articles preaching the importance of a solid morning routine are everywhere. Whether you want to ‘find out the morning routines of these 5 CEOs’ or learn ‘7 things to do before 7am,’ the answer is always the same: exercise, eat a healthy meal, meditate, reflect on your goals, create intentions. It’s all so obvious.
Less obvious is how you should be spending those last few minutes of work; the time you typically fill with either mindless web browsing or frantic eleventh-hour details. It’s a weird, liminal time when your brain exists somewhere between tonight’s dinner and tomorrow’s presentation.
But it is these precious minutes that will ultimately determine your success – or failure – in tomorrow’s endeavors, as well as your ability to enjoy your evening with your family. Without an appropriate shutdown ritual, you risk carrying the stress of unfinished work with you through the rest of the day. So which of these 5 shutdown rituals will you incorporate into your routine?
1. Have a snack.
Not what you expected? Snacking probably isn’t at the top of your ‘end of day’ list – but it should be. Once the clock strikes 4:30 and your brain is already halfway home, eating a light snack can help center you in your environment. You’re forced to slow down, focus, and consider what you’re doing.
Stave off your hunger – and fixation on dinner – and replace that drive with a renewed commitment to the task at hand.
2. (Hopefully) boost your mood by reviewing your checklist.
Most of us already keep a running list of our tasks, either tucked away neatly in a trusted Moleskin or haphazardly typed in a random Word Doc.
Before leaving for the day, be sure to go through your list and check off what’s been done. Most days, this should be a happy experience; seeing your to-do list grow shorter is actually an act of self-affirmation. It’s also a great opportunity to take stock of your progress and reflect on what could be changed tomorrow. You’ll leave with a accurate sense of your productivity, pace, and goals for the next day.
3. Prioritize 3 tasks for tomorrow.
You don’t need to plan out your entire schedule; just choose 1-3 tasks to get through first thing in the morning. These can be anything from short, easy-win objectives to blocking off a few hours to work on a long proposal.
Whatever it is, make sure that it’s something that will feel good to complete. A win first thing in the morning will determine the quality of your work – and mood! – for the rest of the day. Plus, it’s a great opportunity to impress your boss. Send them whatever you’ve finished as soon as it’s completed; they’ll be pleased with your quick turnaround and early-morning productivity.
4. Send emails; don’t respond to them.
The inbox – it’s a point of eternal anxiety for a lot of people.
At the end of the work day, when your brain is running slow and the last thing you want is to get sucked into a new piece of work, you can give yourself permission to not respond to emails. That’s right – don’t answer anyone who emails you in the last 30 minutes of your day. Unless there’s an emergency, or there’s something you were supposed to deal with earlier, leave the emails until tomorrow.
What you can do is send emails. Need some more information in order to complete your morning tasks? Shoot over a quick note to anyone involved. Have some comments on a new account? Email away!
Going on the ‘offense’ allows you to regain control of your inbox. Of course, you can’t totally avoid ‘defensive’ emails, but you’re encouraged to use your last 30 minutes of the day to communicate your personal points and needs to your coworkers.
5. Sign off.
Your 30 minutes are up. You’ve had your snack, reviewed your to-do list, come up with a few key tasks for tomorrow, and sent out the last of your emails for the day.
It’s time to pack up – but first, you need to formally end your day. Cal Newport, Professor at Georgetown University, relies on what he calls a ‘termination phrase.’ For him, this means saying aloud ‘schedule shutdown, complete.’ Unsurprisingly, Newport is a Computer Science professor.
For a less formalized approach, try saying to yourself (aloud or in your head) something that will signify the official end of your day. Even just a simple ‘done!’ will work. This ‘sign off’ allows your brain to relax and let go of any and all incomplete tasks – at least until tomorrow. It is a verbal confirmation of what you should already know; that work stays at work.