"I tried a 'shutdown routine' to end my workday feeling productive. Here's how it went."

Is it just me, or has January felt particularly rough this year?

Late last year I remember assuring myself that my much-needed Christmas break would be the cure-all for my burnout. I'd head back to work passionate and lively as ever. I just needed a few (read: 10) days off. 

... Well, here we are. 

8/10 days of my leave days were subjected to COVID-19 isolation (thanks to my close contact status - no illness, which was great!) and now it's just about February, I've been back at work for a good three weeks and I'm already exhausted.

Can I attribute it to the great non-holiday of 2021? Potentially, but shifting blame won't do much now, will it?

Taking another ten days off isn't an option, and even if it were, it probably wouldn't solve my productivity snap.

So I thought I'd take a look at some other methods to get my work mojo back. 

And that's when I came across a little technique created to help people switch off, known as the 'shutdown routine'. 

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In a nutshell, a shutdown routine is a set of habits built into the last few minutes of your workday that will set you up to log off without guilt or stress. 

Just as a regular commute might set you up for starting your workday, a shutdown routine creates a typical structure for those (often rushed) last few moments at your desk.

And yes, it means once you've completed your habits, finishing your shift is a non-negotiable.

It's a theory popularised by Cal Newport in his book: Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.

To end each day with success, he says a shutdown routine "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 at the right time."

With that in mind, I set up the five things I'd like included in my shutdown ritual, and they looked something like this:

1. Check and file my emails.

2. Review my calendar for the next day.

3. Tidy my workspace.


4. Set an evening intention.

5. Perform a ritual action.

So about 10 minutes before the end of my shift this week, I finished what needed to be done for my day and instead of getting started on tomorrow's work early, I kicked off my shutdown routine.

In some more detail, here's what that looked like for me.

1. Check and file my emails.

Ah, the dreaded emails. 

It made complete sense for me to check and file my emails as a ritual habit at the end of my day because if I didn't (and I very often didn't, prior to implementing this routine!) I'd start off the following day on the chaotic, communication-flooded, wrong foot.

Late last year I started filing my emails away like Mamamia's host of The Quicky, Claire Murphy (you can read about how she does that over here), and it changed my inbox for the best. 

Clearing my inbox prior to logging off cleared my mind, too.

Not only did I feel that nothing important had been missed in my workday, but I also decreased my administrative workload for the following day.

It's a win-win.

2. Review my calendar for the next day.

Next up, I headed over to my Google calendar to mentally (and literally!) prepare myself for the following day.

That meant reviewing what meetings I had booked in and what tasks were set to be completed.

With a job in media, I work pretty tightly to deadlines and often I'll have an idea of what will be on my plate days beforehand.

So, when reviewing my calendar I checked off the tasks I'd completed through the day, moved the ones that still needed work and added in the workload I planned to finish on my next shift.

As a part of my routine, I also made a point to message my manager and let her know what I had been working on throughout the day, and what I hoped to get done tomorrow.

Not only does this hold me accountable, but it's also a gentle reminder to them that I'll be logging off soon!

3. Tidying my workspace.

There's nothing better than a fresh desk set-up in the morning.

So next in my shutdown routine, I tidy my workspace - both physically and digitally, because my future self will surely thank me for it.

Now obviously that includes the usual things; getting rid of the rubbish and myriad of tea cups that seem to have accumulated on my desk over the workday, and packing away my diary.


But it also means clearing up the digital clutter which manifests on my laptop over a long day working in media.

You see, I download lots of images throughout the day for stories just like this one.

So before logging off, I delete or file away the many documents and jpegs that have appeared.

4. Set an evening intention.

Setting an 'evening intention' was by far my favourite part of my shutdown routine because it really forces you to think beyond the workday. 

Simply, set yourself an intention for the afternoon or evening ahead that's completely separate to your work.

This week, some of my evening intentions included:

  • go for an ocean swim
  • make dinner from scratch
  • finish a chapter of the book I'm currently reading

Nothing is too small or big! Just no work-related tasks please!

5. Perform a ritual action.

Finally, I tried performing a ritual action to mark the end of my workday. 

Before we were all sent to work from home, many of us had a ritual action signalling the end of a workday... and it was a commute. 

But, given the office uncertainty (sometimes I'm in and sometimes I'm not ¯\_(ツ)_/¯) I decided to make a rigid routine of listing three things I'm grateful for, and shutting down my laptop. 

Why did I do a gratitude list? Because it's a proven way to end your day on a high! Finding things to be grateful for, even on particularly tricky days always gives me a quick hit of happiness which is exactly what I need when wrapping up a workday.

As for the shutting of my laptop... Well, that was uncomfortable.

For the first day or so, my instincts reminded me to check my work messages on my phone just in case I'd missed something - but that goes against the whole point of a shutdown ritual, so I gave it up fairly quickly after that. 

By shutting down my laptop and leaving my workspace for the living room or a shower, I was forced to turn off.

So what's the verdict?

Do. This. Right. Now. 

Mark my words: a shutdown routine will change your life. It's relaxing. It's empowering. And if like me, you've been struggling to separate work from home, it's a sure-fire way to turn off when you really need to.

For more from Emma, you can follow her on Instagram.

Feature Image: Supplied.