Deep Work: Shutdown Ritual

This is the latest in a series on Cal Newport’s idea of Deep Work.  This post is about my shutdown ritual.

The purpose of a shutdown ritual is create a sharp divide between work life and home life.  I have a wife and two small kids, and I want to be focused on them when I am at home, so I have been trying to minimize the amount of work I do at home.  I am pleased to say that I am close to doing zero work at home, with the lone exception being that I brought a student thesis home with me this weekend; I had had the thesis for a month and she is going to give a presentation this weekend, so I wanted to get it back to her quickly.

But that really has been the only exception—I have even stopped checking email at home. This has been wonderful for me so far, as I have spent more time focused on my family and more time reading books.

I have accomplished this through two means. The first is just a decision to generally avoid using the computer at home. This is probably the biggest reason. The second is the shutdown ritual, which I think helps some. Here is how it goes.

At the end of work, I do the following (I have this list taped right below my computer monitor):

  1. Check email.
  2. Update ToDo list.
  3. Start mprime.
  4. Make minute-by-minute schedule for tomorrow.
  5. Clean office.
  6. Say “Shutdown complete.”

This takes me about five minutes at the end of each day, but I leave feeling completely prepared for the next day. I know what work I will have to do, I know what appointments I have, and I know that this is a system I can trust. I don’t think that this ritual has changed my life—I think that most of the improvements in my home life have simply come from my deciding to avoid the computers—but I think it does help some.

Note that I completely stole saying “Shutdown complete” from Newport. I think that he may have some neurological reason why it is good to say something like this, although I don’t remember for sure. I mainly do it because I just kind of like it.

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5 Responses to “Deep Work: Shutdown Ritual”

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