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Making the switch from work-life to home-life: why a shut down ritual is key when working from home

As much as I didn't enjoy my hour plus commute home from the office everyday, it did give me something that I'm now missing in my working life - mental space. That hour on the tube / train gave me the time to reflect on the day just done, and prepare for the next, as well as providing me with a physical sense of leaving the work day behind. By the time I got home, I was ready for what awaited me there - making dinner, going for a run or just chilling.


Now my commute consists of walking down the stairs, and making the mental shift from 'work' to 'home' in that time just isn't possible, and I found that I was spending time thinking about work when I was supposed to be in 'home mode', not ever really switching off.


It's a common problem, and has come up during my sessions with clients over the last few months.


The solution?


Planning a 'shut-down' process that gives your brain the signals it needs to switch off from work, and move into the next phase of the day. The idea comes for the amazing Cal Newport, and you can read about what he does each day here.


Shut down Processes


Shut-down rituals or processes are things that you do at the end of every day or working session (eg if you are working in 3 hour blocks because you are juggling childcare, you'd do a short version at the end of each session) which effectively 'end' your working time for the day and allow you to hit the ground running the next day. They don't have to take very long - 10/15 mins is all you need.


I've been exploring what makes a great shutdown process, and I've come up with a few things things I think need to be included.

  • A final check of emails to check everything important has been answered, or marked as needing attention the next day.

  • Preparing your to-do list for the next day, and identifying the Most Important Task to be done (MIT)

  • Checking your calendar for last minute meeting additions

  • Saving / closing all files so that you can start the next day fresh

  • Packing away work items (laptop, folders etc) into a box or bag at the send of the session / day - this is useful if you are temporarily working in your bedroom, as you don't want to start associating your bedroom with work! Packing everything up is also helpful if you are working in a number of locations and stops you rushing around madly 2 minutes before a call trying to find a particular piece of paper!

  • If you are prone to checking work messages outside of your working time, you can try moving work related email / messenger apps to a different screen of your phone. This is a quick way of reducing the temptation to 'just have a quick look" when you aren't working.

Once you have completed the close down tasks take a minute to think of what went well that day - what were your wins, what were your learnings? If you like journalling, you could keep a note of these to look back on.


As you leave your work space, take a moment to stretch - if you've been sitting down for an extended period, getting yourself moving again will energise you, and get you ready for the next thing you are doing.


The final thing I've found helpful is to make a plan to do a particular activity immediately after your working time, for example, for me it's having a snack with the kids but it could be phoning a friend, or going for a walk, as this creates a mental trigger for your brain to switch into 'non-work' mode.


All of these things can be done in just a few minutes, but can make a huge difference to how you feel.


I've been doing it for a few weeks now and as I'm working in short sprints due to childcare, I just allocate 5 mins at the end of the session to mentally and physically tidy up and update to-do / done lists. It has made me much more productive, as I know what I'm doing when I sit down to work, and I'm more able to switch off as I know all things work related are under control.


So if you are struggling to switch off at the end of the day, why not give it a go? Leave a comment below and let me know how you get on!

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