Letting Go When the Workday is Done

By: Lauren Mineau

Most of us have a set of tasks we do each morning to get out the door and ready for the day, but what about at the other end of the day?

Having a workplace shutdown ritual is beneficial not only to your personal sanity but for the sake of others you interact with.

The idea of having a shut down ritual dates back longer than you may think. In 1918, Charles M. Schwab, one of the largest American steel producers, set up a meeting with productivity consultant Ivy Lee. Schwab was doing well at the time, but wanted to see if he could make his teams even more productive.

Lee was a pioneer in public relations but in addition to making people look good, he made them productive with his method that’s simpler than you might think. Lee told Schwab he’d offer the insight for free, at first, and after a few months of the strategy in place, he suggested Schwab send a check for what he felt the advice was worth. After three months, Schwab sent Lee a check for $25,000 – the equivalent of about $400,000 today.

So what did Lee advise? 

  1. At the end of each workday, write down the six most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow. Do not write down more than six tasks.
  2. Prioritize those six items in order of their true importance.
  3. When you arrive tomorrow, concentrate only on the first task. Work until the first task is finished before moving on to the second task.
  4. Approach the rest of your list in the same fashion. At the end of the day, move any unfinished items to a new list of six tasks for the following day.
  5. Repeat this process every working day.

Something that’s common in each step of this process is shutting down and starting your tasks fresh the next day. Of course, this advice prefaced smartphones and even email, but without that technology, their productivity increased. Perhaps the more we can do at all times make us less productive because we’re never truly shutting off.

While that advice holds true, some further considerations can help you shut down digitally. A cluttered desktop, both physical and digital, can increase feelings of stress from the start. Take a few minutes before leaving to organize your digital tasks for the next day and prioritize emails and things to follow up on. But also give a glance at your workspace. Is your dirty coffee mug sitting next to napkins leftover from lunch? Toss them and take a few seconds to put your desk back in order. A fresh start for the next day will help significantly. Plus, your mug will be ready for a fresh cup of joe.

These things may seem simple, especially in an increasingly automated world. Every new software wants to do this for us and remind us constantly of what’s coming next. Taking things one step at a time can help us focus on what we need to get done piece by piece, instead of dipping our hands into a bunch of different baskets.