What is a Shutdown Ritual

You’ve may well be raving about how your miracle morning helps you set your intentions for the day and focus on the tasks at hand, but have you heard about a shutdown ritual? I first encountered the shutdown ritual in Cal Newport’s Deep Work and it’s the way he finishes off his working day. 

He spends a few minutes reviewing his calendar for the next two weeks and reviewing his work plans and goal, and after he’s happy that he is on top of his tasks, finishes his day with the phrase: “schedule shutdown, complete.”

Now, Cal Newport is a master of productivity; as an Assistant Professor of Computer Science, he has seven books to his name and a PhD from MIT, so we’re not one to judge. He  also only works 9 to 5 Monday to Friday and on Sunday morning. 

But why should you also be following his advice and shutting down at the end of the day?

1. Unconscious thought theory

According to the unconscious-thought principle, there are two modes of thought: conscious and unconscious. The two modes of thought have different characteristics, making them differentially applicable or differentially appropriate to use under different circumstances. 

We might think that problem solving is best down by conscious thought, but Social Psychologist Dijksterhuis’ evidence has suggested that during unconscious though, people are able to 

slowly integrate huge amounts of information into relatively sound judgments, and therefore allowing the brain to delve into the unconscious process is a great way for us to work while we don’t even know we are working. 

2. Attention restoration theory

Kaplan’s Attention restoration theory states that people can only process so much information before they fatigue. By spending time in natural environments, which a person can reflect upon in ‘effortless attention’, such as clouds moving across the sky or leaves rustling in the trees, people can combat this fatigue and concentrate better.

3. The Zeigarnick effect

Counterintuitively, interruption during a task that requires focus can improve, rather than heed, a person’s ability to remember it afterwards. Known as the Zeigarnick effect, the desire to complete a task can cause it to be retained in a person’s memory until it has been completed, and that the finality of its completion enables the process of forgetting it to take place. 

This three factors mean that it’s no challenge for you to have incomplete tasks lingering over you of an evening, and may even help you bring new ideas to the table with a higher level of concentration when you return to them the following day. It can also give you the ability to rest assured that your work day is complete and give you the opportunity to relax with the work cloud lifted. 

What could your shutdown ritual include?

  1. Reviewing what you did today and what you are going to do tomorrow. Did you manage to complete what you set out to achieve? How did you feel during your working day? Do you know how you are going to approach tomorrow?
  2. De-cluttering your desk and/or emails. Desks can get messier and messier as the day progresses, and there’s nothing that says finality like a clean desk (and clean mind).
  3. Set an intention for what you are going to do with your evening. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, and it could be as many episodes of Gilmore Girls as you can fit into the five hours before you have to go to bed, but it’s always good to have a plan. 
  4. Fake commuting. During COVID-19 and the rise of working from home, some people have even started doing a ‘fake commute’, where they take a walk at the end of the day to get out of their ‘office’, listen to a podcast or meditate for ten minutes. If you are struggling to separate your work and home life, a fake commute is a great way to decompress, recharge, relax and be present for your home life.