How a Productivity Expert Shifts From Work Mode to Non-Work Mode

You’ll work harder and your time after work will be more meaningful

Cal Newport
Published in
3 min readNov 11, 2020


Asian woman working on her laptop in her living room.
Photo: Yagi Studio/Getty Images

Most people approach their workday by trying to cross things off a task list in the small slivers of time that remain between attending meetings and reacting to emails and instant messages, often late into the evening. I prefer “time blocking” — partitioning my day into blocks of time, and assigning specific work to each. This systematic approach for working through my daily tasks has been instrumental in my last 15 years of work, during which I earned a PhD from MIT, then tenure at Georgetown University — all while publishing six books, including multiple bestsellers.

Most importantly, I did all of this while rarely working past 5:30 p.m. (I need my evenings free to wrangle my three young kids.)

Whenever I’m discussing my time blocking system, something I make sure to emphasize is the essential step of a “shutdown ritual.” At the end of each workday, your final step, if at all possible, is to shut down work. That doesn’t mean abandoning whatever you’re in the middle of doing but rather, taking a moment to help your mind shift more completely from work mode to non-work mode.

If you strictly follow this after-work routine, you’ll soon discover that not only are you working harder when you work, but your time after work is more meaningful and restorative than ever before.

Record your metrics

Many readers of my book Deep Work, for example, track how many hours they spent working without distractions on cognitively demanding tasks. Some jobs might yield metrics that capture behaviors specific to the particular type of work. Whatever metrics might be relevant to chart your progress, make sure you track them at the end of each day.

Organize uncompleted tasks

In some cases, you may need to add new tasks into your to-do list or task system, while in other cases you may need to update your calendar, or even shoot off a quick message.

Look at the week ahead

For most people, this means taking one last look at your email inbox, to ensure you…



Cal Newport
Writer for

Bestselling author of seven books, including Digital Minimalism and Deep Work. Associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University.