The 5-Minute ‘Shutdown Routine’ That Can Improve Your Entire Day

Do these things before you close your laptop

Smiling young woman with red eyeglasses finishing her work at the office and closing her laptop.

II used to have a hard time shutting off my “work brain” when I’d get home in the evening. I’d start playing with the kids and chatting with my wife, but my mind would still be at the office, editing the title of my latest blog post, rehashing a difficult session with a client, or worrying about everything I had to do the next day. Consequently, I was never as relaxed or engaged with my family as I wanted to be.

And then mornings would come around and I’d struggle again, only this time to get back into work mode. I’d end up procrastinating on things because I was feeling sluggish and a little confused about what exactly I should be working on. As a result, my productivity wasn’t nearly what it could’ve been.

A couple years ago, after reading Cal Newport’s Deep Work and feeling inspired to find more focus in my life, I made a change that had a huge impact on both my personal and professional lives. I created a quick routine that’s made both my evenings and mornings a lot better. I call it the 4:55 Drill. I spend the last five minutes of my work day “shutting down.” Here’s what I do in that time.

1. De-clutter my desk

A cluttered desk makes it hard to leave work in the evenings and even harder to get started the next morning. That’s why I always try to completely clear my desk at the end of each day. Everything is either put in drawers or filed away, even if I know I’ll need it the next day.

This does two things: First, it cues my brain that work is over and it’s time to shift out of work mode. Second, having nothing on my desk in the morning makes it less likely that I’ll end up procrastinating before getting to work.

2. Review emails and texts

This step is super quick. I scan my inbox and recent text messages to make sure I haven’t missed anything that needs immediate action before I leave work. Even if I’m 99.9% sure there isn’t anything I need to do, the act of reviewing my inbox and messages signals to my brain that I’m closing the email/text loop, so later in the evening, I’ll be less likely to wonder if I’ve left anyone hanging.

3. Review weekly to-dos

As a part of my organizational system, I keep a list of all the tasks and projects I’m working on for the week. I briefly scan this and decide if there’s anything on it that I want or need to work on the next day. This not only keeps me on track with my weekly goals, but assures me that I’m making progress on my longer-term objectives.

4. Set my top three priorities for tomorrow

Based on my inbox/text scan and review of my weekly to-dos, I place a sticky note on my desk in front of my computer and jot down the three most important things I want to get done the next day. I write them as short bulleted action items and then draw a line underneath them.

5. Set my evening intention

While the first four steps are about ending my current workday and making it easier to get started working the next morning, the final step helps me be more present and relaxed at home.

Underneath my three next-day work priorities, I write down one or two small intentions I have for my evening. For example, it might be: “Stop by Trader Joe’s and get flowers for C” or “Ride bikes with the girls.”

By spending the last five minutes of my workday “shutting down,” I’m more intentional and engaged both at work and at home. It’s a win-win in just five minutes.

Psychologist and blogger. I help people use psychology for meaningful personal growth: https://nickwignall.com

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