Experiment 5: Shut Down Your Workday

I’m back, baby!

As an introvert and book worm who has been in lockdown for about three weeks, I’m feeling like I have found my groove. My days and nights have settled into a rhythm, and I’m finding myself actually being more social than I was pre-COVID, having a Zoom or phone catch up with friends or family members most nights. The predictability that my life has taken on is extraordinarily comforting (perhaps because of the stark contrast to the unpredictability of the outside world).

I have also noticed that I’ve become surprisingly effective at compartmentalising stress. I actually have no insight into where I have channelled this skill from because it’s certainly not something I have possessed in the past*. The Worry Time experiment definitely helped, but I have found that with some of the big stresses I have going on in my life right now, I think about them when I am planning how to act on them, but for the rest of the time, they simply vanish.

*I shall attempt to do some more reflecting here, as I realise how annoying it is to state this with no advice on how to actually achieve this state…

I’ve been pondering what direction to take with the next few experiments, and I’ve decided that I want to oscillate between the themes of connectedness (and with that, happiness) and productivity (at home). These are the two topics I’m currently researching as part of my work and I’m keen to try out some of the things I’m learning in academic papers.

So let’s get onto today’s experiment…

Experiment 5: Shut Down Your Workday

Boundary setting can be a nightmare when working from home. Your “work” space is also probably doubling as your “home” space, and it can be oh-so-tempting to return to your laptop after dinner to knock out a few more emails or little tasks. There is always One More Task that you could be doing.

But here’s the thing: to-do lists never end. You will never have finished everything there is to do because that’s simply not how work works. There is always another email to respond to, another report to complete, another phone call to return.

To maintain boundaries between work and home life when working from home, it is critical that we deliberately shut down our day. So for this next experiment, we are going to be trying out a “Shut Down” ritual to create a clear distinction between when your workday ends and when your non-work day (or evening) starts.

Here is the plan:

1. Start by completing the pre-experiment survey. We are going to be looking at two things: Productivity + Wellbeing.

2. For every workday for the next two weeks, I want you to write two simple, but very specific, sentences:

The first sentence you should write is: “Today I made progress on ….” and then, simply write down the things you made meaningful progress on. It might be a report, a presentation, strategy work, anything, really. 

Research from Harvard Professor Teresa Amabile shows that making progress on projects that matter is the biggest contributor to our motivation and engagement at work. But when our at-home workdays all blur together (as they have a habit of doing), we don’t naturally stop and reflect on the progress we have made. Asking yourself to deliberately reflect on your daily progress should make you significantly happier at work.

The second sentence to write is: “If I get X done tomorrow, it will be a great day.” This sentence helps you focus on the most important thing you need to achieve to make meaningful progress. It also eliminates the overwhelm that can often characterise our day when we have a million things we feel like we need to achieve. 

Once you have identified this one thing, put it in your diary for tomorrow using Timeboxing – that is, schedule a meeting with yourself in your diary to do this activity. By scheduling it in your diary, it prevents co-workers from blocking out your time with their needs and ensures you can prioritise the most important thing that you need to get done.

So to summarise, your Shut Down ritual complete these two sentences: 

“Today I made progress on ….” and 

“If I get X done tomorrow, it will be a great day.” 

Now, complete the pre-experiment survey and I’ll see you in a fortnight!