What is ‘shutdown’ and why is it so important for deep work? You ask, we answer.
Today’s blog is part of the ongoing weekly series of blogs answering the questions, you ask – we answer, related to deep work and it’s application as part of an even better working practice that will enable us to do high-quality work that matters.
The topic for today blog is the use of a ‘shutdown’ as part of your daily deep work practices and why it is so important for the mastery of deep work and making it more effective as your work practice.
Very often we work, and work, and work and often for very long periods of time. However, when we are engaged in shallow work, the quality of that work time is low due to distractions and constant interruptions that means the working day can become extended into long hours.
The other thing is, as we discussed last week, if you are not time blocking your day, then gaps occur in the day where distraction naturally comes in and work that could take 1 hour to complete when focused and concentrating, can take hours instead. Thus the work day becomes longer.
Distractions and interruptions associated with shallow work lead to productivity falling and the hours actually attending a place of work or sitting at your desk at home become extended more and more.
Therefore, time blocking the day and creating blocks to do deeply focused work on one thing and one thing only that is of the highest importance and purpose is a must. However, without the use of a ‘shutdown’ then this can lead to a real challenge and a massive drop in the effectiveness of deep work and ultimately the quality and productivity of your work.
We only have a finite amount of concentration in any one-day and therefore, whether engaged in shallow work and especially deep work, the batteries eventually run flat – you are out of concentration power.
This means that continuing to do any form of work, important work or otherwise, is a waste of time and counter-productive as it will lead to bad quality work or the need to re-do the work at a later date as the work is sub-standard. Or even worse, we submit that work and it leads to further problems with clients, potential clients or colleagues.
This almost macho style of working long hours, yet another myth like multi-tasking, is a waste of time as deep work can only be achieved for a certain amount of time, especially when we are first starting to move from shallow work to more focused work as part of our changing work practices. Too much deep work until we’ve built up the skill can lead to burnout and encouraging us back to our shallow work habits.
As part of our time blocking practice, it is therefore essential in order to allow deep work to flourish to set a point each day where we will ‘shutdown’.
That means at whatever time you set for the day, say 5.30 pm, you stop work. You take a moment to review progress for the day, you look at what is still on the agenda and that prepares the brain for a finish to the working day, you are effectively clearing the mind to relax and switch off. This is the ‘shutdown’ process and may take 5-10 minutes to clear, organise and get ready to switch off from work. Once this is done, close the laptop or shut down the desktop, switch the phone off and leave it on the desk and walk away. Work is done for the day until your time block starts for the following day.
In order for this to be effective, you have to stay away from any work-related stuff until the following morning, you have to be disciplined. I know there is this conditioning that we have to be on call 24/7, however, that is only an expectation we have all set, re-set it. Tell people in your email responder and let them know that you do not respond to emails and calls between 5.30 pm and 9 am. Explain to others that this is to allow you to spend time away from work, recharge and it enables you to do your very best work when you are actually working.
The thing is, over the course of my 52 years of life, there have maybe one or two things that could not have waited until the next day, but I do not remember them being work-related. Work stuff isn’t life or death and if we are doing deep work each day, then less and less stuff is unplanned, the important stuff is getting done and we are in control.
A daily shutdown allows is to recharge the batteries, it gives us time to use the amazing tool that is our mind to productively meditate on things, it allows us to do the important things in life – spend time with our family, our friends, do activities that matter and pursue our own hobbies, interests and dreams. No one gets to the end of their lives wishing they had worked more.
Using the deep work practices, starting with time blocking your day and then shutdown to enable a recharge and to do the truly important things leads to better and better quality work that enables you to advance and at the same time shorten the amount of time you are actually working as you have reduced drastically the shallow and unimportant work and as your deep work concentration skills get even better you produce better quality work, faster.
Without shutting down, work and life merge and you get into the following cycle – because of the unplanned day, shallow work and distractions, we get little done, so when we are at home or out with friends etc and we are supposed to be relaxing and recharging, we are not enjoying it, as we feel the pressure, anxiety, guilt and worry about uncompleted work. Then we get back to work the next day, we feel resentful about work, anxious, tired, not refreshed and then we do not do our best work as we did not feel that we had relaxed guilt-free leisure time and so the cycle continues.
Shutdown is one of the most important elements of deep work and a deeper more purposeful life. I have been practising a shut down at 5.30 pm every day for over 2 years now and I get more done, spend less time working, I do less and less unimportant stuff, and my real life that actually matters keeps on getting even better.
I hope that this was useful and if you have any questions about ‘shutdown’ or any questions you’d like answered about deep work, work practices in general and how to apply them to do your best work that matters, then please add a comment.