Are you Overwhelmed At Work? Support Your ADHD With A Shutdown Routine

For years, one of my biggest daily obstacles was ending the workday. 

I’d always tell myself I have “just one more thing” to do.

My mind raced after I closed my computer, worrying that I forgot something important.

And my hand seemed to automatically reach for my phone, “needing” to check for important emails or slack notifications.

Can you relate?

If so, you’re definitely not alone.

You see, as ADHDers, we often struggle with transitions.

It’s harder for the brain to pivot from one activity to the next – especially if we’re in hyperfocus.

So to help myself ease into the transition from “work brain” to “home brain,” I began using a shutdown routine at the end of each day, which allows me to mentally “turn off” my work for the night.

Not only does this routine help me shift away from work-mode, but I also have an easier time being present in the evenings with my family. Yes, please!

So if you want to make that transition from “work-brain” to “home-brain” more easily. If you want to tie up loose ends and have a concrete plan for the following day. And if you’re ready to feel present after the workday ends, I invite you to check out episode 119 now. I think you might love it.

You can listen to the episode above or stream it on your favorite podcasting app here: 

Prefer to read? No problem! Keep scrolling for the entire podcast transcript.

In This Episode, You Will Discover How To… 

  • Make the transition from “work-brain” to “home-brain” much easier
  • Tie up loose ends and have a clear plan for the day ahead
  • Create a personalized shutdown routine that works best for you

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Episode #119: Overwhelmed At Work? Support Your ADHD With A Shutdown Routine (Transcript)

You’re listening to the I’m Busy Being Awesome Podcast with Paula Engebretson, episode #119.

Hey everybody! How are you? Happy November! I’ve got to tell you, I’ve been absolutely thrilled by the feedback I’ve gotten from folks in our busy awesome community in response to the group program that I’m launching in January. I love hearing that you’re as excited as I am.

If you missed last week’s episode, I mentioned briefly that I am launching a six-month small group program all about getting things done with a distractible brain. And so many of you amazing humans have already added your name to the interest list, which is so fun!

And if you’ve been meaning to add you name to the list, too, but it slipped your mind because you HAVE a distractible brain, here’s your reminder. I invite to head to imbusybeingawesome.com/group where you can learn a little more about program, the dates that it will run, and you can add your name to the interest list. You’ll be the first to know when I have any trainings and when the doors open to sign up.

And speaking of getting things done, today I’m excited to share with you a key component of my daily routine. It is something that’s often overlooked for many people, but I think is one of the main reasons why I’m able to – on most days – cross all the T’s and dot all the I’s and stay on top of lots of moving parts. It’s one of the ways that I’ve learned to work with my ADHD brain. And this is the concept of the shutdown routine.

Now I was first introduced to the shutdown routine several years ago. I had read Cal Newport’s  book Deep Work: rules for focused success in a distracted world. And if you have not read this book or haven’t heard much about Cal Newport’s work, I highly recommend it. It is fantastic. Truly.

Newport is a professor of computer science and a productivity blogger, and he is all about making effective use of your time. I absolutely love his ideas and strategies. They’re incredibly straightforward and practical, which makes them very actionable. I will be sure to link to his book in the show notes in case you want to explore it further.

What Is A Shutdown Ritual?

Now in the book, Newport talks about this idea of what he calls the shutdown ritual. Here’s how he describes the purpose of the shutdown ritual is this: a shutdown ritual should ensure that every incomplete task, goal, or project has been reviewed. And for each of those items – the tasks, goals, or projects, you either have a plan established that you trust for its completion, or it’s captured in a place where can revisit it when it’s the right time.

Again, this has been such a powerful approach for me to be able to stay on top of all of the different projects and tasks and many ideas that come to me throughout the day the week. It helps ensure that – again, most of the time – things don’t slip through the cracks.

Does it happen sometimes? Sure. I’m a human. And I have ADHD. But implementing this shutdown routine has been a powerful system that helps me not only stay on top of my work, but also allows me to press pause at the end of the day so I can enjoy my home life, too. And that is perhaps one of the most remarkable shifts that I’ve experienced as someone who used to think about work non-stop nearly all of my waking hours. And if you can relate, I think you are going to love this episode.

Who Is This Episode For?

So, if you are a person who struggles with staying on top of things or often finds tasks or appointments or projects slipping through the cracks. Or if you are a person who has a hard time turning off your work thoughts at the end of the day. Or if you’re simply looking for a way to increase your effectiveness and efficiency with your work, keep listening.

Today I’m going to share with you the top three reasons why adopting a shutdown routine maybe the exact thing you need to take your work to the next level. And then we’ll talk about how you can implement that very process today. So, let’s dive in.

Now to put my three reasons into context, I’ll share with you my shut down routine quickly. I think having a general understanding of how this kind of routine works not only gives you an idea of my approach, but also helps you better understand the role each step plays. And ideally, you can listen to my approach, and start generating your own method. You may not need to do the same steps that I take, and you may need to add in different ones. All of that is great. But hopefully hearing my approach will give you an idea of what a shutdown routine can look like for you.

My Shutdown Routine

First of all, my shutdown routine is five steps. And I generally complete it within 20 minutes. Sometimes it might be a little bit longer, but generally, it’s 20 minutes.

Step 1

So, at the end of the day, the first thing I do is check both slack and my email. Now, this could be a potential rabbit hole, and it has been in the past. I know that I can allow both email and Slack to expand into a rather long time frame. So, I make sure to set the timer for seven minutes. I then go through my email inbox. I go through my slack messages, and if there’s anything urgent that must get answered, I do it then.

Everything else I schedule for tomorrow’s block. that I reserve for email and slack messaging. And as a side note, this is separate from the shutdown routine time. I have set aside a longer period for communication each day. When the timer goes off at 7 minutes, if I’m not finished, I know I have 3 more minutes of wiggle room, but I try to complete it in 10 minutes or less.

Step 2

Once I’ve reviewed my inbox and slack, and I’ve created a plan for each of the messages that I didn’t answer immediately, then I move to Step 2. And step 2 is reviewing my day. I look over the tasks that I completed, and I give myself a chance to celebrate those wins. I check off those boxes and allow myself to feel excited about what I completed. As we’ve talked about in past episodes, we must give our brain that positive reinforcement and recognition. It we don’t, it’s going to have a hard time maintaining that motivation to do the work each day.

Then if I have anything left incomplete in my schedule, I look at why that happened. So, I get curious and ask myself different questions. Did I over-schedule myself? Did something else come up that I chose to do instead? Or did I get distracted? Whatever the reason, it provides valuable information that helps me schedule better for the next day.

Additionally, with each of the unfinished tasks, I decide what to do with them. Are they things that need to get done immediately? If so, I need to make space for them the next day. Can they wait until the following week? If so, I put that on my weekly to-do list for the following week. So, I make a decision of what I want to do with those unfinished tasks.

Step 3

And that leads me into Step 3, which is time blocking the next day. So, I look at the day ahead. I block off all my client calls and any other appointments that I have. I then block off time to do my email and slack messages. If I decided to migrate those incomplete tasks from today, I make time for them. Then I look at the remaining tasks on my weekly To Do List download. I fit those into the remaining time blocks. That way when I sit down the next day, I know exactly when I’m starting on. I don’t have to make any additional decisions.

Step 4

That brings me to Step 4, which is taking a minute to practice gratitude and set an intention for the day ahead. So, I spend a minute identifying a couple of things that I’m grateful for that happened that day. And I try and make them as specific as possible, so it really brings me into the moment.

For example, maybe I had a great client call. Maybe the weather was beautiful during my walk with Bruno in the morning. Maybe my avocado was perfectly ripe today. In other words, I try to zoom in on the day and identify those small, special moments. Then, I think about the day ahead, and I generate excitement and commitment and appreciation for what’s to come. I set my intention for the next day, and I write that at the top of my schedule for the day as a reminder of what I’m looking forward to.

Step 5

And finally, we get to Step 5, which is clearing and prepping. What do I mean by this? Essentially, I spend the remaining time of my shutdown routine clearing off both the surface of my desk AND my desktop computer. So, if I have books or papers or notebooks open on my desk, I close them up. I put away the books and I file the papers. The only thing that I leave on my desk is my self-coaching journal, which is open to the next day for my journaling.

Similarly, with my computer, I close all the windows and tabs and programs that are running. And I only open the one program or tab that is first on my schedule for the next day. Again, doing this helps me reduce any friction and potential distraction by reminding myself that whatever is on my screen is the number one task. This is my focus first thing.

Recap Shutdown Routine

So as a quick recap, the five steps are:

1. Check in for any urgent slack or email messages – respond as necessary or schedule

2. Look at my schedule for the day. Celebrate what I completed and close the loop on what remains

3. Time block for the day ahead

4. Practice gratitude for my day and set an intention for the day to come

5. Clear my desk and computer desktop so I can start fresh tomorrow

Now, let’s talk about the top three reasons why I think having some kind of shutdown routine – whether it’s similar to mine or not – is so powerful.

Support Cognitive Flexibility and Transitions

Number one. I highly encourage people to create some type of shutdown ritual or routine because it helps with making the transition from one state of mind to another. As I’ve mentioned before, one of the areas that I often struggle with is my cognitive flexibility, which essentially means I’m not so good at transitioning from one thing to the next.

And these could be bigger moments like being on vacation and transitioning back to work. They can be small moments like switching from sending messages in my inbox to outlining my podcast. And one of the biggest areas that I struggled with was transitioning from work mode to home mode.

It felt like such a jarring and abrupt flip of a switch. I had a hard time simply ending my workday, leaving my office, and expecting myself to compartmentalize my work thoughts and leave them in the office – especially since the commute from office to home is literally walking through the door frame. I don’t have that drive time like I did working at the university when I could make that shift during my time in the car.

So I found myself struggling to stop thinking about work and start thinking about what I want to do in the evening, what I wanted to make for dinner, and actually slowing down to relax for the night. Part of my brain felt like it was left in the office, and it would spin on all the different open loops and unfinished tasks. If this is something you also deal with, you know how hard It can seem to be present and enjoy your evenings.

Once I started incorporating this regular routine at the end of each day, however, this 20-minute time frame gave my brain that transition time it needed. And because it was a regular practice, I gradually trained my brain to realize that as these steps unfolded one by one, it was time to make the shift from thinking about work to thinking about home. And we’ll talk a little bit more about why this is the case in the next points.

But firstly, simply having a regular ritual like this 20-minute shut down routine was so powerful in simply signaling to my brain: OK. We’re done with work for the day. It’s time to tie up loose ends and make a plan for tomorrow so you can fully enjoy your evening.

Increase Effectiveness and Efficiency

The second reason why I think practicing a shutdown ritual is so powerful takes this concept a little bit deeper. When we practice a shutdown routine, it helps us increase both our effectiveness and our efficiency. In his book, Newport talks about how incomplete tasks have the ability to really dominate our attention whether we wanted to or not. And because of this, if we don’t have a shutdown routine in place, we simply end the workday with open loops.

Of course, if you’re anything like me, ending the workday with unfinished tasks and no plan to complete them leaves our minds racing. As I mentioned a moment ago, we end up continuing to think about work and everything left “undone.” And in addition to preventing ourselves from being in the present moment, we also never allow our brain to fully recharge. We don’t allow our brains to stop working.

Now here’s the deal; I don’t know a single person who has ever checked off every single thing on their To Do List. There is always more a person could do. Especially since so many people in our busy awesome community are idea machines. Even if we finish all the tasks for the day or the week, we probably have new ideas that we want to pursue after that, right?

And this isn’t a problem if we have a way to capture and plan for those ideas and tasks. This is why I like to do my reflection at the end of the day. My mind feels clear when I know what I completed and what I want to reschedule. It gives my brain closure. And it allows me to know when I will complete the unfinished tasks or at least have a plan for when I will take on the next step.

By creating that plan ahead of time. By thinking intentionally about which tasks are most important to finish first and which ones can wait, you use your time effectively. And it helps prevent you from frantically trying to put out fires and act on impulse at the next urgent request.

Ease Stress and Anxiety

This brings me to reason at #3 why I think creating and maintaining a shutdown routine is so powerful. And this is because it helps to ease those feelings of anxiety and stress, which are often caused by all our racing thoughts. It helps settle the mind when thoughts about unanswered messages and the never ending To Do List arise.

When we don’t have a set approach to answering urgent messages or at least scheduling time to do so, our brain loves to spin and problem solve. It worries about when you will respond. And that task or message constantly pops back into your mind convinced that you might forget to get back to this person or that person. But when you know that you’ve responded to the urgent messages and scheduled time for the next day to respond to the rest, you can quiet those chattering thoughts.

By recognizing and celebrating what you did accomplish and planning for the tasks that you did not complete, you start retraining your brain. You begin acknowledging all the work that you do complete each day while also gaining a better understanding of how long tasks actually take you. This allows you to have greater awareness and accuracy with scheduling going forward.

And then finally, as a throwback to our declutter and organization episodes a couple of weeks ago, by clearing both your computer desktop and your actual desktop, you reduce the visual clutter for the day ahead. You’ve created a schedule for yourself, so when you sit down to work, you’ve reduced visual distraction, you’ve identified what you’re working on first, and you’ve reduced any friction between you and getting started on that task.

Your Invitation This Week

So, this week, I invite you to give this strategy a try. Think about what you want your shutdown routine to be. And I encourage you to keep it as simple as possible but no simpler. And what I mean by that, is don’t overcomplicate the process so that you don’t want to do it.

We often want to make things really detailed and complex because it’s fun to plan it out. Unfortunately, if you’re anything like me, when we need to execute on the plan, it’s a little bit less fun. So don’t overcomplicate the shutdown process. Instead, focus on creating a system that helps you know you’re closing your open loops, setting yourself up for the day ahead, and helping your brain transition from work mode to home mode.

This may take a little bit of trial and error to see what works best for you. But once you’ve locked it in, I think you’ll notice how much easier it is to close out the workday or the workweek, and fully allow yourself to rest, recharge, and come back the next day feeling fresh and ready to go.

All right my friends. That’s going to do it for us this week. And if you know someone who would benefit from a shutdown routine, would you be a rockstar and share this episode with them?

Also, if you’re ready to take the concepts you’re learning on the podcast to the next level with a community of supportive busy awesome humans just like you, I invite you to check out today’s show notes or head to imbusybeingawesome.com/group, to learn more about the program, add your name to the interest list, and be the first to know when the doors open to sign up.

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