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Here's why (and how) you should create an end-of-day routine

clean desk with coffee mug, books, plan, picture frame and wooden figurine representing a clean desk as part of an end-of-day-routine

It's 5:00 PM. The day is done! Close the laptop lid and go home (or into another room if you are working from home). Think about all of the things you need to do tomorrow or that you didn't get finished today. Wake up in the middle of the night remembering one more thing you need to do. Feel guilty about not getting everything finished that you meant to.

This scenario has been a snapshot of how most of my workdays used to go. Then, I began implementing an end-of-day routine.

Cal Newport, author of the book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World shares his recommendations for the end-of-day routine: “This ritual should ensure that every incomplete task, goal or project has been reviewed and that for each you have confirmed that either 1) you have a plan you trust for its completion, or 2) it’s captured in a place where it will be revisited at the right time.”

Here are routines that I have implemented:

1: Clean your physical space

When I started on this journey to create an end-of-day ritual, I would move everything off of my desk into a drawer. At first, the drawer was a mess, but gradually I shifted into the process of keeping the drawer much tidier as well. I realized that I didn't need to print as much or could recycle/shred it much more quickly.

I am working on doing this in my house, too. I substitute the kitchen sink for my desk and realize that my days start much more stress-free when my kitchen sink is clean. (I got this concept from the Fly Lady; it's not my own, but I like it and am a work-in-progress for doing this regularly)!

According to research, "Clutter Affects Your Brain and Your Work"

2: Review tomorrow's to-do list today

Before you leave for the end of the day, make a quick note (either digitally or manually) of 3 things you want to focus on tomorrow. It's also a good idea to review your calendar quickly. Some people will schedule these into their calendars. My days are mainly driven by projects rather than meetings, so I don't feel this is as necessary for me. I do, however, keep an electronic project list, mark emails as important, or even forward important emails to myself with a delayed delivery time so that they appear at the top of my email list in the morning.

3: Ask yourself: What's one next action I can take

When I am stuck on a project, I like to focus on one, next action that I can take tomorrow. I find that asking myself that question and then putting it aside until tomorrow gives my brain time to relax and come up with the next action. I've learned that I don't need the whole path to completion, just one action (which leads to another).

4: Gain clarity with a mind-map

When I am stuck in a procrastination cycle, I spend more time thinking about action than taking the action. And the thinking is usually much more uncomfortable than actually doing! I find that creating clarity around what I am doing (or need to do) is a great way to move out of procrastination. One of the best tools that I have been using is a mind-map as a to-do list.

I write the date in the middle. I use the arms of the mindmap as my categories of things to complete. From each arm, I write in more specific details. (See my Instagram post below to view an example in practice). I have been much more consistent with using my mind-map as a to-do list than I did a regular, traditional list.

5: Focus on making mornings run smoother

Before I go to bed, I make sure that I have clean clothes. If I have to commute to the office, I prep my coffee using the timer feature on the coffee pot. I make sure that I have a travel mug ready. I shower at night. In the summer, I water my outdoor plants at night.

I find it funny that I've focused on #5 in the last few years. My children are older now, but I really could have used this step when they were small. I would always tell myself that I was tired and I'd feel like it in the morning after I got some sleep. I probably was tired, but I didn't feel more like doing some of these tasks in the morning any more than I did at night! I think this proves that we are never too old to learn new tricks and techniques.

I'd love to know! Do you have nighttime routines, either at work or at home? How do you prepare for the next day?


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