Have you ever noticed when you sit down to work that it’s hard to actually start work right away? Or have you found when you are done at the end of the day part of your brain is still thinking about work?
Our minds need space to transition, but often we neglect to give ourselves the needed time to do so. Or, if we do make space for transition, we do it by consuming media or something else less valuable.
If any of this resonates with you, a specific process bookending your workday called a startup and shutdown routine may be helpful to you.
Having run a startup and shutdown routine for the last few years, I’ve found a few major benefits for me:
- My day begins with more intention. — There’s nothing like starting your day with an email inbox overflowing with a never-ending stream of “stuff” to do from other people. Having a plan for my day before I even touch email gives me a sense of control over how my day is going to go.
- I feel more focused. — Managing attention is one of the most valuable skills in today’s easily distractible world. Starting every workday the same way sets me in a direction that’s much easier to maintain throughout the day.
- I am more present. — On days I work, I only have a few precious hours of time with my family before my kids go to bed. I do not want to waste that time focused on unfinished, unaccounted for, and unneeded thoughts about my workday. Shutting down my day increases my ability to be mentally and emotionally present when it counts most.
In this article, I’m going to show you how I have startup/shutdown routines implemented in OmniFocus, but these are easily implemented in any task management solution. But before we do that, let’s dive into the specifics of what startup and shutdown routines are.
What is a Startup/Shutdown Routine?
Startup and shutdown routines are an idea I took from Getting Results the Agile Way, a productivity framework devised by J.D. Meier.
The premise is to start and end your day in the same way every day to help your brain ramp up into and down out of the work you’re doing.
It’s the same principle as listening to the same song when you’re about to write or going to the same place to a specific kind of work. When you set a routine for a particular task, your brain encounters less friction starting the task because you’ve trained it to expect what comes next after the routine.
Startup routines can vary from lengthy pre-flight checklists to make sure all items are in order for the day down to a simple practice of picking your three most important tasks or outcomes.
My startup routine is a bit more complex, focusing on clearing the decks, planning the day, and focusing my attention on the work to come next. Let’s take a look.
The startup routine project in OmniFocus is a parallel project set to repeat every 1 day (defer until next date).
I start by reviewing Streaks for any habits I need to complete before my workday.
Next, I run a Siri Shortcut on my phone which asks a few questions about how I’m feeling for the day. The shortcut then creates OmniFocus tasks to remind me to act on what I need. This is an important step as my schedule is fairly variable. I can’t set a solid weekly routine so this shortcut helps me remember to check in with myself.
Next I plan my day. I run through a list of perspectives in OmniFocus and review the sprint board in Jira for the web development work I do. With those items in mind, I create a daily schedule in my notebook using two hour blocks. I’ve found block scheduling is more effective for me than trying to hyperschedule every moment of the day.
After setting the plan, I review some forums I participate in for any tasks or posts to reply to.
The team I work with currently uses an agile development workflow, so the next couple of tasks are to write daily checkins for that team and for myself.
Lastly, I process all my inboxes and clear them to zero. I’m not always as diligent to complete this fully, but the process of getting to clear means I don’t have any nagging thoughts in my mind about emails or tasks that aren’t entered into the system yet.
Once I check off the last action, the project autocompletes and the next day’s routine project is automatically created.
From there, I start the work.
Shutdown routines are very similar to startup routines, but the aim is to help wrap up your day in a consistent way every time. The habit of a shutdown routine should involve ways to ease your mind out of work so you can be present elsewhere the rest of your day.
My shutdown routine isn’t as complex as my startup routine. It primarily involves brain dumping everything I have and cleaning up.
I perform a mindsweep in a couple of different ways depending on how I’m feeling that day. Primarily, I’ll take my notebook and just start writing everything on my mind in a stream-of-consciousness format. I’ll then process this into tasks later in the routine.
Next, I run the checkin shortcut I mentioned previously to help me understand if anything about my needs has changed during the workday. Working from home and as a developer can be extremely draining, so keeping tabs on my state regularly is important.
The next two steps involve making sure my time tracking is completed fully. I track all of my work time in Toggl using a combination of projects and tags, so I make sure none of that metadata is missing. From there, I enter any time toward development work into Jira I haven’t already entered.
Next, I process all of my inboxes just like in the morning.
Ideally, I like to write out a high level idea of what I want my day tomorrow to look like (if I’m working that day). These plans almost always change, but having an idea in my head gives me an aim to attain vs. trying to figure it out on the fly.
Finally, I work best when my work area is semi-clean, so I spend a few moments to close out any applications and clear my desk of any clutter that’s accumulated throughout the day.
Implement It For Yourself
If you choose to implement this process, start off small. Define 3-5 key tasks to both begin and end your workday. These can differ or be the same. Focus on the highest value tasks to start like planning or maintaining your system. Experiment for a week or two with those processes, then evaluate and add/remove as needed.
Startup and shutdown routines are an easy way to add some structure in your day even if the rest of your day looks like chaos. It has been the best way for me to help my mind ramp up into and down out of work.
If you choose to implement this, let me know how it works in the replies, and feel free to share your routines in the Community.