How you start your day is critical. Many people have a morning ritual (meditation, exercise, a soy latte) to get them powered up. But how you power down at the end of your work day is just as important—and easy to overlook as you rush out the door. Research shows that an end-the-day routine, called “boundary work” by psychologists, creates a mental space between work and home and and is key to thriving both personally and professionally.
Powering down your workday makes it easier to leave the day’s stress behind, transition into an enjoyable evening, prepare for a more productive morning, and even prime your brain to be in a more optimal state for sleep. “Adding a consistent closing ritual starts to nudge our neurons into a more calm state and reduces stress hormones like cortisol so we can rest, repair, and recharge,” says Heidi Hanna, PhD, Executive Director of the American Institute of Stress and author of “Stressaholic.”
Here’s a six-step method for ending your workday with success.
Step 1. Set an end-the-day alarm
We set an alarm to get up in the morning, so why not one to wind down your work day? Set an alarm or block time on your calendar 30 minutes before you typically leave the office, then use that time to bring the day to a close and prepare for tomorrow. It may sound simple, but having this daily reminder will help you end your day with intention, rather than in a rush. “Make a commitment to practice for just one week consistently, and you’ll start to feel the difference, which will boost your motivation to continue,” says Hanna.
Step 2. Do one more (small) thing
In this 30-minute window, work to end on a productive note. It can change the whole feel of your day. Executive coach and author Deborah Bright recommends completing a small task, such as returning a phone call or drafting an email. “There’s gratification in knowing that you elected to push yourself and now have one less thing to do the following morning,” she writes.
Step 3. Celebrate your wins
Next, write down what went well that day before heading home. What did you feel good about? What did you get done? Call it a “win list” and make it a goal to add at least one item each day. It’s easy to lose sight of progress when you focus only on what you haven’t done, rather than everything you did do. Take a moment to review your list at the end of the week and give yourself credit for a job well done. Keeping track of your successes, even the small ones, boosts your motivation and increases positive emotions like happiness and pride.
Step 4. Clear your desk
Spend a moment straightening up your workspace. It helps clear your mind, making it easier to prioritize and complete tasks. Your desk should be home to projects that you’re working on right now and resources you consult regularly—put everything else away at the end of the day. Every few weeks, do a deep clean: Take everything off your desk, wipe down the surfaces, and put back only the things you actually use. File the papers, throw out old sticky notes, and organize the rest. It’s an easy way to feel organized and in control.
Step 5. Plan for tomorrow
Look at tomorrow’s calendar and the obligations cluttering your brain before heading home so you can get clear on your priorities. Productivity expert Paula Rizzo, author of “Listful Thinking”, adds that making a to-do list for tomorrow helps keep her focused. “I set a time at the end of each day to make a list of meetings, phone calls, and everything I need to accomplish. This gets all these tasks out of my head so I can hit the ground running the next day.”
Step 6. Make the most of your transit time
Finally, make your commute more enjoyable by cueing up an audiobook, podcast, stand-up comedy, TED talk, or whatever else you like to listen to, read, or watch. Now that we all have powerful computers in our pockets, it’s easy to do. Consider it time for you to transition out of work mode, be inspired, or simply enjoy yourself.
Terri Trespicio is an award-winning writer, speaker, and a long-time media expert on health and wellbeing. She was one of the early contributors to meQuilibrium, and her work has been featured on Dr. Oz, Oprah magazine, Prevention, and MindBodyGreen, among others. Find her on Twitter @TerriT