How to Power Down to Reclaim Your Life
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Today at a Glance
- The constant connectedness of our Digital Age has serious negative side effects. The Power Down Ritual is a simple way to fight back.
- The idea behind the Power Down Ritual is simple: It is a fixed set of actions and behaviors that mentally and physically mark the end of your professional day.
- The three core principles of a Power Down Ritual: (1) Complete any final tasks for the day, (2) Prepare for the priority tasks of tomorrow, and (3) Initiate the power down.
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Here are a few scenarios that may feel all-too-familiar:
You’re at home, finishing up dinner, when you think to yourself: "Let me just check my email one last time to make sure there’s nothing urgent." An email triggers an immediate stress response and you find yourself working for another two hours and then struggling to fall asleep.
You’re out with some friends after work and decide to check Slack on your phone to make sure you’re not missing anything. There’s a message from your boss asking you to do something. You’re on another planet for the rest of the dinner and end up working late at night to do the thing that probably could’ve been done the next day.
You're in bed and decide to pop open Instagram to scroll for a few minutes before winding down. A post from an influencer on some seemingly extravagant vacation triggers your envy, and you end up scrolling for an hour and wondering why you're working so hard and not able to take those same vacations.
If you’ve experienced some variation of one of these scenarios, don’t worry, you’re not alone.
We've all been there. The constant connectedness of our Digital Age has serious negative side effects.
In today’s piece, I’d like to talk about a simple antidote that has worked for me: The Power Down Ritual.
What It Is
I first read about the idea of a Power Down Ritual a decade ago in a Study Hacks Blog by Cal Newport (he called it a "Shutdown Ritual"), though I didn't implement one until about five months ago, when I started to feel that the constant connectivity of my "job" was eating into my time with my wife and son.
The idea behind the Power Down Ritual is simple:
It is a fixed set of actions and behaviors that mentally and physically mark the end of your professional day.
An example of my fixed sequence might look something like this:
- Check email, texts, and Slack messages for any final requests requiring immediate action. Send any final messages for asynchronous teams who will receive and make progress overnight.
- Check calendar for the following day and complete 15 minutes of preparatory work for initial priority tasks of the following morning.
- Update any task lists for progress and confirm open items for next day.
- Initiate power down trigger. Close down all applications and technology.
For Newport, he would actually say out loud, "schedule shutdown, complete" as a magic phrase that would terminate his professional day at the end of his sequence.
The Power Down Ritual creates forced boundaries between your professional life and your personal life.
Why It's Important
It’s difficult to overstate the importance of having a Power Down Ritual.
Without one, we allow our work and professional life the freedom to completely control every other aspect of our life. This makes us less present with our family, friends, and personal activities, leading to atrophy in these areas, which are so important to building a comprehensive, fulfilling life.
The benefits of having a Power Down Ritual that I have observed:
- Clear Boundaries: The ritual creates a clear set of boundaries that separate professional and personal activities. We become more present on each side of the boundary.
- Fight Urgency: One of the biggest concerns I had with implementing this was that I would miss some urgent request that would hurt my performance. After five months of doing it, I can say that what I have actually realized is that there is very little in life that is truly urgent. If you tailor your Power Down Ritual to your specific role (more on that in the section below), you'll be just fine.
- Enhanced Morning Productivity: By including a bit of prep for the following morning as part of my ritual, I have noticed a clear boost in my productivity on the first task of the following day. I'm ready to hit the ground running.
- Improved Mental Health: I feel so much better in the evenings after I have had the power down. I'm more present with my wife and son, I'm not worried about the random notifications that are hitting, and I'm able to fall asleep faster.
It should be said that the importance of having a Power Down Ritual has become even more pronounced in the post-Covid era. Remote/hybrid work and the rise of solopreneurship have led to an epidemic of constant connectivity that has an insidious tendency to bleed our lives dry.
When you work from home—or if you work for yourself—it's easy to get caught in the trap of always being on. This ritual will release you from that trap.
Interestingly, having a Power Down Ritual actually adds additional focus and meaning to the time when we are powered on. I suspect it plays into our desire for binary alternatives—when you're on, you're really on, and when you're off, you're really off. That mentality, as it turns out, is a common trait of highly-successful people.
Ok, so now that we've established the value of the Power Down Ritual—let's talk about how you can build your own...
How to Build Your Own
While everyone's Power Down Ritual will look a bit different, there are a few consistent principles to be incorporated as you build yours.
The three primary principles of a great Power Down Ritual:
- Complete Final Tasks: What are the final checks that you need to perform in order to close out the tasks of the day and confirm that there is nothing remaining for you to complete? For most people, this will involve checking email and Slack with a quick scan, plus a sweep of any open projects.
- Prepare for Tomorrow: What are the focus priorities for tomorrow? What is the first task you want to make progress on when you start work tomorrow? Do 10-15 minutes of prep work to set yourself up to hit the ground running on that priority task.
- Initiate Power Down: Create a mental trigger for the completion of the Power Down Ritual. Cal Newport had his magic phrase ("schedule shutdown, complete"), but you can create your own less-nerdy version if you'd like. I type "Power Down" into an iMessage that I send to myself.
Ideally, the ritual is consistent—both in terms of the actions it includes and the time it takes place. This consistency is important for cementing it as a habit and pattern in your mind.
One of the greatest challenges you will face as you start this practice is the natural stress and worry that you are missing something after you initiate the power down.
To fight this concern, ease into the practice—start by doing it just one evening per week and build up from there. Observe whether you are missing anything truly important on that one evening. Are there changes you can make to the ritual (time of initiation, expectations with colleagues, etc.) in order to account for what you are missing?
Using those three principles, sketch out what a Power Down Ritual could look like for you. Write it down on a whiteboard or somewhere obvious so that you have it in front of you each day.
As with everything, initial action builds momentum. Try it tonight and see what happens.
Two Final Notes
On Social Media
While your Power Down Ritual doesn't have to include social media among the things you close for the night, I would recommend you work towards that as a goal.
My recommendation: Similar to the strategy noted above, start by incorporating social media into the power down one evening per week and build up from there. Observe how you feel without it (including the improvement in sleep quality).
It's probably one of the best changes you can make.
On Career Stage & Type
Depending on the stage of your career and your specific role/industry, establishing a fixed time for the ritual to take place may be more difficult. For example, if you are working as an analyst in a professional services role (banking, consulting, law), planning for your Power Down Ritual to take place at 7pm each evening may simply lead to a difficult performance review.
My recommendation: Try to have a "red line" time when you are absolutely offline (say 10pm) and be flexible in when you initiate your Power Down Ritual based on work on any given day. You'll find there are days and periods where you can be tighter with your ritual, but learn to be dynamic with it as needed in these early years of your career.
The Power Down Ritual has been a small change with an outsized impact on my life. I highly recommend creating your own and putting it into effect.
I'd love to hear from you:
- What will your Power Down Ritual look like?
- What have you observed as the greatest benefits of having a Power Down Ritual?
Tweet at me @SahilBloom and I'll do my best to get back to everyone!
As always, until next time...stay curious, friends!