I suck at shutdown


God I suck at shutdown.

And because I suck at shutdown I’m flailing at containment — containing work and creative into already generously allotted timeframes.

In Deep Work: Rules for Success in a Distracted World, Cal Newport writes about the importance of a definitive shutdown routine at the end of each workday. I think for him it’s around 5 pm. The process is simple but thorough.

He starts with a review of where he’s at in the work. What he accomplished, what he didn’t.

Next he looks at deadlines, due dates, what’s looming ahead.

After this review and look ahead, he schedules for the next day and the days following.

Then — get this — he’s done.

He’s done!

By 5:30.

He’s done for the day. He goes home. He walks the dog. He engages with his family.

Are there household chores? Sure. Does he zone out at times when he should be more entranced by his wife and child? Of course. But his workload is not allowed to wedge its ugly way into family/home time.

Newport credits his shutdown routine and his focus on distraction-free deep work for his uncommon productivity: A young associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University — who’s also written a handful of study and productivity books. On the side.


Because I suck at shutdown I think my work is suffering. Here’s why. Maybe you relate.

My mind knows that I’ll let gallery work and/or creative work seep into the evening. Knowing this . . . gives it leverage to entice me into longer breaks than needed for optimal renewal during the day.


Because I was working last night! 

And I’ll probably be working tonight, poor baby. Better take that lonnnng reading break. Better jump on the phone with Mom (MomJo!) now — why wait till later when you can spend the 45 minutes now?

(She’ll be talking for 40 minutes of that time; I’ll squeak in 5. Do you know a Mom like this? They seem to abound.)

It turns into an unholy cycle of working when I’m least productive — late in the day and into the evening — and then rewarding my overworked self with distractions during the day when I’m at the height of my powers.

It used to be Quora. Now it’s advice columnists. I know their pen names and their real names.

Stop me.

. . . . . . . . . .

All this is to say I’m cranking up my shutdown ritual again. At 6 pm it’s over (says the guy typing this to you at 8 pm).

But seriously. I’m setting an alarm.

And if I have to set several as ratchet points to wind me down, so be it.

Try this for yourself: A definitive work shutdown.

I did it before and it worked wonders. Counterintuitively I crushed it creatively and at the gallery. For weeks on end. Was it months?

Then I forgot. I slipped out of my glorious orbit.

Now is the time of remembering. And recalculating. And renewing my commitment to shutdown.

Not just because I’m living the Creative Morning Challenge these days. Not just because I want more focus for our art gallery. It’s because family and home time has been compromised by my lack of boundaries.

Good fences make good neighbors, says Robert Frost in a poem. Strong boundaries make for strong relationships — and a happy Evan.

So much of the good life is remembering what worked — and then recommitting to it till it sticks.

I’m shutting down a couple hours late here . . . but not tomorrow. Ohhhh, not tomorrow!

I have an alarm set.



Note: Break from your work


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The note she has on her easel

The note she has on her easel reads:

Is this the best you can do?

If it isn’t, then it’s not done.

Artist Barrett Edwards lives this credo. Her studio is across the state of Florida from our gallery. A few days ago we drove to meet in the middle for an art exchange. Imagine how anticlimactic it was to discover we were only getting two paintings.

I’d driven for days! Well, an hour plus.

I’d be forced to dine at a tony restaurant nearby! On the gallery expense account.

The indignities were piling up. I might even be forced to take a nap to get over the ennui setting in.

Turns out Barrett had been working till late the night before on canvases she simply couldn’t release to me. When she asked herself if it was the best she could do, she knew it wasn’t.  So those will come another day.

My disappointment flipped into admiration in a nano moment. If only we all held back our lesser work!

(Those are her shoes by the way. Holding yourself to a higher standard doesn’t mean you can’t be impishly spirited too.)



Note: The multiplier


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Saying no, even to meaningful things

The most difficult things to say no to are those that are meaningful. A charitable event, time with a friend are examples.
When you say no for that day you can also say yes to a later date, when you won’t be so stretched.
Gregg McKeown, author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, claims you have not made a real decision about what is essential to your mission unless you have said no to something you value.
His premise: there are many good activities to devote your time to, but only someone who has clarified their vision knows what — among the many good — can be eliminated.
He goes further.
Until you make that hard-to-make decision to whittle away some of the decent activities in favor of the most significant, then you have not truly focused your life.
In that vein you’ll want to practice variations of “Thanks so much for the offer, but I can’t.”
No frees you.
No frees you up for your big Yes. In relationships, in your creative practice, in your bodily health, in your work hours.
If you want to make an impact, no frees you to your purpose.