Framing a Productive Day With Open Up + Shut Down Checklists


One of the ways we can establish a productive work day is to create a simple routine that we perform at the beginning and end of the day, every day. 

One great technique I started to use a few years ago is what I call an "Open Up / Shut Down Checklist." 

In a nutshell here’s how it works: I have a notecard on my desk that lists the 4-5 things I need to do every morning as soon as I get to the office, as well as the 4-5 things I need to do before I leave every night. I don’t start or end my day any other way--I always follow the checklist.

The concept is similar to warming up before you exercise and cooling down afterward. Having a routine in the morning allows you to smoothly transition yourself into work mode, and having one in the afternoon allows you to put a period on the end of the workday so you can walk away with confidence and unplug. 

What kinds of things should you put on the list? I'd suggest two categories:

  • First, tasks that prioritize planning. As I've mentioned in another post, planning is one of the most underutilized practice management tools for attorneys.

  • Second, tasks that emphasize something you want to prioritize throughout your day, like timekeeping. 

Here's an example of what my Open Up Checklist looked like when I was practicing:

  1. Review schedule for today + rest of week

  2. Review Master Case List (<---click here for how to create one)

  3. Identify daily “Deep Work” tasks (i.e., your “big tasks” that are the most important for you to accomplish and require the most thought and energy)

  4. Open timekeeping software

  5. Skim email + respond to urgent emails only

Other sample tasks could include meeting for 15 minutes with your assistant or supervising attorney, returning urgent phone calls, etc.

Notice that I don’t open email and start firing off responses until my planning for the day is complete, and even then I’m only responding to those that I Identify are “urgent.” If I start my day with emails, I’m going to get sucked into the never-ending email vortex and it’s much less likely that I will plan anything.

And here’s a sample of my Shut Down checklist:

  1. Skim email and respond to urgent emails only

  2. Review schedule for tomorrow + rest of the week

  3. Review Master Case List

  4. Enter all timekeeping (<--here's how you can build good timekeeping habits)

  5. You now have permission to go home with peace of mind 

Here's why this will be a game changer for you: An Open Up Checklist helps you get into a routine that sets you up for success for the day and addresses your most urgent and primary responsibilities first--instead of just knocking out the low hanging fruit. And having a Shut Down Checklist allows you to walk away with peace of mind that you know your schedule and that you're on top of your work. And maybe most importantly, it gives you permission to end the work day with confidence.