Could adopting workday rituals enhance your productivity?

From setting aside time for focused thinking to enjoying a morning workout, workday rituals could reduce your stress levels, boost your happiness and help you work more effectively

In any article on the habits of highly successful people, you’re bound to find the word ‘ritual’. Movie stars and entrepreneurs are famed (and often ridiculed) for their daily rites, whether these involve ‘vampire facials’, drinking ‘brain octane oil’ or eating food of only one colour.

However, personal rituals aren’t new. Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the USA, apparently took an ‘air bath’ every morning. This meant spending an hour completely naked, sometimes writing but on other days just sitting and thinking.

On the other side of the pond, the UK’s wartime prime minister Winston Churchill was well known for observing a strict (if alcohol-soaked) self-care routine. This included a non-negotiable 5pm whisky, followed by a 90-minute nap, which would enable him to work into the night.

While you may think of your morning coffee or daily website scrolling as rituals, it could be that these are merely habits. According to Tonya Dalton, productivity expert and author of The Joy of Missing Out, “If routines are about a series of actions or things we need to get done, then rituals are actions with meaning or emotion attached to them.” Mindlessly scanning Twitter while necking a latte isn’t a true ritual, then, even if you do it every day.

But by not incorporating real rituals into our lives, Dalton says we could be hampering our own productivity. “Rituals are a useful tool because they help us transition from one activity to another,” she explains. When we fully engage in rituals, we unlock what Dalton calls “unconscious competence”: a sense of flow, where creativity comes naturally. With our minds in this state, it’s easier to come up with good ideas and do our best work.

Keen to give rituals a try? Here are some tips to help you get started.

Win the morning, win the day

“If you win the morning, you win the day,” says Tim Ferriss, author of Tools of Titans and host of The Tim Ferriss Show. For his book, Ferriss interviewed hundreds of highly successful people to identify the rituals that they deemed important – many of which took place in the morning.

They included everything from careful bed-making to meditating and drinking ‘titanium tea’, but what united the rituals was their emotive quality.

As Dalton argues, the difference between a ritual and a habit is the feeling that underpins it. Therefore, while putting on a pot of coffee and unloading the dishwasher every morning is a useful routine, it lacks the emotional impact to quality as a ritual.

Conversely, something as simple as drinking tea from your favourite mug while listening to a podcast or radio show can help set you up for the day. Likewise, engaging in exercise that makes you feel good or taking a shower with pampering products will boost your mood and readiness for work.

The trick to establishing your own morning rituals may be to weave in more ‘me time’, carving out a little calm alongside completing domestic tasks. It’s no surprise that many of Ferriss’s subjects are early risers – though it’s fair to say that 5am workouts aren’t for everyone.

Setting your intention for the day can also be connected with where you choose to be based. In the new world of hybrid working, many firms are giving their people the freedom to spend some time at the company HQ, some time at home and some time at a nearby flexible workspace, such as a Spaces location. While the office might be ideal for collaboration and creative work, your local Spaces might provide the perfect atmosphere for concentrating on writing a paper or preparing a budget.

Take time out for focused thinking

Highly successful people also tend to engage in regular thinking rituals. Producing ‘morning pages’ (which are written immediately upon rising) and night-time journalling are popular, especially among those in creative industries.

Taking time out for focused thinking is something everyone can try. From a personal perspective, regularly checking in with your feelings, thoughts and ambitions can boost your mood, support better mental health and improve decision-making.

To boost your professional productivity, why not commit to spending 10 or 15 minutes a day reflecting on your work, assessing current projects and considering future targets? While reviewing your to-do list can feel like procrastination, it’s vital if you want to plan how to spend your time wisely.

Identifying where tasks sit on the urgent and important matrix and using time-blocking to manage your diary will help you to feel in control – not to mention make hitting deadlines easier.

Space and time for thinking, of course, often feel as if they’re at a premium, especially while working from home and managing family life alongside work commitments.

Spending time at a local flexible workspace can provide vital peace and quiet, as well as a professional setup that’s conducive to concentration.

Build in regular ‘water cooler’ breaks

According to Deloitte Insights’ annual Global Human Capital Trends report, 93% of companies agree that cultivating a deep sense of belonging improves employees’ performance. “Bond with your coworkers,” says Meg Driscoll, owner of PR agency EvolveMKD and Female Entrepreneur of the Year at the Stevie Awards for Women in Business. “When you really know people, you have a better sense of how to communicate with them so you work better together,” she adds.

However, it can be difficult to create a sense of belonging when you have a distributed workforce. Regular digital get-togethers and ‘water cooler’ meet-ups at a local coworking space are rituals that can build trust, helping to nurture good team relationships.

During periods of focused work, make sure you take regular breaks for a stroll, a glass of water or a chat with a family member by trying the Pomodoro Technique.

Envisage your ideal end-of-day

Finally, how you end the day is just as important as how you start it. Daniel Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, suggests creating a daily ritual to mark the end of the working day.

An end-of-day ritual can support a sense of accomplishment, but also set you up for a relaxing night – and a more motivated morning the next day.

At home, you’ll need to create a ritual that clearly demarcates ‘office’ and ‘home’ time in order to avoid work encroaching on your evening. If you’re working in a Spaces location, your close-down practice could include clearing your desk, writing a to-do list for tomorrow and reviewing the work you’ve achieved that day.

Enjoy this? You might also like these Spaces magazine stories:

Desk-scaping: how to curate your workspace for enhanced productivity

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