How Rituals and Routines Boost Your Productivity

How much impact do our daily routines have on us, really? Routines affect our productivity for the day and even how we progress in our careers. They affect our physical health, mood and our overall wellbeing. “We are what we repeatedly do,” is an often heard slogan. But is it true? Research shows that habits fuel around 40% of what we do every day. Habits are those unconscious schedules that we’ve accumulated over time.

Most of us play different roles at different times of the day. In the morning we may be a graphic designer, in the afternoon we may be a dad picking up his kids from school. Our routines and rituals are what help us to transition smoothly between these roles as well as between different tasks.


So, what is the difference between ritual and routine? Well, they are similar to each other. Routine tries to control and manage the confusion of everyday life. It contains the chaos and apportions time slots for each task. Ritual, on the other hand, seeks to infuse mundane, everyday happenings with a hint of wonder. Routine structures our day, and this calms and comforts us. Ritual creates special moments in the day that keep us motivated.


Is there a place for routine and ritual in the modern office? Is it possible to use them to maximise our productivity and achieve a more significant amount of meaningful work? We believe the answer to these questions is a resounding "Yes!"


Create a Routine That Motivates You


The first step is to have a look at your routines. Basically, a routine is an action that you repeat at the same time each day. Begin your day with a morning routine. It starts with waking up at a time that’s most in tune with your body clock. Don’t try and haul yourself out of bed at 5 am if you’re not a morning person.


Our morning routine is made up of the actions we take on waking up. For example, we might have coffee, do twenty minutes of yoga, shower, read the news, then eat breakfast. Ideally, your morning routine should focus you on the coming work day and provide you with the energy and motivation to get moving. Your evening routine, on the other hand, should help you relax and disengage from work.


The exact structure of your routine isn’t what is important. The main thing is that you have one. All of us have routines but we don’t all purposely arrange them in a way that maximises our use of time. Many people erroneously think that copying the same routine as a successful business person or entrepreneur will cause them to become just as successful.


Of course, while you can learn from such leaders, following the same schedule is no guarantee that it will work for you. For instance, just because Bill Gates gets seven hours of sleep a night doesn’t mean that you have to. The daily routine that will be most successful for you will fit your own personality and natural energy flows.


Schedule the bulk of your work to be done when you are most alert. Ensure that during this time you keep away from being interrupted or distracted as much as possible. Try to schedule meetings for other times. Use this time when your energy levels are naturally at a peak to get the maximum amount of work done.


Use Rituals to Shift Attention


Routines are valuable for keeping us on track, but they don’t really help us to switch seamlessly between tasks. The reason is a phenomenon called Attention Residue. When we change tasks, a portion of our attention stays fastened onto the task we were previously busy with, and a ritual can help us refocus.


Rituals are a way of formally saying, “I’ve finished working on this job now. It’s time to begin the next one.” Ritual behaviours are instilled with a deeper meaning in the same way that simple family traditions communicate a moment of deeper meaning that we consciously, or subconsciously recognise.


To make rituals work for you, identify the main times in your workday when you switch tasks. Perhaps there’s a time where you need to change over from typing spreadsheets to having a meeting with a client. Mentally, these are very different processes. You need a means of disconnecting from the words on the document to engaging on a personal level. To facilitate this switch, you can create a ritual. For instance, you could close your laptop.


This can be a personalised, symbolic gesture. Perhaps having a cup of coffee between the tasks can help with the transition. For others, a walk down the passage and back will be the ritual of choice.


Famous Rituals


To show you that it really doesn’t matter what the ritual is, we’ve collected a few from famous entrepreneurs and leaders over the years. Many athletes perform rituals before competing. For instance, Valentino Rossi kneels next to his bike and talks to it before a race. The All Blacks do the Haka, a Maori war dance, before a rugby game.


Winston Churchill used to have a late afternoon siesta to create a separation between his morning and evening work. He asserted that this habit meant that he could do a day and a half’s work in twenty-four hours.


Stephen King, the author, creates an environment that’s conducive for work, in the same way, each day. He has something to drink, takes a vitamin tablet, puts music on, and sits in the same chair to work. He says that the cumulated effect of these rituals gets his mind focused and ready to work.


Power Your Day


Without a set routine and rituals to punctuate it, the day can easily slide by without our having got anything done. Routines help us to feel that we are the masters of our time. Rituals, even if they’re the simplest of actions, ensure that we stick to these plans and remain motivated and productive throughout the day.

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