Beth Kanter has an excellent post up on 7 Tips to Help you Focus in the Age of Distraction. (Be sure to check out the gorgeous mindmap that accompanies the post!)
One of her suggestions is to establish rituals in your work life. Rituals provide structure and intent. They can keep us organized and focused and also soothe anxieties and frustrations.
Habits vs. Rituals
I think it's helpful to differentiate between a habit and a ritual. To me, a habit is something that I do unconsciously, automatically, with little thought. When I get into my car, the first thing I do is put on my seatbelt. It's something I do without thinking. That's a habit.
A ritual, though, is something done with consciousness and intent. There's a mindful quality to it that raises that activity from the level of unconscious action into something deeper and more considered. Ritual is about taking a moment and honoring the activity. Rituals energize. It's the intention behind rituals that makes them so powerful.
This distinction is important to remember in establishing rituals for yourself. Being mindful about what you are doing provides the power for your rituals to ground you in your life.
Last week I wrote about using the first hour of your day for professional development. This can be an excellent daily ritual with which to launch your day. Some other rituals to consider:
- Try starting your day by reflecting on one or more of these positive questions.
- Consider one of your personal values--what's important to you? Each morning think of one activity you will do that day to demonstrate or feel that value in your life. If, for example, you value "community," what will you do to that day to support or build community at work? If you value "creativity," how will you express creativity today?
- Each day, look at your "to do" list. Which item on that list is the most important thing for you to accomplish today? Reflect on WHY it's important for you to accomplish that task. Make sure you do that item first.
- End your day with a One Sentence journal entry.
- "Do something every day that you don't want to do; this is the golden rule for acquiring the habit of doing your duty without pain." (This is a quote I have over my desk, but I'm not sure where it came from.) I've found it helpful to reflect on WHY I don't want to do this particular thing. It gives me insight into what's going on in my life.
- Check out the daily rituals of these 25 Famous Thinkers. There may be some ideas in here that inspire you.
While daily rituals can help us stay in the moment of particular days, weekly rituals can give us a somewhat longer view and help us consolidate our daily experiences. Some weekly rituals to try:
- Ask yourself one or more of these questions every Sunday.
- Who has contributed the most to your learning this week? Who has helped you grow and develop? Take a few minutes to reflect on this and then send them an email, give them a call or in some way reach out to them to identify how they helped you and thank them for their contribution to your development.
- Use these questions to debrief yourself on the week's events.
- Identify the best moments of your week. What do you want more of in the coming week? How can you get more of this? What activities, etc. could you engage in? Then implement your plan.
- What was the most significant event that occurred this week? Take the time to think about the story of this event and why it is significant to you. What can you learn from this event for the following week?
- Once a week, have lunch with a colleague (or several colleagues) to discuss professional development. Maybe do a lunch and learn or discuss particular challenges you've faced during the week.
- Start a career journal. Work with it once a week to being laying out and monitoring your personal career plan.
Quarterly and Yearly Rituals
From a career and professional development perspective, there is a need to periodically take an even longer step back and do some reflective work. Some good rituals to consider include:
- Taking a One-Day Sabbatical--this is an excellent activity to do every quarter if possible. If not, a few times a year, at least. If you do a sabbatical only once a year, consider taking a few days for yourself. This is also something you might want to consider doing with a few like-minded colleagues, making space for both reflection and conversations.
- Creating a Personal Strategic Plan--Decide where you want to go in the next several months and how you will get there. Every quarter, look at the progress you've made and make revisions to your plan.
- Conducting a Year-End Review--Sarah Susanka, author of The Not So Big Life, has an excellent process for conducting a year-end review. Typically you would do this in December, but I've also known people who conduct a review in August, using the academic calendar as their guide.
Rituals can energize and transform your life. They provide structure and intent and a space for you to be more mindful in achieving your goals.
What rituals do you include in your work life? Which have been the most valuable and beneficial to you? I'd love to hear from you in comments!