A very cute yoga teacher I once met at a conference told me that the reason he did the same Ashtanga practice day after day was that it helped him make sense of his day. For that hour and a half, he knew exactly what he would be doing, and that ritual – or routine – helped him deal with all the unpredictability that happens in daily life.
For myself, I tend to get bored with the same yoga practice over and over. I also find it difficult to carve out an hour and half for yoga on a daily basis, although half an hour is often doable. But I do find beauty in ritual, and lately, as I explore different ways to be more productive in my various pursuits, I’ve been thinking on the topic of rituals and looking at ways to incorporate a little bit more predictability into my day.
Here, in no particular order, are some of my personal rituals. Some are brand new (as in, the last few weeks); some I’ve had for years.
1. Do some exercise that you enjoy first thing in the morning.
For a few years, I was into going to the gym. I was on a weight loss path, and worked for myself, so I’d go around 2pm after I’d had a chance to get some work done and work out. While it was nice, and being there at 2pm meant that I didn’t have to deal with the gym being too crowded, I found that even short workouts would automatically suck anywhere from an hour and a half to three hours out of my day, depending on what I did. Given that afternoons tend to be much more productive for me (I’m useless with client work before noon, but after lunch I’m a rockstar), this really wasn’t good for business.
So, no more gym for me. I wake up at 7:30ish, have a bit of breakfast with my fiancé, and we go out together for a walk or a run in our neighborhood. On some days, I wake up earlier and do half an hour of yoga before we do it. On others, I do 10 minutes of meditation afterwards with the help of an Android App called Just Sit. It’s a very simple meditation timer that lets you set a prep time and a meditation time, and gives you a little ding before and after your practice. As someone who chronically watches the clock while she’s meditating, it’s amazing how much easier it is to actually sit there for 10 minutes when you know a gong’s going to be going off.
2. Work on personal projects first – but set a time limit.
I can’t take complete credit for this advice. Mark McGuinness, an author and productivity consultant for creatives, mentions this advice both in his recent article for the 99 Percent, and in his very interesting and mercifully short e-book on time management for creative types. It’s advice that, when you’re running a business and balancing a constant influx of both current work and new business requests, is easy to ignore.
But frankly, many of the “personal projects” that designers and other creative types take on are projects that actually help us get work – they keep us flexible, keep our skillsets sharp, and help us avoid the burnout that so often comes with being in creative professions. So, I have a deal with myself. Before lunch, I only work on personal projects, and I don’t do it in the office. Currently, I’m redesigning my personal blog, and working on a few different articles and post ideas that have been lurking in my brain. But around 11am, I head out from wherever I am and head into work, have a bit of a nibble, and take stock of that day’s Action Items and dive in.
3. Take time with your morning coffee.
Every morning that I work from home, I grind coffee beans with a pinch of cardamom seeds and a dash of cinnamon. Then I take a shower while the coffee is brewing, and after getting dressed, I have a cup with cream while I read a book. On days when I go into my office downtown, I sit at my favorite café on Newbury Street, with no internet access, and have a cup of coffee while I work on my personal projects.
While there’s a lot that can be said about the danger of stimulants, and coffee’s addictive qualities, it’s amazing to me how much I’ve come to look forward to this small ritual. This one tiny moment of spending time with myself, unencumbered by anything that I have to do for someone else, has made huge difference in my day and my ability to do my job effectively. It doesn’t have to be coffee, either. It could be tea, or hot water with lemon. Just don’t make it soda. You can’t savor a Mountain Dew.
My point here is that rituals don’t necessarily have to be this big intense thing that you do. You don’t need hours, you just need minutes. But the key is to make those minutes count, and make those minutes yours.