I wake up to music. My husband prefers the sound of crashing waves. My son likes woodland noises. My teenage daughter needs someone pounding on her door as her buzzer sounds.
To each their own, but how a morning begins is a personal choice.
What is not a choice for most of us is that the workday starts at a set time each morning. Clients, colleagues, and the pesky people who pay us expect to see our shining faces on time and ready to go.
Whether you are a morning person or not, you can maximize your productivity with a morning ritual.
A ritual is a series of actions that you regularly perform in a similar order, in similar situations. We all have them. I’m sure that you have a Getting Ready Ritual in which you engage as soon as your alarm sounds.
My Getting Ready Ritual is below.
Why are Rituals Important?
Rituals alleviate decision fatigue. If I had to stop after every step in my Getting Ready Ritual to ask myself, “What should I do next?”, badness would ensue. Not only would it take more time for me to get ready, but I would be exhausted from all the decisions. I would also be more likely to make an unproductive decision, such as picking up my phone and scrolling social media.
A Getting Ready Ritual is efficient, easy, and offers fewer opportunities for distraction. Rituals are a productivity tool at which most of us excel already. The trick is to apply rituals to other areas of our life and work.
Rituals vs. Habits
On a Venn Diagram, rituals and habits would overlap quite a bit. When I am working with coaching clients, I prefer to focus on developing rituals instead of habits.
The reason is that habits feel unconscious and out of our control. They’re not, but they feel that way. Launching new productivity systems as step-by-step rituals that we intentionally construct feels more empowering and “doable” from day one.
Rituals differ from habits in that rituals have an element of intent to them. We feel like we must wait patiently for a habit to become…well…a habit. Rituals, however, can be made into a checklist and scheduled on our calendars.
The Opening Ritual
What is your Opening Ritual once you get to work? Do you check email first thing? Do you greet coworkers? You have a ritual currently. The first step is to identify the things you are already doing.
Some steps of your current Opening Ritual are productive, and some are not. Once, I had a client who spent the first 90 minutes of every workday chatting for a few minutes with every person on his floor. One of the assistants confessed to hiding under her desk to avoid his visits because they interfered with her productivity.
Be honest with yourself and intentional about constructing a new Opening Ritual. Drop the time wasters and add productive behaviors.
Here are some tips for an effective Opening Ritual to begin the workday:
- Follow a predictable routine. Map out the first 30 – 60 minutes of your day. What do you need to do to start the day well and how much time should you allocate to each task?
- Avoid jumping into email. Once you open your inbox, you may be sucked into a whirlpool of others’ needs. Do this last.
- Minimize interruptions. Mute your phone and make sure your email notifications are off. Schedule morning huddles rather than interrupting others with the modern-day equivalent of MBWA (Management by Walking Around).
- Include productive tasks. Your Opening Ritual is a time to look at your calendar for the next few days, update your to-do list, note your top priorities for the day, clear off your desk, do some stretches, etc. Avoid tasks that steal your productivity and/or that of others.
- Use self-imposed rewards. If it is hard for you to stay on track with your morning ritual, choose some self-administered rewards for performing the less pleasant tasks. Maybe you decide to use your favorite coffee creamer only when you’ve finished your Opening Ritual.
BONUS TIP: Productive mornings start the evening before. Check out this article on effective Closing Rituals to learn more.
One of my clients added a 10-minute meditation to his opening ritual. Another client completed one page of a daily devotional. Your opening ritual can feed your spirit as well as your productivity.
Once you have constructed your Opening Ritual checklist, schedule it on your calendar for the first 30 minutes of each workday. Include the checklist in the notes section of the calendar entry to help you stay on track.
You don’t have to call it an “Opening Ritual” either. I’ve had clients label this appointment as:
- Start of Day
- Opening Ceremony (a fan of the Olympics)
- Let’s Get it Started (a party planner)
- …and many others
Your goal is to honor your Opening Ritual 80% of the time. You have not failed if you miss it from time to time. Perfection is not productive.
To summarize, the purpose of an Opening Ritual is to set your day up for success. Too often, the workday is a blur of emails, meetings, and other tasks. Avoid starting your days this way – you’ll have enough of that when the first email hits your inbox.
Are you ready to form productive habits that will change your work and life?
Read my eBook Establish Rituals…you deserve a few minutes of control.
Melissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) used to think that productivity was a result of working long hours. And, she worked a lot of hours. Then, she learned that productivity is a skill set, not a personality trait. Now, Melissa is a productivity expert who coaches and trains other businesspeople to be more focused, balanced, and effective. She is a prolific writer and speaker who travels the world helping people change how they work and improve how they live. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.
Oooh, the idea of labeling the morning routine makes me think that having an opening song for the ritual might be motivating. Think of how little kids start school with the Pledge (and maybe they still do My Country, ‘Tis of Thee the way my school did)? “Let’s Get It Started” is certainly a great idea, Melissa, but I bet having a few in rotation could really make that opening ritual a thriving success.
And thank you for reminding us about the drag decision fatigue can have on us. It makes a huge difference, and I think it takes away from our activation energy.
I feel a playlist coming on…
I love this post, Melissa! Your distinction between rituals and habits is so interesting- that “rituals have an element of intent.” And also how rituals help to alleviate decision fatigue. Your morning ritual diagram was also interesting. Like you, I have my waking up rituals, which include NOT rushing. I’d rather wake up early so that I have time to do all the things that help me ease into my day. After those, I’m ready to work.
Longtime subscriber here. This post and the ending ritual have helped tremendously over the years. They help the most when..I..do..them. I’m not the best at that, so I’m going to implement the favorite creamer/reward idea. Many thanks!
Excellent, Cheryl. I bribed myself through grad school reading with the reward of a Diet Coke. Now, I can’t stand the stuff, but then, it was heaven.