Productivity Rituals

Gears Turning

Sometimes when we want to find more efficient ways of getting things done, we’re searching for a shiny new productivity tip. Sometimes that’s even what we need. But most of the time those shiny new tips need to become routine rituals before they do any good. Using Power.ME needs to become second nature before you can really manage your whole life with it; David Allen’s GTD only clears your mind if the system becomes so normal that you don’t think about it anymore.

Essentially, you don’t need tips: you need rituals.

A productivity ritual is, according to me, a consciously created habit that takes place on a regular basis to increase your day-to-day output. It’s a choice you make every day until it’s not a choice anymore: it’s natural.

Why are these productivity rituals important? Mostly so you can stop thinking about being productive and instead just produce. If you can stop thinking about the things you’re trying to do to make your life more efficient, you can start thinking about your life. By limiting the choices you consciously make in a day—what to work on, when to go to bed, what to eat—you leave more mental power for other choices. You free up your creative juices so you can apply them to your work instead of your routine.

Making something a ritual also means that once you’ve found something (like a tip) that works, you can keep it working. If getting up early increases your productivity, keep making the decision to wake up early until it’s not a decision anymore: it’s just when you wake up.

Your productivity rituals may start imposing restrictions on your day-to-day (if you wake up early every day, you can’t stay up late and still be fully functional, etc.). But these restrictions in and of themselves can increase your problem-solving creativity. If you need to go to bed early, you have to find a different solution to getting your projects completed than staying up until all hours of the night—which probably wasn’t a good solution anyway. By eliminating bad solutions, you’re forced to create great ones.

So you know you need some rituals, but what rituals should you have? Everyone’s rituals are going to differ. Your circumstances and needs are going to dictate which rituals you need (and if you’re trying to increase your flexibility, you may need to tweak some you already have). But here are three rituals to try:

  • Start the day with your most important project. Decide before you go to bed what your most important project is for the next day and make that your first task. You might even make it your only task, and figure out other things to do after you’ve completed that one important project.
  • Go to bed at a regular time. Ending work and worry at the same time every day can help you parse your time better and manage your workflow. Set up a regular bed time and have a regular go-to-bed ritual to help you fall asleep. Dim the lights for a half hour to an hour before crawling between the covers and avoid using backlit screens right before sleeping (eInk screens are much better for pre-sleep use). Creating a true twilight before you turn in will help your brain know it’s time to wind down.
  • Plan your meals ahead and eat at the same time. If you plan your meals in advance, you don’t have to waste mental power on choosing your food for the day. This can be particularly helpful if you either plan and pack your lunch before going to work or decide where you’ll go to get it before you leave home. Your time at work can then be spared your indecision over Indian food versus sub sandwiches. You could even create a rotating ritual so Mondays you eat Indian, Tuesdays sub sandwiches, etc.
    • Ritualizing the mundane, basic parts of your routine will free up your mind to focus on the dynamic and intriguing aspects of your day.

      Image by Michelle Meiklejohn via

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