How having a meaningful ritual can improve your working day

Your alarm goes off. You turn it off. Count to ten. Stretch. Get up. Put the kettle on. Pat the dog. Have a shower. Make coffee. Turn on the news. Feel stressed. Turn off the news. Start work while drinking coffee.

Is that a daily ritual? Or is that just a routine?

The difference between a daily ritual and a routine

The difference between a daily ritual and a routine is how you think about it. It’s how you perceive your actions. Are they mundane chores that just need to be completed, or are they actions that bring meaning, learning or joy into your life? It’s all about your mindset.

And if, like many of my clients, you’re feeling bored right now and running out of motivation, shifting your mindset might also help you get through these next few months as we emerge from lockdown.

A daily routine is a series of tasks that you complete every day in the same order. For example getting up and going to work, stacking the dishwasher, brushing your teeth and getting the kids ready for school. A routine can feel mundane and boring because it’s something you have to do. You can complete your routines on autopilot. They might be efficient, but routines are not necessarily motivating or enjoyable. They are viewed as a chore.

A daily ritual is similar to a daily routine since they are also a series of tasks that are completed in the same order. But a daily ritual differs in its intention. Daily rituals are meaningful practices and are internally motivated. A daily ritual can provide energy and enjoyment along with efficiency and structure. A ritual is a carefully selected way of doing something that has a sense of purpose and a positive side effect in addition to the straightforward completion of the task.

In my last job, I used to get to the office early. I’d switch on my computer and while it was starting up, I’d put the kettle on. While the kettle was boiling, I’d log in and download my emails. Then I’d make my tea and make some porridge in the microwave. Then I’d go back to my desk and read my emails while drinking my tea and eating my porridge. When the porridge was finished, that’s when I kicked into work mode.

Was my series of tasks a daily ritual or just a routine?

It started out as a routine. Then I started to think about it and deliberately made it motivating. I bought a really lovely bowl for my porridge and beautiful cup for my tea. It started to become more pleasurable, meaningful and enjoyable. I reframed ‘getting through my emails’ to ‘mentally preparing for my day’. It was my quiet time. I found out much later that colleagues knew to leave me on my own until my porridge ritual was over!

There’s a balance to be found with routine and ritual. We’ll always have routines that we need to do to be efficient. There’s always stuff that simply needs to be done. But there’s a lot of value in finding routines, (or even parts of routines), that we can turn into rituals for the benefit of a better day.

Rituals can help us take the boredom or stress out of a regular activity, they can help us be more thoughtful, help us connect to our purpose and help us achieve our goals.

How to transform a routine into a ritual

The difference between a daily ritual and a routine is your subjective experience of the activity. While we may often associate rituals with religion or spirituality, I believe we can transform any routine into a ritual with the right attitude and perspective.

Positive affirmations – one very simple thing you can do is recite affirmations.

Affirmations are positive statements that can help you to challenge and overcome negative thoughts. Say them to yourself as a way of helping you to achieve a positive mindset.

For example, during my morning work ritual, I changed my internal dialogue to ‘I’m never going to get through all my work today’ to ‘I’m going to have a good day and get the important tasks done – and porridge time is where I prioritise what they are.’ This is just one way to turn something tedious into something more helpful.

Connect to a bigger purpose

Take a step back and see the bigger picture and purpose behind your daily routines, and how they improve your life as a whole. Connect to this by asking yourself ‘why is this important?’ And keep asking ‘why?’

Why is cleaning my teeth important? Because healthy teeth and gums mean I can eat what you want. Why is that important?

For a healthy diet. Why is that important? Because when I’m healthy I feel better and can do more which makes me happy.

This will add more meaning and help you view your routines as more of a ritual because you understand how they are helping you to achieve a bigger purpose.

Adding intentions

Rituals are the foundation upon which great work is completed. The difference between a daily routine and a daily ritual is intention.

What are the things that you do every day that you could add intention and purpose to and make into a daily ritual?

Pick one of your routines and think about how you can turn it from an autopilot mundane task to a more meaningful experience in your day. For me, I bought a cup and a bowl and shifted my mindset from getting through emails to something more positive to turn my morning routine into a ritual.

Think about the list below and pick one routine to start:

Getting up in morning.  What can you do as part of your morning ritual to get your day off to a positive start? Examples might be to spend 3 minutes being mindful or doing some stretches before you do anything else.

Going to bed. There is now a huge body of research on the benefits of a good nights sleep. Turn your going to bed routine into a ritual for better sleep.

Preparing breakfast. Another morning routine that you can turn into something more intentional and therefore a daily ritual.

Eating. Slow down and be mindful. Reframe a rushed lunch as fuel for your afternoon productivity. A great resource for mindful eating is Work Fuel: The Productivity Ninja Guide to Nutrition by Collette Heneghan and Graham Allcott

Walking places. Can you reframe the walking you have to do in your day, for example walking to the bus stop, the shop or walking the dog, as a ritual, not a chore?

Doing exercise. Turn dragging yourself to the gym or for a run into a positive experience. Tell yourself you can do this! Alternatively, if you absolutely hate the gym and can’t ever imagine finding positive purpose there, work out how to make exercise an enjoyable ritual. My solution was that I got a dog. You can check his Instagram out here.

Doing the weekly food shop. You’re not doing a chore, you’re fuelling you and your family for success.

Being grateful. A good way to reframe your mindset to a positive one is to make being grateful a daily ritual. At the end of the day, list the things that you are grateful for – big and small.

Taking a shower. A great place to think, practice mindfulness and notice how the water feels.

Cleaning your teeth. Are you cleaning your teeth or keeping your mouth healthy and fresh?

Cleaning. Is it a chore or an opportunity to disconnect from your day?

Making your daily ritual a success

Now you’ve started to think about it, I expect you have dozens of routines that you might choose to turn into daily rituals. What’s important is that you develop your rituals that add meaning and purpose to your day. As you’re working through this, there are three simple things to remember:

Prepare Your Environment

Creating environmental change has a dramatic impact on what you do. For example, if you set your running shoes out before you go to bed, you’re more likely to run in the morning. Get yourself really good coffee and a great cup if you’re turning your morning coffee into a ritual.

Small steps

We’re more likely to be able to form rituals if we start small. For example, if you have a goal to start running, don’t aim to run very far on day one. Start small and build up. The Couch to 5k app is an excellent example of this as it takes you from your couch to being able to run 5k in small steps in 9 weeks.

If you want to live a mindful life, start with one minute of sitting. If you want to spend more time outside, walk once around the block each morning.

Better done than perfect

Spending time every day changing routines to rituals doesn’t mean that you will end up with something perfect first time. Don’t give up. Keep practising. Find something that works for you and makes the routine more meaningful.

Bottom line

You are a unique individual with your own purpose and set of goals that you want to achieve. There’s not a right or wrong set of rituals to follow, the secret to success is identifying your daily routines that can be turned into the rituals that inspire and motivate you to achieve your set of goals.

Good luck!

A version of the blog was first posted at Life Hack. 

No wonder working from home can feel stressful

2020 was series of unexpected events. Corona virus has had an impact on everything. Our health and stress levels, how we live and how we work. Many of us have had to change and adapt to a new way of living and it’s unlikely that we’ll return to ‘normal’ any time soon – if ever.

Months of adapting to change can take its toll. Many of the teams I’m working with are feeling exhausted, anxious and stressed out.

We’re all different and this sort of constant change and feelings of uncertainty affect us all in different ways. It’s true that we’re all in the same storm and yes, we’re all in very different boats.

Whatever boat you’re in, a useful tool is being able to spot your signs of stress early and then do something about them to stop stress escalating.

For me, I know that when I’m feeling stressed or under pressure I get clumsy, I’m irritable and I can’t concentrate or focus on anything.

You may experience physical signals, for example, headaches, feeling tired all the time, shallow breathing or the feeling that you’re not getting enough air.

What are your stress signals? What are the things that happen to you that signal ‘uh oh I’m getting stressed’?

When I used to say I was feeling stressed, sometimes people would helpfully suggest that I drink a glass of water or go for a walk round the block. It would really wind me up because having a drink or a walk felt like such an over simplified remedy for how I was feeling.

Then I did some research about what was happening in our bodies when we’re experiencing stress.

It turns out, that when we feel threatened, whether physically, for example feeling on edge walking down a dark street at night, or mentally, for example, threatened that our reputation is at risk if we don’t make a looming deadline our nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones. These hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol prepare the body for emergency action. Your heart pounds faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens, and your senses become sharper. These physical changes increase your strength and stamina, and speed up your reaction time, preparing you to either fight or flee from the danger at hand. This was very useful for survival if we had to run from, or fight a wild animal. It’s less helpful if you need to think slowly and carefully about the best way to respond to a difficult email from a colleague or customer.

So when we notice early signs of stress, we need to act. We need to kerb the flood of hormones preparing us to fight or flee. This is about changing our state. Which is why, if you act as soon as you feel the stress rising by changing your state by doing something as simple as having a glass of water or having a chat with someone, it can help reduce feelings of stress.

Stress and working at home

So lets think about this stress response when you’re working in an office.

You’re already feeling the pressure of a deadline, the internet is running slow and everything is taking ages to download and then you get an annoying email from your boss. ‘Argh’, you think. Enough.

You decide that rather than fire back an immediate angry response to your boss, to get a cup of tea, and have a think before you reply. You get up and walk to the kitchen. On your way you pass Steve’s desk, you say hello and offer him a cup of tea while you’re making one for yourself. He says he’ll come with you because he needs to put his lunch in the microwave queue. So you go to the kitchen together and have a chat while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil. You head back to your desk feeling a whole lot better than when you left a few minutes before.

So without knowing it, your stress was rising and you stood up and changed your state, walked around and chatted with a colleague. By the time you’re back at your desk less than 10 minutes later your cortisol and adrenalin levels have reduced and you can think properly about how best to reply to the annoying email and get back to the pressing deadline.

In an office that’s how you reduce your stress and you often do it without even knowing it. When you’re at home on your own, you don’t have colleagues to chat to on the way to the kitchen, and so its easy for stress levels to escalate.

So when you’re working from home and managing your stress, it helps to be more deliberate then when you’re working in an office. Here’s our tips.

  1. Notice when your stress levels are rising – what are your early warning signs?
  2. Remember that your body is being flooded with cortisol and adrenaline and what you need to do is reduce the levels.
  3. You do this by changing your state which sounds complicated but the actions to do this are simple. We’re all different so you might need to experiment with what works best for you. Here’s some suggestions;
  • Stand up and stretch
  • Breath – slowly in and out for a few minutes
  • Get up and get a drink (preferably water, preferably not wine or gin)
  • Walk round the block
  • Walk round the lounge
  • Phone a friend
  • Water your plants
  • Make a fuss of the dog
  • Sing a song
  • Dance about

Let us know how you get on. And if you’d like more practical help to boost your resilience, confidence and creativity then join Charly White and me for a one day training on 9 February. More details and sign up here.

Why I don’t advise you to try…

A while ago I found an old diary that I used to keep as an early teenager, the one where I used to write down what was No1 on Top of the Pops together with things I wanted to buy when I had a job, as well as general thoughts. I think Adrian Mole might have inspired me. Although my diary was distinctly less interesting than Adrian Mole aged 13 and three quarters. I seemed to spend a lot of time with my friend Clare Chapman looking wistfully in Rumbelows window at clock radios.

My diary contained a list of New Year Resolutions. One of them was to ‘try and be nicer to my brother.’ Jon Gower I’m sorry. That was such a poor attempt and intention.

The bit I’m talking about here is this word ‘try’. 

Think about it. Your friend who is usually late says ‘I’ll try and be on time.’ You know they’ll probably be late. You agree to try to walk 10,000 steps a day. You’re probably going to fall short. You try to finish work on time and inevitably you end up working late again.

When I’m working with clients and I hear them say they’re going to ‘try’ my heart sinks. Because I know the likelihood of them achieving the thing is immediately lowered because of how they are talking about it and therefore approaching it.

The likelihood of them achieving the thing is lowered because of what happens when we say ‘try’. By saying you’re going to try you’re already sending your brain a signal that it’s OK not to achieve the thing. Your intention is to try – not to succeed.

Setting intention is important. There is a big difference between telling your brain you’re going to try and telling your brain you’re going to do it. Start with a positive intention. Tell yourself (and others – we’re more likely to succeed if we’re accountable to others) that you’re going to arrive on time, you’re going to walk 10,000 steps and that you’re going to leave work on time.

I don’t want to go all Yoda but he did have a point when he said ‘Do or do not, there is no try’.

When I challenge people on the use of ‘try’ one of the things that comes up is this notion of failure. That it’s OK to try and fail. I agree. It is. However you’re already signalling that a fail is likely by simply setting out to try. Commit to achieving. Then if you don’t manage it, then that’s OK. Changing anything is hard enough, so set yourself up with the best chance of succeeding by aiming to achieve not just to try.

If all you’re wanting to do is ‘try’, it’s probably worth a conversation with yourself about whether you really want to do the thing in the first place.

So the next time you set out to ‘try’. Have a word with yourself. Are you serious about achieving this thing? If no, then unpick that – why not? If yes, then set out to achieve it. If you set out with the intention to achieve it and then you don’t – then that’s OK.

At the Lucidity Network we ask people to set their intentions every single week. Because when we set an intention we’re more likely to have success. How we set our intention is important. Set out to achieve not just to try. If you’d like to join us and increase your chances of success – get in touch at lucy@lucidity.org.uk. 

Note* I am nice to my brother all the time.

Don’t feel guilty about taking an afternoon nap on a Tuesday

I love a nap in my working day. It’s not always possible. (for example when I’m running a training course or a strategy day!) However, now so many of us are working from home it does provide more opportunities for napping. And napping can help our focus and productivity.

When I first left a ‘proper job’ and started working for myself, I was thrown sideways by how hard I found it. I completely underestimated how much I’d miss my colleagues and having people to bounce ideas around with. I also found it really hard to focus and get the work done. That’s why I put in a lot of effort into testing different ways of working until I found the things that worked for me. My important findings were:

It doesn’t matter when you do the work as long as you deliver what has been agreed, on time and to a high standard. Humans are not designed to work from 9am to 5pm. This is a leftover from when a large number of the workforce worked on production lines when everyone had to be there at the same time in order for the thing to get made. Today, especially now so many of us are working from home there is flexibility to work the hours that better suit us. That might be working around childcare and family commitments as well as daylight hours and when we do our best work.

The time of day that you do different tasks can help your productivity. We all have cycles; times of day when we’re more alert and decisive, times when we’re more creative and times of day when stringing a sentence together feels like a struggle.

I’m definitely more productive and have better attention to detail early in the morning. That’s when I need to do the difficult stuff that I need to think about. By 2pm my brain is getting foggy and I shouldn’t be trusted to do or remember anything important. Later in the afternoon I perk up again and can often have a really productive few hours. There’s no point working late at night. I’d rather get some sleep and get up at 5am. The same piece of work that will take me 3 hours at 10pm, will take me an hour (and will be better quality) if I do it at 5am.

Naps help my productivity. I love a nap. My body clock is definitely geared to wake up early, get stuff done, have a mid afternoon nap, wake up do more stuff and then bed at a reasonable hour. I was pleased to discover that there is much research showing the health benefits of naps. They can improve cognitive performance as well as boost mental and physical health. Naps help us to stay alert, can reduce stress, and we’re more productive as a result. There’s even such a thing as a nappuccino. (Coffee before a nap. For full details download the step-by-step guide to the perfect nap here)

Often when I’m running sessions with teams about establishing habits for happy and productive flexible working, including naps and working different hours, the topic of guilt emerges.

I hear things like ‘If I’m not at my desk from 9-5 I feel guilty.’ or ‘I’d feel too guilty to nap’ or ‘I feel guilty if I don’t answer my email straight away’

Is guilt healthy or unhealthy?

Guilt can be healthy. Feelings of guilt can motivate you to live according to your values, which, in turn, can improve your relationships with others, since you’re more likely to treat them as you would wish to be treated. However, unnecessary feelings of guilt can be unhelpful or even harmful to your quality of working life.

If the thought of working different hours or taking naps in your working day sparks feelings of guilt keep reading. Below are some tips to help you tackle these feelings. It will take practice and deliberate re-thinking to change entrenched patterns of guilt. Be patient with yourself and your team. Remember flexible working is here to stay and for it to be a happy and productive experience the best time to tackle any guilt about working flexibly is now.

Be direct and get more information. Ask your colleagues and manager whether it matters when you work. If you’re part of a team it’s important to agree and communicate when your working hours are. Good use of an out of office responder or a line in your email signature to let people know when you’re there and when you’re not can help manage expectations too.

Napping has been proven to increase productivity. Rather than pushing yourself through the brain fog, a better use of your time is to take a nap and return refreshed and more alert. It will make you more productive. Have a go at reframing a nap as a productivity hack.

Challenge your expectations of yourself Consider whether you have a tendency to expect too much from yourself. Then, think about how an outside observer would view the situation. What would an outsider say?

Think how you’d see things if the roles were reversed. What would you think if your colleague said they were going to nap between 2 and 3 each day and work an hour more at the start or the end of the day? We often find it easy to be compassionate and understanding with others but are too harsh on ourselves. By deliberately taking the other person’s perspective, you’ll likely see your situation in a more objective light.

Look for the evidence. If you feel guilty not working the conventional 9-5 because you’re feeling that you’re ‘not doing enough’ or feel that others will think you’re not doing enough, list all the things that you’ve delivered on at work. Will working different hours make any impact on your ability to deliver?

Give yourself permission. Or if you manage a team, explicitly give your team permission (or you could even set it as a task) to figure out when they are most productive, when they are least productive and when a nap would be beneficial. Experiment to find the working patterns that work best for you. Agree them with your team and ensure everyone knows. This manages expectations and reduces feelings of guilt.

Working flexibly is here to stay. It’s a big shift in mind-set for everyone. It’s important that we look after ourselves and each other. Rest when we’re tired, work when we’re at our best and nap when we need to.

If you’d like help to ensure that your team is happy, productive and guilt free in their flexible working life, drop me a line at lucy@lucidity.org.uk.

Tips to get the best from your team when working remotely

Working remotely is here to stay and it brings with it a mix of opportunities and challenges. It means saving time and money on commuting, being home to meet the kids from school and with the right leadership and culture, the flexibility to work at the time of day when you’re at your best.

There’s a definite downside though.

Boundaries between home and work are easily blurred when your desk is the kitchen table. It can be difficult to switch off when work and home are the same places. Many of us can feel that life is all work with no space to really switch off, and this plays havoc with our personal life and our wellbeing.

If you don’t have the right leadership and culture, that genuinely allows you the flexibility to choose when you work and when you take time away from your desk to recharge, working from home can take it’s toll.

Life might feel more uncertain than usual right now. Human beings crave certainty and want to feel safe. When we don’t feel safe, our anxiety and stress levels rise and fear takes over.

I see fear playing out in different ways in pandemic working life. Some of the behaviours that might feel manageable in an office become unmanageable when working from home on your own without regular in person contact.

Micro management – it can make us feel in control and reduce the anxiety associated with uncertainty when we micro manage. However if you’ve ever been micro managed you’ll know that it feels horrible. You feel like you’re not trusted. It can knock your confidence and make you feel constantly on edge. No one does their best work in a constant state of edginess.

Always working – feeling like we have to be at our desk all the time to show we’re working. Fearing that if we’re not perceived to be working really hard that we’ll be at the top of the list when it comes to redundancies.

A friend who works in people development was telling me about an email they sent to all employees to tackle the problem that many people were feeling. Employees felt that they had to work all the hours. Their email highlighted that working hours were 9-5 Monday to Friday and there was no requirement for people to be working weekends. It highlighted email etiquette of not sending emails out of hours and if you did receive an out of hours email not feeling the need to respond. They forgot themselves and sent the email on a Saturday night.

Rising stress and anxiety – many people find working from home isolating and stressful. When we’re feeling stressed out or anxious we go into fight, flight or freeze mode. We can’t think straight. It’s often described as a feeling of ‘brain fog’ which leaves us incapable of focusing on any one thing for long.

How to overcome fears and have a happier life when working remotely

Trust your people that when working remotely that they’re doing their best. If you don’t trust your people – the problem isn’t that you’re all working remotely, the problem is lack of trust.

Everyone is different – in terms of what support they need when working from home and when they do their best work. Have an individual chat with each person in your team to understand what they need from you to work from home successfully.

Give permission to not have to be at a desk from 9am – 5pm. Especially right now in the UK with less hours of daylight. Is there a reason not to work early in the morning, have a chunk of time off in the day in the daylight and finish up later in the afternoon or evening? As long as the work is done does it matter when or, on the topic of micro management, how?

Emails – if people are working flexible hours it might not be about not sending emails outside of core hours but more around communication and expectations. For example, if you choose to work in the morning, take the afternoon off and work again in the evening you’ll likely be sending emails after 5pm. It’s more about letting people know that you don’t expect a reply until they are working again.

It’s not just about work – allow time for those casual chats that build relationships. For example, allow some time at the beginning of a meeting for informal chats, or build in travel time to Zoom meetings to allow for human conversations.

Lead by example – model the behaviour you want to see in your team. Help people find heir way. Remember everyone is likely to struggle at some point when working from home. Be kind, look for signs of stress (like if someone says they have ‘brain fog’) and help if you can.

If managing the current uncertainty is something you’re grappling with,  I recorded a training inside my membership – The Lucidity Network. If you join the Lucidity Network today, you’ll have access to the recording of this hour-long training with Caroline Doran, founder at Deliver Grow, and also get access to over 30 webinar training (from dealing with imposter syndrome to boosting your confidence at work or improving your memory). In this specific webinar, we discussed practical tips to help you manage uncertainty. Join today and find this training in the training archive!

Join the Lucidity Network today!