Life is full of external experiences, professional and personal, that can influence us, our emotions, and the experience of our day. But you have the opportunity to create personal rituals, and to understand your personal rhythms, to create flow in your life. Working in flow, to me, means doing the things we need to be doing with less strain and resistance… and gives us a greater feeling of meaning, stability, and groundedness.
When we have this flow engaged, that flow creates mental ease.
I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all solution to the perfect rhythm and set of rituals – in fact, quite the opposite. I believe that you can create personalized rituals and need to understand your rhythms to find your own state of flow.
What is Rhythm? Rhythm is a strong, regular, repeated pattern.
What is a Ritual? Rituals are a series of actions performed in a prescribed, personal order.
What is Flow? Flow is movement, going from one place to another in a steady stream.
To me, rhythm, ritual, and flow are different from routines, which instead are fixed programs that can sometimes feel limiting, constraining, and, if not consciously managed, can lead to getting stuck in a rut.
Working in flow: Rituals Create Emotional Connection
Sociologist Robert Wuthnow says that rituals are any actions or events that have symbolic meaning beyond their instrumental value.
James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, says, “Rituals are an on-ramp for your behaviour… It makes starting your habits easier and that means following through on a consistent basis is easier.”
Think of a ritual as something that is done in preparation for an action. A great place to start might be a morning or evening ritual in preparation for the start and end of your day.
Personally, I love a good morning ritual that has me starting the day mindfully, and ends in moving myself to my home office. It puts me in a good mental space to begin my workday.
For me, this involves having coffee in a favorite mug, drinking a smoothie, and journaling for 20-minutes to clear my mind (stream of consciousness style – a practice I learned from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way). Once I’m done journaling, I bring my journal and pen into my office, set them down in their spot, and turn on my computer. This series of actions has come to signal the start of my workday, and I arrive at my computer more grounded and present than I do without this ritual.
For clients of mine who have young children that they need to get out of the house and over to daycare or school, mornings are a bit more chaotic. Rituals for the time between drop off and arriving at their desks have proven to be helpful. It could be a playlist, a podcast, a café nearby where you can pick up a favorite muffin. The idea is to find a series of enjoyable actions that signal the transition between drop off and your workday.
A morning ritual is one example. Think about the other rituals you can create for yourself – another fundamental example is a pre-bedtime ritual so that you are then in the mental space to have a good night’s rest.
A special note to leaders: consider rituals with your team to open or close the week, meetings, or projects. Embracing rituals tends to improve engagement, stress levels and, ultimately, performance.
It’s all about mental ease. A ritual puts us in the right mental space, signaling transitions throughout the day and setting us up for the next set of behaviours and actions.
Working in flow: Finding your personal rhythm
When it comes to rhythm, I think it’s all about considering tasks, or times in the day, that might feel less ease-ful for you. These tasks and times may benefit from establishing rhythms within your day.
Rhythm is about managing energy, not time. As you start to look for your personal rhythm, consider your day as a whole: what times are you better suited to complete certain tasks?
An article from Harvard Business Review that discusses productivity and performance, highlights, “…human beings perform best and are most productive when they alternate between periods of intense focus and intermittent renewal.”
I, personally, have found it transformational to work in 90-minute focused blocks, followed by 15 minute breaks. I’m also more creative in the morning, so I do my best to reserve a 90-minute block in the morning for more creative work. I know for a fact that my output is significantly better than when I attempted to power through in longer blocks, or allowed myself to get distracted when working on a task.
To uncover your own personal rhythm, try blocking specific parts of your day for specific tasks, depending on what works best for you. Or, working in 1.5-hour focus blocks, and then taking a 15-minute break. Assess and see what rhythms lead to your best results.
The idea here is to see what works for you – getting to know your own constitution and ways of working that are optimal for you.
A special note for leaders: consider the rhythm of your business and of your team. Identify both busy and down periods in the annual work cycle. Use those rhythms to determine ideal times of the year for certain activities.
By creating rituals, and identifying your rhythms, you can work in more of a flow state – where you can move more effortlessly, with more mental ease and less strain through your day.
Why not begin with a Sunday evening ritual? My Sunday e-newsletter provides weekly reflection questions for you to start your week with intention. Head over to agencytochange.com and sign up to become an insider (it’s complimentary content).