Rituals and routines are everywhere. We see them throughout our lives—the way we marry, give birth, and even grieve losses. You can see them in the little things too; pinky promises, New Year’s resolutions, holidays, religious services, and athletic matches. The distinction between a ritual and a routine is the meaning that becomes attached to ritual. Your morning routine could be wake up, eat, exercise, shower, get dressed, and settle in for work. Your morning ritual could be meditating after exercise. When working in an office, many routines are determined for you. For instance, you must get to work at 8:00, or your team always has a team meeting twice a week, or you always make small talk with your coworker sitting next to you. When working from home, the pressure of creating rituals and routine for yourself is pretty much solely up to you. With no stimuli to interact with or enforced structure to be affected by and work within, you are left to create everything absolutely from scratch. This is an amazing opportunity! It is also difficult. But structure is the key to creativity and freedom; without it, you may have a hard time getting through your work day after day.

Why Are Ritual and Routine Important?

Psychologically speaking, both ritual and routine are beneficial to your confidence, anxiety levels, and productivity. By performing routines, we free up mental space to focus on only the most important things that require our undivided attention—like career choices rather than what to wear each morning. Studies have shown that however silly a ritual may seem, it probably actually works. In one study, participants performed a motor dexterity task. Some participants were told, “I’ll cross fingers for you!” before starting while others were simply instructed to begin. This simple superstitious phrase enhanced confidence and improved performance in those who heard it before starting. Routines and rituals not only give you confidence and motivation, but they can also mitigate losses. Another study included inviting participants into a laboratory to submit themselves for a $200 lottery drawing. The researchers instructed the participants to reflect on how they could use that money. When the winner was drawn, the remaining participants were split into two groups. Both groups were asked to draw how they felt after losing, but one group was asked to engage in a series of strange tasks after finishing their drawing (like pouring salt on the paper, counting to ten in their head, and then ripping up the paper.) Afterwards, they asked each group who didn’t win to express their level of grief. The participants who had engaged in the rituals, expressed less grief at the prospect of losing than those who didn’t engage in the rituals. This suggests that ritual and routine not only mitigate grief with profound losses, like death, but also with more mundane ones, like losing the lottery.

How Does This All Relate to Me Working From Home?

Let’s say there are two kinds of rituals: productivity rituals and superstitious rituals. Productivity rituals are those done with the goal in mind of self care and health. These may be things like your morning jog, your afternoon meditation, or your self check-in after lunch. Superstitious rituals are those that done with the intent to secure a positive or desired outcome to a situation. Perhaps before those big conference calls, you always do a stretch and sing your favorite song at the top of your lungs. Or before submitting work to a new client, you jump up and down and shake your whole body. Whatever you do, it’s helpful and it’s working. Trust it. Both types of ritual are important as one will help you churn out more work as the other will increase both the quality of that work and your overall satisfaction. When you feel yourself getting sucked down that tunnel of, “I’m not making any progress” or “There’s zero chance I will finish any of this work.” Stop. Examine. Listen to yourself. What do you need in those moments to pull yourself back on top of the world? Is it taking a total break and looping one of your self soothing rituals? Or is there a passage from a favorite novel copied and pasted to your sticky notes that can inspire you? Define a ritual to fight the looming overwhelm, then make a plan to integrate that ritual into your life. If you’re not sure where to start, stay tuned for our next post, where we’ll offer seven specific routines and rituals you can consider implementing to bring peace and productivity to your remote work environment.