The satisfaction of ritualizaton

I took my first work flight of the year today, flying out of JFK to SFO just like a I do about a half-dozen times annually.

But this time I flew out with a new colleague. It’s our first time flying together.

All day long, people in the office were making jokes about how “terrible” it would be if I were seated next to him. “How would it go,” they teased me, “If you have to actually talk to a colleague on a cross-country flight?” At this, I’d just make a face and smile.

No, it’s not that I don’t like talking to people on airplanes. (Generally, I try not to be a jerk.) The thing is, though, that I cherish my JFK-SFO flight time.

I wish I were kidding. All week, I’ve been prepping “plane projects” for myself just for this very moment. On that list included (among other things), inbox management, spending some deep thinking writing time on 1–2 upcoming USV network events, and writing this blog post. There’s something lovely and magical about the focused concentration that you can apply on airplanes. (I wrote a whole blog post last year about how I love to read entire books on airplane flights for this same reason.)

Sometimes, an airplane flight is the only block of 5 or 6 hours of uninterrupted solo work time that I get in months. Occasionally, when scheduling work trips out west, I’ll think something to the effect of, “Oooh, and if I schedule myself a trip at least every 4–6 weeks, I’ll be sure to keep my inbox under control.” I’ve been tempted more than once to do a thing I read about once in Deep Work, where you book a long flight just for the productivity that you can capitalize on from the uninterrupted time.

Needless to say, I relish cross-country flights the way a new mom might relish one hour of free time at the gym.

And to that end, I’ve started to ritualize the entire airport experience, too. By this point, the way I glide through TSA Precheck feels so natural and normal. I have favorite spots at every local airport. I know exactly how many minutes it takes me to get to my gate on time. And ideally, arriving just after the First Class cabin boards and in time for when my zone is called.

My favorite place to fly out of is Terminal 4 at JFK. I love the restaurants. I love the shopping. I love it so much that my husband and I once had a Friday Date Night right there in Terminal 4. Today, I have a very particular list of habits that I like to do at the airport — everything from what I eat or drink to what I like to carry with me on the plane, and even to the kind of “impulse shopping” habits that I repeat with some regularity in the terminal.

But all this to say, it defines my ritual around flying.

Travel can be uncertain. It can feel ungrounded. But if you add routine to the chaos of change, then all of the sudden, that routine in itself begins to feel a little bit like home.

I don’t travel nearly as much as other friends I know. Consultants. Hedge fund managers. People on cross-country musical theatre tours. But I have to imagine that rituals help to normalize the experience for other people, too. And if we can ritualize behaviors around hopping on a cross-country flight and landing in a brand new place and a brand new time zone, then I bet we can look for ways to ritualize organizational behaviors when changes happen in business, too.


Originally published at Dry Erase.