The Rituals of Work

Learning From Athletes

When I was in high school, I pole vaulted. I was on varsity track with about 50 other student-athletes: sprinters, hurdlers, jumpers, throwers, distance runners.

As far as athletes go, we were incredibly superstitious.

Before every race, we had the same team snack and team warmup. We had the same little team cheer. And then individually, we each had our own superstitions. I used to listen to the same song while I was warming up, eat the same breakfast before a meet and before every jump, I had the same mental preparation, sort of like how basketball players dribble the same way before shooting a free throw or during the starting lineup.

LeBron James has an extensive pre-game ritual.

In “The Creative Habit”, Twyla Tharp says the start of her work is getting into the cab on the way to her dance studio every morning. That is her ritual. The point of a work ritual is to mentally transition from your regular, distracted self to a focused, deep working self in your workspace.

We have these superstitions because as rituals, they remind us of our best performances. We’re trying to recreate an environment, a mental state, and we believe that everything leading up to that is part of the performance itself.

Most of us don’t think about our work superstitiously.

What if we believed that our best work required a ritual?

What if we needed a ritual every morning before sitting down at our desks?

Go to the gym
Make a tea or coffee
Walk around the block 
Shower
Light a candle
Put on music
Read a book
Do a crossword puzzle
Write down your list of to-dos for the day

All of these are rituals.

Consider that your brain is a muscle and needs warming up before it goes into any sort of intense and meaningful work. Warming up could be that ritual.

A commute is a great time for a warmup. 
The first five minutes of arriving at an office is a great time for a warmup.
The first minute of a meeting is a great time for a group warmup.

Make something your own and absorb it as a transition into deep work. Every time you put your headphones on, or flipped over a little coaster, or took three deep breaths… that’s when you do your best work.

Or every time you take a big sip of water, or adjusted the height of your seat, or stretched your fingers, or put your phone in the drawer… that’s when you’re the most focused.

That’s our intention at Caveday: to make us see the rituals of work as important steps to finding flow more easily. To condition ourselves that the steps for work are not automatic, but take some intention to do your best and that in a lot of ways, we’re in control of setting the environment and mental state for doing our best work.

For me, I pour a glass of water, leave my phone in the other room, and put on my headphones playing nature sounds. That’s when I know it’s time to do my best work. (Usually first thing in the morning, if it’s up to me).

What is your work ritual?


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