4 min read

Creating new work rituals

Creating new work rituals
Photo by Michelle / Unsplash

A lot of people I know have work rituals to be more productive and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Last year, I tried Cal Newport’s shutdown ritual. The process didn’t work for me for a few reasons:

  1. I didn’t have a single place where I put all my tasks. My project work was in Google’s Issue Tracker, code review was in Gerrit, and other TODOs were in Tasks. I also kept my version of Cal’s plan.txt, which lived in a GitHub repo. This made it difficult for me to remember where things were, and hard for my brain to trust that I didn’t forget something.
  2. I didn’t have a system to capture weekend work-related thoughts. I often have ideas about work-related things over the weekend, and I didn’t have a good place to write down these thoughts. As a result, if I had a work-related idea, it would either percolate in my brain until Monday morning, or I would open my work laptop with the intention of jotting it down, and often end up getting distracted and doing work instead.
  3. I didn’t find the process to be enjoyable. Worst of all for me, the process felt like a chore. At the end of my work day, I want to just close my laptop and leave. I didn’t want to spend extra time in front of a screen, organizing my TODO list. Additionally, if I had plans after work and didn’t leave enough time to complete the process, I just wouldn’t do it.

I still like the idea of personal work rituals. I believe the right ones can make work feel easier and more fun, and help you mentally leave work at work.

Here’s what I’m experimenting with this year:

Weekly Check-In / Check-Out

I’m an obliger according to Gretchen Rubin’s 4 Tendencies Framework. One of the strategies she suggests for obligers is to use external accountability as a tool to achieve the things you want to do for yourself.

Using this idea, this year I’m experimenting with a weekly check-in / check-out process with a friend. We have a shared Google doc where at the start and end of every week, we asynchronously write answers to these questions:

Weekly Check-In Process

  • Intros & Stories
  • What is your single most important adventure this week?
  • What are (up to 3) side quests you want to incorporate?
  • What are you deliberating not doing to prioritize the things above?
  • What are you doing to prioritize your own well-being, so that you can enjoy every step along the way?
  • What is currently top of mind for you that you want to discuss today?

Feel-good terminology inspired by Ali Abdaal’s How to Make 2024 The Best Year of Your Life.

Weekly Check-Out Process

  • Pulse of the week
  • What went well this week that we want to celebrate?
  • What didn’t go well that we want to either stop doing or improve?
  • What do we want to keep / change for next week?
  • What is on your mind as we wrap up the week?

We then meet Monday mornings and Friday afternoons to discuss our answers and hold each other accountable.

We have only tried this approach for a week, but so far I am really enjoying it. Last year at work, I felt like I was constantly running around between meetings, putting out fires, and drowning in a pile of emails, chat messages, and bugs. I felt like I wasn’t learning enough and struggled to keep up, because I never dedicated time to the things I truly wanted to accomplish.

Beyond the accountability aspect, this process forces me to sit down for a few minutes every week to reflect on what I really want to achieve, plan out how to achieve that, and celebrate when I successfully complete what I set out to do.

Using index cards as my task management system

This may sound ridiculous, but I’ve decided to use index cards to track everything I need to do in life. Between all the task management tools, spreadsheets, and post-it notes I was using to plan my wedding, work tasks, and other aspects of life, managing tasks felt as time-consuming as completing them.

I started using index cards over the holiday break to write down quotes from books I was reading, after learning about Ryan Holiday’s Notecard System. One of the books I was re-reading was James Clear’s Atomic Habits. I ended up using index cards to track my new habits as well.

I soon found myself using index cards for everything. I have since purchased 500 index cards and a few boxes to organize them, and now I use them to track all my TODOs, quotes, habits, ideas, and more.

What I have loved so far about this system has been the simplicity. Once I write something down and place it in the designated box, I feel freed from it. At the end of my workday, I place the cards that I need to look at in the morning in a specific section, then close the box. Closing my work index-card box has started to feel like my work shutdown signal. Hearing the sound of the box clicking closed tells my brain, “work is done”. If I have a work-related thought over the weekend, I can easily capture it by writing the thought down on a card, and tossing it in the box.

I also love being able to hold a physical representation of my TODO list. It reminds me that no matter how many cards I have, I am in control of how I want to play them. Additionally, I love the satisfaction of completing a task and tearing it up.

I’m excited to keep experimenting with these new work rituals and see where they take me. I felt a sense of ease this week that I haven’t in a long time, and it has allowed me to show up more fully in all aspects of my life. I’m determined to keep that feeling around for the rest of 2024 and more.