Making Time for Your Pre-work Rituals

Whether it’s vacuuming your keyboard, taking a long walk, or making a pot of coffee, you probably have a routine that you do before you get started with work.  This routine seems so mundane and simple, yet, without it, you can’t get started.

Many artists and writers have their own rituals before working.  Carson McCullers reportedly made sure to wear her lucky sweater before writing, while W. Somerset Maugham would read Voltaire’s Candide.  Henry James has a longer ritual that starts at breakfast and ends after lunch, with occasional interruptions in the afternoon.  Despite half his day devoted to these rituals, James penned 23 novels during his career, plus several other shorter works.

Whether you clean your office or have a more elaborate routine, pre-work rituals are an essential part of your workday. Here are some ways in which they help:

  • Builds your mindset. You might not be aware of it, but pre-work rituals can help you establish your work rhythms for the rest of the day.
  • Keeps you energized. Before you start work, whether your workday has just begun or you’re returning from a short break, it’s important to have rituals that will energize you and allow you to regroup after grueling mental gymnastics.
  • Shifts your perspective. This is especially true for the things you do during breaks.  For me, I find that walking my dog or working on a carpentry project for a brief period allows me to stop my train of thought and focus on something else.  After I’m done with that, I go back to my work with a fresh perspective and approach it in unexpected ways.

But what if the hours you spend on your rituals really take away from your productivity?

Find your ideal working hours. Before you tighten up your schedule, you need to define your ideal working hours first.  This is the span of time where you produce the most amount of work in the least amount of time.  For some reason, you just feel as if you’re more focused and creative during this time.  The reason why you work better might be the weather, the lack of distractions, your body clock – it doesn’t matter.  Find those hours, make sure you factor them into your schedule, and guard those hours with your life.

Once you’ve defined your ideal work hours, it’s time to cut back on your “ritual time,” if you really think that you should be spending time on your work, with your family, or on other projects.  The most important thing is to decrease the time spent on these rituals gradually, over 1 or 2 months, rather than quitting cold turkey.

Let’s say your pre-work ritual currently starts with an hour of walking, a half-hour preparing breakfast, and another two hours of leisurely reading.  Look at all those activities and see which ones are the most essential to you, and which ones you can reduce without hurting your creativity or productivity.  If you feel you’d rather spend less time reading, you can lessen your reading hours to an hour and 45 minutes for one week, then reducing 15 minutes each week until you reach your target time.  You can always make up the lost reading time after work.  Or, if you also feel like you can spend less time making breakfast, find a way to at least prepare part of it the night before.

Your pre-work rituals should be there to allow more creativity into your life and enhance the way you work.  They are, after all, one of the perks of web working.  In a traditional office setup, most employees probably don’t get to customize their schedules and activities the way web workers can.  Take advantage of your ability to do this.

What is your pre-work routine?  How does it affect your work?

Image by Luis Alves from


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