August 2018 Featured Carousel Motivate

Rituals, Routines and Reflections

Written By: Taylor Williams

Habits. Routines. Vices. Coping mechanisms. Whatever term you want to use, there is shared meaning in all of these words. We build patterns over time that help us get through our days, weeks, months and years. Patterns and routines help us “get in our groove,” find flow states and focus and discipline us to get things accomplished. What is partly so powerful about habits is that they can help build consistency, trust and a steady rhythm. That is the positive interpretation. But, taken in the wrong direction, habits can lead us down a path of destruction.   

It has been said that, “Individuals have habits; groups have routines… routines are the organizational analogue of habits.” It seems that the collected habits of individuals build a more systemic dynamic of organizational routines. What if we could build in more of each of those concepts to make a more dynamic work environment? One that unites a group, helps individuals within the company and sparks more innovation for clients as well?

The use of routines, rituals, and reflection can do just that.

What time do you go to sleep? Wake up? When and how do you start your work day? What are foods and movement that make you feel strong and healthy? Who is in your community? What road patterns do you drive so frequently that you arrive and don’t remember how you got there? Most people feel like the rhythm of the way they structure and utilize their time lends itself to more productivity and greater efficiency. Some amount of predictability can create structure that creates comfort and allows us to get into the flow. Similarly so, we can do this within our teams. How do we gather in the mornings before getting our days going? What kind of energy flow is there in the office throughout the day? What are the expectations around the timing of returning email communication? Who is in charge of what? All of these are examples of how we can set expectations to create some consistency.

Too much structure can make people feel stuck and as if they’re being controlled. There is a time and place for all of it. Routines aren’t just about the work-related parts of our functioning – they also help with the emotional aspects of productivity. Just as with small children who like some amount of structure, guidance and support, adults need some amount to thrive and be successful. Routines can get a bad rap in leading to burnout and stagnation, but this is true when they are abused or forced. Finding some fluidity within structure is a fantastic mix.

Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.” If this is true, then it feels like we should be trying to create rhythms within our day is to create the people we want to be. And why not make that true organizationally? Are there ways that you and your company can create rhythm and ritual together to enrich your experiences? What if, for the first half of the day, your company instated a rule that no meetings were to be had, no emails were to be answered. That first half hour was set aside for everyone to take stock of the day and for everyone to gather their energy to start out in the way that makes them feel almost ready. What if your organization started mindfulness sessions once a week? Employees would gather to have silence in the middle of an otherwise busy day. It is a powerful force when a group shares the experience of healthy downtime.  Mindfulness has been shown to rewire areas of our brain, and we are better able to manage stress and unexpected situations that come our way. We all need that in our hectic and ever-changing lives, don’t we?

In the busy climate that our lives create, in and outside of work, it is very easy to skip any sort of reflection. Reflecting back on our own experiences can positively alter the way that we see them. James Pennebaker and his colleagues at the University of Texas have studied the influence of short writing exercises on the psyche and human spirit. In writing for very short amounts of time, several days in a row, participants showed positive changes in the way they saw their own experiences, of both positive and negative natures. Briefly writing about a negative experience for several days in a row can reduce some of the stress and anxiety around those negative feelings, reframing the experience by allowing it to “wash through.” And, writing about a positive experience integrates the positivity into the memory in a way that makes the experience accessible again and useful for the future.

There is a time and place for both routine and unstructured, open-ended time for thinking and creativity. Both can serve us well, if we reserve time for both of them to occur. Carving out intentional space to be both structured and unstructured leads to more balance within our lives, and within an organization. For example, allowing for free association and playfulness can lead to great innovation and creativity. This is often done in an unstructured environment. Then, returning to structure (say, through a scheduled meeting to compare and merge everyone’s ideas together) can provide the routine and ritual of co-creation and making ideas more concrete.

Look for opportunities to create the space for your team to find healthy routines. Engage in ritual. Reflect back on experiences. These three gems make us better people and serve the group well by enriching the workplace community and laying the groundwork for a holistic office culture.

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