The importance of start-up and shutdown rituals: Part 1

Despite all the modern office technology aimed at making life easier, things seem to constantly get more complicated. Smartphones keep us chained to our email inboxes around the clock. Texting and instant messaging are quick and relatively unobtrusive ways to keep a work conversation going well past business hours. All this convenience is fine and good, but it can leave us feeling frazzled and distracted throughout the day.

It can also make it hard to shut down in the evenings and equally hard to start up in the mornings. This is particularly true in the law firm setting, where deadlines and emergencies are the norm.

Given this state of affairs, we thought it would be interesting to take a look at simple, yet effective methods that law firm personnel can use to reduce that constant tension. What we discovered was the importance of routine in starting and stopping each work day. By bookending each day with a few uncomplicated practices, you can quickly make your professional life seem much less daunting.

In the first part of this two-part series, we explore some of the current thinking on the importance of rituals in our daily lives. This article also delves into some of the daily morning customs that can improve your work life.

Check back for Part 2, which examines both workday-ending rituals and bedtime rituals that can improve sleep, health, and productivity.

Why rituals matter

For many, the very word “ritual” conjures up images of religious practices, such as saying a prayer before a meal or bowing to the East at prescribed times throughout the day. Rituals, however, do not have to be spiritually-based.

Indeed, anyone who follows sports has witnessed the power of rituals first-hand. From LeBron James’ famous “chalk toss” to A’s pitcher A.J. Griffin’s pre-game guitar strumming, scores of athletes perform some routine act to get them into game-mode. Although these tasks can seem silly, science backs up the rationality of rituals.

Studies show that rituals tend to increase a person’s belief in their abilities and improve their actual performance. Surprisingly, this is true regardless of whether a person believes rituals work. In fact, according to Scientific American, “[d]espite the absence of a direct causal connection between the ritual and the desired outcome, performing rituals with the intention of producing a certain result appears to be sufficient for that result to come true.”

Moreover, rituals can have the fantastic benefit of making life easier. When he became president, Barack Obama famously simplified his morning routine by limiting his wardrobe choices and working out on a set schedule each day. As he explained it, he had too many other decisions to make to spend time worrying about clothes or workouts. His rituals made him more efficient.

Efficiency and reduced tension are powerful goals when coming up with rituals. Ask yourself what would eliminate stress, increase predictability, and enhance productivity? The answers could range from practicing meditation to blaring your favorite song for motivation. Whatever you choose, making it a habit can be a powerful practice.

The importance of morning rituals

It goes without saying that mornings set the tone for your whole day. By adding one or two peaceful and/or motivational rituals, you can drastically increase the chances that every day will be a good one. Here are a few morning rituals that seem to do the trick for many people:

#1 Be grateful

Recent studies have shown that being grateful can have positive impacts on your physical and emotional health. The benefits include lower blood pressure, better sleep, and enhanced mood.

#2 Think about your goals for the day

What do you want to accomplish? Don’t overwhelm yourself with an exhaustive list. Think about three concrete things that you can achieve that day and contemplate how you’ll get them done. This thought process focuses your intentions from the beginning and helps you keep in mind your priorities.

#3 Rise early

This is a tough one for many people, but it turns out the benefits of waking up early are vast. Research shows that people who rise early in the morning are more agreeable, healthier, and get more done than those who are night owls. Early mornings are also a great time to think about your day without the distraction of phone calls, emails, and texts. Get ahead of the rest of the world by getting up before them.

#4 Listen to music

Scientists have proven that music releases dopamine in our brains, enhancing feelings of euphoria. Why not crank up the tunes each morning and start your day off feeling happy?

What are your tried and true practices for starting the day off right?

Don’t forget to check back for Part 2 of this series. We’ll explore some of the end-of-day rituals that can help you close out a busy day feeling healthy and satisfied.

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About the Author

Jennifer Anderson practiced business litigation in California from 1999 to 2016. When she’s not writing from her floating cabin on the Columbia River, she can be found hiking or kayaking around the Pacific Northwest.

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