Trying to manage schedules, workflow, goals, and all the things that “need” to get done can be challenging. Even more challenging can be trying to get the most important things done amid a sea of things that can distract and derail. Executing on the most important things is something I have been focusing on as we’ve begun the year – it’s one of my goals to try and perfect this process. What’s the most important tool I’ve discovered for getting the most important things done? Daily rituals. Here’s what they look like for me and how I’m training myself to implement them to stay on track…

I have two sets of rituals that I am implementing – the morning rituals I use to start my day and the end-of-day patterns I use to complete one day and prepare for the next. Both are equally important and they work in tandem with one another.

I’ve discovered that how I start my day is an accurate indicator of the kind of day I’m going to experience. That’s not to say my days go as planned. I rarely make it from beginning to end without one or two unexpected events. My morning rituals are vital to preparing for what I know is coming and staying agile for those surprises. 

Before I launch into my day, start taking calls or working on projects, here are the rituals I complete to prepare for success:

My Morning Rituals

  • Quiet Time / Prayer / Meditation
  • Writing Block
  • Inbox to Zero
  • Update My Habit Tracker
  • Review My Goals
  • Review Today’s Calendar
  • Daily Focus Sheet

The first two practices are focused on getting my mind prepared for the day ahead. Quiet time spent meditating, in prayer, and reading from my Bible starts my day. Depending on your spiritual tendencies, this may look very different for you. The key is that you begin with some version of mindfulness and gratitude. I also try to include some visualization in this time. I spend a few minutes seeing myself walking through my day and envisioning what success looks like. This part of my morning takes 10-20 minutes, depending on the day. I follow this with 10-15 minutes spent writing and journaling on whatever topics flow freely that morning. Writing is a natural outlet for me, and I find that including it as part of my morning ritual helps me kickstart my creativity. 

Highlight: Grounding yourself as you start your day creates the foundation for your day.

With those two foundational pieces of my day completed, I am mentally grounded and prepared to take on my workday. Making a shift, I dive into my emails and catch up on messages that came in after I ended the previous day, working to get my inbox back to zero. With my emails under control, I review my yearly, quarterly, and weekly goals, and then I spend some time quickly walking through my calendar for the day. All of these steps help me define what the day ahead will look and feel like. Finally, I complete my morning rituals by filling out my Daily Depth Guide. This is the tool I use to prioritize my day. It helps me stay focused on what is important – even when the chaos of the day ramps up and fires start to erupt.

Highlight: Customize your rituals. Include things that are uniquely yours like workouts, yoga, reading.

I want to add something important here. My morning ritual used to look very different. Even though I had not intentionally planned for it or been strategic about it, I did indeed have habits – just the wrong ones. I used to wake up and roll over in the morning, grabbing my phone before I even left my bed. Before I even left the comfort of my sheets, I would dive into the chaos of the day, specifically my emails. I was allowing the beginning of my day to get hijacked. It happened in an instant, and I let it. Rather than preparing my mind for success, I was unintentionally feeding the chaos of the urgent. I’ve since quit that habit, and now I don’t open my emails until I’ve completed my quiet time and writing. 

Highlight: There should be a rhythm and natural sequence to your rituals.

With my morning ritual completed, I dive into my day. The timing of my morning rituals varies from day to day, but most mornings take about 45 minutes to an hour. It is the most valuable time I invest each day and sets the tone for how the next 8-12 hours will roll out. 

When I skip my rituals, which happens from time to time, my days are chaotic and unpredictable. I find myself focused on putting out fires and playing whack-a-mole rather than doing the most important things. Skipping my morning rituals has consequences.

Highlight: Guard and protect your rituals.

With that, I dive into my day. My morning rituals leave me as prepared as I can be to tackle whatever comes my way. Then as my workday comes to an end, I begin another group of pre-set practices, my workday shutdown rituals. 

My Workday Shutdown Rituals

  • Inbox to Zero
  • Review Today’s Daily Focus Sheet
  • Review Tomorrow’s Calendar
  • Define Tomorrow’s Big Three
  • Journal
  • Email My Accountability Partner

I set aside the last 25-30 minutes of my day to end one day and prepare for the next. This workday shutdown starts by reviewing my emails again and bringing my inbox back to zero. I do a quick review of the current day’s Daily Depth Guide, looking at what I’ve accomplished and what was left undone. I also get familiar with the following day’s calendar. With that information in mind, I define the next day’s three most important activities. I wrap up with a few minutes of journaling to end the day (sometimes I do this before bed at night), and then I send my accountability partner a quick email letting him know if I am on track for the day or off. 

Highlight: How you end is as important as how you begin.

My workday shutdown rituals can be even more challenging to protect than my morning rituals. My natural tendency is to work as long as possible, trying to squeeze every moment of productivity out of my day. What I’ve found, though, is that finishing well is as important as starting well. Both are essential. 

As well, my workday shutdown allows me to truly shut down. I work hard during my day, but these shutdown rituals enable me to turn things off at the end of the day and be present for the non-work parts of my life that matter most. Investing time in these simple practices helps everything else in my life flow better as well. 

Highlight: Your rituals allow you to turn on and turn off well. 

Let me say this as I wrap up. When it comes to these rituals, I am a work in progress. Sometimes, I still get off track and find myself wandering through my day without direction. Others, I end up doing my morning rituals at noon as I am scrambling to reset an already out-of-control day. What I have learned is this… Every day is an opportunity to start and finish well. If I crashed and burned yesterday, today is another chance to use my rituals to work and live smarter.

The Takeaway

The idea behind this is not that your rituals match mine. Instead, the goal is to create simple sets of practices for your morning and workday shutdown that help you be more productive and gain more depth in life. For you, maybe there are just 2-3 things you do every day to start up, and 1-2 that you do to wind down. Make these your own and use your rituals to help you stay focused on what’s really important.

I hope this was helpful to you, and more than that, I hope you do something with it. Reading this is one thing… implementing practices like these is what makes the difference. Subscribe here and I’ll help keep you accountable to making the most of the time you get, the relationships you have, and the opportunities in front of you. – John