Life is hectic, especially for freelancers. You’re responsible for sales and marketing, performing the work, recruiting sub-contractors, accounts payable, accounts receivable, on top of whatever other obligations you may have outside of work. The easiest way to stay ahead of the game and make sure that you’re doing everything you need to achieve your goals is to develop rituals to provide a guide for the actions that you need to take for success.
What Do You Mean Ritual?
A lot of people associate esoteric rites, scary figures in robes, animal sacrifice, and a variety of other Hollywood scariness with the word ritual. In reality, rituals are more closely related to habits but with a key difference.
Habits are single tasks that are performed as a result of a trigger. Smoking cigarettes to avoid cravings, over eating when stressed out, or even good behaviors such as washing your hands after using the restroom or putting your seatbelt on when you get in the car are examples of habits.
Rituals are more specific, are scheduled, and can involve multiple actions. Examples of rituals include: reading 30 minutes before bed every night; doing weight training Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning; or spending 30 minutes every morning practicing a foreign language.
The key difference is that rituals are specific and scheduled. Habits are useful for developing positive reactions, but rituals are important for driving progress and maintaining momentum.
I use todoist’s recurring task feature to set tasks to run daily, weekly, or monthly. I check this to-do list at specific times throughout the day. My goal is to mark every item off every day, and I have a good track record of about 90% success.
I also use google calendar for items that may recur infrequently such as quarterly tax payments or industry conferences. Other people have had success with blocking times, such as committing to answering emails between 7:30A and 8:00A, then working on project A from 8:00A-11:00A, project B 11:00A-1:00P… however, I’ve found the rigidity of such a schedule to be less than helpful. If I’ve been procrastinating and need to force myself to focus several hours on a task or if it’s an appointment with someone else I will block the time; otherwise I just focus on maintaining a to-do list and complete tasks in order of their priority, switching around as need be. It’s not uncommon for me to get a call or an email from a client during the work day that may require my attention OR I may hit a roadblock on a particular task and need to switch. The flexibility helps me reduce my stress and maximize my effectiveness.
Every day when I wake up, I do 2-4 Duolingo Spanish sessions after breakfast to get my brain ready to go. I then check email and work on any small tasks that I may have that can be completed within an hour. After the hour is up, and my breakfast has been digested, I’ll do cardio 5 days a week (Monday/Friday off) and I’ll do weight training 3 days a week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday). After exercising and showering, I’ll continue with any work. Before lunch I’ll be sure to check on a few job posting boards for new gigs and I’ll check again in the afternoon. The rest of the day I leave flexible so I can respond to any incidents that may come up. Before I go to bed I’ll make sure that my to-do list for tomorrow is all lined up and that I completed everything that needed to be completed for the previous day before reading for 30 minutes.
Developing effective rituals is all about identifying behaviors that yield the most results and committing to those behaviors in a way that lets you hold yourself accountable. It’s easy to start small with something simple like walking 1 mile every lunch break, reading for 30 minutes every night before bed, or spending a couple hours every Saturday learning a new skill. Be sure to track your results and identify which rituals are adding value and which aren’t. You’ll notice a reduction in stress and an increase in performance in no time.