Prioritize your rituals
Drowning in projects is real
The secret to ensuring progress in the areas of life that matter most is to identify and protect your rituals.
Let me explain.
Projects vs. rituals
Every effort you spend your precious time and energy on relates either to a project or a ritual.
Projects are collections of effort that have a definitive start and end date, and that produce discrete deliverables, capabilities, or outcomes.
Unlike projects, rituals consist of repeating efforts that do not have a clear end date or set of defined outcomes. Rituals are defined by their frequency. Habits are frequent rituals. Wishing someone a happy birthday is an infrequent ritual.
Because of their time-based nature, projects tend to be driven by demands or opportunity. At work, my projects often looked like completing quarterly strategic initiatives, delivering a timely high stakes presentation, or writing up annual performance reviews. In my personal life, my current projects include throwing a bachelor party for my cousin, completing 2022 taxes, and while I’m between jobs, completing an online course to help me turn my knowledge into digital content.
By contrast, the timeless nature of rituals tends to make them proactive in nature, often aimed at improving quality of life by some measure. At work, I had a morning ritual of reviewing the day ahead to prepare for meetings and clarify the day’s priorities. After an important meeting, I had another ritual of writing and reviewing notes to memorialize decisions and recall what was said.
In my personal life, my rituals include getting a daily run in to improve fitness, cooking whole-food plant-based meals to maintain health, doing weekly chores to keep my home decent, and spending quality time with family to nourish and recharge my soul. None of these efforts would be considered a project, and they all work together to help me achieve a quality of life I can feel good about.
Projects often trump rituals
Because of their proactive nature, completing rituals feels like getting ahead of things, while working on projects feels like keeping or catching up. Rituals feel like offense and projects feel like defense.
There is a gravitational tendency for projects to gradually crowd out rituals. Once you find that all your time is being consumed by projects, the feelings that come with being behind, overwhelmed, and exhausted are never far away.
Rituals tend to be the first casualties thrown overboard to keep the productivity ship afloat. Attending a regular meeting takes a back seat to cramming for a high stakes presentation. Cooking gives way to ordering take out when scrambling to prepare for a big trip.
How to fight the current
I've found profound value in taking a ritual-centric approach to planning my time. At the beginning of each day, I ask myself "which rituals do I need to complete for today to be a win?" I then do my best to make my projects fit in the remaining time.
Identifying the rituals that matter most to you is the first step in preventing your time from being eclipsed by projects. Once you know what your rituals are, you're in a position to take the transformative step of making time to protect and track them.
In prior posts, I've written about how making consistent deposits of time and energy into my life accounts leads to compound interest that results in exceptional outcomes. Deposits are a very important type of ritual.
Protecting time in the mornings for my daily run has been key to building a running habit that's lasted seven months covering over 400 miles. Committing to having dinner on the table by 7pm forces me to step away from the computer at 5:30pm and helps maintain boundaries between work and life.
The next time you find yourself feeling behind and overwhelmed, take stock of how much of your time has been going toward projects instead of rituals. There's a good chance that you'll find an opportunity to tip the scales toward rituals and reclaim your time (and sanity) for the better.
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My uber-practice, as I'm calling it, is my health and now that I'm into my 50s I'm enjoying the compound interest from making daily deposits of running and other workouts for the last 35 years. Having this as a ritual makes it so easy to do without too much resistance.
Impressive you get a run in every day man! Inspiring! Might be my goal for this summer...