On Ritual and Reorientation

(Epistemic Status:  A continuation of the Todo List concept)

I’ve discovered that todo lists are like snowballs.  As you use them, they start to accumulate more and more mass until they are too big to really manage.  This is a problem – if you have a lot of tasks on your todo list that keep getting pushed forward, you end up creating downstream distortion of your outcomes.  Your weekly todo list starts getting bigger as you push things off.  Your monthly todo list gets bigger because the weekly lists are harder to manage.  You only get some part of the way to who you want to be by the time you reach the deadline you set yourself.  This isn’t ideal.  Fortunately, there are ways to correct this.

My rituals are mostly on the daily and weekly level – every night, I have a short 15 minute wind down ritual where I recount the day.  I write down what I managed to accomplish, and I write down the thing I was proudest of accomplishing that day.  I also consider what items are left from my todo list for the day and if propagating them forward is worth it.  Sometimes things get stuck on there that you have no intention of doing – other times, it’s a sign that you find a task aversive and need to find another strategy for accomplishing it.  The key here is being able to honestly look at what is happening with your approach and reorient to reality.  The last thing I do is write my todo list for the next day, and then review it over breakfast to make sure that I’m linking together temporal version of myself.

On the weekly level, I do a more involved ritual that takes roughly an hour.  I put on music that I associate with slowing down, closing things out, and debriefing.  I review what I accomplished over the week, sometimes consulting my daily lists.  I then consider what three lessons I learned from the week – about myself, about others, about accomplishing things, etc.  After that, I determine if I developed any new techniques over the week – any refinements to things I already do or new ideas to make my future weeks better.  After that, I figure out my proudest moment for the week and make a note of that, spending a couple moments to relive the feeling a bit – it’s important to avoid being constantly critical of yourself.  I then assess what didn’t get done in the past week and why that didn’t happen, and then I plan out the next week.  I try to make sure I’m adding a novel goal each week – a lot of my week level things are “go further with this thing you’re already doing”, which is useful but can lead to getting in ruts where I’m not exploring enough.  From here, I go into my wind down ritual for the day, moving from the higher level of the week to the lower level of the day.  The last part of the ritual is spending some time doing something fun – mostly to separate out the ritual time from the rest of the week and keep me fresh for the next week.

Overall, it’s important to be able to reorient – it’s easy to plan out more tasks than you realistically want to accomplish, and the only way to develop good heuristics for this is practice.  Practice becomes much harder if you keep pushing things downstream – the systems start feeling ineffective and a little bit aversive.  Preventing this from happening is an exercise in consistently updating your approach – it can be a little hard at first, but in the long run increases your effectiveness exponentially and makes your productivity systems more robust.  Being able to use ritual effectively is a way to organize the mind – and an organized mind leads to a more organized life.

Discussion questions – What rituals do you use in your daily life?  How often do you find you need to change your approaches to things?  How do you reward yourself for accomplishments?  What sorts of productivity systems do you use?

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