Rituals are a bit of a buzzword right now. Mindful living and mindful work is, perhaps, a survival tactic in this hyper connected, always on world. Little anchors that keep us stable and provide structure.
Now that everything has changed, and changed so abruptly, I think we need rituals even more than ever. We used to leave the house and physically go to a different space. We would leave one group of people behind and join a new group, every day.
Now we don’t leave our space and we never leave our tribe. These days my tribe is just me, my husband and a very needy dog called Alfie. It can be very quiet and sometimes I crave the chaos of children (and clients).
I’ve found it hugely important to create structure to my day over the last few weeks. To compartmentalise activities and people, so I notice a transition as I move through the day and feel comforted by familiarity of routine.
These are my own personal rituals that have become important to me during lockdown. I recognise they won’t suit everyone. And that sprinkling a couple of small children or dependants into the mix might – quite rightly – skew your ability to follow even a couple of my musings. But I’d encourage you to find your own routines that will help you find a path through the coming weeks. It certainly has for me.
Now they’re grown-up, I don’t have kids to chase to get up and dressed, and working from home, I can easily navigate my daily commute to the kitchen table. For once in my working life I have the luxury of time in the mornings and I’ve used this opportunity to practice the mindfulness, I’ve always wanted to make space for.
I always set an alarm for seven o’clock so I can fit in some exercise before the working-day starts. If I’ve gone for a run, practiced yoga or even just done a few stretches, then I am so much better at coping with the day as it unfolds.
Now I don’t have to commute, a slice of toast on the run is a thing of the past. Most mornings I try to have a sit-down breakfast with Mr Lee, even just a quick bowl of porridge and a chat, lets us touch base before tackling the day ahead. I empty the dishwasher, tidy the kitchen and if time permits prep for lunch.
In lockdown I have time for a bath. I’ve found this oddly ritual-like and performing this daily ablution, energises me to start the day. If there’s a spare 15 minutes – and sometimes there isn’t – I’ll do makeup and hair, but I always get dressed for work. Not as formal as in my previous life (how many weeks ago now…) but still a different style of clothes to what I wear on the weekend.
Starting the working day
My new rituals don’t exclusively affect me. Devoid of a physical office to naturally mingle and chat we’ve introduced a ‘nine o’clock standup’ on Zoom with the Hot Tin Roof team. We started this on Day 1 of lockdown and have not missed a beat. This allows us to review the previous day and plan priorities for the day ahead. More importantly it allows us to check in on each other.
We keep the cameras on, not just so we feel a visual connection with one another, but to ensure we can spot if someone’s having a low day or maybe needs a bit of extra support – including me. Separated from family and friends, sometimes spending more time alone than we’re used to, lockdown can be tough. Knowing that I have the support of my team not just professionally but personally is a comforting boost.
Rediscovering the lunch hour
Much like the routine I’ve established in the mornings, for the first time in many years I am actually taking a lunch break. I leave my phone on my desk and take an hour for myself. What can happen in an hour? Will the world fall apart? Too late, it already has! And so, I take a digital detox for an hour in the middle of the day.
Sometimes I cook something nice, sometimes I’ll read a book or I’ll do some more exercise – usually a quick online yoga class. Sometimes I’ll just sit and chat with Mr Lee. I don’t put the radio on and I don’t watch telly. I really want to give my mind a break and time to switch off. I am going to continue this particular ritual when we get back to normal. One hour in the middle of the day to do what you want? That’s a real treat and one I now treasure.
Leaving work for the day
Now that I’ve set up my morning and had a real lunch break, my afternoon is very productive. When five o’clock comes around I often feel as though I have achieved a lot and my to-do list is under control. It’s easy to keep working when you don’t have anywhere to be so I’ve started setting an alarm for six. This really is my cut off point.
Of course there is plenty still to do so that I could (and often used to) keep going, but I’m not a robot. I know that the work I do now will not be as creative or focused as the work I will do tomorrow morning. So I stop. And I leave work. I ‘close the door’ to my kitchen table office, switch off notifications so that I’m not tempted back in and settle into my favourite part of the day.
We have a dog which is a welcome excuse to take a walk every evening – sometimes it’s the motivation I need to get out and stretch my legs in truth. After the walk, if it’s my turn, I’ll cook tea. I’m a born again cook! I left home in the 80s and in my experience home-cooking was not something my generation were particularly taken by. We were all about instant gratification of the pot noodle and a crispy pancake. Now I’m learning how to eat more healthily and am loving the achievement of creating something really delicious from scratch with only the occasional culinary hiccup.
Later in the evening I’ll use this time to catch up with the kids who no longer need chasing to get dressed and other family or friends on social media. The ability to stay so closely connected at this time is a real anchor for me and I am grateful that I have access to something as simple but integral as internet connectivity. Oddly, through this sustained effort to keep communications open, conversations engaged, I feel closer than ever with the people who are important to me. For all the obvious challenges we currently face there are a few silver linings to be drawn.
Going to bed
I’m really regular about bedtime – and by 10 o’clock I am tucked up and reading a book. Now that I am learning how to better manage the often blurry line between work and home during lockdown, I am relaxed and have switched off mentally by the time I’m in bed. By building these boundaries between the two and ritualising the routine of daily living nothing is praying on my mind. I can go to sleep and awaken refreshed at seven and know how the day will play out.
No matter how big or small your home is – or how many people are in it – there will be little things you can do to mark where work and home start and end. By giving yourself permission to make those lines of separation through ritual I think we’ll find it easier to make it through the coming weeks and emerge fighting fit at the end.