In need of a "settle down to work" ritual
February 2, 2016 11:23 AM   Subscribe

I suck at transitions, especially transitioning into working. I am in need of suggestions for a ritual I can perform when I sit down at my desk in the morning, after lunch, after I come back from a break, to cue my brain that it's time for work now. It is important that this ritual is not connected to any rabbit holes. Desk-working-mefites: what are your tricks to flip the switch into 'work mode'?

My current ritual upon sitting down at my desk is "check metafilter one more time". This is ... um.... not a good plan for me. Metafilter is full of rabbit holes. So many rabbit holes, leading to so many fascinating corners of the internet.

I understand that most people are not productive at their desks 100% of the time, but I am interested in upping my proportion, and I have noticed that I am suuuuper vulnerable at these transition times. Part of it is, of course, due to anxiety - anxiety about whatever thing it is I need to work on, anxiety because my kids helpfully supply me with a never-ending stream of things to worry about. I definitely arrive at work a little frazzled from the morning process of getting small recalcitrant people out the door and delivered to school and daycare. I am working with a therapist on tools to manage the anxiety.

The job is an academic research job with a fair amount of flexibility most days; my current performance is not a problem per se but I feel that I could be accomplishing more, and would like to do so.

What I would like from the hive mind are suggestions for some sort of ritual (on the order of 5-15 minutes) that will help me leave that behind, relax a bit, ease into work, and not leave me looking up an hour later feeling guilty because shit another rabbit hole. Thanks!
posted by telepanda to Work & Money (24 answers total) 75 users marked this as a favorite
Ha - I know whereof you speak - intimately...

My solution is to set a timer on my phone and then internet browse to my heart's content. So I'll give myself 10 minutes of Metafilter checking and then, when the timer goes off, I force myself to do the next thing on my to-do list. I repeat this throughout the day as needed.
posted by widdershins at 11:29 AM on February 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

What about food? Coffee? Tea? Drink some coffee while you look over your to-do list. I like to set up some goals for the day first thing. Otherwise I just start flailing around and never really get anything completed.

I also find it helpful to keep my work computer as a "clean space" where I don't log into any personal or time-wasting sites like Metafilter, Twitter, Facebook, Slack, Jezebel, etc.

I also have a pomodoro app that doesn't let me look at my phone while a timer is on.
posted by bleep at 11:40 AM on February 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

I keep my planner open on my desk, so that when I come back to it, I can look over it and see what I need to do. It's surprisingly helpful, because since I don't begin by looking at FB or Mefi, I immediately get reminded what I was thinking of doing before I left. It's like a mental on-ramp to my brain's work high way.
posted by spunweb at 11:41 AM on February 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

I keep my planner open but I have "open hours" and "closed hours" because i work in a bullpen desk arrangement. Your challenge is really down to how much you can get away from your computer as your main mode of work. I try to use the phone as my way back into work, keeping a list of calls I need to make in the morning and afternoon in hand and making these.
posted by parmanparman at 11:49 AM on February 2, 2016

I use headphones for my work, but even when I'm not using it, I leave it on and it kind of keeps me in "work mode". Same with coming back from lunch. If you don't listen to music, you could just get some loose ones you can put on to separate yourself from the surrounding.
posted by monologish at 11:55 AM on February 2, 2016

I work from home, so there's infinite distraction and literally nothing to stop me from internetting alllll day long. Similarly, I am a frazzled sort and my current project is very frustrating, so I absolutely dread getting going.

My current ritual (though, hah, here I am on Metafilter...) is to brew a cup of coffee and bring it back to my office, and when I have the coffee at my desk it is Working Time. Conversely, when I am eating food at my desk it is Internetting Time. If I've finished the food, it's time to stop internetting.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:03 PM on February 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

I put on my reading glasses as a way to signal that fun time is over. I also turn on/up music when I'm doing work-work, because if the music is too loud when I'm fooling around on the internet, I'm not able to hear my coworkers' footsteps and might get busted. So music time = work time.
posted by witchen at 12:07 PM on February 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Like you, I'm an academic with a fair amount of choice in how I arrange my schedule. This is not a ritual per se, but what helped me is tracking my working hours (I use Caato on my Mac, but there are a bunch of equivalent programs) and then setting a hard and fast limit for how many hours of work I want to get done per day - I started at 8 hours of focused, uninterrrupted work. So, I can take breaks whenever I like, I just turn off the timer.

This works to make present me, who wants to faff about on the internet, responsible to future me, who wants to go home at a reasonable hour. I also listen to music when I work (and only when I work, so turning my timer and my music on is the signal that it is work time.

The other thing that helps is doing say, my stretches before starting work again. It's a way of putting off work for a few minutes, but it is also something I need to do, so afterwards I feel like I have accomplished something, and it is easier to go on to accomplish work things.
posted by neatsocks at 12:21 PM on February 2, 2016 [9 favorites]

I have a to-do list that is always on my desk, that's just the kind of person I am. But I have your problem too.

I try to pick one small, maybe administrative, thing to do first thing in the morning (and give myself permission to do things at will after that, but once I'm started, I usually settle in).

Ideally, I choose that "first task" as I leave work late in the afternoon, to mentally be ready to do it first thing the next day. That helps a lot.
posted by Dashy at 12:27 PM on February 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

I use RescueTime religiously. When I sit down at my desk, I turn on the "Focus Time" option for 60 minutes, which doesn't let me goof off on the Internet. I am also an academic and I struggle with transition times as well, and this seems to work for me.

I also use OmniFocus to keep my tasks together, and I will look at OmniFocus and before I stand up, I pick an easy task to do when I sit back down. This means that when I sit down and turn on FocusTime I have something that I know that I'll be working on. I do it at the end of the day as part of my "closing ritual" (I usually write a list of two or three things to start on when I get back to work) and I do it before I have lunch and right before I leave my office for the evening (going home for dinner is a surefire way for me to stop working for the rest of the night).

I will say that RescueTime is a surefire way for me to get very, very into my productivity. It gamifies putting in good, productive time at my computer and desk in a way that makes me feel very much OK with stopping and resting when I know I've gotten a lot of productive hours of work in that day. YMMV, however - I can see how it could also be an anxiety-producer.
posted by sockermom at 12:44 PM on February 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

I am task oriented. I literally put what I have to do/read in an inbox location, and clearing that comes before everything else.

Also, I do all my personal stuff, including cruising MetaFilter, on a personal laptop or my iPad, so I don't open either unless the work stuff is done or it is during a specific time limited work break. (This also means that when the work break, e.g. lunch hour, ends, the laptop/tablet are closed.)
posted by bearwife at 12:45 PM on February 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

I also am only allowed to drink coffee while checking email, which is what Kicks Off Work.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:02 PM on February 2, 2016

1. Buy electric kettle and fancy assortment of teas.
2. Set up kettle on your desk, along with teas in a pleasing arrangement.
3. Choose or purchase a Special Tea Mug.
4. When arriving at work, fill up kettle and start heating while you choose your tea and organize your papers. I also use this time for checking email.
5. When kettle boils, pour tea. It is now time to work. With tea!
posted by chainsofreedom at 1:37 PM on February 2, 2016 [8 favorites]

Dissertating graduate student here. On days when I am productive, I am a slave to the pomodoro. I get into work, give myself one 25 minute pomodoro for all internetting, and then spend the rest of the day with 25 minutes working, 5 minutes break. For lunch, I get two 25 minute pomodoros, and then it's back on track. Tomato Timer is set as my homepage so I can't pretend that I forgot about it.

I'm also very much into tracking my time (I use Jiffy on my phone) - I have a "miscellaneous crap" project, and having too much time allocated to Miscellaneous Crap makes me sad. I have different projects for each dissertation chapter, each article I'm working on, teaching, lab work, etc. (and a Productive Miscellany project to differentiate mindless internet from departmental service, or whatever). It reminds me to track my day if I haven't started something by 9:30.

I haven't figured out a way to turn a day in which I don't start out with my tomato timer into a reasonable day of getting work done, however.
posted by ChuraChura at 1:44 PM on February 2, 2016 [6 favorites]

I start the day with ten minutes of freewriting with pen and paper. It gets me started thinking about work and sometimes I figure out something interesting.

I also keep a daily paper to do list on my desk, staring at me.
posted by momus_window at 2:03 PM on February 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm working on a thesis that I often get stuck on. One thing I do is force myself to start working by listening to the "thesis song," a song I like that is amenable to writing code (reasonably long, no words that I can understand). I listen to it on repeat until I've made some progress.

I also know that I need some ramp-up time, so one ritual would be "okay, just type SOMETHING nontrivial in the file (even one line of code), then you can take a break." Just doing this forces me to review what I did last time and comment things that I get stuck on.
posted by glass origami robot at 3:07 PM on February 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

I used to light a scented candle (vanilla), put on Gregorian chant music, and make a fresh cup of tea whenever I settled down to work. I don't know why I stopped actually. It worked really well. But of course that doesn't work if you are working in an office - this was for writing days at home.

Currently I have my computer set up with two virtual desktops (you can do this on Mac, Linux and Windows 10 - not sure about earlier versions of Windows). The work one has open documents I am currently working on, an open Firefox browser that is pretty locked down in terms of what I can access, a plain black desktop, and no shortcuts on the desktop. The start bar is set to auto-hide. That way there are no distractions. My non-work desktop has more fun stuff and chrome for a browser, set up with no blocked sites and all my fun bookmarks. When I finish a break and want to work again, switching to my work desktop is a good signal.
posted by lollusc at 5:08 PM on February 2, 2016

Promising myself that I will open LaTeX and write for a short amount of time (5-20 minutes) works really well for me-- that's usually enough time to get myself into a project, so I end up working for longer than the promised minimum before taking a break.
posted by yarntheory at 5:47 PM on February 2, 2016

I use this three minute meditation by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the exact transition times you list, works like a charm.
posted by one_bean at 5:53 PM on February 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

I have a similar job. On my most productive days I start the day with something simple and concrete--filling wash bottles, sending data obtained the previous day, organizing specimens. It has to be something that can be completed. Some of that stuff is not technically my job. Doesn't matter. My mind can wander but it wanders to the to do list, and by the time I've done those things for 15 minutes I'm At Work. A standing desk has also made a ridiculous amount of difference.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:19 PM on February 2, 2016

If you're writing, leave the document open on your desktop and stop mid-sentence. When you come back to work, you're pretty likely to start typing again.
posted by areaperson at 6:44 PM on February 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

I have a program called Writer's Block installed on my work PC and my laptop (it works for Macs too). It will stop you from doing anything except writing in a .txt file for a set number of words or minutes.

First thing in the morning I set it to 1000 words, and just type what I'm thinking and feeling, and what I'm planning for the day.

Just before I go to lunch I set it to another 1000, and do the same kind of writing as soon as I get back.

It takes me about 20-30 minutes to type 1000 words of free-form, unplanned text. I save the files to a folder, but I usually don't read them again unless I came up with a useful outline or a good opening sentence or something. Most of the time it's just thoughts and worries and a way to start to focus on work without distraction or stakes. You could write prayers or affirmations if that's your kind of thing.
posted by rollick at 4:13 AM on February 3, 2016 [4 favorites]

Restroom, wash hands (surgical scrub style), phone in top drawer, headphones on, read notes off of notepad to review the morning, turn page on notepad - and go!
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:52 AM on February 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Hey, I definitely have the same problem. I come in, I turn on my computer, I go "ooh, Facebook/Twitter/MetaFilter/Buzzfeed/whatever" and there goes my morning. (And unfortunately blocking social networks won't work for me--that's my job!)

One thing that helps when I actually commit to doing it is my physical to-do list. When I get in in the morning, before I open my internet browsers or email, I write down what I need to do for the day, and also any projects I'm waiting for a response on from other people. The act of writing it down physically (I use a 5.5x8 grid-lined Moleskine and a Uni Jetstream 0.5 for this, but you can use whatever you want, I'm just a stationery dork) really helps me set my priorities for the day and also remember what it was I was even working on.

Some helpful tools I've come across are Todoist for to-do lists, RescueTime for tracking how you spend your computer time (I second the recommendation above, it's great), and though I've never tried them myself, there are some browser extensions that will kick you out and lock you out of distracting websites if you've been on there longer than an amount of time that you can specify. I think RescueTime might even offer some version of this feature, but again, I've never used it.

I also have a little piece of paper taped to my monitor reminding me of the things that I have to do every morning (check queues, check email, etc.) that can be a good reminder for stuff I might otherwise overlook if I get wrapped up in other projects. Just a nice little priority reminder somewhere you'll see it every day can be a good productivity jog.

I've tried Pomodoro, and when I actually commit to it, it works pretty well. There is an online site called Tomato Timer that I like to use to save battery on my phone. You could easily do a Pomodoro for 25 minutes of morning MetaFilter and then begin your day on the right foot. :)

Good luck!
posted by helloimjennsco at 5:52 AM on February 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

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