Three daily rituals that transformed my approach to working from home
Many of us are now working from home on a regular basis, or even do fully remote work. But without the structure of office hours or the daily commute, working from home can be challenging. In this long read, MeaningSphere content strategist Ali Boston shares the daily rituals she follows to bring a little more inspiration, joy, and meaning to her home office.
Can you remember the first day you worked from home during the pandemic? For me, it began as what I thought was a regular Friday in my office in Munich, where I lived at the time. My manager pulled me aside for a word: I’d had contact with someone from a region that was now classed as “high risk” and had to go home immediately. I packed up and left, thinking I’d be back in a few days — a week at most.
Almost three years on from those early days of the pandemic, researchers at the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy estimate almost half the workforce in the United States now works from home at least one day a week. In the United Kingdom, two-thirds of people working in professional and scientific services now work from home or use a hybrid model, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. A survey from Buffer found that 97% of respondents wanted to work remotely at least some of the time for the rest of their careers.
I miss the random chats with colleagues while making a coffee; sharing ideas with others over lunch; the structure of office hours — even the commute.
I haven’t worked in an office for more than a day since the pandemic. The growing acceptance of working from home and the rise of remote roles made it possible for me to move countries to live with my partner, to a region where there aren’t many jobs in my areas of expertise, and where I’m still learning the language. Remote work has opened up many opportunities for both my professional and personal life. But I’m the first to admit there are many drawbacks to permanently working from home. I miss the random chats with colleagues while making a coffee; sharing ideas with others over lunch; the structure of office hours — even the commute.
When I first started working from home, always connected, I found it harder and harder to pause for a break or to end my working day. Some days I barely spoke to anyone. After one long week glued to my laptop and feeling as though I’d lost all control of my days, I decided I had to change something. I began researching daily routines and hacks for working from home. It’s then that I discovered the power of applying daily rituals to my working life.
What are rituals?
Rituals are actions that we do on a regular basis that we do with intention and attach meaning to. As executive coach Lucy Gower writes in Life Hacker, what sets a ritual apart from a routine is mindset. Instead of chores, those acts that we do daily take on new meaning for us, bringing us energy, inspiration and joy. It’s the difference between whacking a spoonful of instant coffee into the first mug you pull from the dishwasher, or carefully measuring fresh coffee for a drip filter, picking out your favorite mug, sipping your drink while watching the world wake up outside. It’s a subtle difference, but one that can have a serious impact on our day-to-day experience. Psychology research has found rituals can have a real impact on people’s thoughts, feelings or behaviors — even when they themselves say they’re skeptical about rituals.
Psychology research has found rituals can have a real impact on people’s thoughts, feelings or behaviors.
According to author Casper Kuile, rituals’ power is that they help us become truly present in a given moment. So here are three daily rituals that I try to practice to give me a lift when I’m working from home — perhaps you’ll find some of the ideas useful too.
1. The fake commute
Since I started working, my commutes have been everything from a ten-minute walk to a 90-minute train ride. When I graduated from university and started my first job, I remember a thrill at feeling part of this “grown-up” world of commuters, where everyone seemed to have somewhere to be, something to do. Always tiring, often frustrating, the daily commute nevertheless provided a rhythm to my day and a signal to my brain that the working day was beginning or ending.
These days, my morning “commute” consists of shuffling a few meters from the kitchen to my home office with a cup of tea. Without the push of a train or bus to catch, it’s often hard to tear myself away from my computer at the end of the working day, even if I know I’m not actually being productive anymore.
On my search for rituals to apply to working from home, I came across the “Fake Commute.” The idea is simple: trick your brain into creating some distance between you and your work by taking yourself out for a walk at the beginning and end of your day. Put it in your calendar if it helps.
Psychology Today writes that a “fake commute” adds routine to our days and that having this kind of rhythm can increase our sense of joy and purpose. I find that in the morning, heading around the block with a cup of tea gives me energy, as well as making me feel a little part of the daily rush again as cars and cyclists pass by me on their way to work. In the evening, the fake commute pulls me away from my desk, helps me wind down, and provides a moment of reflection before I get on with making dinner or meeting friends.
2. A really good lunch
I’ve been lucky enough to sample some pretty wonderful office canteens — and to have worked for companies that saw the value of a good lunch break. Back in 2005, the International Labour Organization put adequate nutrition up there with protection from workplace chemicals and noise in terms of its importance for worker productivity and well-being. I’m not ashamed to say that free or heavily discounted food ready in time for lunch was often one of the highlights of my day when I worked in an office.
Working from home, my lunches became somewhat depressing. Not only that, but the time I allowed for them became smaller and smaller, reducing the quality of those lunches in turn. Many a time the clock crept to one forty-five and I leapt to the kitchen in a panic trying to work out what I could make and eat in fifteen minutes before my next meeting (my friends know that I’m a slow eater, which only exacerbated this situation).
But taking a break for food isn’t just important for our bodies. It’s a great opportunity to nourish our minds through a food-making ritual. In The Power of a Good Lunch on The Solo Collective podcast, Rebecca Seal describes taking a break to make a really good, tasty meal for yourself in the middle of the day as an “act of self-care.”
Now, instead of rushing to scrape whatever I have in the fridge into a meal, I try to approach preparing and eating lunch — even clearing up from lunch — as time I’m investing in recharging, reflecting and keeping myself fit for the afternoon’s work.
3. Exercise for mind, body and soul
We all know we should exercise more. Especially for those of us who have sedentary jobs. Numerous studies suggest that those of us working from home since the pandemic have become even more sedentary. People often say they find it hard to fit exercise into their working week. But one of the big advantages of working from home is that, without that long commute, there’s spare time that we can carve out for exercise.
What I soon realized when I started working from home was that a short run wasn’t just important for my physical health — it was invaluable for my mental health. I don’t run far or fast. I often run exactly the same route each time I do it. It’s not about showing off to others — it’s about being in the moment (and I honestly find it hard to be mentally anywhere else when I’m struggling up the hill back home).
No matter how short or embarrassing my workout, I head into my working day feeling like I’m already winning because I’ve done something I know is good for my health.
Starting the journey
I’m the first to admit that practicing these rituals is an ongoing journey for me. When work gets busy, it becomes much harder to keep up these rituals. But perhaps the most important first step is simply knowing there are actions I can take myself to bring more meaning to those often seemingly mundane moments in my working day.
So, whether you’re working from home every day of the week, or only occasionally, perhaps some of the ideas I shared can help you bring a little more inspiration, joy, and meaning to your working day.
What daily rituals have you developed to help you when you’re working from home? Share in the comments below.
January is MeaningSphere’s month of rituals for meaningful work — check out and download our free calendar to add some easy-to-do rituals into your daily routine.
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