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Ritualize Attention by Lisa Gayhart

time is precious

I was supposed to write this blog post a couple weeks ago. I had it on my to do list, I was thinking about the content, and I really wanted to get started. And yet, even with a week of vacation, I didn’t complete it by my self imposed deadline. Why?

We’re not prioritizing the work that matters to us. We’re lost in shallow work. Shallow work: emails, scrolling, messaging, tidying, making appointments, laundry. All the administrative stuff of life and work that must get done but will never be totally complete. Shallow work not only eats away at your productive hours, but also dilutes our attention and focus leaving us spent but probably not fulfilled.

We all know the feeling of getting lost in work we really love: time flies by, hours lost to the task. We come out the other side energized, excited, and accomplished. This is deep work. (I can’t do the concept of deep work justice in one blog post. Go read Cal Newport’s book Deep Work for the full story.) Even without much discussion, I bet hearing the term triggers thoughts of the work that gives you life, that lights you up. This work doesn’t have to be a solely an individual pursuit or relegated to office/study hours. Community building, parenting, training for a race, planning a trip: these things all take the full care and attention of your focused, thinking mind.

How can we combat shallow work and carve out more time for the work that matters to us: ritualize.

Setting one intention and making space for it daily fosters focus as a habit, setting us up for sustainable success. Some ideas to ritualize attention:

  • Do the most important task first, while attention and creativity are high
  • Make tomorrow’s to do list at the end of each day in order to start the next day smoothly and offer opportunity for reflection
  • Complete creative work in an uninterrupted block of time, ideally the same time slot each day
  • Use the pomodoro technique of breaking work into 25 minute chunks
  • Set aside time at the beginning of the week for planning and time at the end of the week for review
  • Determine and enact your “do not disturb” mode: e.g. a specific place like a quiet office or a buzzing coffee shop; music or white noise; no wifi or notifications off; etc.
  • Schedule specific, time-limited, blocks for email, Insta scrolling, and internet browsing

For me, my deep work is research and writing. It’s hard work to dive into: I have to be in the right state of mind, in the right location, with the right tools or it just doesn’t flow. Or maybe that’s just a story I tell myself to obtain permission to slide into my Instagram feed on the train instead of tapping out 50 words in the Notes app? Most likely the latter.

During August I’m ritualizing my focus by scheduling creative time in the morning before I get distracted and exhausted by the day. Whether it’s 50 words or 500, I’m calling it a win. How about you?


Let’s share our thoughts and experiences on Instagram at #ritualattention, through this site, or in class. But not in real time - enjoy the moments. xoxo

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Lisa Gayhart works in higher ed technology as a UX researcher, academic librarian, and instructor. She’s currently researching digital wellness, in hopes of helping university students cultivate healthier relationships with technology and devices. Lisa is also a Ritual Movement Method Teacher Training student with Ritual Island. She’ll be moving you away from your devices and into your bodies SOON.

@lisagayhart