Workplace Wisdom

What’s the Workplace Equivalent of Making the Bed?

The right ritual can get your day off to a productive start. For me, the best mornings begin in a quiet house, making and drinking my coffee just the way I like it.

Everybody’s got their own way to meet the day. Some people believe in heading outside immediately to stand for a moment in natural light, no matter the season or weather. Others like to make the bed the minute they’re out of it. Neither of these options ever appealed to me — particularly not the bed-making, as you’ll see here.

Knowing When to Change Your Mind

But recently I read the transcript of a commencement address given this past May at the University of Texas by Naval Adm. William H. McRaven, ninth commander of U.S. Special Operations Command. He talked at some length about why the Navy Sea, Air, Land teams — the famous Navy SEALs — must make their beds perfectly. First thing. Every day.

The gist is that the seemingly small accomplishment of perfect bed-making sets the tone for the rest of the day. This is especially important when times are tough: having made the bed means that at least one thing was fully under the SEAL’s control and was done right. Plus, coming back to a perfectly made bed after a hard and terrible day actually provides a small measure of comfort and security.

I have absolutely no SEAL-like potential. But I’ll admit that the idea of at least a small success every day and the promise of a comforting, secure experience at the end of it is appealing enough that I may need to change my mind and add bed-making to my morning ritual.

Tallying Up Your Day

Daily work rituals can have the same kind of value for your team as bed-making does for the SEALs. When I was a first-time supervisor, I greeted everyone in my unit each morning and thanked them at the end of the shift. To me, that was only good hosting behavior.

But the shift often began with what’s called “a raggedy start.” This all happened so long ago that the staff accounted for their work on paper tally sheets. After clocking in, some employees would take 10 or 15 minutes to realize that they didn’t have a pencil or to decide that their pencil wasn’t sharp enough, and they’d amble across the office to the pencil drawer and the sharpener — chatting with every possible human on the way there and back.

So I started a new morning routine for myself, which resulted in a new morning routine for my employees. I would sharpen two pencils per person to a fine point and lay them with almost military precision in the corner of each workstation. It was simultaneously a welcome, recognition of their needs, and a signal to get down to work.

Sharpen Your Own Pencil

What work equivalents could you find to the SEALs’ well-made bed? What could you do to signal the value of preparedness — the necessary respect, readiness, and rigor — to your team?

It might mean clearing your desk before you head out at night, and leaving yourself a list of the two or three most crucial tasks for the following morning, along with the work items you’ll need to complete them.

Or you could take a few minutes for early morning visioning before you start on your tasks, remembering your big goals for the future, and thinking about how the day’s assignments connect to those goals.

It could also mean having a Heads-Up Huddle in the morning with your staff members to recap yesterday and set the focus for today.

Maybe you could schedule an early check-in with your mentee, so you’ll know you’ve done something good for someone else, no matter what else happens in your day.

Or how about actually sharpening your pencils, prepping your tools — and your mind — and getting ready to start your own “special operations?”

Onward and upward,

LK

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