It seems like every time I look at my Inbox I have a new set of “tips for productivity” from one of the many blogs or other sources I follow. It’s a popular topic for a good reason: we all feel (a bit or a lot) overwhelmed by our busy, data-driven lives. But how helpful is all this advice?
Some of what I read is wonderfully useful (set timers for 45 minute work blocks; complete two substantive tasks from your To Do list prior to checking email in the morning), some of it is vague (stay focused on the task at hand) but all of it revolves around the fact that every day we are inundated with information, in the form of demands for our actions, words or thoughts, through the ever present tasks on our To Do lists. And we are in a continual struggle to process, assimilate, use and/or discard that information in a way that makes us feel like we are keeping everything together. Or at least not falling apart.
All the “productivity tips” hype has gotten me thinking about how the lessons I have absorbed through a steady yoga and meditation practice help me stay productive, and how they might help you too. So, here are a few of my favorite “yoga productivity tips”:
1. Start with a clean space. It’s impossible to focus on anything when your environment is in disarray. In a yoga class we take the time to clear a space in the room for our practice, moving books, bags and electronics out of the way so that they don’t distract us from what we intend to do, which is to focus on moving and feeling the body. Otherwise we would spend the entire class thinking about our To Do list or who we might text afterwards! In the same way we should clear our desk/office space from the distractions of piles of unorganized papers and work supplies. Plus, the act of cleaning and organizing has an amazing calming effect on many people and could be a great way to focus your mind before accomplishing a bit of work. Try it and see!
2. Practice silence. There are various ways to practice being silent, by which I mean being in a space where you are not talking, typing, texting or thinking analytically. One way is meditation practice. Another is body practice (also known as exercise). You can even practice silence in short bursts throughout the day by pausing for 1-2 minutes before you start a new task, and breathing deeply a few times allowing the shoulders and face muscles to relax.
All forms of silent practice show us how un-focused our mind really is–this is what we call the “monkey mind” in the yogic/mindfulness traditions. When we practice silence and meditation, we can start to observe just how crazy this monkey mind is as it jumps from thought-tree to thought-tree. Amazingly, the more we observe the monkey mind–even if it is for just a minute or two, several times a day–the more clear our mind becomes because we are able to see our thoughts as merely separate bits related to the large quantity of data we absorb. Over time with consistent practice, the mind will begin to sift through the volume of these thoughts and be able to focus on a particular one, such as the task that you need to accomplish. It takes time to master; try to remember while you practice that focusing our mind is a skill that must be built through regular effort, just like any other skill you have acquired to improve your career and/or life.
3. Do less in more time. It might seem counterintuitive, but taking more time to do less is the best way to create better time management. In yoga we avoid rushing through our movements, from posture to posture, because when moving quickly we risk injury and often miss the experience of yoga itself, which is our awareness of the mind-body connection. In a similar way, when you rush through your daily tasks you will probably make mistakes and lower the quality of what you are doing. In your hurry to get as much done as possible you will also lose the ability to discern what actually needs to be done now. You will be missing out on the satisfying experience of being fully engaged in what you are doing–whether it is work, family or leisure.
Instead, you should choose your tasks and do them carefully. I like the slow movement advice of Thich Nhat Hanh, a respected mindfulness master and teacher, who has poetically said:
‘Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future. Live the actual moment.’
Do your tasks like you drink your tea: slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future. You will probably find that your To Do list becomes more manageable, and your daily life much less overwhelming.
What about you, are you inspired by any productivity tips? Leave your thoughts in a Comment below!
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