Tell me if this sounds familiar:
You sit down, intent to get some quality work done, only to find yourself caught up in a completely different task ten minutes later. You were ready to write a blog post, and before you knew it you were in your inbox, even though you said you weren’t going to respond to emails. Or maybe you were redesigning your website, and next you know you’ve spent the last 20 minutes aimlessly scrolling through Facebook.
If this has happened to you, you’re not alone.
We live in a world that pays premiums for our attention. TV shows and movies are filmed to jump rapidly between camera angles so we don’t lose interest. Social media is designed so we can endlessly scroll from one story to the next until we find what we’re interested in.
Our culture is conditioning us to move rapidly from one thing to the next, reducing our need to sustain attention in order to be entertained.
So it’s no wonder that when we set out to accomplish anything requiring sustained focus, time, and energy, we’re pulled in a million different directions, and often can get exhausted in the process.
It can be frustrating, especially for a high performer looking to produce and create.
Here are 3 tips based on mindfulness that will help you work with this and be more productive.
1. Try doing less. And go slower.
Yes, you read that correctly. To get more done, try doing less, and go slower.
This may seem counterintuitive, so let’s look at it more closely.
Have you ever felt so energized, so creative, and so inspired, that you were literally bursting at the seams with creative potential? And as soon as you went to put something into action, your mind was buzzing so quickly that anything you did inspired you to do something else? Before you knew it, you’ve bounced around to 15 different AWESOME ideas without making a meaningful dent in any of them?
That creative energy can be fun, and can definitely feel like you’re accomplishing something, but often just leads to multiple unfinished projects.
By making an intentional commitment beforehand to keep it simple, to just commit to one idea or task, you set a parameter for the mind, similar to bumpers in a bowling lane.
By also going slower, and staying more grounded, you’ll be more aware of when you’re about to, or already have, jumped to the next thing. When our energy is scattered and fast moving, we can get lost in it, not aware when we’ve gotten off task.
This is often the plight of the high performer. Being SO excited, SO inspired, and SO energized, that we bounce around from one shiny light to another, like a pinball.
In mindfulness, we’re brining a more deliberate attention to our experience, and in the beginning of a meditation practice, we’re often just giving ourselves ONE thing to focus on—typically the breath—while we’re sitting still. By reducing the fast-pace and distraction, we can commit better to that task.
You may not be able to radically reduce distraction and/or sit completely still while you’re getting things done, but I do believe you can go slower.
So next time you set out to do something, make the intention to go slower. Type more slowly. Move more slowly. Picks things up more slowly.
It may feel awkward, but it will make you more sensitive to the transition moments that typically take you off track. And ultimately, this will keep you on track, completing what you set out to do.
And in the end, one finished project is always better than 15 uncompleted projects.
2. Monitor the tension in your body
Mindfulness is an inner and outer awareness of our moment-to-moment experience. One of the great benefits of brining mindfulness to our inner experience is that we can check-in with our bodies to see where and how we might be holding extra tension.
In the context of productivity, we need a reservoir of energy to get things done. When we hold unnecessary tension in the body, it’s another way that we deplete this energy reservoir. The body has to work hard to stay tense.
This is why we might often feel exhausted from traveling all day, even though we did nothing but sit on a plane, take a few cab rides, and take the elevator to our hotel room. Sometimes the idea that we’re doing something and going somewhere can cause us to tense up. Not only is this draining, it’s uncomfortable.
A few key areas to check into are the jaw, the shoulders, and the belly. Many people tend to grip in these areas, and by inviting them to soften, you can quickly find yourself in a more grounded space. If you struggle to release the tension, try tensing the muscles even more aggressively, and then release.
By doing this consistently throughout the day, you will be able to sustain your essential energy reservoir for much longer periods of time.
3. Take 3 minutes of mindful breathing periodically
Do 3 minutes of mindful breathing, 3 times per day. This strategy serves a couple purposes.
First, it gives you an opportunity to stop throughout the day to do nothing. And if nothing else, this is restorative and nourishing to the brain and body. In the same way that we take breaks between sets at the gym, we need to take breaks between producing throughout the day.
Secondly, this will develop your capacity to sustain focus when your mind wanders. In these 3-minute sessions, you’ll be using the breath to anchor your attention. Place one hand on your abdomen, and simple feel the breath as it comes in and out.
You’ll quickly notice the mind has a life of it’s own. When it wanders off, just notice the clouds coming and going like clouds passing through the sky, and gently return your attention back to your breath. Do this over and over. Each time you do, it’s like a bicep curl for your brain.
To help you get started, here is a link to a 3-minute meditation.
About the Author
Cory Muscara is the founder of the Long Island Center for Mindfulness. He serves as faculty at Columbia Teachers College and the University of Pennsylvania, where he teaches mindfulness and positive psychology, and in 2012 spent six months in silence living as a monk in Asia. He regularly appears on the Dr. Oz show as a guest expert in the topic of mindfulness. You can follow his teachings on Instagram, Facebook, or his website at www.CoryMuscara.com.
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