We all want to be more productive, achieve more in less time, and avoid stress and burnout. But sometimes, that’s easier said than done—or is it? Can the ancient Buddhist concept of mindfulness help us be more productive?
It looks like the answer is a resounding yes!
At its core, mindfulness is about training your mind to be present and focused on a particular moment. You might have heard about mindfulness in the context of meditation when you try to clear your mind entirely. When it comes to working, you can use this skill to be more productive by giving your full attention to the task at hand. Read on for concrete tips on how to implement mindfulness for greater productivity.
1. Avoid Multitasking
Multitasking is the antithesis of mindfulness, which is all about giving your full attention to the present moment.
You might think that you can get things done quicker if you try to do them at the same time. However, when you can’t give a task your full attention, you’re causing your brain unnecessary stress as it tries to jump between each activity. Not only that, but the work you do will be of lower quality, and may even take longer.
Instead, try to focus all your energy on one activity at a time. That doesn’t mean you have to complete one task in its entirety before moving onto something else. You could decide to work on one thing until you’ve reached a certain point, and then switch to another task.
The point is to be fully present with whatever you’re doing instead of thinking about all the other tasks on your to-do list. If you can, designate a particular time (or times) in the day to respond to emails and communications, instead of letting them distract you as you work.
2. Design a Distraction-Free Workspace
It’s all very well to say that you must avoid distractions, but how do you go about doing that?
One obvious form of distractions is notifications from our phones and computers. You might want to put your phone away entirely while you work. If this isn’t possible, disable notifications from your social media sites or use a focus app. On your computer, you can also block pop-up notifications or even entire websites.
But there are lots of other things that can also be distracting; this is especially true when working from home.
When there are open notebooks littering your desk, or a pile of laundry in the corner of the room that needs folding, these are all things that can take our minds off our present task and make us think about everything else we need to do.
Try to keep non-work-related tasks out of sight. Create a little space around your desk that makes you feel calm. Close notebooks you’re not using and put items away when you’re done with them. Make whatever adjustments you can to create an environment that’s free of distractions.
3. Incorporate Mini Meditations into Your Day
Not everyone has the time to meditate for half an hour every day. But taking a few minutes to meditate at the start of your day, or whenever you feel overwhelmed, can improve your productivity significantly.
If you’re new to meditation, start by trying some breathing techniques. One example is Box Breathing: inhale for 4 counts, hold for 4, exhale for 4, and hold again for another 4. Do this a few times and try to really focus on your breath. You’ll be surprised how calm and ready for the day it can make you feel!
You can also use this as a way of taking breaks. It’s important to take a breather during the day, but these time-outs are often full of their own tasks, such as making a cup of coffee or scrolling through social media. This doesn’t rest the brain at all.
Take regular, 10-minute breaks where you do some breathing exercises, take notice of your thoughts and feelings, and observe yourself and your surroundings. Taking the time to simply be present in your body and the space around it can do wonders to keep you on track for a productive day.
4. Become an Observer
Those who practice mindfulness acknowledge that freeing your mind from distractions is no simple task. Part of the mindfulness practice is about casting yourself as an observer of your own thoughts and feelings, without judgment or frustration.
When a thought comes up that isn’t something you’re trying to focus on, or when the urge to check your phone strikes, notice that thought, acknowledge it, and let it go. Don’t berate yourself for letting your mind wander. It’s only natural. The more you practice, the easier it will become.
If feelings of frustration or anger do come up while you’re working, acknowledge those too. Instead of stewing in the emotions, try to identify what they feel like in your body, and observe them as if you’re looking in from the outside. If you need to, take a break and do some of those breathing exercises.
5. Schedule, Schedule, Schedule
Effective scheduling is probably one of the most important tips for achieving productivity. We can use mindful planning to do it more effectively.
When planning your tasks for the day, think of these three factors:
2. Level of focus needed; and
3. Estimated time.
Most people peak in energy and focus in the morning, a couple of hours after waking up. It’s a good idea to warm up with a simpler task, then go on to the more challenging ones.
In general, it’s better to wind down as the day progresses, and end the day with the least demanding tasks. This fits in with our natural circadian rhythms and will make it easier for you to relax in the evenings.
If you struggle to relax and unwind, meditation can help here too, or you can try natural therapy like CBD oil. CBD affects your endocannabinoid system in a way that promotes relaxation. It can help you attain a sense of calm when your brain feels crowded and chaotic.
Making Mindfulness a Way of Life
Whatever it is you need to focus on, you can use the concept of mindfulness to approach tasks with a clear head and achieve greater productivity.
Mindfulness is a journey, not a destination, so don’t beat yourself up when things don’t go according to plan! It starts with implementing little things, and you’ll gradually see that working smarter—not harder—gets easier and easier.
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