Thursday, August 1, 2013

6 ways mindfulness can make you more productive and happy

For many people mindfulness conjures up images of monks chanting or drops of water on a still pond. Something great for the mystic but not for those of us with lives and jobs. However mindfulness, when you boil it down, is simply awareness.  Awareness of your body, emotions and what is going on around you.  It really isn’t more complicated or mystical than that.  Achieving awareness however can be very difficult. In an age where each of us has in our pocket a device specifically designed to take us somewhere else; being present has become a rare and lost art. We are not just driving while distracted, we are living while distracted. This lack of mindfulness can affect not just our work but our health, relationships and emotional state.  So how does a person become more mindful?

Do one thing at a time
Study after study has shown that multitasking is not that great for our brains. When we “multi-task” we are actually just single-tasking really poorly.  Multi-tasking has even been shown to have a negative effect on productivity.  Let that sink in; you are more productive when you focus on one task at a time. Instead of trying to talk on the phone, text a client, and take a selfie while driving try and compartmentalize your life a bit. When you accept your human limits you will actual gain more in the end.  

Shut out distractions i.e. be present
This is a partner to the previous tip.  Shutting out distractions helps protect your ability to do one thing at a time. Turn the phone off when you are having a conversation or at least when you are trying to sleep. Disconnect from the internet when you are trying to write a paper. Turn off the TV while you are eating.  Not only will this make you a more productive person but your life will start to “taste” better!  Trust me, the rest of the world won’t disappear when you disconnected from it.

Spend some time doing nothing
This one can be one of the hardest but also one of the most rewarding if done well.  Set a timer, close your eyes and just breathe.  If that is too crazy an idea, start out by just sitting with your thoughts on your next coffee break.  Believe it or not, doing nothing for brief periods of time helps center you and resets your outlook.  Michael Hyatt, one of the most productive people I know of, does this for 30 minutes each morning and in a recent podcast said it was so helpful he wanted to try and see if he could do it longer. Being mindful does some amazing stuff. Also: listening to Michael Hyatt does some amazing stuff ;)

Exercise with intensity more often
This sort of goes without saying but exercise returns you to your body and helps you focus.  Nothing puts you in the present moment like serious exercise.  I am not talking about a leisurely jog on a treadmill in front of a TV.  That really isn’t doing anything for you anyway.  I am talking about something intense enough to force you to focus on what you are doing in this moment, right now. For some of you this may be nothing more than a short jog outside and that is ok. The important part is that it makes you work hard enough to keep your mind focused on your workout not Wolf Blitzer’s hair.    

In conflict, before reacting take a deep breath
This is one that I need more of.  I am passionate about a lot of things which means I tend to look before leaping with my mouth. In our culture we have bought into this idea that good leaders have a quick response for anything.  They are fast on their feet and are ready at all times to fire off an answer. Having experienced and also been one of those quick leaders I believe that this is false and anxiety producing.  Before reacting to a given stimuli take a deep breath, collect your thoughts and be present in the conflict instead of trying to “win” quickly.  You may find that by taking a second to be present the instinct to lash out is lessened and you can conflict with the other person in a redemptive way.

Focus on what you can do right now
If you take an inventory of all that you have to do in a given month you will probably go crazy.  The problem is, this is what many of us do when we approach our day!  We look at the totality of our schedule and then pull our hair out wondering how it is going to get done.  Take some time and think about what you can do right now, in this moment, and don’t dwell too much on the future.  Like most of mindfulness practices this will make you more productive but will also bring some context to your life.  Don’t be overwhelmed about what you are doing tomorrow; focus on what is on your plate right now. Your friends, spouse and boss will thank you for it.

If this article was helpful or challenging in some way feel free to share!

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