Monday, August 10, 2009

How to Be More Productive

If you spend any amount of time on the interwebs, as I do, you will stumble across countless blogs and articles promising new ways to be more productive and efficient. Mostly, these have to do with finding out how to get more done in a day, be it through better organization of lists, or syncing of desktop with mobile devices, or keeping a daily time log. Actually, all of these things are great ideas, and I think these are resources to investigate.

But today, I want to think about productivity and efficiency in a slightly different way. I began thinking about what it means to be "efficient" when I pulled that word out of a bowl at my yoga class. My teacher had placed little "angel cards" into the bowl, each with a word on it, like "love" or "harmony" or "clarity." The idea was that you would use that word as the inspiration for your practice--your intention. I drew "efficiency," and had to smile. Of all the things to strive for in a yoga class!

I didn't think getting more done was really possible in yoga, so I looked at other interpretations. I recognized that one aspect of efficiency has to do with minimizing wasted effort. So, instead of using a lot of extra movements to transition from one pose to the next, one could try to be as streamlined and graceful and efficient as possible. No wasted effort.

What I found in trying to do this was that in order to move fluidly, and with intention, that I had to be extremely focused. I couldn't let my mind wander at all, or inevitably, I'd move more than was really necessary. I'd step out before stepping in. I'd scratch my nose on the way.

What I think I discovered was how important--how incredibly essential--focus is when it comes to productivity. Not just because you don't waste effort and therefore have more time and energy, but also because you don't produce something of poor quality.

After all, what's the point of being productive if all you're producing is crap?

So, how to be more productive in this way?
  1. Before you begin your day, write down what you intend to accomplish. Think of intention as the gentle reminders your GPS lady gives you as you proceed on a planned route.
  2. Before you set out to start your planned activities, make sure you close your eyes and breathe deeply, if only for a minute or two. Beginning your day's journey on calm seas will make you far more likely to meet with success than throwing yourself out there in rough waters.
  3. Once you are on your way, you will inevitably drift off course. But as it is with meditation, so it is with staying focused and productive. If an unwanted thought comes up in meditation, rather than worrying about it, you visualize it as a cloud, simply drifting by. You do not judge it, or get attached to it, but rather, you just let it go. Same with work. You begin to read something you hadn't intended, or you find yourself on a phone call you didn't want to be on, and as soon as you realize it, don't fret, but let it go. Stop reading, and return to your task. Tell the person you've enjoyed talking, but it's time to get back to work. Don't feel bad, just move on.
  4. What happens if you meet with a roadblock that prevents you from completing one of your tasks? Don't let it throw you off course. Decide how important it is. Do you need to complete it today? Or can you return to it tomorrow? Assess this calmly, and then you will know how to proceed. After all, life requires adaptability, but this doesn't mean you have to lose focus. You can simply reroute around the trouble and calmly proceed.
  5. Remember, it isn't about quantity. It's about quality. Don't expend energy on useless or worthless efforts. Don't let anyone else convince you to, either. It's your life, your career, your home.
If you follow these guidelines, I think you'll find yourself moving through life with less friction and with more to be proud of. The rewards of focus, too, go beyond having something to show at the end of the day. The emotional and psychological benefits you'll experience are vast, and in short order, you'll never want to be a distracted, frantic productivity-without-purpose person again.

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