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Last Updated on February 17, 2021

How Mindfulness for Productivity Can Improve Your Focus

How Mindfulness for Productivity Can Improve Your Focus

Mindfulness has become a popular and fashionable activity in recent times. The act of focused awareness on the flow of the present moment brings us into the here and now so that we are conscious of what we are doing. This is why practicing mindfulness for productivity can help us change the way we live and work.

It may seem both simple and obvious, but when we focus our awareness on our thoughts, we will find that we spend most of our day thinking about past and future events, or sitting around day dreaming rather than focusing on what matters.

Most people have a natural time perspective, and their thoughts are dominated by either past, present, or future events. What we don’t want is past or future events dominating our present experiences, or that we live too much in the present that we don’t learn from past experiences nor plan for the future. So, like most things in life, we seek balance.

The practice of mindfulness teaches us to become aware of our thoughts and the present moment. It is a habit we need to nurture because our natural tendency is to stray from the here and how to tomorrow, next week, or next month. When we practice mindfulness for productivity, we keep calling back our wandering mind to rest on the current moment.

The Benefits of Mindfulness for Productivity

Below are some of the many benefits of mindfulness for productivity and how they can improve our focus.

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Greater Focus

One of our biggest challenges to getting things done is the distraction of the mind. While we try to get the task at hand done, our mind reminds us of ten others that still need doing. We quickly check our email because our mind alerts us to the fact there may be unread emails in our inbox, and if they remain unchecked we may be missing the fact that the Earth is shortly to be demolished by an alien construction crew.

As this thought comes into our head, we then remember that our copy of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was lent to a friend, so maybe we should shoot over to Amazon and buy a fresh copy. Mindfulness training jumps in the way of all these distractions of the mind and says “Come back to the present moment, and get going on what needs to be done.”

More Effective Planning

At the outset, mindfulness may appear to conflict with the concept of planning, but in fact they complement each other greatly. Planning allows us to practice mindfulness for productivity by reducing the burdens that the mind needs to worry about.

If we schedule and plan all our responsibilities and duties, we have less to distract us from our daily tasks. When applying mindfulness techniques, planning can be a much more effective process, as it won’t be delayed by the disruptions of other activities and ideas.

If you already have a busy schedule and don’t know how to make the most of it, check out Lifehack’s Free Guide: 4 Step Guide to Creating More Time Out of a Busy Schedule.

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Less Stress

A lot of stress is brought about by imagining negative future scenarios. If we were to live completely in the present, we would not suffer from this stress, but the human brain has the ability to cast itself into the future, so we have to learn how to manage it in order to improve our mental health

Stressing about future scenarios that haven’t happened is a pointless habit; mindfulness can teach us how to redirect these negative and worrying thoughts back to the present moment and remind us that the future hasn’t happened[1]. Mindfulness can also help with the insomnia that often accompanies stressful situations.

Better Sleep

Whenever we lie awake at night thinking about the poor sales figures or the bills that need to be paid, we need to bring our focus back to our physical body and the fact we are lying comfortable and warm in bed and that the things that are occupying our minds have not happened yet.

When we learn mindfulness for productivity, we will slip more quickly into sleep, which will help us wake up the next morning with more energy and focus to face the day.

How to Practice Mindfulness for Productivity

Mindfulness isn’t a natural skill for many of us. Our minds wander and thoughts take over. In order to practice this, there are a few simple steps you can take.

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1. Start With Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is the first natural step toward mindfulness. When you meditate, you will learn to slow your breath, calm your thoughts, and make space for the emotions that arise. It’s not about eliminating thoughts and emotions, but instead noticing them and responding in a way that helps you stay focused and process them. 

After some weeks of practicing meditation, you will find that the present moment becomes a little sharper in your consciousness and that you begin to notice little things throughout the day that help ground you: the sound of birds in the trees outside, the chill of a breeze coming in through the window, or the softness of your socks. 

To get started with meditation, try guided meditation practices, or check out this helpful guide.

2. Tap Into Your Senses

To practice mindfulness for productivity, you should try to find moments when your mind begins to wander. This is likely to happen in the middle of a workday, in the evening after a busy day, or even in the morning when you’re feeling groggy.

In these moments, tap into your senses by noticing details of your environment. What do you hear, see, smell, taste, or feel? For example, if you’re in your office, you may hear your coworkers chatting, see your desk and papers, smell the coffee on your desk, and feel the coolness of the air conditioner. Noticing these simple details will help bring you into the present and refocus your energy.

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3. Sit Quietly

Many people try to avoid sitting in silence as often as possible, as our brains are now so accustomed to noise and other stimuli. This is precisely the reason we should make time to sit in silence. When you do this, you give your thoughts a chance to slow down, which will quiet the thoughts surrounding the past and future.

Find a quiet space where you can be alone, even if it’s only for five minutes. Sit quietly, with your eyes open or close, and just pay attention to your breathing. Let your thoughts come and go, and you’ll likely notice that they naturally get quieter the longer you sit.

The Bottom Line

Take this moment to remember that the future hasn’t happened, the past is gone, and the present is all we have and all that is guaranteed. Make sure you are part of each moment that you live and experience the gift that is the now through mindfulness for productivity.

More on Practicing Mindfulness

Featured photo credit: Callum Shaw via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Ciara Conlon

Productivity coach, speaker, blogger and author of Chaos to Control, a Practical Guide to Getting Things Done

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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

What Is Block Scheduling? (And How It Boosts Productivity)

What Is Block Scheduling? (And How It Boosts Productivity)

On August 6, 1991, the world changed forever when the internet became publicly available. Less than 30 years later, our lives have been irrevocably transformed. We can now learn, explore, and communicate 24/7, which is both amazing and, as we all know, hazardous to our productivity[1]. This is why the question, “What is block scheduling?” has become important.

To be clear, the internet isn’t life’s only distraction, and while productivity has become a huge buzzword in recent years, it’s simply a measure of progress: Are you doing what matters most? Actively moving toward your goals?

Author Neil Pasricha writes in Harvard Business Review[2]:

“As our world gets busier and our phones get beepier, the scarcest resource for all of us is becoming attention and creative output. And if you’re not taking time to put something new and beautiful out in the world, then your value is diminishing fast.”

Most entrepreneurs relate deeply to this sentiment. Pasricha solved his own productivity challenges by instituting “untouchable days” that shield him from texts, phone calls, meetings, alerts, or appointments of any kind. He says these focused sessions have enabled him to produce his most creative and rewarding work.

I love Pasricha’s approach, but it’s not always realistic for me. As the founder and CEO of JotForm, I need to weigh in on a variety of daily decisions, from hiring to product roadmaps to financial planning. I suspect other founders feel the same way. Yet, I do believe in the power of focused work, which is also why I recommend block scheduling.

What Is Block Scheduling?

Entrepreneurs often flaunt their multitasking as a badge of honor. After all, starting a business is a tug-of-war between competing priorities.

However, while multitasking might feel efficient, research shows that shifting between tasks can slash productivity by up to 40%. Task-switching leaves what Dr. Sophie Leroy calls “attention residue,”[3] which means we’re still thinking about a previous activity while we start the next one[4].

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Here’s where block scheduling can shine. What is block scheduling, exactly?

We usually become familiar with the concept of block scheduling in high school. You likely received a schedule with a certain number of classes per day, all blocked according to class time, each school year. This is basic block scheduling.

Also called time blocking, block scheduling is the practice of allocating large chunks of time to related tasks. For example, you might designate Mondays for meetings and Tuesdays for strategy. Teachers often use block scheduling when creating lesson plans. There are many different approaches, which we’ll get to shortly.

First, here’s why it matters. Business is essentially problem-solving. Creating strategies, writing code, developing products, and all the myriad activities that entrepreneurs tackle demand focus and minimal distractions. They’re also inherently human tasks that won’t easily be replaced by AI, which means your business depends on your ability to go deep.

Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules for Success in a Distracted World, said in a 2017 interview:

“Focus is now the lifeblood of this economy.”

Entrepreneurs use their minds to launch ideas and create value, so the ability to concentrate is “almost like a superpower”[5].

Block scheduling can also help you to produce higher quality work in less time. Parkinson’s Law holds that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion,”[6], which is why setting time limits can deflate a ballooning task.

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How to Use Time Blocking to Boost Productivity

We all have different rhythms and responsibilities. Personalization is the key to successful time blocking, and it will require some trial and error. Here’s how to get started.

What is time blocking?

    1. Assess Your Calendar

    Evaluating your current schedule can be surprisingly difficult because few of us can accurately estimate how much time a task requires. If it feels easier, track how you actually spend your time for a full week. Note each activity—even 10 minutes of email and 15 minutes of social media scrolling between meetings.

    Once you know how you’ve been spending your time, it’ll be easier to know what to keep and what to throw out when you begin to make your new schedule.

    2. Look for Patterns

    After you’ve documented a full week, group tasks into categories. For example, you can include the following categories:

    • Administrative
    • Meetings
    • Creative work
    • Email
    • Personal time.

    You can also label tasks based on how you feel while doing them, or how they influence your energy levels on a scale from 1-10. Do whatever makes sense for you.

    3. Arrange Your Time Blocks

    Experiment with different block scheduling patterns. For example, one morning may look like this:

    • 8-9am: Respond to emails
    • 9-10am: Write up marketing proposal
    • 10-11am: Brainstorm and plan for Client A’s project
    • 11am-12pm: Meet with Client A to discuss ideas

    However, you may find that you’re more creative immediately after waking up. In that case, you’d want to move “brainstorming and planning” to an earlier slot. If responding to emails is best for when you’re feeling a little lethargic after lunch, put it there.

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    Read your emotions and abilities throughout the day to tap into what is going to work best for you.

    Ultimately, the goal is to avoid switching mental gears throughout the day, week, and maybe even the month. I realize this isn’t easy, especially for entrepreneurs, but it can be incredibly valuable.

    Spending a full day on projects you dislike, such as administrative work or meetings, might feel daunting, but blocking them into a single day can make the rest of your week infinitely more productive and more enjoyable. You’re free to tackle all the entrepreneurial challenges that get your blood flowing.

    4. Create Day Themes

    If you’re someone who has to focus on many things during a single day or week, you may find it more beneficial to create themes for each day instead of blocking up your day into individual tasks. For example, you can set Mondays as Brainstorming/Planning days, Tuesdays as Administrative days, etc.

    If you take this route, I suggest always scheduling in at least one Family day. It will ensure you make time for the important people in your life and give your brain time to rest.

    Benefits of Block Scheduling

    Once you’ve answered “What is block scheduling?” and know how to use it correctly, you’ll find that you receive many benefits. Here are just a few.

    Battle Procrastination

    If you have your schedule set and know you only have an hour to get a particular task done, it will be significantly easier to avoid procrastinating.

    For more on how to stop procrastinating, check out this article.

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    Create Realistic Time Estimates

    Once you’ve been working with time blocking for a while, you’ll learn which activities take the most/least time. You may have to adjust your schedule during the first month or so to get it right, but be patient. You’ll continue to learn to realistically estimate how much time a particular task will take.

    Develop More Focus and Attention

    When your schedule doesn’t leave much room for scrolling through social media or chatting with coworkers, you’ll find your brain is more devoted to paying attention to the task at hand. You’ll respond to the limits you set for yourself and will focus to get things done.

    Final Thoughts

    Most founders crave freedom. Yet, school schedules, jobs, and social norms condition us to work with a traditional schedule and reactive mindset. Before we know it, we’ve re-created a working schedule that traces back to the 19th century, even in our own companies. Block scheduling is not only a tool to maximize productivity; it’s a way to reclaim your time[7].

    In my 14 years at JotForm, I’ve realized that business growth means doing more of what makes the biggest impact. I don’t always succeed, but I try to focus my time and energy where it matters, and I know that busyness is not synonymous with productivity.

    If you feel the same way, give time blocking a try. Share your experiments in scheduling with colleagues and family members so they understand the changes and can support you.

    Finally, don’t worry about getting it right immediately. You may need to get under the hood of your calendar and tinker around a bit. Find what works for you, then protect your new schedule at all costs.

    More Tips on Time Management

    Featured photo credit: William Iven via unsplash.com

    Reference

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