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The Top 10 Things I Learned Meditating for 35 Hours over One Week

The Top 10 Things I Learned Meditating for 35 Hours over One Week

I remember it vividly.

About four years ago I was at a tea shop reading a book on meditation, when a Buddhist monk walked in and sat across the room from me.

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    As I read, I occasionally looked up at him, and saw that he was mindfully sipping on a cup of tea. He would slowly bring the cup to his mouth, smell the tea, then drink it slowly, savoring its taste, and slowly rest his arm back down again. He drank it so slowly that it took him about an hour to finish the small cup.

    I remember thinking, “What a complete waste of time.”

    After all, he could have gotten so much more done in that hour than just drinking tea. What if he picked up a book? What if he listened to a podcast or a few TED talks and learned something new? What if he invited one of his other monk friends to join him? He could have been so much more productive.

    Today, I think the exact opposite.

    Four years later – yesterday, in fact – I sat alone in my kitchen mindfully sipping a cup of tea. Like the monk, it took me about an hour, but I truly couldn’t imagine a better use of my time.

    Meditation and mindfulness look absolutely pointless on the surface, and that’s because on the surface, they are. The real magic of meditation happens on the inside. Meditation and mindfulness completely reprogram your mind. Both practices increase the blood flow to your brain, calm you down, and allow you to better handle stress. They also make your brain younger by increasing your brain’s grey matter, and help your mind defragment its thoughts. They’ve even been shown to boost your test scores. Not to mention that they make you feel freaking awesome.

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    Over the past seven days, I meditated for a whopping 35 hours, and diving deep into the practice, I observed its myriad benefits first hand. Here are the top 10 things I learned about productivity meditating for 35 hours last week.

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        10. If you don’t want to meditate, try integrating mindfulness into your daily life.

        Over the last seven days, I experimented with countless ways to integrate meditation and mindfulness into my daily life. I think a lot of people are put off by sitting meditation because on the surface it seems foreign and complicated (even though it isn’t – I wrote a great guide to getting started here). If you don’t want to practice sitting meditation, I think you can reap most of the benefits of meditation when you actively seek out ways to integrate mindfulness into your daily life. Last week I mindfully: shaved, showered, walked, snacked, drank tea, and a lot more. In a comment on one of my posts, Ellen Symons also mentioned a few other great activities to bring the practice to, like during yoga, a massage, and even mowing the lawn.

        Seeking  ways to integrate mindfulness into your daily life will allow you to receive the benefits of meditation, and will benefit you even more if you already meditate.

        9. You can do any task that doesn’t involve thinking, mindfully.

        When experimenting with different activities to bring mindfulness to, I found that some activities were easier to focus on than others. The main thing I discovered is that the less thinking an activity involves, the easier it is to be mindful of your actions. If you’re looking for activities to bring mindfulness to, start with the ones that don’t involve a lot of thinking, like cleaning or washing the dishes.

        8. Meditation makes you way better at playing pool.

        Or any other sport, for that matter. Pool is a game (sport?) that requires incredible concentration, patience, mindfulness, and focus. Most days I play a solo game of pool to mull over ideas and plan things for A Year of Productivity, and I was surprised to find myself sinking more shots than ever during this experiment.

        A lot of people consider sports to be 90% mental and 10% physical, and I’m confident that if you actively play sports, meditation will help you perform. It’s no surprise that athletes like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Derek Jeter, and many others all have a meditation ritual.

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          7. Meditation clears your brain’s RAM.

          A computer’s RAM is like its short-term memory. By having a singular focus during meditation, you clear your mind of thought, which not only works out your ‘attention muscle,’ but also clears your brain’s RAM.

          This by itself is a good enough reason to practice meditation. Clearing your brain’s RAM reduces your stress and allows you to focus better throughout the day.

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          6. Meditation lets you work smarter, instead of just harder.

          During the experiment, I made sure to work as much as I could so I had a way to measure how meditation affected my productivity.

          Interestingly, I found that meditation made it much easier for me to identify the highest leverage activities in both my work and personal lives, which made it possible for me to work smarter, instead of just harder.

          I think there are two ways to get more done: put in more time and effort, which is a crappy way to get more done, or identify the highest leverage activities so you can work smarter instead of just harder. Meditation lets you step back from the things you do so you can see the ‘whole forest’ instead of just the trees, and work smarter instead of harder.

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              5. The bigger something is, the easier it is to put off.

              When I started the experiment, I made an effort to group my daily meditation time into one big chunk so I could tackle it all at once, but I frequently found myself procrastinating because I made such a big commitment to myself.

              When I broke down my meditation time down into a few smaller, easier-to-manage chunks, I procrastinated much less, and got a lot more done.

              Breaking other activities down into smaller, easier-to-digest chunks helps a ton with procrastination. If you’re studying, schedule time to just study one chapter instead of five. Similarly, the idea of cleaning up your basement may seem daunting (especially if it’s going to take you a day or two), but cleaning your basement for only 10 minutes is much more manageable. It’s a much smaller chunk of time, but you’ll actually do it. And, when you get started, you’ll likely want to keep going!

              4. You enjoy food twice as much when you eat it twice as slow.

              If you’re anything like me, when you eat something good, you want to eat it all right away, now! Fast! But that’s a bit backwards. When you really look at the amount of enjoyment you receive from eating something, you realize that you receive pretty much twice the enjoyment from eating it twice as slow.

              When I took the time to mindfully eat food during the experiment, that food was the tastiest food I’ve had in years, not only because I mindfully focused on the food’s flavor and texture, but also because I slowed down to actually enjoy and taste what I was eating.

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              If you want to get more enjoyment out of your food, eat slower. Better yet, practice eating mindfully. The practice will also help you eat less because you won’t lose track of how much you eat, and because your mind has more time to register that it’s full.

              3. Meditation turns you into a more compassionate and patient person.

              When I was writing the first draft of this article, I was sitting next to my girlfriend and she added to the end of the title for this section, “and a better, more patient boyfriend!” Last week I found myself becoming more caring, patient, and compassionate as the week went on. I helped out with things I didn’t before, cleaned up when I didn’t have to, did favors for strangers just because I could, and found myself listening to the people around me much more attentively.

              Patience is a quality I work hard to cultivate in myself, especially when it comes to dealing with people. Meditating for 35 hours helped me become more considerate, compassionate, caring, and patient than I have been in a long time.

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                2. Never wish away time. You have a set amount of it, and you don’t get more.

                My mind travels to weird places when I meditate, and over the last week I thought a lot about time. As my mind revved down during each meditation session, with each passing meditation bell I could almost feel time ticking away. Last week I thought a lot about how little time I have.

                While there are a lot of ways to get more out of your time, there are a lot fewer ways to get more time. Meditating for 35 hours forced me to step back from my actions, and allowed my mind to process what the most important elements of my life are. If you’re looking to do the same, I couldn’t recommend meditation more.

                1. Your actions are your only true belongings.

                Every single action of yours falls into one of three buckets: actions you have already done, actions you’re doing now, and actions you’re going to do. The brain glitch that nearly everyone has is that they spend most of their time in either the past or the future; thinking about the stupid or great things they’ve done in the past, or thinking about the things they’re going to do.

                But here’s the thing: the past has already happened, and the future is just an idea of what you think things are going to be like (and if you’re anything like me, you’re wrong 75% of the time). The actions that you perform in any given moment shape your future, and create your past. The present is the only time that ever actually exists.

                There’s a Buddhist parable that says that your actions are your only true belongings, and that they’re the ground upon which you stand. I lived that parable last week, and can say now that I can’t think of a sentiment more true. Meditation trains you to focus on the present moment, and maybe even more importantly, teaches you that never have to (or can) deal with more than one moment at a time.

                A quick walk through the forest.

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                  Imagine you’re walking through the picture above.

                  It’s a gorgeous autumn day; not too hot or cold, and there’s a light breeze ruffling the leaves as you walk by them. You get lost in how the branches are moving, how the day is so perfect and calm, and gaze up in awe about how beautiful your life is.

                  Now imagine that instead of walking along the trail, you’re driving down it. You pass the exact same trees – whooooosh – but they mean a lot less to you. There’s no depth to them. Sure, you might take a second and think about how nice they are, but even if you did, you definitely wouldn’t hear the wind rustling the leaves, or notice the Rainbow Lorikeet perched on one of the branches.

                  You might not even notice the trees at all.

                  ————

                  A lot of people have a go, go, go, faster, faster, faster view of their work. They want to do more, in less time, and get from point A to B as fast as possible. And a lot of the articles on this site are about just that.

                  But there’s also a flip side to productivity that brings meaning to how productive you are, and this is the side of productivity that I explored last week.

                  Productivity is completely meaningless if you don’t reflect on how it makes your life better and more meaningful. It might seem strange that sitting on your butt and doing almost nothing can make you more productive, but I personally can’t think of an activity that will bring as much perspective and meaning to your life as meditation. (Besides maybe being a parent, which I haven’t done yet. And hopefully won’t anytime soon!)

                  Meditation, unlike a fast drive through the picture above, is slow, calm, and deliberate. It brings meaning to what you do, helps you discover who you are, and in my opinion, it’s one of the best gifts you could give yourself.

                  If you don’t already practice meditation, I highly recommend it.

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                  The Top 10 Things I Learned about Productivity Living in Total Isolation for 10 Days The top 10 lessons I learned using my smartphone for only 60 minutes a day The Top 10 Things I Learned Meditating for 35 Hours over One Week 10 one-minute time hacks that will make you more productive You Can Easily Learn 100 TED Talks Lessons In 5 Minutes Which Most People Need 70 Hours For

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                  Published on January 16, 2019

                  How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

                  How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

                  We’re all busy, but sometimes we go through periods where the work piles up and it seems like it might never end.

                  You might have such a heavy workload that it feels too intimidating to even start.

                  You may have said yes to some or too many projects, and now you’re afraid you won’t be able to deliver.

                  That’s when you need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and start looking at what’s working and what’s not working.

                  Here’re 13 strategies you can use to get out from under your overwhelming workload:

                  1. Acknowledge You Can’t Do It All

                  Many of us have a tendency to think we can do more than we actually can. We take on more and more projects and responsibility and wear numerous hats.

                  We all have the opportunity to have and take on more work than we can reasonably expect to get done. Unfortunately, our workload is not static. Even now, while you are reading this article, I’m guessing that your inbox is filling up with fresh new tasks.

                  To make real, effective progress, you have to have both the courage and resourcefulness to say, “This is not working”. Acknowledge that you can’t do it all and look for better solutions.

                  At any given time in your life, there are likely many things that aren’t going according to plan. You have to be willing to be honest with yourself and those around you about what’s not working for you, both personally and professionally.

                  The more you exercise your ability to tell the truth about what’s working and what’s not working, the faster you’ll make progress.

                  2. Focus on Your Unique Strengths

                  Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a leader or working as part of a team, every individual has unique strengths they can bring to the table.

                  The challenge is that many people end up doing things that they’re simply not very good at.

                  In the pursuit of reaching your goals or delivering a project, people end up doing everything themselves or taking on things that don’t play to their unique strengths. This can result in frustration, overwhelm and overwork.

                  It can mean projects taking a lot longer to complete because of knowledge gaps, or simply not utilizing the unique strengths of other people you work with.

                  It is often not about how to complete this project more effectively but who can help deliver this project.

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                  So, what are your unique strengths that will ensure your workload is delivered more effectively? Here’re some questions to help you reflect:

                  • Are you a great strategist?
                  • Are you an effective planner?
                  • Is Project Management your strength?
                  • Is communication and bringing people together your strength?
                  • Are you the ideas person?
                  • Is Implementation your strength?

                  Think about how you can bring the biggest value to your work and the projects you undertake.

                  3. Use the Strengths of Your Team

                  One of the simplest ways to manage your workload effectively is to free up your time so you bring your highest level of energy, focus and strengths to each project.

                  Delegation or better teamwork is the solution.

                  Everyone has unique strengths. It’s essential to think teamwork rather than working in isolation to ensure projects can be completed effectively. Besides, every time you give away a task or project that doesn’t play to your unique strengths, you open up an opportunity to do something you’re more talented at. This will empower both yourself and those around you.

                  Rather than taking on all the responsibilities yourself, look at who you can work with to deliver the best results possible.

                  4. Take Time for Planning

                  “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. – Abraham Lincoln

                  One hour of effective planning could save hours of time. Rather than just rushing in and getting started on projects, take the time to map everything in.

                  You can take the time to think about:

                  • What’s the purpose of the project?
                  • How Important is it?
                  • When does it need to be delivered by?
                  • What is the best result and worst result for this project?
                  • What are the KPIs?
                  • What does the project plan and key milestones look like?
                  • Who is working on this project?
                  • What is everyone’s responsibilities?
                  • What tolerances can I add in?
                  • What are the review stages?
                  • What are the challenges we may face and the solutions for these challenges?

                  Having absolute clarity on the project, the project deliverables and the result you want can save a lot of time. It also gets you clear on the priorities and timelines, so you can block out the required amount of time to focus and concentrate.

                  5. Focus on Priorities

                  Not everything is a priority, although it can often feel, in the moment, that it is.

                  Whatever you’re working on, there is always the Most Urgent, Important or Most Valuable projects or tasks.

                  One tool you can use to maximize your productivity and focus on your biggest priorities is to use the Eisenhower Matrix. This strategic tool for taking action on the things that matter most is simple. You separate your actions based on four possibilities:

                  1. Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
                  2. Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
                  3. Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
                  4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).

                  James Clear has a great description on how to use the Eisenhower Matrix: How to be More Productive By Using the Eisenhower Box

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                    The method I use with my coaching clients is to ask them to lay out their Top Five priorities for the day. Then to start with the most important priority first. At the end of the day, you review performance against these priorities.

                    If you didn’t get everything accomplished, start the next day with your number one priority.

                    If you are given additional task/projects during the day, then you will need to gauge their importance V the other priorities.

                    6. Take Time Out

                    To stay on top of a heavy workload, it’s important to take time out to rest and recuperate.

                    If your energy levels are high and your mind and body is refreshed and alert, you are in more of a peak state to handle a heavy workload.

                    Take time out of your day to go for a walk or get some exercise in. Leave early when possible and spend time with people who give you a lot of energy.

                    In the background, it’s essential to get a good night’s sleep and eat healthily to sharpen the mind.

                    Take a look at this article learn about The Importance of Scheduling Downtime.

                    7. Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance

                    Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be tough. The balance we all crave is very different from one another.

                    I’ve written before about 13 Work Life Balance Tips for a Happy and Productive Life. Working longer and harder doesn’t mean achieving more, especially if you have no time to spend with the people that matter most. The quality of who you are as a person, the relationships you have, the time you spend in work, deciding on what matters most is completely within your control.

                    Work-life balance is about finding peace within yourself to be fully present, wherever you are, whether that be in the office or at home, right now. It’s about choosing what matters most and creating your own balanced life.

                    If you feel there is not enough balance, then it may be time to make a change.

                    8. Stop Multitasking

                    Multi-tasking is a myth. Your brain simply can’t work effectively by doing more than one thing at a time—at least more than one thing that requires focused attention.

                    So get your list of priorities (see earlier point), do the most important thing first, then move to the next item and work down your list.

                    When you split your focus over a multitude of different areas, you can’t consistently deliver a high performance. You won’t be fully present on the one task or project at hand.

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                    If you allocate blocked time and create firm boundaries for specific activities and commitments, you won’t feel so overwhelmed or overworked with everything you have to do.

                    9. Work in Blocks of Time

                    To keep your energy up to produce your best results it’s essential to take regular breaks.

                    I use the 60-60-30 method myself and teach it to my coaching clients.

                    Work on a project for a sustained period of 50 minutes.

                    Then take a 10-minute break. This could be taking a walk, having a healthy snack or just having a conversation with someone.

                    Then continue to work on the project for a further 50 minutes.

                    Then take another 10-minute break.

                    Then take a complete 30-minute break to unplug from the work. This could be time for a proper lunch, a quick bit of exercise, reading or having a walk.

                    By simply taking some time out, your energy levels stay up, the quality of your work improves and you reduce the risk of becoming burned out.

                    10. Get Rid of Distractions

                    Make an estimation on how many times you are distracted during an average working day. Now take that number and multiply it by 25. According to Gloria Mark in her study on The Cost of Interrupted Work, it takes us an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to the original task after interruption.[1]

                    “Our research has shown that attention distraction can lead to higher stress, a bad mood and lower productivity.”

                    Distractions don’t just take up your time during the distraction, they can derail your mental progress and focus for almost 25 minutes. So, if you are distracted 5 times per day, you could be losing almost 2 hours every day of productive work and almost 10 hours every week.

                    If you have an important project to work on, find a space where you won’t be distracted, or try doing this.

                    11. Commit Focused Time to Smaller Tasks

                    You know sometimes, you need to simply tackle these tasks and take action on them. But there’s always something more pressing.

                    Small tasks can often get in the way of your most important projects. They sit there on your daily To Do list but are often forgotten about because of more important priorities or because they hold no interest for you. But they take up mental energy. They clutter your mind.

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                    Commit to spending a specific period of time completing all the small tasks you have on your To Do list. It will give you peace of mind and the space to focus more on your bigger priorities.

                    12. Take a Time Audit

                    Do you know exactly where your time is going each day? Are you spending too long on certain projects and tasks to the detriment of bigger opportunities?

                    Spend a bit of time to analyze where you are spending your time. This insight will amaze you and give you the clarity to start adjusting where you focus your time and on what projects.

                    You can start by taking a piece of paper and creating three columns:

                    Column A is Priority Work. Column B is Good Work. Column C is low value work or stuff.

                    Each day, write down the project or task and the time spent on each. Allocate that time to one of the columns.

                    At the end of the week, record the total time spent in each column.

                    If you are spending far too much time on certain types of work, look to change things so your focused time is in Column B and C.

                    13. Protect Your Confidence

                    It is essential to protect our confidence to ensure we don’t get overwhelmed, stressed and lose belief.

                    When you have confidence as a daily resource, you are in a better position to problem solve, learn quicker, respond to anything, adjust to anything, and achieve your biggest opportunities.

                    Confidence gives you the ability to transform fear into focused and relaxed thinking, communication, and action. This is key to put your mind into a productive state.

                    When confidence is high, you can clearly see the possibilities at hand and create strategies to take advantage of them, or to solve the challenges you face each day.

                    Final Words

                    A heavy workload can be tough to deal with and can cause stress, burnout and ongoing frustration.

                    The key is to tackle it head on, rather than let it go on and compound the long-term effects. Hopefully, you can take action on at least one of these tips.

                    If it gets too much, and negatively affects your physical and mental health, it may be time to talk to someone. Instead of dealing with it alone and staying unhappier, resentful and getting to a point where you simply can’t cope, you have to make a change for your own sanity.

                    Featured photo credit: Hannah Wei via unsplash.com

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