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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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                  Last Updated on November 27, 2020

                  15 Office Design Tricks That Will Increase Your Productivity at Work

                  15 Office Design Tricks That Will Increase Your Productivity at Work

                  Where you work has an enormous impact on how you work – on your ability to focus (and stay focused) and your overall ability to be productive. That means the design of your office, whether you work at home or in a larger company environment, is of supreme importance. This isn’t just about Feng Shui, this is about producing results and getting things done.

                  According to studies done on workplace and productivity, the most significant factor in determining an employee’s ability to focus is their physical environment. In fact, it’s been said that a well-designed office can increase your productivity about 20%. However, despite the studies and statistics, nearly half of the employers interviewed don’t consider workplace design a good business investment.

                  So what is a productivity hack to do? What if you work in an environment that doesn’t promote focus?

                  Check these 15 factors and make changes where you can. A little adjustment can produce a lot of impact.

                  Lighting

                  Lighting is one of the most important factors in staying focused and feeling inspired to create, yet it’s one of the most overlooked and least invested in. Bad lighting can cause fatigue, eyestrain, headaches and overall irritability. Dark spaces can actually produce depression.

                  If you work in a company office:
                  You probably have no control over your general lighting so bring in your own, if need be. Consider using natural light bulbs or a light therapy device.

                  If you work from a home office:
                  Open the windows and doors and let natural light in. Using lamps in a variety of areas for cloudy days or when it’s dark.

                  Chair and Table

                  If you’ve ever sat at a desk to do work but found yourself adjusting, stretching and moving too often to actually stay focused, then you’re aware of the importance of having a correctly fitted table and chair. In today’s work environment where so many of us are sitting for most of our day, it is critical that your throne fits your body probably.

                  Consider these quick ergonomic checks:

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                  • Eyes 24-36 inches from the computer screen. The top of the monitor should be below or at eye-level.
                  • Feet should be on a foot rest or resting on the floor.
                  • A slightly reclined chair posture is best to reduce pressure on your spine and minimize lower back pain.

                  If you work in a company office:
                  Ask for an adjustable chair. Add pillows for your lower back or bum, if you need it. Many companies will also provide risers for computers to adjust the height of your computer screen (and a separate keyboard to keep your hands and wrists in the ideal position)

                  If you work from a home office:
                  Invest in a decent chair or at least use a few pillows to make the chair more comfortable. If the table is too high, add pillows to your chair. If it is too low, consider buying leg risers from your local hardware store and using books beneath your computer to raise the screen. Use a separate keyboard.

                  Clutter

                  Your mama was right, it’s important to clean up your room. Clutter may help the creative mind create, but it isn’t necessarily helpful for focus and productivity.

                  If you work from a company office: While you can’t control the cleanliness of the office at large, do keep your own environment around you clean. Spend 10 minutes every morning or evening making sure things are put away, filed, organized and generally out of sight so you’re not distracted by it later.

                  If you work from a home office: Because you work from home, the entire house or apartment is potential for distraction. If you can afford it, hire a professional cleaning service to keep your home clean. If not, schedule a specific day and time to clean your home. Commit to doing daily pickup at a specific time. And spend at least 10 minutes every day making sure your office  is organized and tidy.

                  Room Color

                  The colors around us all have an effect on our moods and brain function. It evokes both a physical and emotional response. So choosing the right colors for your work space has the ability to affect your productivity. For instance, blue has been said to illicit productivity. Mind you, too much of anything can be overwhelming, even color.

                  If you work from a company office: Bring in items from home that are a certain color that inspire you and keep you focused. Use postcards, magazine cutouts, even just blocks of color will do.

                  If you work from a home office: If you work from home, you have much more control over the colors around you. Consider repainting a wall, adding color to the table you work at, or hanging pictures that are dominated by a specific color.

                  Room Temperature

                  Most offices keep their temperatures around 65-68 Fahrenheit but it turns out that this might not be good for productivity. Warmer rooms actually make people more productive.

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                  If you work from a company office: Most offices are regulated by somebody else, so bring a space heater, sweaters and blankets to your work space.

                  If you work from a home office: Depending on the season, open the windows or adjust the heat or a/c so that you’re more comfortable and warm. Pile on the sweaters in the winter or add a space heater to your feet.

                  Room Scents

                  Like the color of the space you work in, our sense of smell can powerfully affect our mood, mindset and thus our productivity. Consider adding scents to your work space to jar your mind into focus when you start to notice yourself drifting off.

                  Try using these scents to stay focused:

                  • Pine – Increases alertness
                  • Cinnamon – Improves focus
                  • Lavender – Helps to relax you during a stressful work day
                  • Peppermint – Lifts your mood
                  • Citrus (any) – Wakes you up  and lifts your spirits

                  If you work from a company office: Most people will not appreciate added scents to their work environment so you’ll need to keep it subtle. Keep essential oils in your bag or drawer and when you’re in need of a boost put a few drops on a handkerchief or cotton ball.

                  If you work from a home office: Use candles, incense or essential oils. You can also simmer herbs and spices in the kitchen to fill your home with a warm scent.

                  Noise Level

                  The noise level in a work environment can vary greatly depending on the size of the team you work with, the office design and company culture. But make no mistake, the noise around you affects your ability to stay on task. Not only can it be distracting, it can also raise stress levels making your ability to sustain productivity far more difficult.

                  If you work from a company office: Bring in noise cancellation headphones and use music services like Spotify or Songza and choose concentration boosting sounds, like white noise.  Find out if your office offers quiet work spaces for times when you need the utmost focus.

                  If you work from a home office: Sometimes the complete quiet can be as distracting as an office. Use a service like Coffivity to mimic the noise of a coffee shop, which has been said to help with concentration.

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                  Air Quality

                  Air quality can drastically affect our ability to focus and think clearly. Get this: OSHA estimates that the total annual cost of poor air quality in office environments costs employers $15 billion “due to worker inefficiency and sick leave.” Yeah, it’s serious business.

                  If you work from a company office: Talk to them about installing air filters. If there is a way to bring in fresh air through windows or doors, arrange to have them opened for at least a portion of the day. If nothing else, get a personal air filter to have on your desk or nearby.

                  Also, get a plant (or better yet, have the company buy and use more plants in the office!). Plants are great at filtering the air and providing clean, purified oxygen.

                  If you work from a home office: Open windows and doors and let in the fresh air. Install an air filter or get a portable air filter to keep near your desk. And, yes, you too should get a plant.

                  Different Spaces

                  If you can manage it, give yourself more than one space to work from. Putting yourself in a new space with different qualities and things to look at quite literally shifts your brain and helps you stay focused.

                  If you work from a company office: Many offices offer a variety of environments to work from: your personal space, lobbies, break out rooms, conference rooms, kitchens and eating areas and, if you’re lucky, they also provide lounge areas. Use all these spaces to vary your routine. Make sure your supervisor knows so they don’t think you’re slacking off and know tat you’re actually getting more done!

                  If you work from a home office: If you work at a desk, add a comfortable couch or chair to the room. If your space is less flexible or ultra tiny, think about more creative ways to change your work space. Rotate the pictures on your walls every couple of days. Sit on the other side of your desk. Get a lamp and multiple colored bulbs. Or go work at a café, the library or in a park.

                  Organization of People

                  Most employers organize employees around job function or in specific divisions. Instead, studies show that people are more creative and productive when they are sitting with colleagues that share the same goal or client. Not only are you able to get answers and generate solutions quicker, but because you’re directly accountable to the people around you, you’re more likely to stay on task and productive.

                  If you work from a company office: Ask your employer if you can experiment by clustering your group together in a conference room for a day or a week. Get feedback from everybody involved. Show the results. If your company won’t make permanent adjustments, perhaps they’ll allow you to work together a couple times a week when the conference room or lounge area is free.

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                  If you work from a home office: This is a little bit more difficult because when you work at home you’re not with colleagues. You can recreate a similar space digitally, however. Create a Skype group and have everyone logged in during working hours. You can do morning accountability and check-ins while remaining available for questions, solution-finding and general banter that promotes creativity.

                  Idea Storage

                  Ever been working hard when you’re suddenly distracted by a great idea? At first you try to push it away, but then the next thing you know you’re 20 pages deep into an online search on the topic. Ideas should be encouraged and cultivated, but when they come right in the middle of another task it can be incredibly distracting. Instead, create a place to store your ideas that’s easily accessed from your work space.

                  For both a company and home office: Keep pads of paper around, have a chalk wall, get a white board – when you have a spark of inspiration write it down right away to get it out of your head then return to the task at hand. Then, at the end of the day or when you have free time, collect all the ideas and review them. With a little time and space you can better decide if it’s worth pursuing or better to leave it on the back-burner.

                  Refreshment

                  Our brain needs nourishment to keep going, especially when we’re driving hard and staying focused. You can let a rumbling stomach go on for only so long before the brain shuts down. Assuming your different is like wanting your car to keep driving without having to stop and fill it with gas. A novel idea, but not realistic.

                  If you work from a company office: Pre-make snacks for the day and/or week. Or, bring in prepackaged snacks. Keep in mind that junk food has properties of diminishing returns so if you’re buying your food prepackaged think nuts, fruit, unsweetened yogurts, and hummus and crackers. Likely, your company provides coffee, tea and water so you don’t have to worry about supplying that for yourself.

                  If you work from a home office: If you work from home, this can be a key distraction. Try to reduce the number of times you walk into the kitchen each day. To do this, keep quick and   easy snacks pre-made or prepackaged ready and near your desk. Keep a water bottle nearby. And consider bringing a kettle into your office and stocking tea and coffee so you’re   not tempted to wander around the house and lose time poking through the pantry.

                  Bring in Nature

                  We are biological creatures, first and foremost. So we are deeply affected by our access to (or lack of) the natural world. It’s important for our psychological and physiological functioning, which directly affects our ability to be productive.

                  If you work from a company office: If you don’t have windows in or near your work space, bring in pictures of the outdoor world. Keep a picture of something natural as your screensaver and/or desktop wallpaper. Take walks outdoors at lunch or in between major tasks. Just a few minutes outside in the fresh air and sunshine can boost our mood and shake out the doldrums. Be sure to add a plant to your desk, too!

                  If you work from a home office: Keep the shades open and, if you can, let in fresh air. If you can’t see anything natural out of your window, keep pictures of the natural world as your screensaver and/or desktop wallpaper. Take walks. Or, just step outside and put your feet on the ground. Put plants in your office – research shows that having live plants in your office makes you more productive, happier and less stressed.

                  Digital Space

                  For most people, our primary work is housed within our laptops and our physical environment simply the backdrop to our digital lives. Make sure your computer has software that helps you sculpt the digital environment that best elicits productivity. Use focus apps like this one or this to decrease distractions. Or design your day using intervals with an app like this one to keep you at your peak focus throughout the day.

                  Featured photo credit: Phil Desforges via unsplash.com

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