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What Meditation Can Teach Us About Productivity

What Meditation Can Teach Us About Productivity

    Most productivity writing is about tips for organizing our workspace — creative ways to arrange our e-mail inbox, write to-do lists, color-code folders, and so on.  These techniques can be useful, but they don’t deal with one of the biggest obstacles to getting our work done:  our own minds.

    As I’ll bet you’ve experienced, if your attention is scattered, you feel sluggish and unmotivated, or you’re paralyzed with anxiety about what others will think of your work, it’s going to be tough to make the kind of progress you want, no matter how well-organized your e-mail is.

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    Meditation is the most powerful tool I’ve found for disciplining my mind.  Practicing sitting still and training my attention on something — whether it’s my breathing, an object I’m looking at, or something else — has had powerful effects on my focus and motivation at work.

    What’s more, I’ve discovered that many of the ideas and techniques used in meditation can also be applied “in real time” — as I’m sitting at my desk working on a project.  Whenever I find myself getting scatterbrained or frustrated, I can use one of the tools I’ll describe in this post for restoring my concentration and peace of mind.

    1. Focus on Your Breathing

    Meditators often concentrate on their breathing to stay alert, and keep their minds from drifting into memories of the past or concerns about the future.  I’ve found that this technique isn’t only helpful during meditation — it also works great whenever we find ourselves getting distracted at work.  We can focus on our breathing to bring our attention back to this moment, and to what we’re doing.

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    Many meditation teachers explain why this works by observing that, whenever we focus our attention on what’s happening in our bodies, our awareness naturally settles into the present.  If I ask you to pay attention to your breathing, you probably won’t start daydreaming about the way you used to breathe five years ago — you’ll focus on the act and experience of breathing right now.

    When your attention comes back to the present, the memories and worries that may have been bothering you fade into the background, and you can easily return to your work.

    2. Let Your Experience Be

    In meditation, as in the rest of our lives, uncomfortable thoughts and sensations sometimes come up — perhaps anxiety, resentment, boredom, or something else.  Meditation teachers often invite us to just let these experiences be, rather than trying to push them away and think about something pleasant.  This approach isn’t just useful in meditation — it’s also helpful when we’re struggling with procrastination at work, as I think we all do from time to time.

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    When we start to feel bored or frustrated at work, most of us are in the habit of “taking the edge off” by turning to some distracting activity — checking e-mail, playing FreeCell, or something else.  The trouble is that, when we distract ourselves from sensations we don’t like, we also take our attention away from our work.

    The next time difficult thoughts and sensations come up for you at work, I invite you to try fully allowing them.  Instead of running away from the uncomfortable experience, just keep breathing, relax your body, and let the feeling pass away on its own.

    What I think you’ll notice, as you practice allowing that thought or sensation to be without resisting, is that it will pass away quickly — perhaps within a few seconds or minutes.  When it dissipates, you can gently return your attention to your work.

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    The more you practice this, the more comfortable and familiar that experience will become.  You’ll become able to make progress in a task at work, even when that discomfort is coming up.

    3. Practice Holding Your Attention

    This exercise, which is based on a meditation some Zen practitioners do, is very simple.  Pick an object in the room.  It doesn’t matter what it is — it could be, for instance, a spot on the wall, or a paper clip on your desk.  Now, for five minutes, simply hold your gaze on that object.

    As you do this, I suspect, you’ll find your attention drifting off.  Maybe it will float away into thoughts about the past or future.  Perhaps you’ll find your eyes darting around the room, looking for something more interesting.  Whatever happens, when you notice your attention floating away, gently bring it back to the object you’re looking at.

    I think you’ll begin to find, pretty soon after you start doing this exercise, that those moments of distraction — when your attention drifts away from what you’re looking at — will start to happen less and less often.  In other words, you’ll begin developing a longer attention span.

    As you can probably see, this is a very useful thing to cultivate if you want to become able to sit at your desk and make a lot of progress on a project in one sitting.

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    Last Updated on June 13, 2019

    10 Best Success Books You Need to Read to Be Great at Business

    10 Best Success Books You Need to Read to Be Great at Business

    Take a minute and think about some of the most successful people you know.

    I’d bet they’re great with people, are super-productive, and think differently than most. After all, that’s how they got to be where they are today.

    Jealous of them? You don’t have to be.

    You can learn these same skills by studying some of the best business and success books that can help you take your game to the next level. Here’re 10 of my favorites:

    1. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

      Dale Carnegie’s best-selling book that helped to launch a personal growth empire should be required reading for everyone who wants to learn how to build and nurture relationships for a lifetime.

      Read this book and you’ll learn some simple advice than can help you build popularity points within your current network and just as important, expand it to others.

      Get the book here!

      2. Focal Point by Brian Tracy

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        Got a lot on your to-do list? Of course you do. But what separates productive people from others is their ability to focus on a singular task at a time, and getting it done before moving on to the next one.

        Sounds simple in theory, but this can be extremely difficult in practice. In Focal Point Brian Tracy offers tips to help build discipline and organization into your day so you can get more stuff done.

        Get the book here!

        3. Purple Cow by Seth Godin

          Creating a “me-too” product can be easy at the start but can doom you to business failure. That’s why marketing maverick Seth Godin recommends creating a product that is truly different from anything already available in the marketplace.

          In essence by making the product different you’ll be building the marketing into the actual product development…which just makes your actual marketing a helluva lot easier.

          Get the book here!

          4. The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz

            If you’ve struggled with procrastination or small thinking, this is the book for you. In it Schwartz offers practical advice that can help you get inspired and motivated to create a bigger life for yourself. And with it can be a more lucrative and rewarding career.

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            Get the book here!

            5. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankel

              It can be difficult for lots of people to keep things in perspective, especially when working on high priority and urgent projects at work.

              Man’s Search for Meaning can be a life-changing book in the sense that it can open your eyes to a first-hand experience of one of the greatest atrocities in the history of mankind, while also teaching a valuable lesson about having purpose.

              Get the book here!

              6. The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss

                Solo-entrepreneurs can learn a ton from the guy who made lifestyle design popular. But guess what? The 4HWW isn’t just for guys and girls who want to start a small online business.

                Smart moves like outsourcing, following the 80/20 rule, and automating processes should be made by entry-level workers and established executives alike.

                Get the book here!

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                7. Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

                  I remember sitting on a couch and opening this book on a Saturday morning, thinking I’d get through a chapter and then get on with my day. Instead, about 12 hours later, I was finished with the book. The concepts in it were mind-blowing to me.

                  To think that thoughts can create your reality sounded a little far-fetched at first. But after going through the book and understanding that your thoughts create your beliefs, which lead to actions, which then lead to habits….well you can get where I’m going with this.

                  If you focus your thoughts on success, achieving it will be much more likely than thinking about obstacles, failures and everything else that can get in your way.

                  Get the book here!

                  8. The One Minute Manager by Kenneth Blanchard

                    If you’re going to read one management book in your life, this should be it. It’s simple. You can read it in an afternoon. And the advice works.

                    Get the book here!

                    9. The Lean Start-Up by Eric Ries

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                      Before you create any sort of business you’ll want to give Lean Start-Up a read through. Doing so can save you money, time and other resources you could have potentially wasted otherwise.

                      Get the book here!

                      10. The Monk and the Riddle by Randy Komisar

                        The story Randy Komisar shares in the Monk and the Riddle offers advice about not just about how you need to think when starting a new business, but also about how to build a life you’re passionate about.

                        Understanding the technical aspects of launching a start-up is great, but if you don’t have the staying power to stick with it when the going gets tough then it’s not likely to work.

                        This book can help you understand this lesson before you spend blood, sweat and tears on a project that you’re heart isn’t into.

                        Get the book here!

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                        Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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