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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 February 18, 2019

    How to Motivate Employees and Boost Team Productivity

    How to Motivate Employees and Boost Team Productivity

    These days, in a world with cognitive, AI, and extraordinary advances, we have failed at the most basic stimulus: motivation. Why do I say so? Just take a look at these statistics:

    58 percent of managers said they didn’t receive any management training as per a CareerBuilder.com survey. Only 12% of employees leave their jobs because of more money. Research indicates that around 80% of employees leave their jobs due to “lack of appreciation”. Due to fear of failing, more than half of American workers don’t take their paid vacations. 53% of Americans are unhappy at work (not engaged). And 1 in 3 are working in a field they don’t like.[1]

    Archaic people management and HR structures are the root cause.

    “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

    So how to motivate employees and boost team productivity?

    Here are 3 key things that you can do to motivate your employees and boost team productivity:

    1. Run Your Team/Group/Company like a Lean Startup

    The Lean Startup phenomena by Eric Ries has been socialized across millions all over the globe. In a nutshell, it is a methodology for developing businesses and products, which aims to shorten product development cycles and rapidly discover if a proposed business model is viable; this is achieved by adopting a combination of business-hypothesis-driven experimentation, iterative product releases, and validated learning.[2]

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    Encourage Your Employees

    When you empower your employees (or family members) to do what they deem to be best for a particular roadblock, idea, or improvement, you create magic. You create genuine trust. You enable innovation. The result is happy, inspired employees who feel they have a say in the grand cosmic stage at work.

    Note that increasing the competency level of employees and coaching and mentoring them along the way is key. You yourself, need to do the same. Nourish your brain – and get a mentor that will keep you at the edge of your game.

    Offer Rewards

    Motivation is also intrinsic. The startups I have worked at offered instant rewards — not just fat checks or equity increments, but Oscar-style nominations.

    The non-monetary rewards were actually more coveted, and grandiose: lunch with the CEO, tickets to an Obama fund-raiser, horse-back riding with a world-class equestrian.

    Compare this to a dodgy, corporate, white-cubicle dinosaur that had a “yearly performance review” where both parties dread the conversation. In a world of instant WhatsApp messages, having a conversation about performance, likes and dislikes cannot just happen annually in 60 minutes. Employees need to be rooted in the belief that their manager genuinely cares about them.

    Give Autonomy

    Another key attribute is autonomy. Most employees start brushing their resumes and cruising LinkedIn when their hands are tied in their current positions: approval forms, long meetings, escalations, and more meetings. In the world of agile and scrum masters, deliberating for the sake of deliberating is poison. You will choke the very employees that giddily accepted the job initially to “change the world”.

    Within a reasonable realm of assessment and deep-dives, trust your employees to do the heavy lifting. Give them access to the knowledge, people and resources that help them directly make the choices that will shape the future of your team, and your company.

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    Eliminate yourself as the bottleneck – and interject yourself as a benevolent, servant leader that is the symbol of high-performing organizations.

    2. Apply the 90/90/1 Rule

    I recently saw a video by Deepak Sharma (a leadership adviser) about productivity and this principle stuck with me. Here’s what it’s about:

    Devote the First 90 Minutes of Your Day to Important Project

    For the next 90 days, devote the first 90 minutes of your day to your most important project—nothing else. Do this for yourself and your employees.

    We usually get sucked into the most wasteful, operational activities in the morning which robs our focus, and steers us into an unwanted rabbit hole. So mute your notifications, avoid the temptation to check your exploding inbox, and scroll your Instagram feed later. Instead, focus on that ONE thing that will provide real value to you, your team, or your business/company/home.

    Apply this rule to yourself – and your team. Your team will thank you. Note: If you’re feeling really stretched for time, you can always hack the rule by testing out a “45/45/1” version.

    A To Do Scheduling System

    Another version of this is to use the Kanban concept, developed by Taiichi Ohno, an industrial engineer at Toyota. Kanban is a scheduling system employing boards and cards.

    The most basic version is a canvas with “To-do”, “Doing”, and “Done” boards (or columns). Each activity or task is a “card” that moves from one column to the other. I use Trello (a Kanban-inspired app) that is a key system for my personal and professional life. It allows me to understand my workload, their priority, and due dates.

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    I use importance and effort metrics (scores) for each task to understand what is truly necessary in my life to work on. It negates the FIFO (first-in, first out) paradox that has plagued millions of people. Instead, it allows me to take stock of what is on my plate, and then bite on what truly will move the needle for me, my team, my life, and my company.

    With a limited appetite (at least for some), would you eat the veggies, fries, mashed potatoes and leave the sizzling steak? No, you wouldn’t (unless you are a vegan and ended up in the wrong restaurant).

    Approach your work with a weighted vengeance – and encourage your team to do the same.

    3. Align Passion and Skills to Purpose

    The heart of human excellence often begins to beat when you discover a pursuit that absorbs you, frees you, challenges you, and gives you a sense of meaning, joy and passion.

    “The most fortunate people on earth are those who have found a calling that’s bigger than they are—that moves them and fills their lives with constant passion, aliveness, and growth.” — Richard Leider

    An ace team-member once told me that while she enjoys working for the company we both used to work at, she really hated anything to do with technology. She was more of a “people” person, and did not want to sit behind a desk sifting through lines of code.

    What struck me was that she was in that role for more than a decade and had just spoken up. The good thing is she spoke up. She expressed her desire and interests. And it allowed her to get into a role of her liking within 30 days.

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    Ask If They like What They’re Doing

    If you, or a team member is frustrated, demotivated, or not performing at their best – one of the questions you should ask is whether they like what they are doing. Then genuinely try to help them get to the role they should be in (whether in the same team/company or not).

    There’s a reason why 53% of Americans (and perhaps more or same across the globe) are unhappy at work. A butcher cannot be an ace salad maker. Pursue your passion – and help pave the way for your team. Unlock your potential and theirs. You will command and lead a supercharged team.

    “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” – Steve Jobs

    The Bottom Line

    Sometimes, passion has to be ignited. It is dormant, clouded by busy-ness, buried by wrong career choices, and plagued by non-supportive eco-systems. Some will climb out of it, but we as society — and in the case of business teams — incumbent upon the manager/CEO/leader to foster, grow, and nurture the employee.

    Teach her the ropes. Show her the path. Advise him as you would yourself. Let them lead, and make mistakes. Do not fear them, rather make them the leader you would want to become.

    For your not-so-great team members, understand that it is not personal, it is just not a good fit. Help them move on to the pastures they would be fit to graze on. Hence, hire slow (and fire fast).

    Your team is a reflection of you. Boosting their confidence and helping them achieve the impossible is motivation. Focus on that, and you will have a productive team that you and your company will be proud of.

    More Resources About Team Management

    Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

    Reference

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