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What Yoga Can Teach Us About Productivity

What Yoga Can Teach Us About Productivity

    Earlier, I talked about how you can use meditation practices “in real time,” while you’re working on a task, to stay focused and motivated.  In this post, I’ll discuss how some forms of movement and breathing from yoga can help you find efficiency and ease in your work.

    Usually, when we think about productivity, images of well-organized e-mail inboxes and color-coded folders come to mind.  But these things alone aren’t enough to make us efficient.  If our minds aren’t disciplined — our attention is scattered, or we feel sluggish or anxious — work will be a struggle, no matter how organized our workspace is.

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    How do we discipline our minds?  I’ve found the ancient practice of hatha yoga — the stretches and breathing we simply call “yoga” in the West — very helpful.  This may sound odd at first, but it makes sense if we look at why hatha yoga was created.  It’s designed to clear the mind to prepare for meditation. In the same way, when we use it at work, it helps us become serene and focused.

    Although people tend to see yoga as a complex bunch of poses that require a mat and a lot of flexibility, there are simple forms of yogic breathing and movement we can do while seated. You can do the practices I’ll describe whenever you feel yourself losing attention or momentum at work.

    1.    Breathe Into The Tight Spot

    When a student is in a yoga pose that’s bringing up a lot of discomfort, a yoga teacher will often tell the student to “breathe into” the uncomfortable spot in their body — meaning to breathe so that the tense part rises and falls with the breath. This helps the student relax into the pose.

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    If you pay close enough attention when you’re feeling stressed or anxious at work, I suspect you’ll notice that some part of your body is tensed up — whether it’s your jaw, neck, lower back, or somewhere else.  If you notice this, I invite you to try taking a few deep breaths into that tight place.

    When you do this, I think you’ll find the tension dissipating, and the stress starting to fade.

    2.    Open Up Your Shoulders

    Many of us spend our workdays hunched over a keyboard, and this can cause tension to build in the neck and shoulders.  When that tightness gets uncomfortable enough, it can disrupt our focus.  Here’s a great way to release some of this tension — again, without leaving your chair.

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    The pose I’ll describe is called “eagle arms.”  To do this, hold your forearms out in front of you, parallel to your body.  Cross your right arm in front of your left, and clasp your hands in front of your face so that your arms intertwine.  Holding this pose, breathe deeply a few times into your shoulders.  Repeat this with your left arm crossed over your right.

    I think you’ll find this helps you let go of the tightness in your shoulders, and return your attention to your work.

    3.    Breathe Into Your Heart

    When we’re feeling unmotivated at work, it’s helpful to connect with our desire to contribute to and serve others. The yoga technique of breathing into your heart is a wonderful way to do this.

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    According to yoga, there’s an energetic center in the heart area called the “heart chakra.”  When we “open” the heart chakra by breathing into it, we feel our sense of compassion for others, and our desire to give to the world.

    To breathe into your heart, clasp your hands behind your back at the level of your heart, and stretch out your arms.  Then, breathe deeply so your upper chest rises and falls with the breath. Feel the warmth and openness in your heart, and notice any tension melting away.

    4.    Breathe Into Your Spine

    According to yoga, there’s another energetic center at the base of the spine called the “root chakra.”  Breathing into the root chakra gives us a sense of groundedness and stability.  Doing this can be very useful when you’re feeling anxious at work.

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    To breathe into the root chakra, put your attention on the base of your spine, where the spine meets the pelvis.  If focusing on that area is difficult, place your hand on your lower back, and concentrate on the sensation of pressure there.  With your attention on the base of your spine, take a few deep breaths.

    When you do this, you’ll likely feel a deep-seated sense of solidity, and that paralyzing worry will start to fade.

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    Last Updated on July 21, 2021

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    More on Building Habits

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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