Pay Attention: a new productivity experiment

4/4/2013 |

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Another month, another extreme productivity experiment.  I am pleased to be leaving behind the constraint of working only 60 minutes a day.  I have a massive list of stuff to catch up with and a bit of a lazy worth ethic that developed last month to snap myself out of, too.  I also learned last month that sometimes we just need to be “in the moment” rather than trying to solve everything or do everything.

So this month’s experiment feels like a natural follow-on.

This month, I will be using mindfulness meditation practices alongside my work.  I’m going to try a few different schedules for this, including:

  • hourly for a few minutes each hour
  • two hour-long periods of meditation, once first thing and one last thing in the day
  • four shorter periods: first thing, mid morning, early afternoon, end of the day

I am also going to try and use the month to investigate new practices that could enhance attention and mindfulness, including Bikram Yoga, running meditation and a few other things – suggestions welcome, by the way!

Meditation is often something that needs debunking (is it religious?  is it hippie?  is it technical? and so on).  I will devote some time in later posts to definitions and practicalities.  However, in the meantime, I recommend watching this video for a simple introduction

Better still, if you want to dabble yourself (it’s really not that scary!), I recommend you download the Headspace or Buddhify apps from the app store.  Or, of course, just sit still and do nothing.

(Note – for the avoidance of doubt, and as per usual, I recommend these things because I use them not because of some dirty affiliate marketing programme.  And sitting still is free, anyway).

What’s my hypothesis?

I made mindfulness one of the nine key characteristics of the Productivity Ninja.  I have dabbled with meditation in various forms for a few years – largely in fits and starts – and experienced some profound effects such as overcoming procrastination, increasing creativity, growing in confidence and generating ideas.  However, despite this, it’s always something I’ve struggled to truly integrate alongside busy schedules.  And like most things that are good for us, it feels hardest when we need it the most.  So here’s a few things I want to put to the test in April:

1. Attention is underrated

Productivity isn’t an issue that’s solved just by having good lists, being organised, or getting savvy about you use technology.  These things are important – and we help lots of companies with them – but what we also bring to the table is the view that at the heart of good productivity is getting the psychology right.

You can “manage time” all you want, but if you don’t manage your attention, it all falls apart.  Yet so few people really focus on how to manage attention.  I see mindfulness as one element of managing attention that’s often-overlooked.  There also needs to be more focus on elements like health, nutrition, inter-personal skills, impact-thinking, positive psychology, stress management and a whole heap of other useful stuff.

2. The more you meditate, the less you procrastinate

Procrastination doesn’t come from any external source: it’s a battle of the mind, a battle of the self.  It’s the struggle between the risks that the ego or “lizard brain”  perceives against the realities we can’t see or the impact we crave and desire.

“If only we could overcome…”

And mindfulness can help you find the answers and the route through.  Or even just finish the question.  Or maybe just feel happier searching for a better question.

3. The more you meditate, the less stressed you are

Productivity is full of contradictions.  As a topic, it’s usually approached from the root question of something like “how can I or we get more done” rather than “how can I enjoy or how can we celebrate what we’ve done, who we are and every facet of our existence?”.  To get more done, we first have to stop doing.  We have to start thinking, being and experiencing.  Without this perspective, all you create is more stress for yourself.

And this month isn’t even really a month about productivity at all.  It strikes me that some people may even find the idea of combining mindfulness with productivity a little absurd.  And I see that.

However, what I do see in our work is that it is possible to increase your productivity and reduce your stress by being more conscious about how you work.  And leaving people a few hours after I arrived feeling less stressed is one of the things that keeps me doing this work.  It’s cheesy to say, but it makes a difference to peoples’ lives.

4. Proactive attention can increase through meditation 

We have three types of attention:

  • Inactive attention (for most people, the ‘braindead’ times when we’re tired or groggy or distracted and capable of little more than deleting a few emails)
  • Active attention (how we spend a lot of our time – capable, but not quite ‘in the zone’)
  • Proactive attention (those precious few hours each week where we’re on top form, we can take on anything, we’re cooking on gas)

I’m looking forward to putting my hypothesis to the test this month and seeing how much proactive attention I can build up by focussing on my focus.


Hopes and fears for the month?

4 - Pay Attention - small-04 Well, unlike the first three experiments, I wonder whether there will be enough to say as the days go by.  But I think actually the convergence of attention, productivity and wellbeing will provide some interesting learning.  So perhaps at the root of my fear is that I’m outside of my comfort zone here.  I’ll be looking to some books, teachers and experts to help make this month more insightful than my rather amateur take on it would allow.

I also hope to develop my own habits around meditation and mindfulness in the most general sense.  Not as a productivity ‘tool’ or ‘technique’ but as a lifestyle choice, for its own sake and for my own understand of myself and the world.  It’ll be great to give this some, er, attention.

And finally, I fear peoples’ fears and discomfort with this subject: rest assured this month will be accessible to people with and without religions and I’m going to do everything I can to keep it simple, straight-forward, practical and free from hippie nonsense.

So April.  Pay attention.  Here goes!


Like this? Try these

Challenge your work routine – sign up for one of our How to Get Things Doneworkshops

Read about Graham’s other experiments,  60 MinutesThe Dice Man and Email Fridays

Do you meditate to help your work-attention? Share your advice via Twitter using #payattention


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