If I were to choose one secret weapon that helps my productivity more than any other, I'd have to say it's meditation.
I know, it sounds weird to associate meditation – the epitome of non-doing – with productivity, which is all about doing, but if you think about it a little, it actually makes perfect sense.
Meditation and action are polar opposites, but as with any opposites, one cannot exist without the other. We need the state of non-doing in order to be able to define doing, and vice versa.
I could go on and on about why meditation is awesome, how it saved my sanity so many times and why the entire society would benefit if we were taught how to meditate from an early age, but there's plenty of other people already doing that.
What I want to focus on is how meditation can positively affect our work and productivity.
To me, meditation is instrumental because I'm the kind of person that often goes into “worry mode”, and I can't stop the spiral of destructive thinking, which is not good for me personally, but it's also bad for my creative business.
Meditation acts like a reset button on those thoughts, and enables me to get the most out of my time.
Truth be told, we're doing rest completely wrong.
We've contaminated our time off with a constant stream of information and entertainment. There are no more gaps in our perceiving and thinking, except when we're asleep. Sadly, a lot of people don't even get enough sleep, so they're functioning on a much lower level than they'd be able to if their body was at their peak. We rely on caffeine and sugar to keep us awake and boast with an ungodly number of work hours per day.
All action, and no non-action to replenish us and bring us back to our center.
Not even when we pretend we're not doing anything.
For this reason, taking the time to meditate is even more important today than it was decades ago when at least people had a chance to get bored while waiting in lines.
But I'll get off my soapbox now and get on with the things you came here for.
Behold, 5 ways meditation can boost your productivity.
1. Get clarity and focus
A lot of people start their day by reading e-mail and social media, which influences you in a profound way. You're trained to respond to other people's “urgencies”, and your mind is filled with other people's opinions and bad news before you even start your day.
Whether you read e-mail and social media first thing in the morning or not, meditation can bring that much needed clarity and silence of the mind into your day, so you can make wiser choices and work on things that truly matter. [Tweet this!]
You can also meditate in between unrelated projects to focus on the new task, and let go of any thoughts of projects you worked on earlier. This doesn't need to take too much time – I fit in short meditations into my 5-minute Pomodoro timer breaks. (To learn more about Pomodoro timer, read my post My Top 5 Tips For Preventing Time Suck & Increasing Productivity.)
My favorite type of meditation for this purpose is silent meditation. During this type of meditation, you're simply letting go of any thoughts that arise in your mind until the thoughts slow down, and then finally stop for a few brief moments. This feeling of non-thought is one of the most exquisite states I've ever experienced. It's as if you’re free from all the burdens of your life.
Silent meditation is difficult, so if you're new to this, it may not be the best place to start, but it's definitely a great thing to look forward to.
2. Release anxiety and tension
Anxiety throws your brain into a fight or flight mode, which makes you slave to the primal reflexes that are designed to save your life from danger. Unless you're actually in immediate physical danger, this response is often not helpful, especially while working on primarily intellectual tasks.
Research has shown that some stress can be good for you if you know how to deal with it. But living in a constant state of stress drains your body, and makes you need more rest and sleep to get your body chemistry into balance. Prolonged periods of anxiety can trigger a depressive episode in some people (and by some people, I mean myself).
As a creative professional, you need your body and mind to function at its highest capacity, and releasing stress plays an instrumental role for your health.
When you bring your mind and body into a state of relaxation, your body will stop producing the stress hormones.
This is so easy, I have no idea why I don't do it more often, because when I do, everything shifts.
Here's a quick technique you can do in your office or in the bathroom (if you work in a public space).
Stand up, straighten up your spine and roll shoulders back. You can gently stretch by either bending toward the floor or raising your arms above your head. Then simply stand straight with your arms hanging loosely on your sides, close your eyes and focus on your breathing.
If any thoughts arise, just bring your attention back to your breathing. Do this for 3-5 breaths. Now scan your body to see where you're holding any tension – your neck, jaw, lower back, pelvis, chest... go through each part and breathe in into it. I know this sounds physically impossible, but just imagine you're breathing in fresh air into these areas and feel them loosen up.
Feel yourself fully inside your own body. If you feel any emotional discomfort, pay attention to this discomfort and simply accept it, don't resist it.
When you feel ready, open your eyes.
If you notice yourself slumping, just straighten up and roll shoulders back. Physical posture is important because our brain takes cues from our body position. Research has shown that if we hunch and keep our head down, we actually start feeling miserable, whereas if you stand in a “power pose” your stress hormone levels lower, and you start feeling confident and more relaxed.
If you're in a really severe state, for example after you've just heard very bad news that completely threw you off the track, go lie down on your bed or even better, on the floor (you might need a yoga mat or a beach towel for that). Lie into a shavasana pose: keep your legs parted and arms slightly away from your body, palms facing up. Close your eyes and do the same breathing and body scan exercise I described above, until you feel you've calmed down significantly.
3. Sit with resistance
Resistance can take many different shape or forms, but in the context of creative work, it usually causes us to procrastinate. While there are many tips online (including my own) on how to beat procrastination, I've found that deep psychological understanding of the matter is much more effective for me personally, than using willpower and force.
Resistance can show up for various reasons, and dedicating yourself to learning where it came from can help you understand why it's showing up, and how to clear this block.
For this purpose I recommend a simple emotional awareness exercise. Sit comfortably and close your eyes. Bring your attention to the emotional discomfort you identify as resistance. Feel where it's located in your body. Try to notice if this sensation has any noticeable characteristics, such as weight, age, color, texture, temperature...
Keep this sensation in your mind and ask why it's there and what it's trying to tell you. You might get an emotional impression in response, a word, an image, or simply a sense of knowing what this resistance is about. Give it time to form, don't rush the process, and don't try to force resistance to go away.
This process may take just a few minutes, or it can take longer sessions thorough several days if it's a very deep issue. I recommend writing about this experience in your journal so you can see how doing this exercise affects your life and work.
4. Re-charge in the middle of the day
Working from home (or in your own private office) has many benefits, but one of my favorite ones is that if I feel fatigued and unfocused, I simply step away from the computer and rest. What a novel concept, right?
While some cultures have a non-negotiable siesta when the entire nation closes down businesses after lunch, the majority of countries in the world abhor the possibility of resting in the middle of our workday.
If you're able to do it and feel the need, I encourage you take a short rest break.
You can use this break to nap, or you can spend it in a meditative state which brings you all the benefits of napping, but without the side-effect of feeling drowsy afterwards.
You can experiment with different meditation styles:
- sitting meditation – silent or guided both work well
- walking meditation – simply observing your surroundings and making sure you're present in the moment, not getting lost in thoughts
- lying meditation or yoga nidra
Yoga nidra is basically what I've described under the second point, but deeper and longer. As you're lying down, you're scanning every single part of your body, from head to toe (or vice versa) and bringing relaxation to those areas. You're supposed to be awake and aware the entire time of this meditation and not fall asleep, so it's recommended that you do it on the floor. You can find many guided yoga nidra meditations on YouTube.
This will give you an energy boost unlike any other, and you'll come back to work refreshed and ready to take on anything.
5. Let your unconscious come up with solutions
I'm sure you've heard of this one: if it's not working, sleep on it. That's not just an old wives tale, it works!
Cognitive experts recommend that if you're at a point in your project where you're not able to find a solution to a problem and prolonged work hasn't helped, you should step away from it and distract yourself instead.
You can take a nap, work on something totally unrelated, do fun activities with friends – and of course, you can also meditate.
When your conscious mind lets the issue go, your unconscious mind is working diligently, processing it and making connections with other potentially related content in your memory, which results in those lightbulb moments when you just know the solution.
I don't claim this works every single time, but there were many times when I would sit in silent meditation, calming my mind so it doesn't think about the problem I'm trying to solve, and after 10 or 15 minutes I'd just get it in a flash. I know, freaky.
What are your experiences with meditation?
Are you a regular meditator, or a newbie, or haven't even had the chance to try it?
Have you ever felt the profound positive effects of meditation on your personal and work life?
Are there any more ways of using meditation for productivity that I forgot to mention? Share them in the comments!