When you are working, it can be easy to get into a pattern of focusing on tasks that don’t add much value. Our brain loves dopamine hits, and getting a sense of a reward. Doing easy, simple, repetitive tasks can sometimes trick our brains into feeling the reward of productivity rather than actually getting high value work done. This is where mindful productivity comes in.
What if you could be more aware of the value of the work that you achieve? The concept of mindful productivity is just that - to be more mindful about why one does the things that one does. A reason to ponder about mindfulness is that we often fall into a pattern of multitasking despite studies showing we suck at it. And we get worse as we age. The concept of multitasking arose from IBM’s invention and description of what a CPU does when it does a context switch. Our human brain, well, we only have 1 ‘CPU’ not several. We are not built to multitask.
One brain, one focused task at a time. Context switching hurts!
Just like how our brain gets excited by distractions and notifications - mindful productivity is the opposite. Mindfulness is heavily related to thoughtfulness. Being a bit more thoughtful in what one does correlates with increased utility in what one does. Breaking away from the myth that doing more tasks = more productivity, allows one to dive deeper into the notion of tackling higher value tasks. In doing the higher value tasks, you prioritize the quality of work rather than quantity. In doing my current project of building out Viral We Grow for creators, there are several tasks that I can do at any one time. Sometimes I choose the tasks that give me the dopamine hit. For example, the admin… who doesn’t love inbox zero? The time I spend on low value admin tasks however, doesn’t necessarily have the biggest impact on what I wish to achieve with Viral We Grow. So being a bit more mindful, I can take a step back (or claw away from the laptop), and decide to work on something else that will have a greater impact. The highest value task might even be improving my personal wellbeing. A 30 minute run or a cycle to the gym may not necessarily add to my progress on building out the product or community of Viral We Grow, but it meaningfully adds to my own sense of wellbeing and long term productivity. So, in the long run it does have a meaningful impact on my work and objectives.
There’s a few ways to think about and become a bit more mindfully productive. Here are three of the biggest ones:
Watch one’s thoughts and emotions. When I am working on, say, the visual aesthetic of Viral We Grow, I can sometimes get very engrossed and obsess over small details. That is all very good and well when I have scheduled time to prioritize this task. But if I spend too much time on it, beyond what I might have budgeted, I could enter into a negative mental state that is unproductive. To become a bit more aware, set some time blocks to work and to pause. Giving yourself breaks allows an ability to recharge and refresh. MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Bob Pozen claims that an optimal schedule is 75-90 minutes of productive work and 15 minutes of break time. There are many other studies and advocates of various time scheduling techniques such as the Pomodoro. Matt and the Taskable team have written about this in their 'Staying Productive while Staying Sane' post as well. It is probably not much of a surprise, that taking breaks has a net positive benefit on your ability to do focused tasks. Being able to assess one’s emotions allows for one to ensure a good mental state. And, take that break when you are on ‘break’!
A concept from positive psychology, flow is about being in the zone. When one is in ‘flow’, it is easy to have time pass by and be so very much committed to the work that you will find it harder to get distracted. It is very personal as it varies for person to person. Getting in flow requires you to do a challenging enough task that you find it enjoyable. Attaining such a balance is a very much desired equilibrium.
Having a good environment is crucial to being in a positive state of mind.. It isn’t necessarily about how clean or tidy your environment is (although that can help!). Some people for example prefer a tsundoku environment, i.e. a ‘messy’ workplace, where they can glean inspiration from the clutter and stacks of books they have. Research has shown that messiness for some can actually be quite productive and useful for creativity. What is most important about the environment for your productivity is about how it makes you feel. If you are feeling positive then your work will likely reflect that. Build the environment, use the tools that help you. Taskable is such a tool, helping declutter your to do list with what is essential, and helping you stay on top of mindful productivity!