You can get a lot done, yet remain mentally sane. I think if I knew this a few years back, it would have saved me a lot of anxiety, stress, and pressure.
Productivity and systems can be incredible tools to support our lives. But to say the least, if we want to be productive just to get as much done in a day as possible we are missing the entire point of productivity.
In the past couple of years, my main goal in life was to get as much out of my day as possible. Which meant that I did everything in my power to get as much done. I would get up at 6 am, do a strict morning routine, follow a daily to-do list, and worked from about 10 in the morning to 9 or 10 in the evening.
I exhausted myself mentally and physically doing this. I forgot to work out, to take care of myself, and most of all to remember why I was working so hard.
And that’s most of the time what we forget when we get into this powerful tool of productivity. So, this is a conversation about how you can combine mindfulness and productivity to both get a lot done, but also keep in mind why you are doing it.
Where are Efficiency and Success Leading You?
After a few years of being a productivity addict, cause that’s really what it was, I figured that it wasn’t working for me anymore. All these years were focused on getting as much out of it as possible. To squeeze as much into a day as I could, both at work, as well as in my personal life.
The desire to be as productive was only strengthened by the natural addictive pattern of productivity. Cause by being productive we get a lot done, and getting a lot done makes us feel satisfied. Ticking off those to-do items boost our dopamine, and doing as much as possible each day will at first make you feel like you can do anything.
But that isn’t something we can sustain, at some point we need to find a balance between being productive and living life fully. For that, we must understand why we want to be productive.
This is the root from which we build up. Most of us want to be productive because it is closely related to being successful in life and getting things done efficiently. But then I must ask you why do you want to be efficient, and successful?
The answer to me is very clear. I wanted to be efficient with my time, and be successful because those two things would allow me to be free. To work on my own, create discipline and because of that create a sense of freedom both financially as well as with how I spend my time.
Most of us want to be productive because it is closely related to being successful in life and getting things done efficiently. But then I must ask you why do you want to be efficient, and successful?
Cause with all the tools of productivity we are most of the time able to get more done, in less time. Instead of working a 9 to 5, we will be able to work 4 hours a day and get just as much done.
But that does require a stop button. Something that tells us that after getting everything done for the day we can relax. Yet this is most of the time not what’s happening. Instead, we continue working, thinking that this will make us even more efficient and successful.
The main point is to understand that we want to be productive to not have to work all day long
Nothing is more false, but we’ll look into that next. The main point here is to understand that we want to be productive to not have to work all day long. So that we get to enjoy all the other beautiful things in life as well.
The Destructive Side of Productivity Alone
So productivity can be an incredible tool, but it can also decrease your mental sanity, and make you feel like you have to do something all the time.
This is what happened to me. It’s why I got into the whole topic of productivity so that I wouldn’t have to work all day long, but instead work smart and productive.
What happened was completely the opposite, because productivity became an addictive habit. Cause it is based on manipulating your brain to do a lot with small dopamine hits like ticking of to-do’s or maximizing every minute of your day.
This feels satisfying, it feels fulfilling to finish everything you want to do. If it stays with that everything is fine, yet as with any addictive behavior, things can quickly and unknowingly become worse. For productivity, this means that we get too consumed in our work, working every hour of our day, and feeling anxious, stressed, worried, and pressured to do more every day.
Now, this has a massive impact on your overall experience of life, cause if you are so consumed by your work, which is only a part of your life, you will lose out on all the essential and beautiful things outside of work.
Often the things outside of work keep us sane, they help us to balance life, and to enjoy things more in general. Yet by overdoing productivity, and becoming a workaholic we disregard this need for all things outside of work. Now in all the other parts of life outside of your work, that’s often where the magic happens.
Where we feel most alive, so now it’s the time to dive into combining mindfulness and productivity to experience life totally, and completely transform the way you approach work.
5 Mindful and Productive Practices
For me, this drastic transformation of my life happened after I felt that I couldn’t enjoy anything in my life anymore. I noticed that I hadn’t enjoyed work for a few months already, but over time I found myself enjoying less and less of my life. Time with my girlfriend felt internally like a waste of time like I should work instead of having fun. Or having a night over at friends, or even going on a holiday, felt like I was wasting time.
All of these beautiful experiences became a reason for me to think that I wasn’t doing enough, that I had to be productive. It is from that point that I started to change things. I had completely steered away from productivity at that point, and focusing fully on the natural flow of life.
Which resulted in me not doing much, cause I didn’t want to work. Now, this too got out of hand cause I now didn’t do anything and therefore I had nothing to enjoy. It showed me that productivity is a powerful tool if it is used for one purpose only.
It showed me that productivity is a powerful tool if it is used for one purpose only.
That purpose is to support our experience of life. So that we can feel more alive. So that when we don’t have to work all day. So that we don’t have to worry about work when we are with friends, our family, or our spouse. In short, so that productivity helps us enjoy life, instead of rushing through it.
So here are some things that I did to combine mindfulness and productivity.
- Weekly to-dos instead of daily to-dos
Now, this has massively transformed the way I work. Before I would create daily to-do lists and prepare the work I had to get done in advance.
Each Sunday I would sit down and plan each day. This at first makes you feel productive, but what this doesn’t take into account is that we have a natural rhythm during our weeks and days.
Some days you will have loads of energy and work feels like a breeze. You finish everything within hours and feel like doing more. Whereas other days you feel like you need more rest, time to reflect or spend with friends and family.
Now by creating a weekly to-do list, instead of a daily one, we can naturally divide our tasks. We don’t plan our lives around our work, but rather the other way round. By planning our work life around our lives. There’s an incredible article I found last week that explains this transformation of daily to weekly to-do’s perfect. (168 hour cycle)
We don’t plan our lives around our work, but rather the other way round. By planning our work life around our lives.
- Surrounding matters
Most of the time we have strict places to work. Like a desk or office place. These places are most of the time highly motivating places to get a lot done, yet switching things up makes you more mindful of your surroundings. This mindfulness helps you to be more focused, but also feel more alive during work.
Because naturally we will be distracted and when we are distracted at our desk most of the time our phone is the first thing we grab. And we all know that our phone is a rabbit hole that leads us nowhere. Yet my decision to sit in different places made me more attentive to my surroundings. So instead of grabbing my phone when I was distracted, I looked around.
Allow yourself to find spots for different tasks. For me writing articles feels most natural when I sit in a comfortable seat. Yet doing design tasks, or uploading the articles is a task I love to do at my desk. Because this a place I get these things done more efficiently. By using a mouse and keyboard.
So use different places and the way you feel in these places to your advantage. It will make you more present, and aware during work.
- Get up, move around when you are stressed or anxious
Sometimes we just can’t help ourselves and want to do a lot, and this might get us stressed or anxious. Or we are worrying about our work and its quality. When this happens we most of the time push on. Continue to work.
But yet again we have natural emotional cycles and stress and anxiety tell us to take a step back. To look at the bigger picture instead of pushing on. This pushing is what got us into this stressful state in the first place.
So something that helped me is to follow my emotions and feel everything completely. I noticed that when I stepped away from work moved around, did nothing, and just felt my stress or anxiety it would quickly dissolve and I could see everything clearly again.
Therefore a natural surge of energy rushed through me making me passionate and excited to get to work again. That positive and excited energy allowed me to get even more done in less time than I initially would have gotten done if I continued working feeling stressed and anxious.
- Pay attention
This is a very simple one but is overlooked very often. Paying attention to what we are doing. Attention is one of the most valuable things when it comes to feeling alive. When we can pay attention to everything that’s going on, we can feel more present and alive.
Yet attention is often overlooked. We turn on music or listen to a podcast whilst working. This shatters our attention when attention is one of the most important things to both being productive at work as well as enjoying it.
So I love to pay attention to my fingers typing on the keyboard or the letters appearing on the screen. These are incredibly beautiful experiences to witness with our complete attention.
- Work is superficial
Now finally I took the time to observe why I wanted to get so much done in a day, and why I valued being productive so much. That meditation showed me that I wanted to be productive so that I could enjoy more of the rest of my life as well.
I explained this to you at the beginning of this article. So I won’t go into depth again. I highly encourage you to find out for yourself why you work and to hopefully see that it’s either just a part of your life not all of it or that you work to sustain a beautiful life. Now for some, it is their entire life and they enjoy working all day long, that’s fine too. Just think about it, for most of us we work because we enjoy it, but we also enjoy living outside of work. It is thinking about this that will have you make a mindful and conscious decision.
Conclusion, Think for Yourself
Most importantly is that you give this a thought yourself. You see, I can give you practices, and reasons for redesigning your work life, but what’s more important is that you do what fits your lifestyle.
Productivity is a tool that should support you, not take over your life. So be mindful about it, and think about things that could benefit the experience of your life. Don’t just take on every practice that is loosely shared on the internet, including mine. It’s your life, and you know what’s best for you. So make things your own, I think that’s the best advice on combining mindfulness and productivity to completely transform your life.
Cause if you think about it yourself with all your attention you are in that very moment already combining mindfulness and productivity. These two combined bring about a massive change. The combination of the two makes you see that work is a beautiful part of life, yet life knows its natural rhythm and we should honor that.
We should always remember that we work because we love working and that it allows us to sustain our lives. All the productivity tools we use should support that and encourage us to pay attention to all of our life and enjoy as much as possible. So combine productivity and mindfulness so that you feel fully alive, and can make the most of it.
Because today you live!