Mindful awareness: Stop being busy and start being more productive.
The Facets in Action Series: Mindfulness, busyness and the key to greater productivity.
“How are you?”
“I’m busy. How are you?”
“Really busy. There’s just so much going on at the moment.”
These days, we wear our busyness as a badge of honour. It’s like we’re in a competition to see who can fit the most in and how quickly we can switch between doing this, that, and the other. Busyness is good. Busyness means we’re getting things done. Or does it?
Busyness vs productivity: Let’s pause for thought
It was only when I saw a cartoon the other day describing busyness as the new ‘stupid’ that I took a moment to reflect on my own busyness.
My to-do list is long, and I acknowledge that for every action I cross off, I typically add several more. Why is that? Do I need to feel busy? Does my apparent busyness affect my sense of self-worth? If I have more items on my to-do list, do I feel more productive? Or is that stupid?
Like a true scientist-practitioner, I went straight for the science.
What does the science say?
My first foray into research on ‘busy equals stupid’ wasn’t particularly fruitful, so I decided to dig a little deeper and came across some research into smartphone usage, published in 2015.
The study showed that people use their smartphones for an average of five hours a day, and check them on average 85 times. More worryingly, the study revealed that people have very little awareness of the frequency and time spent checking their phone.
How is this linked to busyness? Because every time we check our phones, respond to a message, a call, or scroll through our socials while we’re doing something else (working, talking to others, feeding the kids, exercising) we’re multi-tasking. We’re attempting to get more done, to be faster, to be more productive. Intentionally or unintentionally, we see ourselves as ‘busy’. We are making ourselves feel busy.
Busyness is a barrier to getting ‘in the zone’
Think of a time when you were really ‘in the zone’. A time when you were so focused, time seemed to stand still and you powered along accomplishing everything you set out to do (more about regular absorption later).
Then, someone interrupts you.
You deal with the interruption and then spend the next 25 minutes trying to re-enter your ‘zone’.
This is exactly what is happening on a micro-level with our phones. We barely focus our attention on a task before we get a fleeting thought to check our phone. This means it takes us longer to complete our tasks, and it significantly affects our performance. Say what?!
In short, our smartphones encourage us to multitask constantly. In fact, another research study demonstrated that the mere presence of our phones reduces available cognitive capacity.
Mindful awareness: The key to accessing the zone
Mindful awareness is the ability to direct your attention, to pay attention on purpose. It gives you the power to eschew busyness in favour of being productive.
It’s not easy. Mindful awareness requires mental strength. But as with any exercise, as you adjust to the weight of the kettlebells, the demands of the cardio, and the fatigue you experience post-workout, it gets easier with practice.
So, where should you start?
The easiest place to start with mindful awareness is mindful breathing, where you direct your attention to your breath, controlling the rate and rhythm of your breath. Here’s how to do it:
- Breathe in deeply to the count of 1, 2, 3.
- Hold your breath for 1, 2, 3.
- Exhale for 1, 2, 3.
- And repeat.
Or, if this doesn’t feel right, try counting your inhalations and exhalations to 10, then restart at 1 when you reach 10. If you start thinking of other things, be kind to yourself and accept the distraction and gently remind yourself to re-focus on your breathing count.
You could also try mindful eating
If mindful breathing doesn’t seem like a good fit for you, try your hand at mindful eating. When you’re having your lunch, your afternoon cup of tea, or an apple as you walk home from the office, press pause and direct your attention to every aspect of eating:
- What does the food/drink look like? Really look like. Inspect it. Examine it.
- What does it smell like? Does it smell the same if you close your eyes?
- If you put it to your lips, without biting or drinking, what does it feel like?
- As you eat or drink, what does your tongue do? What do your teeth do?
- How does the taste change as you chew and swallow? Is there an aftertaste?
Remember to take your time, exploring every moment of your mindful eating experience.
Improve your focus, productivity and quality of life
In a world where overwhelming busyness is the new normal, mindfulness can help you maintain focus, improve your concentration and get more done more efficiently and effectively.
And by pressing pause, you’ll also improve the way you experience, think and feel about life and the world around you.
For more insights and exercises you can use to improve your wellbeing and working life, check out the rest of our Facets in Action Series. Alternatively, if you’re looking to improve wellbeing, productivity and effectiveness across your organisation, contact our experienced team.
As an organisational psychology consultant at Kaya, Lisa Vandertogt believes the key to unlocking both individual and organisational potential lies in a holistic approach and understanding the complex interplay between individuals, teams, and organisations. She has specialist interest in wellbeing, engagement, diversity and inclusion, team effectiveness, and personal capability development.