zen habits : breathe

How to be Insanely Productive and Still Keep Smiling

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Mary Jaksch of Goodlife ZEN.

Do you want to be more productive? Maybe you do, but I’m sure you don’t want to feel stressed, overwhelmed, or unhappy – which happens to many super-productive people. But there is good news:

You can be insanely productive – and still smell the freesias, savor a Pinot Noir, or enjoy a languid hug.

A few weeks ago Leo Babauta said to me, “Mary – you’re one of the most productive people I know. And you still keep smiling and seem so relaxed. How do you do it?”

Most stuff I’ve read about productivity is about doing things differently. Like getting up at 4 a.m. each morning, or drinking eight liters of water a day, or keeping a notebook under the pillow. Sorry, folks – I don’t do any of those things.

High productivity isn’t about doing, it’s about being.

If you want to be highly productive – and still enjoy life – you need to look at how you live, and how you use your mind. Check out the following five suggestions:

  1. Make peace within.
    Most people live in a constant state of inner conflict and suffer from a barrage of negative thoughts that sabotage productivity.

    Here’s a scenario: Imagine that your car has landed in a ditch. A group of helpers gather, attach ropes and start to pull the car out. Unfortunately, they’re not all pulling in the same direction. Some try to pull the car toward the road, whereas others try to pull it deeper into the ditch. It’s absurd.

    That’s exactly what happens when we’re divided within: everything is a struggle, nothing much happens, and it’s frustrating. But what if your mind, body, and soul are all aligned?

    When our energy is aligned, we are in a state of flow.

    When we’re at peace within, and immersed in the task at hand – without negative thoughts sabotaging our productivity – action becomes effortless. We’re able to achieve much more in less time. And with more enjoyment.

    Tip: Wear an elastic wristband. Whenever you notice negative thoughts, change your wristband to the other arm. This will help you to create and maintain peace within.

  2. Go to your edge. Regularly.
    Most people use only a fraction of their capacity and try to save personal energy. For example, we’re tempted to rest when we feel tired in order to recover our zest for life. Wrong move! The more energy you spend, the more you have.

    Tiredness can signal many things. If you’re healthy, it may mean that you are bored, frustrated, lack movement, or need more oxygen. Or maybe conflict within has sapped your energy. It’s important to go to your limits regularly. Take up running, martial arts, swimming, or other activities – there are many way to exercise vigorously.

    Tip: If you feel exhausted or lethargic, go for a brisk walk in order to rev up your energy and restore your spirit.

  3. Take action.
    Most people aren’t productive because they don’t take action. They have dreams and even plans – but they don’t follow through. Negative thoughts can derail action. It may be that you have doubts about your ability, or that you listen to others who doubt you.

    Tip: Look at what you would like to achieve and ask yourself, “What is the smallest step in the direction of my dreams that I can take right now?” Then take that baby step. Now.

  4. Do what you love.
    Think about how you spend your time. Do you enjoy your work, or is it a grind? I’ve changed my life, and what I’m passionate about has now become my work: I teach my Zen students, and also work together with Leo to mentor bloggers in the A-list Blogger Club .

    A few days ago my partner David knocked at the door of the little cabin in the garden where I work:

    “Mary,” he said, “ do you realize it’s 10 o’clock at night – and you’re still working?”
    “I’m not working!” I shot back. “I’m enjoying myself!”

    Yes, when the boundary between work and play gets blurred, you may actually work more – but it feels like you’re just having fun.

    Tip: Follow your dreams – even if it’s only for ten minutes a day.

  5. Love what you do.
    We can’t always do what we love. But we are free to love what we do. From a Zen perspective, there is a way to turn even the dullest chore into pleasurable activity through mindfulness.When we pay tender regard to our present experience – letting go of all thoughts and judgments – even the most mundane action can become pleasurable. Mindfulness doesn’t mean watching yourself, it means being fully present, moment by moment.

    Tip: In order to become mindful, notice sensations of the moment. What sounds can you hear? How are your feet connected with the ground? What does your skin feel like?

Finally, a key question you need to ask …

If you want to be productive and still enjoy life, there is a key question you need to answer: why be productive?

I mean, why not just chill out on the couch, eat potato crisps, and watch TV reruns? That might be fine. But what about the oblong box we’re all going to end up in?

I remind myself every morning that life is short and mine may be over by nightfall. That gives me the the desire to taste and enjoy each moment. It also adds a measure of calm urgency because I want to leave a mark upon the world. Do you?

If so, mindful productivity will help you create a life that offers both pleasure and productivity. You’ll achieve more, and you’ll still keep smiling. That smile will light up not only your own life, but also the lives of those around you.

You don’t have to be a super-hero. Simply make peace within and live each moment fully. That’s all.

Mary Jaksch is a Zen Master and blogger. Head over to Goodlife Zen for more of her articles. And visit the A-List Blogger Club.


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