I berate myself: why can’t I fit in a yoga practice, a jog, personal study, long walks with my boyfriend, getting a pedicure, making a home cooked meal, and blog writing all into one day? Oh, oh, wait, while working my full-time job? Surely if I got up earlier, slept less, and were more efficient, I could get it all done. Right?
We can’t possibly do it all, so let’s free ourselves from that impossible standard right now. However, it may be possible to do it all over time. Or to get the essential tasks done, but with more ease and grace…and still leave time for that pedicure.
Meditation, or, “Do one thing at a time”
As a reminder, I have a post-it note with “do one thing at a time” on my laptop.
Our brains are like little monkeys, bouncing from one point of stimulation to the next. Multi-tasking is a myth left over from the frantic 80’s and 90’s, where effective workers were seen to be octopi with 8 arms doing everything at once. When we multi-task, we feel as if we’re quite busy, because our mind is doing the monkey dance. (And in our brains, “busy” somehow feels like we’re getting a lot done. It’s the “frantic” = “efficient” myth.) However, it actually takes our brain longer to multi-task because it has to switch back and forth between activities. So while we feel really effective checking our email while we work on a project, we’re actually losing valuable time.
In meditation, we task the mind to return to doing one thing. Despite the natural monkey mind distractions, we return again and again to the task at hand. In meditation, we usually return to the breath or to a mantra; in work, we can return to our single activity. One-pointed focus stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which creates an environment for calm and healing in the body. Similarly, working on one activity at a time in our work will help us become calm and more settled. Don’t be seduced by the outdated multi-tasking myth; equipoise is our most productive mind state.
Turn off your email
A huge part of “doing one thing at a time” is to address our addiction to instantly answering email.
Email is the “shiny thing” of the 21st century. Nothing makes our monkey mind happier than the hearing the captivating ping and vibrations that occur when a new email drops into our inbox. A new email means that we are important. Monkey mind says, “We must check it now!”
Um, actually monkey mind? Simmer down now.
Most emails aren’t urgent, and yet we still feel compelled to answer them immediately. Instead, set aside specific times of day (perhaps one or two) to answer your email – then stick to them. When you’re not in email answer mode, then turn it off. If it’s an emergency, they will call.
Same theory goes to our phone. Turn off your text notifications so that you can stay focused on your task without interruption.
A rather inelegant word, “chunking” also goes hand in hand with “no-multi-tasking.” It involves putting similar tasks together. In other words, set aside a block of time to do just your email. Then set aside time to do just your phone calls. Then just your writing. Etc. Chunking – like doing one thing at a time – lets your mind settle into a rhythm and become more focused. Optimal performance happens in 90-minute cycles, so make sure to give yourself the time you need to dig into each of your projects.
Productive work is a marathon, not a sprint. Take some time during your day to walk outside, take a stretch, breathe deeply. Do a little yoga. Savour your lunch – and for goodness sake, don’t eat at your desk. Instead, give your senses the nourishment they deserve. Taste your food. Feel your body. Take a mini-vacation from your left-brain through visualization, imagination, and sensations.
Even a five-minute break will rejuvenate you and allow you to return your left-brain tasks with more focus and energy.
When we are planning large projects, we can easily become overwhelmed by the amount we need to accomplish, which may drive us to dive in and frantically try to make headway. Instead, pause and make a long-term plan that allows you to take small and incremental steps every day to realize your vision. Practicing pacing and patience will give you the stamina and support necessary to make your vision a reality.
Effective planning will also give you the perspective to know when it’s time to stop working and let a project rest. Practicing contentment (santosha) with your daily efforts lets you take meaningful steps forward while maintaining a balanced life.
Finally, don’t sweat the small stuff
Great time management means knowing when to not do something.
When you are planning out your day, ask yourself: which tasks are the most important in terms of moving your priorities forward?
Don’t be afraid to let go of tasks that don’t serve your priorities. Simplify. The Sanskrit word for discernment is “buddhi;” it is the part of our mind that speaks beyond our habitual, ego-driven reactions. The voice of buddhi is the one that invites us to take a step back, breathe, and make a more conscious choice in the moment about what is important.
Time Management: your yoga at work
Time Management is more than about completing a task list; true time management is an invitation to assess our priorities, choose with discernment, and practice mindfulness. Not only will we become more effective at completing our projects, we will accomplish more with ease and a sense of calm.
- Do one thing at a time
- Practice contentment
- Don’t sweat the small stuff
Not only will conscious time management enable us to become more productive and effective, its greater gift is that it offers us another avenue to practice yoga and mindfulness in our everyday lives.