Mindful or mindless productivity

January 29, 2023

The other day, I found myself reflecting on the concept of mindfulness and how it relates to productivity.

Like many people, I have a daily mindfulness meditation practice. I sit down for anywhere between 10 and 40 minutes a day and observe what’s going on in my body and in the world. This practice has lowered my stress level, has allowed me to see the world more clearly, and has helped me to spend my days more deliberately.

It has also made me more productive.

Why? Because it reminds me to take a step back.

Think about this: if we take the word mindfulness literally, what is its opposite?

It is mindlessness.

Imagine observing the start to your workday. Let’s say you hired a consultant who is watching over your shoulder. Or you’re watching a tape of yourself working. Are you relatively mindful or relatively mindless?

If you start your day by reviewing your emails and answering the ones that seem the most urgent, that is not very mindful. Neither is working on whatever task looks most overdue or on that task your coworker keeps bugging you about.

A more mindful start to your day involves planning. Look at your list of to-dos—or make that list to begin with—and figure out what truly deserves your attention first. Then work on that one task, knowing that everything else is lower priority—you just determined that! Once you complete this one task, repeat the exercise: what deserves your attention next?

It sounds basic, but if we observe ourselves, we’ll see that often we just tumble from one task to the other without thinking.

While a meditation practice helps us to take a step back, it is not necessary to work more mindfully. Starting your day with a blank slate and consciously deciding what to work on already helps a lot. That is why, in my courses, I teach how to do that with various to-do apps.

Anyway, if you tend to be a little mindless during your workday, give mindful productivity a go. You might like it a lot. Good luck!

P.S. If you want to become more mindful and/or build the habit of meditating, I recommend trying out Sam Harris’s app, Waking Up. It has a wealth of guided meditations as well as conversations and other wisdom.

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