Imagine a great long-term project lands on your desk. It’s an important creative opportunity for you to move forward professionally, one that could really help you advance and get to do even more of the kind of meaningful work that makes your heart go pitter-patter.
Imagine that you do the work on this project in a timely fashion during regular working hours, and still have a life. You get your work done in a relaxed and productive manner and take that weekend camping trip you’ve been wanting to go on for a long time, get to yoga, and have time for sleep, cooking healthy, eating right and intentional time with friends and family.
Now go one step further and visualize that, at the end of this project not only are you rewarded by a deep sense of personal accomplishment, but maybe a leader in your field notices you and wants to give you more challenging and interesting work, the kind you’ve been craving.
You become known as someone who has her act together, who works sustainably and has a life.
And because you are so skilled, you get more opportunities both for interesting work and for self-care.
And the virtuous circle spirals ever upward.
These are the kinds of results the men and women I work with are experiencing.
Getting work done in an era where it feels like the work-cycle is 24/7 and where private time blurs into work time is a reality for most people today.
How often have you sat down to work on a project and found yourself shopping online for your favorite organic Greek olive oil or watching pop videos from the 80s on YouTube? (Duran Duran and The Smiths remain perennial favorites. Sigh.)
If you’re anything like me, far more times than you might want to admit.
So how can we get work done in a timely way when no one is creating external boundaries for us?
I absolutely LOVE the work I do and still it’s tough to stay on target and focused at times.
In the old days, back when the earth was cooler, people who went to work had a time-clock.
You punched in when you got there, and you punched out when you left. You knew that being there meant you were working and, consequently, you also knew when you weren’t at the office or the flower shop or factory floor you could rest and enjoy some leisure (unless you happened to be a woman, in which case you would start a second shift of work, but that’s for another blog post).
The point is that there was a clear start, a clear end and a clear intention: to get the job done and move on.
And while I am all for flexible working - indeed, I get to serve clients who live around the world thanks to the beauty of the interwebs - without external boundaries around work time, it is imperative we make those up on our own.
That’s where rituals come in.
People love rituals and we live in a world that desperately needs more sacred rituals. At a time when the institutions and organizations we once looked to for meaning, structure, order and purpose often fall short of meeting our real needs, it’s up to us to create those rituals for ourselves.
Think about how much you love your ritual of snuggling up to your fur baby or your honey and streaming videos on Netflix on a cold Sunday afternoon?
It’s the ritual, and the anticipation of the ritual, that makes it such a nourishing and enlivening experience (unless of course you got into a political fight with someone on social media that day, decide to get nasty with Ben and Jerry and things take a more sinister turn).
Research shows that rituals prepare the brain for certain types of activities, priming us for them and actually activating the process of getting our creative juices flowing. This is classic Pavlov.
So how can all this make your life better so you can go on that camping trip to the beach and get your work done?
The world of mindfulness offers us at least three suggestions.
First, create a ritual around your work time by starting with setting an intention.
Before you turn on the computer, spend a few minutes to close your eyes, breathe and create a conscious intention around one or two things that are most important for you to accomplish in the time allotted (note: if you need to get 10 things done, repeat this process after you have completed - and they key word is completed - the previous tasks). A simple breathing meditation can be used to allow clarity to emerge from the busy mind, or you might want a meditation that focuses on helping you get clear on your intention (get my FREE downloadable audio meditations here). You might simply close your eyes, breathe deeply for 10 breaths and ask, “What is the most important thing I intend to accomplish today?” This meditation, as part of a regular mindfulness practice, will help you develop greater concentration and focus. (Yes, this counts: you don’t have to sit on a special cushion, wear patchouli and count mala beads in order to meditate - you can do it right in the office!)
Next, when your mind is clear from your meditation, go straight into creation mode.
Write the report, the blog post, the new dish for your catering clients, the article, or presentation and - this is key - keep your email browser (and if possible your phone) off. This can be difficult to do in the beginning but the people that I’ve worked with who have done this have had incredible results in terms of less anxiety, greater focus, more productivity and greater creativity. The motto when sitting down to work (in most fields) can be as simple as this: Creation before consumption and communication. When you go right from a clearer post-meditation mind into creation mode, you are much more likely to have laser-like focus. So use it skillfully.
Finally, once you have done the creating part of your work, only then open your email, phone, social media, etc to communicate and share what you have already created.
Once you have created what you intended to for that day’s work, you will already feel accomplished and good about yourself, so even if you do get a snarky email from someone, you will be much cooler and more even keeled when dealing with it. By cultivating mindfulness before your work session, research shows that over time you will also increase your emotional intelligence at work, empathy and have an overall much more positive experience of working with your collaborators.
It will also help protect your mind from the mind-suck that happens when we get on social media (and yes, it does happen to people who have meditated for years; you just get much more skillful and quicker at letting go of hostile political debates in the twit-o-sphere ;)).
With these three simple tips, I personally guarantee that, if you try them for one week and don’t feel more peaceful and productive I will gladly give you your money back.
(Or at least I will be willing to share with you my excellent recipe for roasted brussels sprouts that I made while writing this blog post).
Try it and let me know how it works in the comments below. I'd love to hear from you.