Zen in The Art of Productivity

By Veronika Shoebridge

April 29, 2015   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

Zen aims to simplify the mind. To exclude any concepts. Beginner’s mind has too many options. Master’s mind just knows.“

In Japan, archery is not only a sport where hitting the targets is the main purpose. Archery is also meant to train the mind. If one really wants to master the art of archery, technical knowledge is not enough. Only those who approached the state of clearness and emptiness of mind would overcome themselves and then the arrow would hit the target spontaneously.

Archery is just one of the popular and traditional activities, where Zen can be practiced. Swordsmanship, brush-and-ink, the tea ceremony or flower arranging may be some others.

But Zen can be practiced also in any modern-day activity. Basically it’s easy. In order to create a great piece of work, one should get rid of all tensions, all unimportant things which don’t have correlation to the activity done at that present moment.

Nowadays, when one of four people report feeling overwhelmed or burned out, learning how to find simplicity in the daily chaos of our lives is the key factor of productivity.

So what can be done to find peace of mind in our workplaces and therefore become more effective?

It is all about awareness. Just simple splitting your attention to too many things drains your energy. How many of us must read newspapers or surf the internet on a smartphone while eating. Chatting with friends and responding to emails while working. Making calls while driving.

Technology helps us in many ways, but it also leads a fight for our time and attention. All the notifications, commercials, flow of information in general.

We are practically raised to be multitasking. Let’s just take how quickly we get bored, when we have to just sit and do nothing. Our fast and furious mind loves problem solving and constant thinking, jumping from one thought to another.

Here’s a clue. The brain, as any other organ, is most effective when it’s peak activity is rhythmically alternating with rest periods. Periods of maximized focus alternating with short periods of real renewal.

Let’s give a few tips on how such “Zen Attitude” can be implemented in real life examples:

Your most important task should be complete by 11:00 am. Your level of awareness is at its peak at this time.

Do each activity without interruption for approximately 60 (max 90) minutes. At this period resist each impulse to distract yourself. Then take a few minutes to renew. Don’t dedicate this break to any mental activity which requires active thinking – like reading an article or chatting with someone.

Instead just focus for a while on your breath, what your body currently feels, go for a little walk or make a cup of tea. Still focus on each little move you make. Just be fully aware on what you are currently doing. You would be surprised how much energy this gives you back.

Don’t get distracted by unimportant things. Stay completely offline (unless it’s work related) until all your high priority work is done. No emails, no chatting, no newspapers, no web surfing, no notifications.

Check your emails just twice per day. Once at noon and again at around 4:00 PM. Create email auto response with an apology to your customers or colleagues that due to high workload you respond to emails just twice daily.

Use strategic naps or 10 minute meditation sessions. A short nap for 20-30 minutes in the early afternoon will greatly restore your level of alertness. Nap or meditation relaxes your mind and returns your productivity to the beginning-of-the-day level.

Take regular vacations. Possibly several times a year. People are not robots. Our natural working process resembles more how our organs or muscles work. Contraction and relaxation. Shifting in a regular rhythm. The deeper the phase of relaxation is the more tense the contraction can be. That’s the reason why you should completely avoid all work activities during your holidays.

Clean up your work space. With clean and simplified work space you can focus on your tasks much better. Removing all distractions, whether it’s on your table, or on computer’s desktop will reflect also on your state of mind. Here’s a detailed info graphics on how to do this.

These 7 steps would clear your mind and bring you to the new level of alertness. Your undivided attention can now focus on the only significant goal ahead you. That goal is the present moment, NOW, the only place that your masterpiece is being created. And then the bow and the archer would become one and the arrow would hit the target.

Veronika Shoebridge

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