Let’s say you’re starting a company. You know you have a world-changing idea. You’re working hard – like 90 hour weeks – to breathe success into it. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?
Well, not really. If you read this article in the New York Times you’ll get a tough-talking look at the drudge culture that’s driving work today. Especially for Millennials.
Really? Do people actually think they’ll lead happy lives, working that long and hard? And that’s success is all about?
It’s a short ride to burnout.
Constant busy-ness isn’t actually productive.
If you’re focused every minute, you lose your focus. And many of you darling, caring, world-changing, overworked, underpaid Millennials may find yourselves leading miserable, exhausted lives, even though you think you’ve got youth and culture on your side
All the advice about focus and productivity seems to stress the idea of reducing distraction. That’s a good idea, but it doesn’t go far enough. Here’s an approach that can truly help you achieve your goals and stay alive and well.
It’s called sustainable accomplishment.
Please stay with me now. And keep an open mind. This approach is contrary to everything you may have been told about productivity.
In one of my other lives, I’m a QiGong practitioner. This is an Asian health practice that dates back thousands of years. I teach and study QiGong because I was once deeply involved in the martial arts, and this ancient energy work keeps me healthy, calm, and strong.
My teacher is a Zen priest named Teja Bell. He has studied QiGong and martial arts for over 40 years. He’s a sixth degree black belt in Aikido, among other accomplishments. And one of his guiding principles is about practicing and working at 70%. Without over-reaching, trying too hard, or stressing yourself out.
Just take this in for a moment.
Can you even imagine how backing off and doing less might move you forward in your work? How generating a sense of calm might make you more productive?. Of course, I’d recommend QiGong. Because it literally soothes the nervous system. A calm nervous system encourages clarity. And clarity increases efficiency. If a great QiGong teacher isn’t available to you, here are some other ways you can work at 70% and be more sustainably productive.
- Get out of your head. When you’re feeling like your head is going to explode that’s a warning signal from your brain and body. Stop what you’re doing and breathe deeply into your belly. With enough deep belly breaths, you’ll be able to draw the jangly energy out of your head and down where it belongs. I do the belly breathing while imagining that gentle hands are stroking my head down into my neck and shoulders. Do this over and over again until your head, neck and shoulders feel deeply relaxed.
- Take mini-breaks. Set a timer and get up from your computer every 45 minutes and stretch, walk around, look out into the distance, breathe. But get off your butt and on your feet. Then work for another 45 minutes, and do it all over again. If you work at a standing desk, take lying down breaks. After each break, you can pick up your work right where you left off, with fresh eyes.
- Cultivate mindlessness. If you’re trying to come up with a solution to a tough problem or hatch a creative idea, walk away from it. Put it down overnight. Go for a walk, pick up a magazine, whatever it takes to stop thinking and let your subconscious get to work. This is not woo woo thinking. It’s neuroscience. I trust this process 100% because I do some of my best work by getting up, out, and taking a hike. Other good mindless times? In the shower, driving, walking the dog, doing the dishes. Let your thoughts turn to the problem you’re trying to solve. That’s a great way to put your brain to work on stuff that’s on your mind.
- Work less. Produce more. Working 12 hour days? Cut it back to eight and a half. Working seven days a week? Make a commitment to yourself (and your family) to take Sunday off. You will be more productive when you return to work, and your brain and body are refreshed.
- Prioritize. Prioritize. Prioritize. This may be the best possible way to get on top of that constant, anxiety-producing sense of overwhelm. Make a list of the three most important things on your to do list. Get those three things done, and then move on to the next three. There will only be three todos at any one time. Can you live with that?
- Find the time to do absolutely nothing. (Transparency here. This is the hardest thing imaginable for me to do. Please share your experiences with us in the comment section below. I need help with this one! ) If you can’t settle into nothing-ness, go have some fun! Get out in nature and take a stroll, not a run.
- Be creative. Come up with any way you want that puts you in that sweet spot where you’re relaxed and in your zone. And do share it with us here.
Yes, we need to work hard to be successful.
Everyone in business has to be resourceful and smart. Whether you run a company or your own business, you’re constantly required to learn new stuff, deliver on your promises, and deal with almost everything that comes at you. But here’s the thing. If you’re focused all the time, especially for long hours, you’re not doing yourself or your dreams any favors.
At the very least, you can take an unfocused minute to breathe. This will be one of the 672,768,000 breaths you’ll take if you live to be 80.
Make them count.