Monday, May 11, 2009

MPOW #16 - Sloth Disguised as Productivity

Earlier this week I encouraged us to Make Mistakes of Ambition, Not Sloth. After we're able to redefine ambition as motivation toward production, attachment-free goals, this all sounds pretty good and straight-forward, though we know that motivational challenges are not so easy to overcome. Our own experiences and many spiritual teachings have taught us that being aware of our desires and causes of suffering are the most important step toward dissolving them.

In this mindfulness practice of the week, we take a break from the meditation cushion and instead take a look at random samplings of our lives. During the day, make use of mindfulness bells - sounds or alerts that bring us to the present, once in the present, assess what you are doing, thinking, feeling at the time of the bell. It is an opportunity to break routine and self assess. This is a useful too for many aspects of mindfulness, though this week, we will use it specifically to catch acts of laziness disguised as productivity.

Set up a Mindfulness Bell

Set an alarm to go off 3 times during your work day or productivity period. Maybe you know three specific times when you are likely to just keep yourself busy instead of being your most effective self. Set the alarm to be during these times. If you work in an office, these may be right after arriving at work, right after lunch, and 3pm - as your lunch is digesting.

Or, you might find it more effective to use random times. I found a tool on the following Web site which may be of help (though I admit that I have not tried it yet myself):

The Practice - Catch Yourself
When the bell goes off, ask yourself the following hard question, and be honest with yourself. Once you learn to be honest with this, you make be able to break yourself of bad workplace habits that you did not know you had. Choose one of the following questions, or come up with something else that works for you in the same vein:
  • Am I doing the most important thing that I can be doing right now?
  • Am I procrastinating?
  • Am I inventing things to distract me from what's important?

Common work culprits
The following are common office-place culprits that I work to overcome, and likely millions more do, too:

Checking email - it is possible to spend the whole day doing this and still never finish. At one point, I found that I was receiving over 700/day. I have since learned to filter that. It's also possible to just let those toast messages pop up and respond to things constantly throughout the day. Far less time-consuming to batch them up and pass through them once or twice/day. Or less!

Writing email - Same goes with this one. It is possible to edit, re-edit, re-write, until blue in the face. It is also possible to edit every single message and write an email about everything that comes into your head. This just creates more work for everyone. Try to focus on only the highest priority emails to protect your time and respect the time of others. I also like to keep my emails short and sweet. I have adopted a plan to make it easier for me to write email and for other people to respond to my emails.

Meetings - Are all those meetings really necessary or simply work for work's sake? Do all meetings need to take exactly an hour or always run over? Really? Think about it. What would happen if weekly meetings because once every two weeks? Once every month? Would work cease to be done? What if an hour-long meeting could be replace with a 5-minute meeting, or 2 5-sentence emails? That would save a lot of time.

Drop-in meetings - Oh, I'm really guilty of this one. I find it important to always be available when people need me. I open the door, invite people in, "have a seat." This automatically burns through at least 15 minutes. Close the door to go through longer. I've made the mistake in thinking that I'm only respectful of people if I give them undivided attention whenever they need it. Wrong. I can respect them by saving their time and mine (and the more of my time I save, the more work I can do for them and the company) and keeping things short and to the point. This is possible while still connecting on a real, human level.

Perhaps you already know that these are your bugbears. Perhaps none of these apply to you and you will learn others through this practice.

Good luck. Use the comments box to let me know how it goes.


  1. Love the random alerts idea. Can't wait to try it out.

  2. Did you try it out? How did it work for you?