Can yoga make you more productive?
When I tell people that I co-wrote a book on business and yoga I get one of two reactions. The first, from the non-yogis is an understandable one thinking that the book is about doing a yoga class at work to help unwind and be less stressed. But increasingly I am finding the second reaction is broader than this as many professionals are seeing their yoga and meditation practice having a direct, positive impact on their work.
Yoga is much more than throwing some pretty shapes on a mat. At its heart, it is a deeply practical philosophy for living a better life and its principles and practices can help those of us living busy 24/7 connected lives to be more resilient, focused and positive in the workplace.
Let’s take a look at some of the ways yoga can help us be more productive and happy at work:
Attention and Focus
The essence of yoga is bringing our attention to our breath. When our attention wanders off the breath, and off the mat, into what we are having for lunch, we gently bring our focus back. Over the 11 years I have been practising yoga, this skill of bringing focus back to what I am doing over and over has meant that I am able to work in a much more focused way than many. Yes I still get distracted by emails, social media and other tasks, but now I am able to recognize these distractions quicker and gently bring my focus back to my Most Important Tasks. Try this for yourself today. Start to notice the pull towards your inbox or your social media feeds. This is the neurotransmitter dopamine tricking you into thinking there is exciting things within that you can’t miss. When you start to feel this urge, take three deep belly breaths. The urge will diminish and you can get back to work.
The Power of Ritual
Last year, at a yoga retreat in the Kent countryside, I met an ex- Zen Buddhist monk. Quietly spoken, he told me of his time in monasteries in Japan, where the elaborate tea rituals played an important part in the monks daily meditation. Ritual and routine are important in our yoga practice too. By practising yoga we become more disciplined; by discipline, it becomes easier to practice yoga. Just as the rituals and routines of getting on the mat or the meditation cushion are a great way of instilling new habits into our life, so are they useful in a work context. I use a series of morning, working and evening rituals to focus my day, and ingrain positive working practices.
The most important to me, is my morning ritual. Without fail every morning — before I open the computer and start work — I write down my one to three Most Important Tasks that I wish to achieve that day. I pick the one with the highest priority and work on that uninterrupted for around 90 minutes. My phone stays on silent. I don’t open my email account. I don’t engage in social media. I focus on the task and execute it. After around 90 minutes, it’s time for a break. This forms another important ritual. Tea and Twitter time! A digital treat before returning to my priorities for the day.
What rituals can you build into your work day?
Effective Action and Quiet Reflection
In the Western world, many yoga classes focus solely on the asanas or postures that make up the physical practice of yoga. However, without the aspects of pranayama (breathing practices), and the balance of action and reflection that make up a fuller engagement, our yoga can become little more than a keep fit class. It’s the same in our working practice. How do you respond when people ask you how work is? For most of us the word “busy!”, is our first response. In our 24/7 culture, we wear our busyness as a badge of honor. We spend most, if not all, of our working day being ‘busy’ — focused on action and delivery, leaving little or no time for ‘quiet reflection’. However, it is in these moments of quiet reflection that our best ideas for ‘effective action’, can come to us.
I think there is a real distinction between filling your working hours with unimportant work, and actually doing work that is important to you and your business. Research has shown that workers can spend up to four hours a day on email alone. Is this a good use of your time? Social media can also be a huge time-suck in our working and personal lives. Are you actually seeing a value in the connections you are making online, or are you just plugging away for the sake of it?
We may be ‘busy’ but are we actually achieving anything?
How can we ensure that we make time in our day for ‘quiet reflection’? Many successful business people I follow have embraced meditation as a tool for having a daily practice of quiet reflection, but this perhaps is not for everyone. Instead, just taking the time to stop and reflect during your day can provide new insights. Here are some ideas on how we can stop the ‘busywork’:
Be clear on your priorities. Don’t start your week, or your day, without a clear idea of what you want to achieve. Spend some time on Friday evening, or Monday morning, taking a strategic look at your to-do list and decide on your focus areas for the week.
Reduce first, then eliminate. Focus on reducing and eliminating repetitive busywork tasks like checking your email every 10 minutes or reading newsletters or RSS feeds that aren’t adding value. Take the time to actively unsubscribe; remember you have to invest your attention to reclaim your attention.
Question yourself. Question yourself at regular stages during the day. Go beyond asking yourself, “Am I being productive or just active?”, and ask yourself, “Am I doing Great Work or just Busywork?”. Why not set a timer to chime every hour, and take a minute to refocus, refresh and recalibrate.