Zen Habits has a very good list of things that will help you simplify your work day.
Most of these I’ve seen before, but here’s a new one (which is sort of similar to other things I’ve seen, but different enough I thought it was worth quoting):
# Practice a focus ritual. Every hour or two, do a refocus ritual. This only takes a minute or two. You might start it by closing down your browser and maybe other open applications, and maybe even take a walk for a couple of minutes to clear your head and get your blood circulating. Then return to your list of Most Important Tasks and figure out what you need to accomplish next. Before you check email again or go back online, work on that important task for as long as you can. Repeat this refocus ritual throughout the day, to bring yourself back. It’s also nice to take some nice deep breaths to focus yourself back on the present.
Here is the entire quote, which I had to cut down for Twitter:
Enlightenment is always there. Small enlightenment will bring great enlightenment. If you breathe in and are aware that you are alive – that you can touch the miracle of being alive – then that is a kind of enlightenment. Many people are alive but don’t touch the miracle of being alive.
I’m not being sarcastic when I say that I like how he makes enlightenment attainable for anyone. Small enlightenment, at the least, but as they say, it’s the journey that matters, not the destination.
Another quick block quote:
With mindfulness, you can establish yourself in the present in order to touch the wonders of life that are available in that moment. It is possible to live happily in the here and the now. So many conditions of happiness are available—more than enough for you to be happy right now. You don’t have to run into the future in order to get more.
I first studied Buddhism from a book on Zen which made the difference between Buddhist and non-Buddhist much more stark. I was still a fan of meditation (though I stopped after a short time because I was only about 15 at the time). I have seen other interpretations since which include the more “spectrumized” approach, and I think that’s important because there are certainly aspects of the practice (like those mentioned above) which are useful to anyone – not just those who intend to become full-on Buddhists.
Mindfulness and appreciation for life are simple things that can be achieved no matter what the economy does. While we all have difficult times, there are always simple moments of peacefulness to be found. You just have to pay attention.
Here is a bit more of an explanation by way of an exercise you can try with only a cup of tea:
Suppose you are drinking a cup of tea. When you hold your cup, you may like to breathe in, to bring your mind back to your body, and you become fully present. And when you are truly there, something else is also there—life, represented by the cup of tea. In that moment you are real, and the cup of tea is real. You are not lost in the past, in the future, in your projects, in your worries. You are free from all of these afflictions. And in that state of being free, you enjoy your tea. That is the moment of happiness, and of peace. When you brush your teeth, you may have just two minutes, but according to this practice, it is possible to produce freedom and joy during that time, because you are established in the here and now. If you are capable of brushing your teeth in mindfulness, then you will be able to enjoy the time when you take a shower, cook your breakfast, sip your tea.
Since I’m a big Getting Things Done fan, let’s look at a question Oprah asked and how GTD can help us to be more mindful:
Oprah: What if my bills need to be paid? I’m walking, but I’m thinking about the bills.
Nhat Hanh: There is a time for everything. There is a time when I sit down, I concentrate myself on the problem of my bills, but I would not worry before that. One thing at a time. We practice mindful walking in order to heal ourselves, because walking like that really relieves our worries, the pressure, the tension in our body and in our mind.
GTD steps in here to help you out because you put “Pay Bills” on one of your action lists (perhaps @Desk or @Bills – or if you do everything online like you should to conserve paper: @Computer or @Online). When you have it on an action list, you don’t need to think about it any more. This allows you to think about something else instead. Of course, that something could be work, family, or an infinite number of other things, but theoretically, when you’ve got everything down, your mind should be completely clear, allowing you to only think about walking and being in the moment of walking.
So, now stop, and think: You are reading this blog post. How are you seated? Where are your hands? What is taking your mind off of reading this post?
Small enlightenment will bring great enlightenment.
That is all.
(The link is to the paperback which comes out in May 2010 – there is a hardcover available now)
I read this book back in July and since then I’ve thought about it on almost a daily basis. The hypothesis, stated by itself, sounds fairly ridiculous because it comes down to: There is no such thing as talent. Perhaps I feel so strongly and was so influenced by the book because I’ve kind of always felt it was true, but presented in the book are studies that provide the kind of evidence I’ve always believed in a more anecdotal way.
My personal favorite example (not presented in the book) is Michael Jordan. Say what you will about Jordan (and if you don’t know why I qualify it that way, then don’t worry about), but he practiced, and practiced right. I’m sure there were people who spent more time playing basketball than Jordan in high school (okay, I’m not actually sure about that, but it’s possible), but Jordan, like Jerry Rice – who is actually used as an example in the book, used his time most efficiently.
There is the well known story of Jordan getting “cut” from his high school varsity team as a freshman (but mostly because freshman weren’t allowed to be on varsity – I know how that is). As a result of that slight, Jordan would go to the gym early every day and practice. Did he have talent? I would argue no, and that’s why it’s so hard to explain Talent Is Overrated. Most people would scoff at the notion that Michael Jordan didn’t have some natural talent. But I would say he didn’t.
Did he have a genetic disposition for height that made him grow to 6′ 5″ (or however tall he actually was)? Yes.
Did he have a very strong work ethic? Yes.
Did he have a natural talent for basketball? No. He just combined the two factors above and decided he wanted to play basketball.
I would argue that anyone with his height and the same strong work ethic could be the best in the world at playing basketball. Anyone who disagrees with that probably underestimates Jordan’s work ethic. He didn’t get better simply because he was destined to become the best basketball player ever. He got better because he wanted to become the best basketball player ever, and he wanted it more than anyone else.
Yes, he played in a time when the media exposure was just right, and he played on a team that was able to put people around him who also worked hard and were able to play like Jordan wanted them to play.
If you think I’m biased… well of course I am. But I’m not the only one. Someone else wrote a book about it and cited studies from people who were researching the same idea.
If you don’t think there’s a chance you’ll ever believe that people aren’t born with innate talent, then don’t bother reading Talent Is Overrated. But if you think that maybe the people who are the best at what they do got that way because they worked hard and worked smart, then I cannot recommend this book strongly enough.