“You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day. Unless you’re too busy, then you should sit for an hour,” or so the ancient Zen saying goes. It might seem counter-intuitive, but if you think about it, it is incredibly profound. In our pursuit for success, we are dashing from one task to the next, trying to do way more than is humanly possible. The end result oftentimes is less than average outcomes across the board, far from what we would want or expect of ourselves.
Research shows that it can take up to 25 minutes on average to recover from a distraction and context switching can result in a 40% decrease in productivity. These are by no means trivial numbers, so this research makes it quite clear that as a modus operandi, our default approach to getting things done is less than efficient. This is true especially for knowledge workers, where each task needs context and a certain amount of attention to create meaningful outcomes. In his best-selling book, Cal Newport calls this act of focusing on cognitively demanding tasks “Deep Work”, and this ability is often the crucial differentiator for success.
We have become so used to letting bursts of information interrupt us, that our minds in some ways have become addicted to these interruptions, very much like a sugar rush. The biggest culprits, of course, are the notifications on our phones which, if we aren’t careful, can throw us off balance during a really important meeting. So much so that focus modes have become a thing. Mindfulness, which principally has to do with keeping our minds in the present moment, is the bedrock of this ability to do deep work.
Mindfulness can be inculcated through daily practices such as spending time with yourself, uninterrupted by technology, and focusing on something as simple as your breath, a mantra or a deity. The objective is to be able to train your mind to remain in the present and focus on a singular subject. The ultimate objective of course is transcendence of the mind, but it has very practical applications even in everyday work.
Human awareness has an incredible ability to transform, so it is the most precious resource we have available to expend. And as we have just learnt, it's extremely scarce. It therefore becomes extremely important how you choose to spend your quota of awareness. Work already helps itself to a generous slice, so make sure to save enough of it for those who you hold dear, for what an hour of attention can achieve in terms of TLC, can’t be substituted by anything else that money can buy.
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