Mindfulness and productivity are not at odds. There is a misconception that they are, that you can’t truly be mindful if you are focused on doing more, having more, being more. The notion is that if we are to be fully aware and present in our lives and to appreciate what truly matters, which is what mindfulness promotes, we can’t be wholly consumed with work.
The idea that mindfulness and productivity are at odds grows from a misunderstanding of what productivity (and personal productivity) is, as well as what it means to be productive. When people jump to conclusions about it, they assume personal productivity is about dedicating all your time to an endeavor, such as paid work or personal work. Paid work is a job or a business. Personal work can be anything from home improvement projects to writing a blog. It’s also usually assumed that the personal work is in pursuit of some kind of reward, either financial or related to one’s career. For example, focusing on personal productivity in pursuit of writing a book might not come with a huge monetary payoff, but we assume the author’s intent is to benefit in some way from the publishing of the book, whether it’s celebrity or speaking engagements or being seen as an expert in a particular field. Even home improvement projects come with the implicit financial benefit of increasing the value of a house.
What we miss when make those assumptions is that many of the things people pursue with a sense of productivity have much more to do with happiness and quality of life than financial reward. We have to think about all the goals a person has, not just those rooted in money and career-related success. Let’s think again about a home improvement project. One of the goals might be to create a happier or safer space in which to live. Happiness and safety do indeed have a value attached to them, in the true economic sense of the word, but they are also their own rewards. The pleasure we get out of living in a space that we find aesthetically pleasing is not necessarily what we think of as a benefit of “being productive.” That sense of pleasure and contentment with our surroundings is more likely associated with mindfulness. But creating it in the first place requires productivity.
Another reason people want to increase their productivity often is to have more time for enjoying life. Think about someone who works in sales and has to meet sales goals every month or quarter to earn a decent living. Being more productive at sales could mean maximizing income, but it could just as well mean hitting sales goals without putting in extra hours, with the ultimate goal being spending more quality time at home with the family.
A lot of people want to be more productive at their paid jobs so that they don’t have to put in extra hours. They want to be able to enjoy their evenings and weekends without having to work. The nature of knowledge work doesn’t always afford people the luxury of having clear boundaries between work and home, so creating and maintaining those boundaries can help make room for mindfulness.
The relationship between mindfulness and productivity works in the other direction, too. Mindfulness supports productivity. No one can be 100 percent productive all the time. Learning how to maximize productivity takes a clear understanding of the role of time off and relaxation as it relates to our ability to get things done. When we enjoy our time off, we actually reap more restorative benefits from it. And mindfulness very much is the art of finding contentment or enjoyment in all aspects of life.
Image by Bert Kubenz, CC.