On Productivity II

So you’ve chosen the ‘right things to do’, now how do you get them done?

The answer is simple—focus on one thing at a time.

It sounds easy, but just think of how many tabs you have open right now. Even while you’re reading this, there are probably a dozen other things distracting you.

Your mind and body have limited bandwidth. Most things that need to be done properly require our full attention but very rarely do we give what we’re doing our fullest effort.

Instead, we spread ourselves too thin. I can’t tell you how many yoga classes I’ve had where I was supposed to be breathing with my movements, but instead I was thinking about work. Or how often I’m talking to someone but internally deciding what to make for dinner. Or when I’ve sat down to read a book but 30 seconds later I remember a text I’ve supposed to have sent…

Focus takes practice. It’s not something that you can easily switch on or off. You have to be willing to work on it and declutter distractions from your life—turn off notifications, cancel Netflix, outsource tasks, say ‘no’ more more often, delete those apps, lock the door, stay up later or wake up earlier to get quiet time.

When we try to do too many things at once, we do none of them well. Sometimes we’ll get by and no one notices our attempts were half-assed. But anything worth doing, the things that really matter, by definition are worth it because they’re hard, and need concentration, and the willingness to pursue them relentlessly.

So let us focus, not to get more things done, but to do things better. Life is too short to be mediocre.

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On Productivity

Back when I was an aspiring career girl who thought the epitome of success was earning a Director’s title and a generous bonus package every year until I retired comfortably at 65, I used to be obsessed with productivity. How could I get more things done in less time? How could I fit more into my busy life?

After years of cramming more and more work and other commitments into each day until I barely had time to sleep, I became exhausted with the long hours and complete lack of free time I had to do the things I really enjoyed. I realised I had been going about it all wrong.

I used to think that doing more automatically meant living more, but that’s not true. Life shouldn’t be about fitting more of just anything into it. There will always be more things you can do to fill a thousand lifetimes. Instead, it should be about making time for the ‘right’ things and eliminating all the other stuff that doesn’t matter.

There is a difference between being efficient, versus being effective. One is about doing something that takes up limited resources (time, energy) with the least waste, and the other is about intentionally doing things that make an impact.

In other words, being efficient is about doing things right, while being effective is about doing the right things.

Productivity advice is too focused on the former instead of the latter. Doing things right is fairly easy. That’s what how-to books and productivity blogs are for. The harder thing is choosing the right things to do. We are swamped in work, meeting requests, invitations, the media, places to go, new things to try out, TV shows to watch… there isn’t enough time to do it all, even if you can do it all efficiently in the least time possible.

What counts as a ‘right’ thing? There’s no easy answer, but you’ll know deep down if what you’re spending your time on feels right. Is it important to you? Or important to someone you love? Are you enjoying it? Does it make you feel good? Are you making other people’s lives better? Is it short term or long term? Is it fun and challenging? Are you growing? Is it meaningful? What if you died tomorrow? Can you think of a better way to spend your time? Will you remember this day years from now?

If we pared down to the things that mattered the most then we would feel less FOMO, and wouldn’t need to be in such a hurry. There are some things that aren’t meant to be rushed. How unfortunate would it be if we didn’t have the time to take our time on things like making a delicious home-cooked meal, getting engrossed in a good book, or making memories with loved ones.

These moments are the stuff life is made of. Choose wisely, and enjoy every moment.

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On Sundays

Sunday is my favourite day of the week. I don’t schedule any plans if I can help it, and I don’t check my phone or emails.

After a long week, I can finally get around to the things I’ve been neglecting, and I can take the time to do it slowly and mindfully.

I tidy the apartment in peace and quiet, then in the afternoons, I love to sit down with a good book and a cup of tea while it’s raining outside.

In reality, the big exciting life changing moments are few and far between. Far from being boring, these moments of small, daily pleasures are what life is all about. 99% of life happens in the quieter, unmemorable moments, so why not make the most of it?

As Annie Dillard says,

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.

There are times when we have so much to do in so little time that we charge head first into the tasks of the day, answering calls as they come and working with such intensity that the day passes before we even realise.

But in order to fuel these times of productivity, we need to take the time to recharge our batteries. Sometimes we need to dawdle and daydream, and get bored and get lost, and very importantly, get enough sleep.

Stepping back also gives us a chance to reflect on what we’re doing, and make sure it’s actually what we want to be doing. Too many people live their lives on autopilot, cruising through their days without questioning the purpose of it all. Weeks pass, then years, and soon the kids are grown up and we’re old and grey, wondering where all the time went.

We should take the time to reflect and recharge more often. Take a long look at ourselves and where we’re going. I suggest at least once a week, perhaps on a rainy Sunday afternoon like this one.

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On Equanimity

One of the things I miss the most about living in Japan (apart from the food) are the mountains. I’ve always found their constant presence reassuring—they were a continual reminder of calmness and stability.

Whether cold or hot, wet or dry, throughout the changing seasons mountains exude a sense of equanimity from within.

Indeed, if you look up equanimity in the dictionary, you’ll find:

equanimity
ˌɛkwəˈnɪmɪti,ˌiːkwəˈnɪmɪti
noun
calmness and composure, especially in a difficult situation.
“she accepted both the good and the bad with equanimity”
synonyms: composure, calmness, calm, level-headedness, self-possession, self-control, even-temperedness, coolness, cool-headedness, presence of mind

These are qualities which are invaluable to practice in daily life.

If only we could find strength and stability within ourselves, instead of relying on our belongings, other people, or things we can’t control, perhaps we’d be much happier people.

You don’t have to be on or near a mountain to find stillness. It can be cultivated within you. Think of a mountain in situations where mindfulness is key. Can you absorb a little of its qualities?

Instead of trying to find peace on a mountain, be like one – enduring yet changing, flexible yet strong.

Imagine, having a sense of rootedness and resolve to persevere in the weather of our own lives, and to be able to face any situation or turmoil with composure and presence of mind.

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Welcome

Welcome to Minimalist Meditations.

You may be a reader from my 7 year old blog, Minimal Student, or perhaps you are a brand new reader who happened to stumble upon here. Either way, I’m glad you’ve found this corner of the Internet.

Minimalist Meditations is a project that I have been incubating for a long time. I loved writing for my original blog, Minimal Student, which I started at the beginning of my minimalist journey when I was actually a student. Over the past few years, it has built a strong community of readers, and I’m pleased to announce the next stage of the journeythis new site, Minimalist Meditations.

I have changed a lot over the years, and so have the topics I like to write about. You can find out more on my About page. The short version is that I’m no longer a student, and I wanted to grow the blog to include readers who aren’t necessarily students either.

Over the next few months, I will be rebranding the original blog and social media to redirect here, where I will be writing more often. I intend to cover a variety of topics that have become more and more relevant to me since I was a student, such as work, money, time, relationships and more—all with a minimalist perspective of course.

I will publish some of the original Meditations from Minimal Student, along with new posts in the next few weeks, which I hope will give you food for thought. You can subscribe to this blog via RSS or email.

If you have any comments or suggestions, I would love to hear from you. Feel free to comment below, or get in touch with me via Twitter or Facebook.

Here’s to many more happy years of minimalism.

All the best,

J