If the past 18 months threw you and your organization off balance, creating a low-grade constant anxiety because of all the uncertainty and change, maybe you should consider that the way you are working may also be driving you crazy.
I’m reading Cal Newport’s A World Without Email concurrently with taking a mindfulness course, and I highly recommend each to anyone managing people, specifically themselves. The course is an 8-week Mindfulness program that I’m taking virtually from John Bruna who lives in Carbondale (mindfullifeprogram.org).
Both the book and the course take aim at what Newport refers to as the “hyperactive hive mind workflow” which frustrates the single-tasking way our minds are built. It is damaging to our health and productivity. He speaks of a deficit of “attention capital” and not just among cognitive workers.
We just on-boarded an office manager recently and she was surprised when I suggested that I didn’t want her glued to her email, or the phone. I said that she would not be judged for not responding immediately. I don’t think she believed me.
Ping-ponging back and forth with email may FEEL like work, but the mindfulness practice is helping me understand how it often is not. I am “become aware of being unaware,” or how often my mind is drawn away from a purpose. Now I understand why I would put my phone somewhere else and close my in-box for an hour or a half-day at a time for certain tasks, like writing or reading (a real book) that isn’t on a pinging smart phone. Try it. It is very difficult to do.
How is this related to the fact that I am now meditating three times a day? My meditation? A 21-breath count meditation followed by a reflection on what I have done skillfully and not (yet) so skillfully during the intervening hours. That is it. The reset can be as powerful as a short nap. A system reboot. Shut down the monkey mind. Re-establish focus. Intention. What is important right now? If the in-box jingles right then, all that can go right out the window. I am no monk, but I am getting better at understanding when I am distracted, and what is causing it.
Newport writes that Email is a tool for “low-friction communication at scale.” It has led to checking inboxes maniacally, on-average checking every four minutes (or less), or on average 77-126 times each day, spending over 1/3 of our time in our in-boxes. Most of our emailing just adds layers to a disjointed conversation. We check constantly and keep replying because having a question just sit there is making us anxious at some deep level that “members of your tribe are trying to get your attention and you are ignoring them.” Our typical response? More emails throughout the day and well into the evening. The result, we are putting off deep work—our own and for our jobs, trading focus for longer, less productive days. The longest period of time most folks allow themselves for actual work? Twenty minutes. How many important tasks do you have that take longer than that?
Do you ever think your work is working you? If your in-box is the primary structure for all of your work, that is a bad sign. Email is not work. Now that is something to meditate on.
The idea of meditation is about training your mind to constantly return to focus. Bruna speaks of “becoming aware of being unaware.” In his book, he cites psychologist who note that “most people are so distracted that they do not know what they are doing about half the time they are awake.”