“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.” ~ Annie Dillard
I’m sitting in the shade, facing the pool.
The sky is cloudless and blue and the sun is scorching. The warmth of the atmosphere coupled with a slight breeze that brushes my face and the back of my neck gives me the feeling of inner peace and contentment.
This feeling is one of almost perfection as suddenly the yellowness of the leaves captivates me. I get lost in them, focusing on their deep color, their shape, the different sizes and how they connect to the branches. I start imagining how they were a month ago and then what I see and what I had imagined blends together as I lose myself in deep, focused thoughts. It feels like pure ecstasy.
This is being present in the moment.
There is no rush to do something else or be somewhere else. I’m simply just being in whatever the present moment provides. There is no portraying, striving or stressing. This moment is eternal, almost complete.
Then I catch a glimpse of my laptop; I remember that I’m supposed to write an article today. I have to write an article today. I have committed to posting once a week and I have a few hours left before the day ends. All of a sudden, all of the ecstasy and joy encapsulated in that perfect moment dissipates from me and the sense of calm I had disappears. My shoulders tense up, my neck hardens and I’m as stiff as the tree in front of me.
This is the challenge we face when presence meets productivity.
Can we have both in life? Is it also possible to do both at the same time?
On the one hand, to be in the present is when we are most at peace and closest to our souls—the goal of living.
But, on the other hand, being present won’t pay the bills. And, to live solely on our senses and to keep doing what feels good, or what feels comfortable very often leads to laziness, frustration and disenchantment.
It’s being productive and taking action that can put food on the table and help us grow as human beings, pushing us from being too soft and directing us into having a more meaningful life. However, when we are too productive and analytical, we are in danger of becoming too mechanical and joyless. We get sucked into doing things just for the sake of doing them and end up doing nothing meaningful that nourishes the soul.
We need to infuse presence into productivity so that we live a rich, happy life that also pushes us to grow. We need to find ways to cultivate practices that help us focus our presence on activities that we like, that are creative and that encourage us to express ourselves fully and help us connect to our souls and to the rest of humanity.
“There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. A life of good days lived in the senses is not enough. The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet.” ~ Annie Dillard
These are the three best ways to bring presence into productivity:
1. Set systems and not goals.
Let’s focus on creating a system where we do an activity regularly that will increase our state of contentment in the long run, regardless of the immediate results. Writing for a set time every day will ultimately lead to authoring a book or writing many articles, but this system won’t have the stress and pressure that a set goal would bring with it.
It’s true that we won’t know if the system works or not in the short run and we won’t get the adrenaline rush of completing a goal, but at least we are getting a predictable supply of happy moments and avoiding the disappointment of not achieving the goal.
For example, I enjoy writing and whether it’s for my journal, blog or a published article really doesn’t matter as it’s the act of writing that I love and that gives me contentment. This is in opposition to the pressure and stress that setting a goal of writing an article a week would have on me without a daily writing routine to support me; especially when I find myself with a deadline looming with only a few hours left.
Setting a system allows us to become both present and productive, as within the daily practice we get into the “flow.” After so many hours tallied, there will be a substantial amount of work produced and before we know it, we have so many articles ready. We are focusing on an action we can control rather than some outcome in the future that we can’t.
2. Take time and focus on the details.
We are always in a rush to finish things so that we go to our next task or next meeting and we don’t give enough time to our tasks at hand or study the specific details that concern them. We don’t engage well and as such we can’t enjoy the activity at hand.
The more time and focus we spend on an activity, the better we become at it. And, the better we become at it, the more joy we derive out of the practice, which then leads us back to spending more time on it. It’s like a recurring circle where focused time leads to loving it and then back to more focused time on it.
It’s also important to note that as we deepen our practice and get involved in the minute details, we improve the quality of our work and intensify the sense of meaning we derive from the practice.
3. Avoid the distractions.
The distractions are everywhere nowadays, from our phones and computers to the the myriad of sophisticated ways that marketers reach us. And, to remain in the present requires us to protect our time as if our lives depend on it. As such, we need to be proactive in reducing the distractions that come into our lives.
It’s important to do so as distractions take us away from being present, leaving us feeling frustrated and often disempowered as well as feeling blocked from doing our planned practices where we end up being neither productive nor present.
When we do set a regular system where we become productive and at the same time find the presence of mind to be mindful of our time, then we are indeed living a life of meaning and contentment.
Whether we are writing for three hours, presenting a new marketing concept idea that will rock our boss or sitting in three-hour traffic, the current moment must always feel like the most important moment.
Author: Mo Issa
Apprentice Editor: Taija Jackson // Editor: Caitlin Oriel