My kids call me old-school when I have these ideas they think are from my childhood that no longer apply to modern life. Like the concept that kids can walk around a new neighbourhood and make friends with other kids who are actually outside, and go play together without electronic aids. “No Mom, they tell me, it doesn’t work that way anymore. Maybe in YOUR time, but not in OURS. We setup a play date.” They’re embarrassed if I stop and talk to parents and introduce them (name, age, grade) and suggest they could play together if they wanted to.
But sometimes old ideas are good ideas.
In Pico Iyer’s book “The Art of Stillness” a TED e-book that accompanies his TED Talk, we’re reminded that doing nothing has been around for centuries. Meditation and yoga practices already exist in some corporate worlds – companies like General Mills, Google, Ford, Target, Adobe, Aetna, Goldman-Sachs and BlackRock are “early adopters” of this “old idea”.
Researchers are finding that mindfulness enhances brain function, immune function, overall health and reduces stress and anxiety. Companies see benefits that translate financially, such as happier employees, less turnover, more productivity and less time away from work due to stress and illness.
Martha Beck calls wordlessness the “first technology of magic” in Finding Your Way in a Wild New World: Reclaim Your True Nature to Create the Life You Want. If that is too “woo-woo” for you, there is less woo factor in David Gelles’ book, Mindful Work: How Meditation Is Changing Business from the Inside Out (March 2015).
What is it?
Whatever name you put on it (stillness as Eckhart Tolle calls it, wordlessness as Martha Beck calls it, going nowhere as Pico Iyer says), mindfulness is a mental separation from your thoughts while being alert in the present moment. If you’re observing your thinking (in the scientific sense of neither judging it bad nor good but just seeing it as it is), you’ll eventually see you cannot be the thoughts you think–you must be the observer or one who notices the thoughts. Hanging out with this “observer self ” is one of the most delicious experiences possible. The Untethered Soul: the Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael A. Singer is one of my favourite books, and I’m delighted to see it being so popular that it’s showing up at my local Costco.
Time in the “observer mode” is refreshing. Problems that seemed so vitally important to solve, painful feelings that overwhelm, worry that paralyzes, stressful thinking — all seem to melt way under the light of “observer mode”. This mental distancing brings so much relief to a stressed out mind – it’s like a sip of water while you’re exercising: refreshing, renewing and it keeps you going to the finish line. As a bonus, I often find I’ve managed to solve a problem or come to a realization that helps me hack off some time from my to-do list.
Why is it a time hack?
We know the day doesn’t get more hours –no matter how much our to-do list grows. If we want to have time for sleep, exercise, eating well and spending quality time with others it becomes a creative problem solving exercise to get it all done.
I used to think work-life integration was the creative solution – I became adept at weaving together work and life tasks, delegating work, being picky about what not to do, and even things like never allowing the kids to eat outside the kitchen area – it made for less mopping and vacuuming. Despite all these creative ideas, I was still feeling like a hamster running on a wheel – never ending and never catching up. Advances in technology seemed to translate into “more work”, in the work-life integration formula, and “less life”.
The true time hack: what cut through time being a “scarcity” in my mind to time being “so abundant that it stretches out with luxury”, was doing nothing.
I just started to experiment –taking yoga and laying in shavasana pose or child pose, meditating by sitting cross-legged with eyes closed for a few minutes, taking mental breaks in a long line at the grocery store, or just turning the radio off in the car and not mentally paging through my to-do list. I’m not a dedicated practitioner and yet something pretty amazing happened:
- (1) I got way more energy than sleep would ever give me. I can describe this as a zany optimism and love for the world that had me saying “yes and…” rather than “no but” as problems popped up. (think the energy of Julie Andrews singing My Favorite Things in The Sound of Music.)
- (2) I became calmer which meant the people around me became calmer (emotional contagion or mirror neurons), and being calm also meant I could react to events as they came up with more clarity. One side effect of this was that I found the kids fought less and did their chores and homework – less time for me nagging them.
- (3) I literally saw solutions everywhere, making problems go away one by one until my to-do list was transformed from a “to-dread” list to a “to-enjoy” list. One example was a flash of insight that said I had to find a solution to how much I disliked making lunches – after all with two kids, that’s about 4500 lunches to make. Finding that solution was inspired out of this (1) – (2) – (3) cycle, and it’s made me way calmer in the hectic mornings.
(1) – (2) – (3) , (1) – (2) – (3) , (1) – (2) – (3)…see the hack?
It became a self-sustaining system that accelerated the more “doing-nothing” I practiced. I now have time to write, sit with my kids and just talk, go on nature hikes that make the soul sing, learn knitting one night after work, bake muffins on a weekday from scratch, read a book (or five), take a university course or two, go back to school, volunteer at work and in the community, while still fitting in work and home responsibilities.
The key difference is that I don’t feel rushed, pressured or as out-of-control as I used to. And I’m doing a lot of things I really enjoy – time feels decadent.
It’s an amazing hack considering “doing nothing” is an extremely portable and affordable activity!
Call to Action
So while major corporations are following zany C-level executive direction and finding profit on the bottom line with this, consider incorporating these behaviours on your own initiative. Find whatever way and time frame works for you, so that you hack work-life integration and get on to that feeling of decadence.
- Interview of David Gelles The Newest Productivity Hack – Meditation
- At Aetna, a C.E.O.’s Management by Mantra – by David Gelles; Aetna Research Study abstract
- Mindful Work by David Gelles
- Pico Iyer, The Art of Stillness Ted Talk & ebook
- The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer
- Martha Beck: Four Technologies of Magic
- The Power of Now , Eckhart Tolle
- Sunita Alves, the power of “Yes, and”