Focus on Presence, Not Productivity.
Through our coaching program my team and I meet many intelligent and creative people who are longing to do something different with their lives, but feel stuck in their current situation.
They say things like:
“I always wanted to start my own business, and I’ll be retiring in 10 years so I am starting now to get ready for that.”
Or they will remark: “I want to take this training now because I’ve always wanted to be a …., and as soon as my kids are finished school and I get out of debt a bit, I’ll quit the job I hate and get at it.”
We read a lot of stories about how baby boomer retirees are making their mark in the business world, leaving the world of work they hated and starting in their mid-60s to do the work they have hungered for all their lives.
On a less dramatic scale, we all say to each other that there is a book we really want to read “when we have time,” or a trip we want to take “when I can stop long enough to schedule a vacation,” or a skill we want to learn “one of these days when my to-do list isn’t so long.”
What all these laments add up to is living our lives with a focus more on productivity than presence.
Productivity is a good thing in life and we all feel great when we complete tasks and projects. But today’s culture has made it a kind of deity and it is not worthy of that status.
It is far more rewarding to live in the present than to produce in it. Staying too focused on being productive can make us passive to life, assuming that we are actually living if we narrow down a list of things that we believe must be done each day.
This is not a new concern. It is an issue that has plagued all people searching for a high quality of life for generations.
Back in the 1800s, the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard called on everyone to recognize that “busy is a decision.”
“I frequently worry that being productive is the surest way to lull ourselves into a trance of passivity and busyness the greatest distraction from living, as we coast through our lives day after day, showing up for our obligations but being absent from ourselves, mistaking the doing for the being.”
More than 2,000 years ago, the Roman philosopher Seneca reminded people in his treatise On the Shortness of Life, that it is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it.
“Life is long enough and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested,” he mused. “Life is long if you know how to use it.”
He reminded us that we should be conscious that this day could be our last before we decide to devote a large chunk of it to somebody or something.
“How stupid to forget our mortality, and put off sensible plans to our fiftieth and sixtieth years, aiming to begin life from a point at which few have arrived,” he wrote.
How can we start to build more presence into our lives, which still being realistic about the things that we believe we must produce to keep up in our professions, make our businesses successful, and support those we love?
Here are five ways to get started to focus more on presence than productivity. When you move your life to be more presence focused, you will find that it is more rewarding. It is great to produce, but it also admirable to develop our capacity for wonder and joy and attention to the world in which we live.
- Stop putting off what we really want to do. Find some means to begin living your dreams, even if you only begin on a modest scale. Stop yourself when you say: “I will do this when…” and find a way to do it now. Otherwise you are living in debt of real life, or as Seneca put it, denying yourself the present by promising the future.
- Try to end each day by writing a short list of one or two things you did today that in the past you would have marked as something to look forward to in the future. Ask yourself if you feel good about the way you spent this day. What would have been the best version of this day?
- Accept that uncertainty is a real thing in life and start living for the immediate. That means re-examining your to-do list and asking yourself if it really deserves the hours you are committing to each item.
- Add more dimensions to your life. Live larger and wider. Most of us grow smaller the older we get and the longer we work. We gather our life in small, manageable bundles to manage our stress. At least once a week, step outside of that dimension. Start with stretching just a little, like trying a new food or reading a new author. Then go somewhere new and think new thoughts. Let yourself grow naturally.
- Before you carry a task over from one day to the next, ask yourself if it really deserves to receive your attention. Can it be quickly done today and forgotten? If you move a task more than three times, be conscious that some part of you doesn’t want to do it. Can you find a way to remove it and instead give that next day to exploring something new and more fulfilling?
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Paula Morand is a leadership building, revenue boosting, strategy expanding keynote speaker, author and visionary. This dreaming big and being bold leadership expert and brand strategist brings her vibrant energy, humor and wisdom to ignite individuals, organizations and communities to lead change, growth and impact in a more bold fashion. 24 years, 27,000 clients, 34 countries, 15 books, former radio personality, 11x award winning entrepreneur and humorous emcee.
Check out Paula’s best selling books: “Bold Courage: How Owning Your Awesome Changes Everything”, “Dreaming BIG and Being BOLD: Inspiring stories from Trailblazers, Visionaries and Change Makers” book series; and due to be released December 6th “Bold Vision: A Leader’s Playbook for Managing Growth” go to Amazon http://ow.ly/i8yW307ix67
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