As this post goes live on August 31, 2023, I am completing my final day on active duty. After 21 years of military service, today, my military career ends. Tomorrow, I will wake up as a civilian.
The military is a doing life. Most of my service was as a chaplain - the people who help you navigate times of crisis. We chaplains should be present when you come to see us. The people who walk through our office door need our focused attention. They deserve our ability to be present for them in their time of need.
There were too many times when I was not present. I spent too much time in a doing mode. I had to get this or that done for the bullet point I needed for my next promotion. I did not spend enough time on my being. I was not present for too many people.
In modern society, we're stuck in a doing rut. It's time to make a paradigm shift and focus on being.
Learning how to be is usually the hardest lesson to learn. And yet it is the foundation of everything we do. Without an established being, our doing is often frantic and frenetic, heavy and burdensome, and bears little fruit. Sometimes it leads us to violence cloaked in good intentions. Sure, we might be "successful" in our doing, but success is different from impact and transformation. Are our accomplishments actually building a better world? Phileena Heuertz, Mindful Silence
Rambling about the societal pressures of multitasking and high-strung productivity misses the point of living. We're human 'beings,’ not human 'doings.’ Instead of admiring those who juggle numerous tasks at once, we should appreciate those who immerse themselves fully in a project, being present and producing quality work.
Don’t get me wrong. Doing is part of life. At some level, we all live with KPIs. Some things need doing. It's time to shift our perspective to establish a being-centered life. Here are four keystone habits to guide you on this transformative journey.
Habit 1: Focusing over Multitasking
Focusing on one task at a time increases efficiency and reduces stress levels. Making a habit of dedicated focus can significantly improve your work quality and general well-being. Remember, single-tasking is the new multitasking.
Despite living in a frantic world that glorifies multitasking, studies show that it can decrease productivity and increase stress levels. Research conducted at Stanford University found that participants who multitasked during cognitive tasks experienced IQ drops similar to those who missed a whole night's sleep.
Consider the work of Cal Newport in his book Deep Work. Newport contends that focus is like a mental muscle. Deep work is time slots where we focus solely on one task. Our schedule might be jam-packed, but when we build deep work time slots, our thinking deepens, and we develop mastery and high-quality work. He suggests this simple rule: high-quality work = Time spent x Intensity of Focus.
Another example is the Pomodoro Technique, a single-tasking method that advocates focusing on a task for 25 minutes and then taking a five-minute break. This technique has gained traction due to its simplifying productivity and emphasis on focused work.
💡 Action Step
Start your week by blocking out several deep work sessions on your calendar. Pick a number of sessions that make sense to your workflow. Make these sessions one to two hours. During this time, choose one essential task, turn off digital distractions, and apply the Pomodoro technique: 25 minutes of focused work, followed by a 5-minute break. Do as many 25-minute sprints as necessary to complete your deep work session.
Habit 2: Presence before Progress
This may sound counter-intuitive, especially in the face of ever-growing to-do lists, but ensuring that what you're doing right now gets your whole attention is vital. Future goals are essential, but be wary of getting so caught up in them that you forget to live in the present moment.
Living in the present often referred to as mindfulness, has repeatedly been proven to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, according to the American Psychological Association. Take the example of Google's Search Inside Yourself program, a mindfulness-based emotional intelligence training course. Implemented as a way to reduce stress and improve focus among its employees, it has received high praise for effectively improving employees' overall well-being.
💡 Action Step
Allocate 5-10 minutes each day to practice presence actively. Choose a routine task and be wholly mindful during it, concentrating all your senses on the activity. Over time, expand this exercise to other tasks.
Habit 3: Value over Volume
It's not enough to be busy; the question is, what are we busy about? Adding tasks to your list without thoughtful consideration won't improve your well-being or productivity. We must value functions that align with our core values, bring us joy and satisfaction, and help us live and not just exist.
A typical worker's to-do list resembles a never-ending task marathon. In fact, according to The Busy Person’s Guide to the Done List, about 41% of tasks on to-do lists are never completed. The need for thoughtful tasks is illuminated in Tim Ferriss's 4-Hour Workweek. Ferriss introduces the 'low-information diet,’ cutting out unnecessary tasks or information to focus only on tasks with high-impact results.
Another relevant phenomenon is the Minimalist Movement, where Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus share how they learned to live a meaningful life with less.
💡 Action Step
Execute a task audit for a week. List all tasks you undertake, and at the end of the week, identify and eliminate the low-impact tasks. Your ultimate goal should be creating a lean to-do list, thus prioritizing value over volume.
Habit 4: Rest and Reflect
In our 'go-go-go' culture, rest is often deemed unproductive or lazy. Yet purposeful rest can replenish energy reserves and boost creativity. Reflecting on the day's occurrences creates wisdom and future strategy, aiding in evolving from reactive 'doing' to insightful 'being.'
Undervaluing rest could lead to burnout and minimize effectiveness. On the other hand, Harvard Business School found that reflection instigates a 23% improvement in task performance. Following the footsteps of successful personalities like Arianna Huffington, create a restful routine connecting with your inner being.
Even extraordinary minds like Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein effectively used reflection, often labeled as thought naps, to rejuvenate their creativity. After each day, sit back, mull over what occurred and the lessons it held, and strategize the steps ahead. Reflection helps us grow in awareness and insight.
💡 Action Step
Set aside 15 minutes at the end of your day for reflection. Use this time to evaluate the day's events, recognize what you learned, and strategize for tomorrow. Incorporating this wind-down period can enhance growth, understanding, and daily balance.
The daily race against the clock, the towering pile of responsibilities, the constant 'doing' – it's time to hit pause. Look in the mirror and ask, "Who am I if not a hamster on a relentlessly spinning wheel?" You are so much more. You’re a human 'being,' and it's high time to celebrate.
Adopt these four crucial habits today. Nurture focus, value the beauty of the present, understand the essence of actual value, and grant yourself the gift of rest and reflection. This isn't just about enhancing productivity but improving your lived experience.
Immerse in the art of 'being,' relish the mosaic of moments that make up life. Believe me; this isn't as difficult as locating a needle in a haystack. With consistency and patience, you'll realize that 'doing' fades into the backdrop, and 'being' plays the lead role in your life's grand theater.
Let's not leave these words lingering on the page as we close this post. Breathe life into them by setting into motion this transition from a life choked with 'doing' to a life pouring with 'being.' After all, the essence of being human is not found within the walls of the To-Do List Castle but in the boundless meadow of 'being.' Let's embark together on the journey now.