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Increase Productivity & Reduce Stress

One challenge that many individuals face is the ability to balance all the tasks of the day such as their goals and priorities without getting stressed. Organizations are also empowering their employees with techniques that can be used to improve their productivity while reducing stress. Stressed employees are bad investments for organizations, because they project a negative attitude, take more sick days off, lack creativity, and reduce the morale of the other employees.    

If we are facing this challenge of stress associated with productivity, we can ask ourselves whether we are being productive or just plain busy. We often feel stressed because there is so much to do, and so little time. We have put so much emphasis on the importance of being busy, because we feel devalued if we seem less busy than someone else. It has become a competition and sense of pride to tell others how busy and stressed we are. We have conditioned ourselves to believe that being busy and stressed is a measure of success and productivity.

For those of us who are honestly seeking for a way to reduce stress, we can follow these three techniques.

1. Drop the Emotional Baggage – We have a tendency to carry all our memories and scars with us wherever we go. These memories and scars occupy space in our brains and do not allow us to focus on the task at hand. When we are working on a specific project, our minds recall incidents, interactions, and emotions from the past that distract us. To make it worse, worries about the future also distract us in the present moment. For us to perform our tasks efficiently, we must unclutter our brains from unnecessary thoughts.

Imagine holding a glass of water, initially it is very light; but the longer we hold on to it, the heavier it starts to feel. The same concept applies with the emotions that we are carrying. The longer we hold it, the heavier it gets; and eventually when we can no longer hold it, we breakdown.

In addition, we can replace the word “should” in are vocabulary with the word “must”. Often saying that “I should do this or should do that” and then not doing those tasks creates energy of regret. Instead, if we say that “I must do this or that” creates and energy of empowerment, and results in the tasks being completed.

Once we transform our speech and drop the emotional baggage that we have been carrying for years; we will notice a rise in our energy level as well as better focus to complete our tasks.

2. Relax and Restore – It is said that through our five senses we receive approximately 2 million bits of information per second. This is through our senses of vision, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. The conscious mind is unable to process so much information that is received so it filters it down to only approximately 134 bits per second.  The conscious mind filters the information by deleting, distorting, or generalizing the information that is received. The purpose of the conscious mind is to retain only the sensory information that we feel is important. For example, if we are walking on the street we do not notice the smell of the flowers; remember the benches that we have passed or whether there is a step or a ramp on the pavement. We also rarely listen to the birds singing, or feeling the minor temperature changes in the air.  Moreover, we also have misunderstandings with other people, because the filter of the mind distorted the information that they had presented. Due to this we also generalize the information since we cannot remember the specifics.

Now, imagine how magnificent every moment would be if we could sense the environment around us with a higher level of sensitivity. Fortunately, this is possible. We need to raise our level of awareness and sensitivity of the sensory preceptors.

We can achieve this by practicing on stilling the mind. When the mind is quiet, the sensory preceptors become more receptive. For example, at the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University, music is played for about two minutes every hour. This is referred to as a “traffic stop”. During the two minutes, everyone must stop what he or she is doing and become present in the moment. This reduces the traffic of thoughts in the mind, raises the level of awareness, as well as relaxes and restores the body.

By incorporating this simple and profound technique into our daily routine the amount of stress is reduced. Every hour or two, if we pause for a few minutes we will realize that the mind and body have been recharged, and then we can continue working with more clarity.

3. Time Management – Effective time management can significantly improve our productivity and reduce stress.  We must first be very clear about our priorities and goals.  Throughout the day, we waste our time on so many tasks that are unimportant; that by the end of the day we wonder where did all our time disappear. This is also due to our habit of procrastination. The good news is that this is very simple to resolve.

A small amount of planning can produce magnificent results. As we start each day, we can divide our tasks and goals into four categories.

1)    Important and Urgent – List only the tasks that are important and need to be completed as soon as possible. Set this as priority 1.
2)    Important and Not Urgent – List only the tasks that are important to you, but do not need to be completed immediately. Set this as priority 2.
3)    Not Important and Urgent – List only the activities that may not be important to you, but may be important to someone else. The most effective option is to delegate this task to someone else, because it is clearly not that important to us. If it were that important, it would be labeled as priority 1.
4)    Not Important and Not Urgent – List the tasks that are not important and do not need to be completed as soon as possible. This is so simple to understand, but consider how much time we waste doing tasks that are not important and not urgent. Label this a priority 4, and then ignore these tasks.

Think about how many of the tasks listed as “Not Important and Not Urgent” do we prioritize as “Important and Urgent”? This is a complete waste of time and energy. Imagine how much more productive we would be if we focused on priority 1 instead of priority 4. Furthermore, as we complete the priority 1 tasks on schedule, we will eventually complete priority 2 ahead of schedule. We can then delegate priority3 to someone else, and not perform the tasks listed as priority 4.

Procrastination is another time management issue related to productivity. Many of us procrastinate either because the task is too difficult or the task is too boring. All it takes is a shift in attitude to overcome procrastination. If the task is important (priority 1), do not procrastinate and complete it as soon as possible, and if it is boring, shifting your attitude to one of acceptance and enthusiasm will make the task more bearable.

It is often a misconception that high productivity leads to happiness. On the contrary, it is the other way around; happiness leads to high productivity. If we recall the patterns in our past, we will notice that it was when we were happy and enthusiastic that we produced the best results.

If we simply follow the principals of letting go of past emotions, relaxing the body and mind, planning our time effectively, and ultimately performing each task with joy and enthusiasm; we can enhance our level of productivity while reducing stress.

“Simplicity boils down to two steps: Identify the essential. Eliminate the rest.” – Leo Babauta

The Prison of the Mind

Frustration has become so common these days that we have become accustomed to expecting it from others. Before interacting with people, on some level we have already rehearsed the conversation and our responses in our minds. Very often we imagine these conversations as arguments, and pre-write the script of both sides of the argument. However, when we actually reach the point of the interactions, we realize that it was so smooth, and we wasted so much energy rehearsing a situation that did not even occur. Rehearsing the script once could be considered as planning, but rehearsing the same script over and over again is paranoia.

We often ask ourselves why are we frustrated? We usually respond to this by blaming an outside situation or person. Even though on a deeper level we understand the reason for the frustration, we refuse to accept it. This is because we do not have control of our minds. We are running on autopilot mode – act and react. In addition, we do not accept the present moment, and this resistance causes frustration and stress. Moreover, we waste our energy dwelling in the past that we cannot change, or worrying about the future, which is always uncertain. We are also constantly comparing ourselves with others, and end up feeling jealous, worthless, and depressed. All of these feelings occur automatically, and make us feel as though we are destined to be this way. We feel as though we have no freedom of choice because everything is happening automatically.

We have become prisoners of the mind, but we fail to realize this. We blame our imprisonment on our careers, finances, health, or relationships. If we do not enjoy our jobs, it feels like a prison and we want to break free. If we do not have enough finances, then living in a budget feels like a prison. If we are not healthy, our bodies feel like a prison, and if we do not get the love we expect from a spouse, then our relationships feel like prisons. Unfortunately, it does not end here; if we are drowning in feelings of jealousy for any reason, whom can we blame for this?

From our perspective, the grass seems greener on the other side, but is it really greener? Consider this true story - one day a monk visited a prison to give a talk, and was asked by the prisoners to stay a little longer to answer a few questions. The prisoners were interested to learn how the monk spends his day.
The first prisoner asked the monk “What time do you wake up in the morning?”
The monk replied, “We wake up at 4am”.
“That’s terrible, even in prison we don’t have to wake up at 4am.”
Another prisoner then asked him what do monks eat for breakfast. The monk said that they eat a bowl of porridge.
“That is such a boring breakfast, in prison we get milk, eggs, cheese, bread, cookies and much more”, said the prisoner.
Then the monk told them that after breakfast they do a lot of hard work such as construction and gardening, followed by meditation.
In a rebellious voice, one prisoner responded by saying “we don’t work so hard, if we are forced to work hard, we go on strike.”
The monk was then asked what they do in the evening, do they have a chance to play sports, play poker, or watch movies?
“No, we meditate”, responded the monk.
With a boring look on his face, a prisoner asked the last question, “What time do you go to bed?”
The monk replied, “we go to sleep at 10pm, but we don’t have beds, we sleep on the floor”.
By now, the prisoners started to sympathize with the monk, and one prisoner finally developed the courage to tell the monk “I’m sorry that you are living in such terrible conditions, you are welcome to stay in the prison with us if you wish”.

This story is a wonderful example of how we think. The prisoners initially thought that the monk was living a wonderful life, but after they learnt about his day, they realized that they are better off in prison. However, even though the life of the monk seemed more boring, he was happy, simply because of his choice to live in that manner, and his choice was reflected as happiness in his attitude. No matter how many luxuries the prisoners had, they were unhappy because they were forced to live in prison. If the prisoners simply accepted the situation, changed their perspective and attitude, their life in the prison would be more harmonious.

When we encounter an unfavorable situation, we can simply remind ourselves that life can always be worse. If we do not like our jobs, we can remind ourselves of all the people who are unemployed and would kill to have our jobs. If we are frustrated with our relationships, consider the loneliness of someone who may have lost a parent, spouse, or child. If we are depressed about our weight or beauty, we can remind ourselves of the cancer patients who are losing weight and losing their hair. If we are tired of all the chores, imagine all the disabled people who are craving to be able to walk, drive, cook, hear, and see. Gratitude is a powerful transforming force, and if a situation can get worse, it can also get better. So maintaining a positive mindset will make what we define as “struggle” much easier. However, a positive mindset does not only mean expecting a positive outcome, it truly means defining every outcome as positive. And this becomes incredibly easy when we focus on gratitude.

No situation that occurs in life is pre-labeled as positive or negative.  It is completely our choice as to how we define it.  Similarly, we do not know the journey of another soul, so judging their situations, as positive or negative is also inaccurate. We may define a health condition of someone else as negative, but we do not understand the amount of soul realization that the person has achieved through the struggles. Wise individuals will always acknowledge the positive outcomes of their situations, which others define as negative.

We can free ourselves from the prison of the mind by living in the present moment. This will give us peace of mind and happiness, as we will no longer be attached to the past or the future. This offers us a wonderful opportunity to consciously make choices and accept full responsibility for the outcomes.

Here are 5 simple tips to free ourselves from the prison of the mind:

1.     Accept the present situation as it is, without resistance.
2.     We may not have control of our situation, but we have full control of our attitude.
3.     Jealousy is immature. We do not know the struggles that the others have gone through to get where they are, nor do we know the future outcomes of their “good luck”.
4.     Switch off autopilot mode and live mindfully.
5.     Do not dwell in the past or worry about the future. Forget about the past that cannot be changed, and focus on the present that will affect the future.

“Surrender to what is. Let go of what was. And have faith in what will be.” – Sonia Ricotti

Be Authentic

Have you noticed all the inauthenticity in the world today? It ranges from food ingredients to clothes, jewelry, electronics, organizations, governments; and even, people. The competitive nature of the world has forced us to lose our essence and become someone else.  Due to this we are starting to lose hope in our governments, organizations, family and friends. The media is filled with stories of scandals about organizations and leaders that we once believed were honest. Since the past 45 years people have become more depressed and the suicide rate has increased 60%.  In the world; on average one person dies by suicide every 40 seconds.

Many of us are starting to realize this, and by distancing ourselves; we are re-focusing our efforts inwards to re-align ourselves towards the truth. Authenticity does not mean that we are perfect; instead it means that we have recognized our imperfections, and striving to achieve a higher level of excellence.  We understand that alone, we cannot change the system, but one-by-one if we transform ourselves, slowly but surely, the environment around us will change.

A government cannot exist without its citizens, and an organization cannot flourish without its members. Yet many leaders fail to understand this because they have become accustomed to expect the citizens or members to follow them, whether it is based on fear or power. Similarly, the citizens and members have become accustomed to blindly follow the leader without asking questions, even though they feel uncomfortable behaving in a certain manner that is expected of them. This is due to the fear of the leader as well as the community that is supporting the leader. We need a sense of belonging to feel secure, and to attain this security we sacrifice the potential of being our authentic selves.

It can often be observed that certain individuals choose to distant themselves from specific people or organizations. This is because they have witnessed so much injustice or lack of ethics, that instead of attempting to offer their help for improvement, they choose to refrain from interacting with those organizations or people. We only have a limited amount of will power to stand up against unfairness, especially if others who feel the same way do not support us.

Alternately, from the perspective of authentic leaders, it is difficult for them to decide how to behave because they are constantly being criticized or idolized. With thousands of opinions floating around, and having so many lives dependent on their decisions; it becomes extremely challenging for them to do the right thing for everyone. If we come across such authentic leaders, it is best to remind ourselves how challenging their roles must be, and refrain from any judgment.

When Gandhi was a law student, he was asked by the manager of the dormitory to tell a little boy to stop having sugar. The manager felt that the boy would listen to Gandhi because he admired and respected him. So, Gandhi agreed. Two weeks later the manager asked Gandhi if he had told the boy to stop eating sugar. Gandhi responded by saying yes he did, but only today. The manager asked Gandhi why did it take him two weeks to tell the boy? Gandhi responded by saying “because it took me two weeks to stop having sugar”.

This is a simple, yet profound example of being authentic. Gandhi refused to guide or advise anyone, even a little boy, to follow his advice if he could not do it himself. How often do we advise others about what they should do, when we refuse to do it ourselves? Merely, because we have the authority, we tend to feel that we have the responsibility to change others. However, we focus so much on our “responsibility” that we forget to look within ourselves, and in turn end up behaving like a hypocrite.

The world and the future generations are in dire need of heart-oriented individuals that encourage uniqueness and collaboration. Authenticity is attractive and contagious. Our beauty and brains will only take us so far, but authenticity will take us all the way. As we become authentic individuals, our virtues will shine from within us; and as we shine, we will unconsciously give others the inspiration and empowerment to reveal their authentic selves.

Here are 5 simple tips to become more authentic:

1.    Every day Invest a few minutes in silence to go within and quiet the mind.
2.    Focus on doing the “Right Thing,” not just simply following guidelines and doing things right.
3.    Listen to your intuition. Slowly allow your mind to follow your heart to develop true intellect.
4.    When you witness someone standing up for what is right, appreciate and acknowledge them. Inspire yourself with their courage to stand up for what you believe is right.
5.    Always be honest with yourself. One who cannot deceive himself, cannot deceive anyone else.

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

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