The last week or two, I’ve found myself completely overwhelmed by my to-do list. On the back of a trans-atlantic trip followed by a brutal round of jet lag, each day has seen me staring down my massive to-do list only to walk away in defeat.
Usually, my approach is flexible. Because my work is so varied, I have several different categories laid out on a blank sheet of paper where I note what needs to be done for each. Then I choose a few things to do every day that week. Sometimes I’ll batch work, trying to knock out a whole category in one day. Often, I’ll just tackle the most do-able tasks, or the ones that need to be done sooner. Most weeks, this tends to work just fine. This week, it did not.
Not only was there too much on the page to begin with (a fatal mistake for feeling accomplished), but my real difficulty was that there were too many competing things on the list. Usually one category takes precedence one day, another the next – there’s an ebb and flow that allow for flexibility. This week, there was no natural starting point. Too many things on the to-do list needed doing, all at the same time. I was overwhelmed and paralyzed with the simple decision of where to begin.
I’ve always loved monasteries: the silence, the peacefulness, the feeling of being “away” from the world. There’s something deeply satisfying about going on retreat to a monastery and being able to leave worries about work, home, studies, or plans of any kind, behind.
Stepping into a “sacred space” offers freedom from the daily stress of life.
When St. Benedict wrote his monastic “Rule” in the 6th century AD, he codified a way of living that would last through the centuries, down to current day. While most of us can’t retreat to a monastery on a regular basis, bringing the rhythm of monastic life into my own is something from which I’ve benefited greatly. It’s helped me to focus on clear priorities, reduce stress, and be more peaceful in general.
Here are three ways I’ve found we can integrate monastic practices into our work lives.
There are two kinds of people in the world: those who lead meetings, and those who dread them.
Maybe that’s a stretch, but the truth is that most of us have sat through our fair share of meetings, wondering how we’re going to snag another cookie off the refreshment table (if we’re lucky) and how soon happy hour is starting (if we’re not).
The problem with most meetings is that they aren’t productive. They’re often waste our time and fail to accomplish anything efficiently.
But having a productive meeting is actually easier than our experience would seem to let on.
Whether it’s an office meeting for work, a board meeting of a charity, or a family meeting about future plans and challenges, these simple tips can help you have the most productive meeting possible.
Do you know anyone who isn’t tired? I can’t think of one person I know who is really happy with the amount of sleep they get. And yet, most of us find it really difficult to prioritize sleep.
The benefits of sleep are too important to ignore: it’s an opportunity for our brains and bodies to rest, heal, and actually regenerate. Sleep deprivation comes at the cost of memory and other neurological impairment, difficulty with emotional regulation, and physical decline. Without enough sleep, we have trouble making good decisions and even completing basic tasks.
Yet how many of us secretly relegate sleep to the “waste of time” category? We have so much to do, we can’t be bothered to just stop and sleep.
We’ve read all about sleep hygiene: turn off screens at least an hour before bed; don’t use your bed for other activities; establish a going-to-bed routine that you follow every night. Maybe we even try to do some of those things. But most of us don’t get enough sleep and end up relying on some combination of caffeine and willpower to get us through the day.
Steve Jobs may be most famous for his creative endeavours in founding and growing Apple, but he’s become slightly iconic in the fashion world, too – for wearing the same thing every day.
Each morning, Steve Jobs donned a black mock turtleneck, blue jeans, and new balance sneakers. He didn’t change colors based on the seasons or branch out into business suits and trendy ties. His wardrobe was what many people would consider the essence of not creative.
“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”
The average adult makes 35,000 decisions per day, but our ability to be creative actually diminishes the more decisions we have to make. (That’s why so many people do their best work early in the morning, before they’ve waded through a full day of decisions.)
By wearing the same thing every day, Jobs completely eliminated an entire set of decisions from his life. He said no to choosing what to wear every morning, and all the consequences that follow from it: where to shop, when to shop, price and brand comparison, various laundry choices – all the things that are tied to having a varied closet.
He refused to spend his creative energy on his wardrobe, so that he could spend it on what mattered to him. Jobs put getting dressed on “automate” so he never had to think about it.