According to Leo Babauta, an author, vegan and minimalist, our work lives are filled with busyness, distraction, procrastination, responding to messages, checking on messages, and getting lost down rabbit holes.
“We struggle to be mindful and to focus on our meaningful work. And yet, many of us want to create a life of meaning, focus, and mindfulness,” he says.
Babauta says we know this, and yet we struggle. Why? What keeps us from this life of mindful focus and meaningful work?
Why we can’t focus
What’s going on? Babauta says there are a number of things:
- We are actually afraid to focus. The work we want to focus on is hard, full of uncertainty and uncomfortable. We want to do it, but we are putting off the moment we have to enter into this uncertain space.
- We are afraid to simplify. To focus, we have to clear away all our distractions, say no to social media, our phones, our messages, our emails. We have to say no to the easier tasks that we are really good at. This kind of simplicity is uncomfortable for many people, and again, we go to “comfort food” distractions and easy tasks instead.
- We are constantly pulled away. You might put yourself in a space of simplicity and focus but then your attention gets pulled away. We have so many notifications, so many messages and so many shiny distractions. In some ways, this is because technology is designed to grab our attention. But we allow this to happen.
- We are unsure about what path to take. We know we should focus, but should we not also be doing this other important task? Or those three pretty important tasks? We have a fear of missing something important, fear of choosing the wrong thing, fear of taking the wrong path when there are many available. This uncertainty can cause us to constantly switch.
“Okay, so it is fear, uncertainty, discomfort, and pulled attention. How can we bring mindfulness to bear on these four horsepersons of distraction?” Asks Babauta.
Mindfulness in the arena
Babauta poses a series of questions to practice mindfulness in our workday:
QUESTION 1: What’s the best way to structure my day?
In this inquiry, Babauta says we are wondering if it is best to constantly switch from messaging app to messaging app, from email to social media, from news sites to blogs, from small admin tasks to other quick tasks, filling up our day and not focusing on our most meaningful work.
“In my own inquiry, it brings mindfulness to how I spend my time, how fragmented I allow my attention to be and then it brings me to an intention to simplify and focus. I still need to check emails and messages and do the smaller tasks, but I can lump them together at certain times of the day, and clear space for big chunks of focus and meaningful work. This intention is not always met, but the inquiry brings me closer to it,” he says.
QUESTION 2: What do I want to focus on?
Babauta says this is not a question many people ask themselves each day. Ideally, you would ask it at the beginning of each day, but also at various points throughout the day. You go from, “What should I check right now” or “What can I quickly do right now?” to “What is the meaningful work I want to do now and give my full focus to?”
“It shifts from saying yes to your million things and messages, to saying no to those million things so you can say yes to your meaningful work. So, you can say yes to complete focus and mindfulness,” he continues.
QUESTION 3: Why am I not focusing on it?
Babauta says if you picked something to focus on and you are working on it, great! But if you are not, why not? What is getting in your way? What are you afraid of? What are you comforting yourself with?
“If you can identify the fear, instead of allowing yourself to habitually run from this fear, lean into it. Go towards it. Allow yourself to feel the fear, and stay in it, befriend it. Then go into your focus zone, in the middle of the fear, and let the fear be your guide and your friend. It means you are alive, that you are pushing yourself into discomfort for the sake of what you care deeply about, that you are creating meaningful work instead of running,” he says.
QUESTION 4: What is my intention as I focus?
Babauta says have a clear beginning, and even a clear end. What will you do to mark the beginning? Maybe stretch, smile at your work, and set an intention. An intention is not a goal, but how you want to go about doing the task. For example, I might say, “I want to stay focused on this task, put myself into this uncertainty for the sake of the people I care about and serve, and stay present in the middle of it.”
QUESTION 5: What is this moment like, as I work in stillness?
“Now you are in the middle of the focus session, bring mindfulness to that task. That is simply a matter of awareness and curiosity. Bring awareness by asking: “What is it like right now?” “What sensations can I notice?” “How does my heart feel as I take this action, filled with uncertainty?” Says Babauta.
Bring curiosity when you feel like switching tasks and running by asking, “I want to run from uncertainty, but what would it be like to stay?” The truth is, we don’t know. We think we know that we won’t like it, but actually we don’t really know until it happens. So, take the curiosity stance: seek to find out. Come to this task with an open mind, and you might find a gentle wonder that you didn’t expect, in the middle of your meaningful work, he says.
Move into that space
“Now, you can do this for your meaningful work, but you can also do this for any task. Bringing purpose and mindfulness to your work can be a place filled with joy, if you allow yourself to move into that space with intention and curiosity, inquiry and love,” concludes Babauta.