How to Use Mindful Productivity to Achieve More with Less Stress

Mindfulness can be an important productivity tool for you.

I know you’re spinning a lot of plates every day. You’re keeping several balls up in the air and you’re afraid to drop them. I get it. But the problem with juggling too many things is that the juggler forgets about himself.

We often forget about the present moment — thinking either about the past or a task we’ve to do in the future. The workday thus seems more like hopping on from one task to another but never really doing it. Or going from one meeting to another, never really being there.

During a team meeting when I asked one of my teammates about why he’s so silent, he said that he’s thinking about what to say in the next meeting. And that’s what triggered me to think about this topic.

Let’s step back and think about our predicament for a moment. Do we really want to continue living like this? A life where we’re always rushing through things instead of being present will only lead to regret when we realize how quickly it went by.

This attitude of being ‘always on’ has sabotaged the minds of many people. Whether you’re an ambitious entrepreneur or a single-mom swamped with work, stress has caught you off guard. And if it converts into a chronic habit, it can lead to various forms of mental or physical illness.

But there’s good news. You can change all this by bringing more mindfulness into your day — without spending any extra time!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against spending time in meditation. In fact, I meditate for two hours every day. But I also know that I didn’t start from here. I too, started as a busy, ambitious, and driven student/entrepreneur, trying to find moments of calm during the day.

This sort of informal or ‘micro’ mindful moments can help the A-types among us to relax and take a more balanced approach to their work.

What is Mindful Productivity?

I’ve suffered more than I should’ve from time anxiety. I always felt that if I wasn’t as productive as possible, it’ll be too late to do the thing I was thinking about.

Whether it was learning new skills or starting a new project, I stressed about it in vain. And to ease the stress guess what I did? Work more. And more. And then some more.

The culture we millennials are brought up in is built on productivity and the “rags-to-riches” narratives. We’re fed stories of the American Dream and how anyone can make it in this world if they work hard enough.

I do believe that we all can achieve great things if we put our minds to it. But I don’t think we need to work ourselves to death to do that. Humans are made to work most of the time, but not all the time.

Ergo, too much focus on productivity can often prove counterproductive.

This is where mindful productivity enters the scene. In essence, it can be defined as bringing your attention to the present moment to manage your mental, psychological, physical, and emotional states.

Consider it as a portable state of mind that we bring to work. This state of mind is all about being intentional and having a moment-to-moment awareness of what’s happening inside and outside. It helps us to bring our non-judgemental attention to our thoughts, feelings, ideas, body sensations, etc while still working.

Why Does It Matter?

The core principles of mindful productivity are based on self-care and compassion.

Think about the last time you really did something congruent to those two words. While jumping from one thing to another, we essentially go on autopilot and lose touch with ourselves and the happenings around us.

Gradually, commitments to go to the gym, meditate, spend time with family, meet up with friends, etc, vanish into the abyss to get more work done.

If taken to an extreme, the obsession with producing more work can be similar to what an addict experiences with drugs or drinks. This is a dangerous place to be in — where work becomes your end-all-be-all, your real ‘life’ and the only thing that excites you.

To avoid going that route, mindful productivity comes to the rescue. The core value proposition here is simple. When the mind ruminates to places besides the present moment, happiness and well-being decline. Thus, we use mindfulness to avoid that from happening.

This is especially important in the problems we’re facing globally. The fear of the virus, loss of jobs and businesses, work challenges, relationship troubles, etc need to be dealt with effectively.

Bryan Robinson’s research team at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte found that mindless workers had statistically higher burnout rates, were more disconnected from their inner selves, and had less self-insight than mindful workers, who showed more present-moment awareness such as clarity, calmness, compassion, and confidence.

Bryan further states:

“Mindful workers have present-moment awareness of their thoughts, emotions, and body sensations. They know when to close the briefcase, mentally switch gears and be fully present in the moment — at a daughter’s soccer game or the celebration of a wedding anniversary. They can turn off your work appetite, pay attention to your surroundings, and you’re as emotionally present in off-work times as you are during work hours. Mindful productivity allows us to enjoy the deep mystery of being alive without the need for work highs or numbing yourself with multitasking and busy pursuits.”

Life is sad when the only thing you have to look forward to is Monday meetings and the achievement of deadlines. Depending on our work to give the happiness we seek is a flawed strategy that will put us on an emotional roller coaster.

Thus, it’s time to step back and reconnect with ourselves. Once we find that source of happiness within, not only our work but all areas of life will improve.

How to Be Mindfully Productive

I wish mindful productivity was as simple as lighting incense sticks and candles on your table. It’s not. But it’s also not rocket science.

There are certain mindsets you need to inculcate in yourself to be more mindful. Changing your mindset takes time, and you can only reach there with sustained effort.

With that in mind, let’s explore the different ways to be more mindfully productive.

Be present.

I knew you saw this coming from a mile away. That’s because it’s the core of mindfulness. You have to bring yourself back to the present moment whenever your mind wanders off.

There’s nothing you can gain by lingering on the past or thinking about the future.

You can use body sensations as an anchor for your mind. If you’re typing, for example, you can be more mindful of the feeling of the fingers moving effortlessly through the keyboard and trying to notice each stroke.

Another way to do it is to have a photo, quote, or any symbol that reminds you to be present. Perhaps a little Buddha statue. You can also accomplish this by changing your desktop or mobile wallpaper.

The ‘how’ is not important — you can be creative with it. What’s important is you bring your attention back to the present moment.

Watch your thoughts.


Most of us play the game of life in the first person. We say “I’m angry” “I’m feeling….” or “I want….”

Try to switch into the third-person mode. Say “I felt anger” or “My mind is craving for hot chocolate” and so on.

It might seem silly. But if you remind yourself of this truth constantly, you can make significant progress in managing your emotions.

Often the problem with playing in the first person is we act on every little thought or emotion thinking it’s ours. In reality, it’s just a thought. It’s not you.

‘You’ are the observer of that thought (just like the left part of the image above). You don’t have to act on it, you can be aware of it, accept it and leave it at that. Don’t try to neglect it or deny its existence — because what you resist, persists.

Each time you feel disconnected, watch your thoughts and bring your attention back to the task at hand.

Avoid multitasking.

Humans suck at multitasking. There’s no doubt about that.

The only alternative that works is using the philosophy of the ONE Thing.

Originally given by Gary Keller in his book by the same name, the ONE Thing is the thing which, if done, will make everything easier or unnecessary.

That’s the focusing question:

“What’s the one thing you can do, such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

Ask yourself this question every morning. Think hard about where you’re putting your energy. Put it only in tasks that give you the greatest return on time invested.

For instance, to grow my readership, my one thing is writing. Everything will be easier if I write every day and produce content.

So it is, that before I get my writing session done for the day, I don’t touch anything else.

Have a growth mindset.

A growth mindset is a belief that you can do anything with your skills and hard work if you’re willing to. It is an effective tool to eradicate stress.

When I encounter a new project that I’ve no experience in, I’ve slowly come to control my apprehensions. I used to freak out when someone pushed me out of my comfort zone. After doing it repeatedly though, I’ve come to not only believe that I can do anything but know it for a fact.

One way to do this is to never affirm your inability to do something. Always say that you’re not able to “do it yet.” So instead of saying “I can’t create a marketing campaign from scratch”, just say “I can’t create a marketing campaign from scratch, yet.

Focus on “meta-learning.”

Meta-learning means “learning about learning.” This is what you’re doing right now. But apart from only reading posts, pause every day to think about how you could do better.

Think about how you can think better. Learn how you can learn better.

The key to improving is thinking about these things regularly, not once in a while.

Create a mindful space.

Soon after the whole work-from-home culture kicked in, I got into a bad habit of sitting with my laptop on any surface. The couch, bed, table, dining table, kitchen, my sister’s room, my parents’ room, and so on.

Apart from harming my posture, it harmed my state of mind and awareness. I’d often sit in front of the TV or the kitchen which are not environments conducive to productivity in any sense of the word.

Since then, I disciplined myself to work only on my workstation using a keyboard and a monitor. Yes, sometimes I do miss the feeling of keeping the laptop on my lap, but it’s all for good.

If you don’t have a separate room, you can also find a corner of a small room with minimum disturbances.

Let the workstation be the only place where you do work. Don’t check emails or messages anywhere else. Over time your workspace will become sacred and your mind will automatically be primed to work when you enter the area.

Take mindful breaks.

Schedule alarms on your phone every 2 hours and take a five-minute break when it rings. I try to do this every hour using an app called Repeat Alarm for Android.

Breathe, walk, and do nothing for those five minutes. Resist the urge to check your phone or browse the Internet.

Slow down intentionally.

Slowing down consciously can do wonders for your awareness. Just a while ago, I had to drop my sister off. I drove slower than I usually do and found great pleasure in doing so.

I got the chance to look at the trees on the sidewalk and observe people walking. I even saw what brand of earphones a runner was using. All this is trivial, I agree. But it makes much more sense than rushing from one moment to another.

You can apply plodding to anything — eating, walking, talking, and so on. When you do so, try to also feel the sensations of that activity. Just as Thich Nhat Hanh says:

“Walk as if you’re kissing the earth with your feet.”

Set clear boundaries.

Back when I lead a stressful work life, I didn’t have any boundaries. I’d carry my work with me everywhere — whether physically, or mentally.

Soon, I learned to set boundaries with myself and with others. I tell others that I’m not available after a certain time and on certain days.

Be mindful enough to realize that you need breaks. And be confident enough to ask for them. In the long run, you’ll lead a more relaxed life.


Of course, I couldn’t end without saying this. You see, bringing mindfulness to the day is great. Having five minutes here and ten minutes here is wonderful.

But you cannot deepen your awareness after a certain point if you don’t take time out to meditate. You may not be ready yet to meditate. Yet, if you practice the art of mindful productivity, you’ll find yourself pulled towards it.

If you start and end the day with even ten minutes of meditation, it can prime you for the whole day. When you combine this, with your efforts to be mindful throughout the day, the magic starts to happen.

That is how you experience peace and calmness at all times!

Final Thought

Mindfulness needs to become an important productivity tool. It’s not only about meditation — it’s simply about being in tune with your thoughts, feelings, and emotions in a way that helps you better do your work.

To sum up, here are the things you can do to be more mindful and productive at the same time:

  • **Be present: **Whenever your mind wanders, try to bring it to the present moment.

  • **Play the game of life in the 3rd person: **Be the observer of your thoughts. Don’t be controlled by them

  • **Avoid multitasking: **Humans suck at multitasking. It destroys your focus.

  • **Have a growth mindset: **When you believe you can do anything, stress vanishes.

  • **Focus on meta-learning: **Think about how you can improve. If you don’t think about it, you’ll never take action.

  • **Create a mindful space: **This is your sacred space. Do your deep work here. Then fuhgedaboutit when you leave.

  • **Take mindful breaks: **Don’t just say you’ll take the breaks. Schedule an alarm on your phone.

  • **Slow down intentionally: **Do things slowly. Walk, drive, talk and move slower than usual. You’ll find life coming to a sweet halt.

  • **Set clear boundaries: **Have the confidence to step up for your needs.

  • **Meditate: **It’s the only way to deepen your awareness much beyond the micro-mindfulness moments can give you.

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Written on March 1, 2021