The Art of Mindful Achievement

11/23/2016 01:18 pm ET

Sometimes in this game called life you actually have to stop and recognize that you are human and that you have limits. We all want to accomplish everything today, but we’re just begging to be overwhelmed.

Mindful achievement is a practice that focuses on being aware of our limits and our strengths, and setting ourselves up for success.

It’s tough, but by practicing mindfulness, you can:

  • Prioritize effectively
  • Boost productivity
  • Avoid burnout
  • Become more generous

Below, I’ve written out a step-by-step guide to mindful achievement to help you get started.

1. Begin Your Day with A Win

The United States Marine Corps have a ritual that many, many successful business leaders have copied and implemented in building, expanding, and leading multi-national, billion dollar behemoths. It’s the simplest concept:

Every single Marine starts his day by making, tightening, and making perfect his little bed.

These beds are not always high quality and they, in and of themselves, certainly don’t warrant such early morning perfection. However, with all the difficult tasks that Marines undergo on a daily basis, especially if they’re still in boot camp, getting a “win” first thing in the morning is a huge boost.

Think about the days when you woke up to a bright, shiny sun, warm weather, and a loved one by your side. Compare that to gloomy, rainy, lonely wakeups. How were the following hours of the day different in each instance?

I’ll bet the former typically wound up being better than the latter as your day went on, right?

Well, you can’t control weather, relationships, how people act, and so forth, but you can control starting out small, succeeding, and incrementally tackling tougher challenges as your confidence and experience grows.

2. Set Goals You Can Accomplish Quickly—One At A Time

Break your goals into smaller and smaller bits. You want to deconstruct them to meaningful chunks, that are even in some cases ridiculously easy, so that you accomplish them and move on with confidence.

Understand that you won’t get to do everything in one shot. In fact, take comfort in it. There is a process to everything, and processes are inherently dynamic in nature. That is to say that they may change and even seem take on a mind of their own.

Think about how you feel around noon, when you’re midway through your day and you’ve already crossed off a list of tasks. You feel the momentum, right?

Conversely, when you spend all morning toiling on one giant, nebulously defined activity, and noon rolls around, you feel like you’ve accomplished nothing. You feel deflated.

Attempting to solve the problems of the world in a single shot never happen. But solving the world’s problems one at a time is a good place to start.  Gary Keller, founder of mega-realty firm Keller-Williams’ and best-selling author of The One Thing, says “when you go as small as possible, you'll be staring at one thing. And that's the point.”

3. Be Happy That You’re Overwhelmed

Celebrate the fact that you have more in your life than you have time to do.

It’s actually a wonderful “problem” to have. Wouldn’t it be horrible if you literally had more life than things to do? You’d have emptiness. So if you have a problem of fullness, you have an embarrassment of riches. Celebrate that. In the words of the great management guru Peter Drucker, you should always have more opportunities than you can address, and the real skill is knowing how to prioritize them and the work the most important ones.

Now with that positive energy identify the things that are the most important to you and do them. Don’t even be upset or worried that you are pulling out items 1, 2, 5 and 9 on your list. You will get to numbers 29 through 36 in due time…or not, and that’s okay if they just don’t make the cut.

Always be looking for the positive aspects of the actions you’ve taken and anticipating the result. Remember that your effort is cumulative and positive. Listen to the voice that describes positive action that pertains to the situation at hand. Banish that negative little voice to the back rooms of your mind, and keep it in permanent “time out.”

You may have 1,000 emails to open and read, fine. Pick the most important 10 subjects, pick the most important 10 people, and focus on those. Get to the rest later.

4. Prioritize Your Day Ruthlessly

Computers are amazing studies in efficiency and raw speed.  They operate by a set of rules, and while you may not have the latest Intel chip in your brain, you can still use some of the same rules to achieve productivity gains in your own life.

Move top-down, bottom-up. Top-down you are scanning for priorities; bottom-up you are actually selecting priorities and completing tasks.

Utilize your brain’s opposite hemispheres; your right-brain self can see the big picture: scan, review, and understand the critical issues so you can be comfortable at any time knowing that you have a grasp on what’s most important.

Get the left-brain engaged, too. Define what’s important to you. Write down that goal, your objective, it’s your moral compass. Organize and analyze, get your house in order.  If you don’t have something identified and prioritized, then you won’t know where to go and that’s where fear and the reluctance can creep back in.

We may spend a lot of time talking about tactics and processes, but if we are not comfortable doing them, our learning, implementation, and execution suffers.

Mindfulness Means Improving Ourselves–and Helping Others

By identifying goals, we make the unknown known. Even if you overwork or have too many things going on, you are empowered to address them. These are some first steps towards addressing the mental roadblocks that holds us back from being who we really are – and can be.

Think of them as the excuses that keep you from going to the gym when you’ve been making those New Year’s resolutions about getting fit for years. Results are the byproduct of clearly defined goals, not just some vague idea you’re chasing. As they say, a goal is just a dream with a deadline.

One last thing: mindful achievement does not begin and end with you. There is so much in efficiency literature, yet it is usually blind to letting us yield our own agendas a little bit to help someone else.  

Be generous.  In the words of venture capitalist and serial entrepreneur Jess Larsen, we should harness “the competitive advantage of generosity.”  Make sure to stay flexible enough – and human enough – to allow serendipity to take a hand.  Some of life’s best relationships and most fulfilling activities come from generous acts that are not based on goal-setting or productivity.

It goes back to how we relate to the world, our technology, and ourselves.  Putting on a Silicon Valley lens as former Facebook executive SC Moatti laments, today people tend to see the world as a scientific experience, and we are forgetting a lot of the serendipity, creativity, and emotional aspects that all of us are here to enjoy.

So increase productivity by focusing on a series of “one things,” and along the way include enough generosity to put the mindful into your achievements.

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