10/14/2014 05:18 pm ET Updated Dec 14, 2014

Mindfulness. The Key to Productivity?

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So mindfulness and productivity walk in to a bar...

Have you heard this one? Probably not, because it's unimaginable. Why would mindfulness and productivity be hanging out? After all, mindfulness is about being in the present moment, living consciously and joyfully, paying attention on purpose. Productivity is about efficiency, continuous improvement, increasing output, doing more with less.

At first glance, these two appear to be polar opposites. But look again. Mindfulness and productivity have one striking thing in common: They are focused on where and how time is spent.

Consider this formula:

Organizational productivity = output (value created)/Input (resources consumed)
In the knowledge economy the key resource is leadership time. So we can simplify the formula even more: Productivity = value/time

By this definition there are two primary ways of increasing productivity: 1) Increase the value created and/or 2) Decrease the time required to create that value.

In 1693, William Penn said "Time is what we want most, but what we use worst." If he were to witness today's corporate environment, he might observe that, despite staggering progress elsewhere, our relationship with time has not changed in the last 320 years. Case in point: We recently asked 12 executives of a large corporation two questions:

1. How many hours a day are you typically in meetings?
2. Across the organization, how much meeting time do you estimate is wasted due to late starts, tangents, wrong people in the meeting, lack of prep, multi-tasking, etc.?

Their answers:
1. About eight hours a day in meetings
2. About 50 percent of that time is wasted

WAIT A MINUTE. Does anyone else find these statistics staggering? It what other realm of our personal or professional life would we accept these numbers? What manufacturing line would accept a five percent yield loss, let alone a 50 percent one?

Yet the reason for this massive loss of Productivity is relatively straightforward:

Organizations do not place value on the thoughtful, intentional use of time. Most organizations have effective practices for managing capital: Business cases are required for financial investments. Spending authority is well-defined. ROI is carefully tracked. Yet those same organizations allow time to go unconsidered: Meetings mysteriously consume calendars. There are no penalties for misusing one another's time. Multitasking abounds. There are no standards for evaluating the ROI of time spent.

The antidote for wasted productivity is our old friend mindfulness, the act of focusing attention and time in the present moment on what matters most.

Organizations can see a meaningful rise in productivity (as well as employee engagement and a host of other benefits) by continuously asking three questions and adjusting based on the answers:

• Is our collective attention focused on what matters most?
• Are we allocating our time in line with our priorities?
• Are we fully present and engaged in all of our interactions?

This week, we head to New York to attend the Wisdom 2.0 Business conference. The organizers assert: "mindfulness, wisdom, and compassion are no longer seen as superfluous or useless, but as integral qualities to include in any for- or non-profit endeavor."

When you look at how a Mindful approach to time can lead to quantifiable metrics like Productivity, their assertion becomes tangible, urgent, and exciting.

So mindfulness and productivity walk into a bar. And they have a great time and get a lot done. Together.