inner productivity | Steve's Quest: The Animated Musical Web Series

Guest Posts at Lifehack.org, and Upcoming Workshop

Recent Guest Posts

I was excited to recently contribute two guest posts to Lifehack.org:  “What Meditation Can Teach Us About Productivity” and “What Yoga Can Teach Us About Productivity.”

I didn’t announce these posts here earlier, because they are meant as introductions to my work, and I know this blog is only read by my advanced, graduate-level students.  :)  But seriously, I thought I’d mention them here in the hope that my regular readers might get some value out of them.  I hope you are among those value-getting readers!  :)

Upcoming Talk and Workshop at EastWest Bookstore

Also, I wanted to mention that I and yoga instructor Rosy Moon will be offering an interactive talk on July 1, and a full-day workshop on July 2, at EastWest Bookstore in Mountain View, California.  If you’re in the Bay Area and you’re interested in finding more focus, peace and motivation in your work, this is definitely the place to be.  Looking forward to meeting you in person if I haven’t done so yet.

Best, Chris

Work Consciously Audio Course Now Available

Ready to get off the “time management treadmill”?

You’ve tried all the usual productivity advice:  make to-do lists, reorganize your e-mail, color-code your folders, and so on.  You’ve probably bought more than enough books, CDs, planners, special notebooks, and “apps” as well.

So why do you still find yourself procrastinating, getting distracted, feeling anxious, and not making the kind of progress you want in your work?  Why does getting through your daily routine still seem like such a frustrating chore?

The answer goes deeper than planners and iPhone apps . . .

Although there’s a lot of sound advice out there, it usually doesn’t deal with the biggest obstacle we tend to face in getting our work done:  our own minds.  As I think you know from experience, arranging your e-mail subfolders in some fancy way won’t be enough to keep you on task if:

  • You keep getting to the end of the day, and feeling like you didn’t accomplish enough
  • You’re working from home, and it’s hard to stay on task when no one’s keeping tabs on you
  • You feel overwhelmed when you see a lot of items on your to-do list
  • Your mind keeps jumping around to all kinds of different ideas when you’re trying to focus on something
  • You struggle with a sense that you’ve got to do everything perfectly, or not do it at all
  • You have trouble starting a project you want to do, because you worry that it’s not going to be good enough
  • You have difficulty saying “no” to requests, and protecting your time, when you’re trying to do a task
  • You’re tired of beating yourself up and forcing yourself to work
  • You get bogged down in resentment, because it seems like people don’t appreciate what you do

Most of us are in the habit of running from uncomfortable feelings and sensations like these when they come up as we’re working.  To distract ourselves from them, we check e-mail, play Minesweeper, get up and pace around, or do something else.  Unfortunately — and this is key — when we distract ourselves from our discomfort, we also take our attention off our work.

What if, instead of running away from difficult emotions and sensations, you could learn to accept and allow them? What if you could choose to move forward in your work, even when discomfort is coming up?

That’s what the Work Consciously Audio Course is all about.

For thousands of years, mindfulness practices like meditation, yoga and qi gong have helped people learn to be with silence and discomfort, concentrate on one thing for a long time, and even find peace and joy doing it.  This program is about using practices like these “in real time” — while you’re at your desk doing a task — to stay focused and motivated as you work.

To get a sense of what this is about, next time you find yourself wanting to turn away from your work, pause instead, and notice what you’re feeling.  What kind of discomfort is there — tension, heat, itching, or something else?  Where is it in your body?

Now, see if you can keep breathing, relax your body, and just allow that discomfort to pass away on its own, without trying to fight it or flee from it.  Notice how, the more you welcome the uncomfortable feeling or sensation, without resistance, the easier it is to be with.

This is just a taste of the practices offered in the Work Consciously Audio Course.  In this program, you’ll learn how to:

  • Let go of anxiety that used to paralyze you in your work
  • Develop a longer attention span and feel less distractible
  • Stay focused even when you’re feeling the urge to procrastinate
  • Motivate yourself by getting in touch with your desire to contribute to the world
  • Return your attention to the present when it’s drifting off
  • Become aware of the unconscious ways you sabotage yourself in what you do
  • Set boundaries with others and protect the time you spend on your projects
  • Move through writer’s block, and even use it as a source of inspiration
  • Bring the “real you” into your work by letting go of the “work persona” you put on in what you do

What others have said

“I found Chris’s material in the course amazing!  And what I mean by that is the value that he provides, the wisdom he shares and the practical applications he leaves us with can literally transform our life and work.  And he does it all, with the most loving and authentic approach.”

- Evita Ochel, author of EvolvingBeings.com

“We all need some nudges along the way to keep our thinking, writing and designs fresh and refreshing.   The [Work Consciously Audio Course] is a good work out.”

Patricia Hamilton, author of PatriciasWisdom.com

And here’s some of the wonderful feedback I received about Inner Productivity:

“Chris Edgar has taken an exploratory dive into the procrastination pit and come up with a cogent explanation of this phenomenon as well as an elegant set of techniques to transcend it.  It’s a great read and a useful guidebook for turning the daily grind into something much more interesting and engaging.”

David Allen, bestselling author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

Inner Productivity will show you how to clear your inner clutter and create a pathway to success!”

Marshall Goldsmith, bestselling author of What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

“Real productivity doesn’t come from forced behaviors.  Inner Productivity can help you connect with the inner state of being that can empower you to act in new ways, choose new perspectives and have a different experience.  There is no greater productivity than connecting with your true self.”

Tama J. Kieves, bestselling author of This Time I Dance!: Creating the Work You Love (How One Harvard Lawyer Left It All to Have It All)

Inner Productivity is packed with practical examples of how to achieve greater results and peace of mind at work.”

Laura Stack, bestselling author of Leave the Office Earlier: The Productivity Pro Shows You How to Do More in Less Time . . . and Feel Great About It

“A wonderful guide for organizing both your physical and your head space.”

Peter Walsh, bestselling author of Enough Already!: Clearing Mental Clutter to Become the Best You

Download the introduction

To get a sense of what the course is all about, you can listen to the introduction here free of charge.  If you’d prefer to read it, you can view a text version here.  Whether you buy the program or not, I’m confident that just listening to this section will fundamentally shift the way you think about your work and what’s possible for you in it.

One unique part of this course is that, if you download the program, you’ll also receive a 100-page document with the entire text of the course.  If you prefer reading to listening, or you’d like to review the exercises you’ve done in written form, this will be an ideal resource.

Buy the course

The audio course is available for $24.95.  I’ve tried to keep it affordable because I want everyone, including people who want help getting through the job application process — and who benefit a lot, I’ve found, from my book Inner Productivity — to have access to this program.

You can buy the course using this PayPal button:

Buy Now

If you’re done with buying fancy gadgets and notebooks, and you want to really get to the source of what’s holding you back in your work, this is the program for you.  I think you’ll find this course will help you bring your creative gifts into the world, find the efficiency you want in your work, and even have some fun in what you do.

Wishing you the best in your work and elsewhere,

Chris Edgar

Sample From The Work Consciously Audio Course

“The strife is o’er,” as the hymn goes — I’m all done recording the Work Consciously Audio Course.  I’m writing up the “liner notes” right now — that’s what I like to call them, anyway, because it has me feel like I’m releasing a rock and roll album.

In the meantime, I’d like to share with you the introduction to the audio course, and hear any feedback you might have on it.  If you’ve read Inner Productivity, you’ll be familiar with some of the ideas I present here, but there’s plenty of new content that I’ve developed over the year I’ve spent speaking and leading workshops on the book.

The course will feature both exercises you can do “in real time,” as you’re sitting at your desk, to restore your focus and motivation in what you’re doing, and guided meditations I’ll lead you through for developing awareness around what’s holding you back in your projects.

Whether or not you pick up a copy of the audio course when it comes out, I think you’ll get some useful insights out of just listening to this portion of the program.

I’ve linked to the mp3 file of the introduction in this post, and I’ve copied the text below in case reading works better for you.  It’s long, so you have my blessing if you want to read the first couple of paragraphs, or listen to the first few minutes, and leave a comment.  :)

Download the Introduction (28 mb MP3 file; right-click and select “Save As” to download)

Introduction

Hello, and welcome to the Work Consciously Audio Course.  I’m looking forward to working with you.  I think you’ll find that this course takes getting work done and enjoying what you do to a deeper level than what you’ve probably experienced before.

When most of us think about productivity, a pretty predictable group of images comes to mind.  We tend to think of all the usual organization and time management tools people recommend — creative ways to organize your e-mail inbox, color-code your folders, find the right iPhone apps, and so on.

What you’re going to hear about in this course will be very different from all that.  Don’t get me wrong — there are many great productivity techniques out there.  But one thing I’ve noticed about these tips and tricks is that they tend to be almost exclusively focused on our outer circumstances — the ways we have our to-do list or our desktop organized, and so on.

What the usual techniques don’t tend to focus on, though, is what I think is the biggest obstacle we usually face in getting our work done — and that, we might say, is ourselves.  It’s our own minds and bodies.

Why There’s No “App For That”

Here, I’m talking about those moments when we find our attention getting scattered all over the place — maybe replaying some piece of music in our heads, or replaying memories of that bad relationship from twenty years ago, or something else.

I mean those times when we find ourselves feeling sluggish or unmotivated, like we have to drag ourselves through the mud to accomplish the task we’re trying to do, and it’s all we can do to keep our heads off the desk.

Maybe we feel paralyzed with anxiety, worrying “what’s the boss going to think of this presentation I’m doing,” and second-guessing every word we write.

As I’ll bet you know firsthand, if you’re having one of these experiences, having a really well-organized e-mail inbox probably isn’t going to cut it.  That is, it isn’t going to be enough to keep you on track in what you’re doing, no matter how great the tips for time management and organization you’re following may be.

If you’re paralyzed with fear about what the boss is going to think of this presentation you’re doing, that paralysis isn’t going to go away because you’ve achieved a zero e-mail inbox, or because you’ve made a multicolored to-do list.

Getting Off The “Time Management (Product) Treadmill”

Unfortunately, because — like I said — productivity literature tends to be focused solely on our external circumstances — on how our workspace is arranged — people tend to assume the only way to get more done is to find the right method of organizing their work environment.

So, people often get locked in a cycle of buying a book or taking a seminar, finding what they learned isn’t working for them, going out and buying another one, and repeating this process until they get tired of the whole productivity thing and give up.

Also, to be totally upfront, I think one of the reasons the usual organization strategies are so popular, even though so many people have trouble actually putting them into practice, is that people feel kind of virtuous and responsible when they learn new material on getting organized, or overcoming procrastination, or something along those lines.

They get a temporary high when they buy that new planner, or e-mail application — that frustration they’re feeling, and all the self-flagellation they’ve been doing because they feel like they’re not doing enough, temporarily fall away.  But very soon, those feelings come back, and the procrastination and inefficiency come back too.

If you can relate, one of my goals in this program is to break you out of that cycle of frustration.  I want you to be able to actually benefit from these organization strategies you’ve been learning, rather than just trying them for a day or for an hour and giving up, which unfortunately is what I think many people do.

So how do we start dealing with the ways our own minds and bodies tend to disrupt our focus as we’re trying to get something done?  I’ll begin to illustrate this by telling you a little story about my friend and the frustrations he’s been experiencing around e-mail.

The Core Experience:  An Illustration

My friend is really into these tips and tricks for organization and time management — he’s probably what a lot of these productivity websites would call a “productivity ninja.”  His most recent goal has been to curb his habit of compulsively checking his e-mail.  I imagine you’ve struggled with this at times yourself — or maybe you just, you know, know someone who has.

What my friend has committed to himself to do is to check his e-mail only twice a day while he’s at work — at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.  In theory, this sounds like it would help my friend save a lot of time.  But in practice, he’s never actually been able to keep this commitment to himself.

This is what happens for him.  He gets into work at about 8 or 8:30 in the morning, and he’s able to get about half an hour of fully focused work in, even if he’s got a nagging curiosity in the back of his mind about whether there’s anything interesting or important in his e-mail inbox.

But when that half-hour mark rolls around, my friend’s curiosity actually starts to intensify into physical discomfort.  He starts to feel a tension in his shoulders and a tightness in his chest.

If he leaves that curiosity for long enough without doing anything about it, it almost starts to feel like a shortness of breath, and he starts wondering “oh my goodness, am I going to die if I don’t check my e-mail?”  So, it seems like a pretty serious situation to him in the moment.

So, of course, to relieve this tension that’s coming up for him, my friend goes off and checks his e-mail.  When he does this, he takes his mind off the tension he’s feeling, and so he gets a break from it.

Unfortunately, while he’s checking his e-mail, he’s also taking his attention off the work he’s trying to do.  And because this keeps happening throughout the day, he keeps arriving at the end of the work day having accomplished less than he wanted.

The Core Experience:  What It Means

The moral of the story here, of course, is not that my friend doesn’t know enough organization and time management techniques.  He knows plenty of those.  He’s got a super-organized e-mail inbox with about 100 different sub-directories.  But no matter how he tweaks his e-mail organization, that burning curiosity still seems to come up.

The point of the story is that, when my friend tries to sit and concentrate on his work, these sensations come up in his body that he finds uncomfortable or even disturbing.  And to relieve those sensations — to take the edge off, as people often say — he checks his e-mail.

In other words, my friend is caught up in what I call the Procrastination Cycle.  He sits down to work and is able to chug along in what he’s doing for a short period of time.  And then, that pesky sensation, which I call the Core Experience, comes up for him.

I call it the Core Experience because, no matter what type of project you’re having difficulty moving forward in — whether it’s starting your dream business or cleaning out the garage — you’re going to find this particular nagging experience lurking in the background.

In order to get away from the Core Experience, my friend uses what I call an Escape Route — that is, he checks his e-mail to distract himself from what’s going on inside.

Then, after a little while, he returns to work, but within a short time the Core Experience arises again, and he repeats the cycle over and over again throughout the working day.

Everyone’s Experience Is Unique

I imagine you can relate to this story — that you can relate to trying to get your work done, but being confronted with thoughts, emotions and sensations — or, what I call inner experiences — that you’d rather not be having.

Now, of course, not everyone has a problem with a burning curiosity about their e-mail.  Everyone’s mind and body is different, so everyone has their own variety of inner experience that tends to come up and make their life difficult when they’re trying to get something done.

For example, maybe, for you, it’s a painful memory that keeps nagging at you while you’re trying to accomplish something.  For instance, maybe you keep replaying an old argument you had with someone in your mind as you’re sitting trying to code your computer program.  And, to make matters worse, this only seems to arise when you’re trying to do a project that’s particularly important to you.

For other people it’s just an unpleasant physical sensation that arises when they’re trying to get something done.  Maybe they feel this jumpy, anxious energy in their body.  Maybe they find their shoulders tensing up.  Maybe it’s a sinking feeling in their stomach.

Whatever it is, it seems to come up most often, or perhaps most loudly, when you’re trying to get something done.

An Awareness-Building Exercise

What kind of experience tends to come up for you?  Maybe the thought or sensation that you keep experiencing is easy to bring to mind.  But for some people it isn’t immediately clear — when I ask what inner experience is giving them trouble, they’ll say “I don’t know — I just keep finding myself putting things off.”

If you find yourself unsure about what the particular feeling or thought is for you, I think you can start to get an idea of what kind of experience it is by doing a brief exercise.

Right now, think about some project you’ve been wanting to work on recently, but you’ve been putting off.  As you recall this project and the frustrations you’ve been having around it, notice what you’re feeling in your body.

Notice the places where it’s tensing up — where it feels uncomfortably hot or cold — where you feel a heaviness or nausea — or whatever it is you’re feeling.  Do you get how unpleasant that experience is for you?

Now, what I’d like you to do is consider the possibility that, when you sit down to work on the project you’re thinking about, this is the experience you’re having — these are the sensations that are coming up in your body.  Whenever you put off working on this project, it’s because you don’t want to be feeling these sensations.

And I think you can see, as you experience the sensations right now, firsthand, why you might be doing that.  Of course you’ve been fleeing from them, given how unpleasant they are.

The Core Experience: Fighting and Fleeing

So, I think we all have some troublesome inner experience that comes up as we’re trying to complete our projects.  But importantly, I want to suggest to you that this experience alone isn’t enough to create procrastination.

The mere fact that we’re feeling some kind of discomfort doesn’t force us to put off our work.  Instead, procrastination happens when we do what I call fighting or fleeing from the experience — basically, when we choose to try to avoid having it.

What do I mean by fighting or fleeing?  I’ll start with fighting.  By fighting the experience, I mean trying to punish or shame yourself into working when that experience is coming up.

For instance, suppose that, like my friend, you tend to experience a burning curiosity about what’s in your e-mail inbox when you’re trying to work on a project.

If you try to shame yourself into working despite that experience, maybe you’ll tell yourself something like “oh, I can’t believe you’re so lazy and distractible — I can’t believe you’re thinking about your e-mail again — what’s wrong with you,” and so on.

Or maybe you’ll threaten yourself with punishment, as I know some people do.  Maybe you’ll say to yourself “you know, if you check e-mail again, you don’t get to play any XBox 360 tonight — no video games for you tonight if you check it again.”

Some productivity writers actually recommend doing this — making threats, or using what’s sometimes called “negative reinforcement,” to force yourself to work — but I don’t.

Why not?  As I’ll bet you’ve experienced, when you try to beat yourself into submission and make yourself work, that only creates more resistance inside — it only tends to intensify, in other words, that unpleasant experience you’re having.

In fact, I know that, for myself and others I’ve talked to, doing this can actually be physically tiring — by beating ourselves up, we can drain ourselves of the energy we could have been using to accomplish something.  This is a good example of what I think Carl Jung meant when he said “what we resist persists.”

What Fleeing Means

The other thing we tend to do, as I said, is that we flee from this painful experience.  Whenever that unpleasant memory, or that worry about the future, or that pain in our lower back, or whatever it is, comes up, we do something to distract ourselves from it.  Maybe we’ll play Minesweeper, or call a friend on the phone, or surf the Internet, or something else.

When we take our minds off the sensations we’re feeling, the benefit is that we don’t have to experience those sensations.  Unfortunately, there’s an obvious cost as well, which is that we don’t accomplish anything when we’re in this self-distraction mode.  While we’re messing around on Facebook, playing video games, or whatever, we aren’t getting anything done.

Now, one recommendation you’ll often hear from people who write about productivity is that you should just take away all the “toys” you could possibly “play with” when you sit down to do a task for a long stretch.

In other words, take away all the tools you might use to distract yourself — leave your cell phone in your car, disconnect your internet, and so on.  When you’ve got nothing to divert your attention with, you’ll be forced to work on your project.

Unfortunately, if you’ve ever tried this strategy, I’ll bet you’ve seen the flaw in it.  No matter how many “outer distractions” you switch off, you’ll always be stuck with what we might call your “inner distractions.”

You can always use your own mind and body to escape from that pesky inner experience, even if there’s nothing else at hand.  Maybe you can start thinking about a pop song you like, or drumming your fingers on the table, or getting up and pacing around.  The last problem I guess you could solve by tying your legs to your chair, but how far do we really want to take this?

All Right, Then What?

So, merely rearranging your workspace isn’t going to be enough to break you out of the habit of fleeing — of distracting yourself from — these unpleasant thoughts and sensations that you’ve been going through.

Now, imagine if, instead of fighting or fleeing from the experience, you could just calmly accept that the experience is coming up, and choose to move forward in your work.  Suppose that you could stay relaxed, keep breathing, maybe notice for a moment “oh, there’s that experience again,” and stay focused on what you’re doing.

Imagine the sense of freedom and ease that this could give you in your work, and how much more this would allow you to accomplish.  Learning how to do that is the heart of what this course is about.

Awareness of the Core Experience

I see dealing with this inner experience as basically a two-step process, and I call these two steps Awareness and Allowing.

I’ll start explaining this by talking about what Awareness means.  By Awareness, I mean that we become aware of the Core Experience that we’ve been running away from, and the Escape Route we’ve been using to run away from it — that is, calling friends on the phone, messing around on social media, playing Solitaire, and so on.

Remember I talked about my friend, who came to me and complained that he couldn’t concentrate on his work, because this burning curiosity about his e-mail would keep coming up that was almost painful.

In a sense, my friend’s situation is unique — perhaps you could even say he’s lucky — because my sense is that most people don’t have that level of awareness of what the Core Experience and Escape Route are for them.

Let me put it this way — have you ever gotten to the end of the workday, and wondered to yourself “where did the whole day go?  Why didn’t I get anything done?  What could I have been doing with all that time?”  And you feel frustrated and confused.  I think most of us have had that experience from time to time.

My sense is that, when we have a day like this, this Procrastination Cycle I’m talking about is happening outside our awareness.  It’s happening unconsciously.

Throughout the entire day, this is what’s happening:  we work for a few minutes, then that Core Experience — that jitteriness or resentment or whatever it is — comes up, and then we turn our attention away from our work — we follow our Escape Route.  The cycle repeats again and again, and we’re not even aware that it’s happening.

How could this be?  What I’m going to suggest is that you’re doing unconscious behaviors like this all the time.  For instance, have you ever gotten into the car, and just watched your hand shoot out and turn that car radio on, as if you didn’t even have to participate in the process?

Breathing, of course, is another good example — most of the time it’s happening even though we’re not doing it consciously.  This Procrastination Cycle, if we’re not aware of it, becomes just another one of these unconscious behaviors going on in the background for us.

Awareness by Itself Can Be Curative

The good news is that, when we become aware that this Procrastination Cycle is happening, we start to gain some control over the way we move through our workday.

Sometimes, just being conscious of the Core Experience we’re avoiding, and the Escape Route we’re using to get away from it, can free us from this Procrastination Cycle, without us having to develop a lot of self-discipline and constantly monitor ourselves to see whether we’re back in our usual habits.

Fritz Perls, the inventor of Gestalt psychotherapy, said that “awareness by itself can be curative.”  In other words, awareness by itself can create transformation.  I think this is true, and I’ve certainly seen evidence of it in my own life.

For example, I used to be in the habit of clenching my jaw and grinding my teeth.  I wasn’t consciously aware that I was doing it — the only thing I knew was that my jaw would be strangely sore a lot of the time.  Eventually, someone close to me pointed out that my jaw seemed really tense, and I had an amazing experience — my jaw just spontaneously relaxed.

In other words, I didn’t have to do any work to accomplish this — I didn’t have to get a jaw massage, or acupuncture on my jaw, or something like that — thankfully, no needles needed to be involved.  All I had to do was become aware of the tension, and it naturally fell away.

I’ll bet you’ve had an experience like this — you were doing some habit, like tapping your fingers on the table, or tensing up your shoulders, or something like that, and when someone pointed out to you that you were doing it, you effortlessly let go of the habit.

That’s what I want for you when we do the awareness-building exercises I’m going to talk about in this program — to spontaneously let go of ways you may have been hindering your progress in what you do.

Allowing the Core Experience

Unfortunately, just becoming aware of this procrastination cycle I’m talking about isn’t enough to help some people break out of it.  Some people are acutely aware of the Core Experience — of that troublesome thought, feeling or sensation — that keeps coming up when they try to focus on their project.  But that doesn’t stop them from habitually running away from this experience.

I think one reason is that, for many people, this Core Experience is actually kind of disturbing and scary.  When that anxiety, or anger, or distraction, or whatever that sensation is comes up, it can seem like a really serious or dangerous situation.

Some people get the sense that, if they just let that feeling be there without trying to do anything about it, it might stay there forever, or they might somehow be hurt or destroyed.

It’s almost as if your body is a steel pipe, and there’s pressure building up inside when this Core Experience is arising, and if you don’t open the valve and let some of that pressure off, maybe you’ll explode or implode or disintegrate or be destroyed in some other horrible way.

What Allowing Means

This is where what I call Allowing comes into play.  Allowing a sensation means to keep breathing, relax your body, and let that sensation pass away on its own — to just let that feeling flow through you and dissipate, without resisting it.

For example, suppose you’re sitting there chugging along in a project at your computer, and suddenly, like my friend I described earlier, you start to have this burning curiosity about what’s in your e-mail inbox.

Before, you may have been in the habit of beating yourself up for feeling that curiosity, like “oh, I can’t believe you’re so lazy and distractable,” and so on; or, perhaps, you may have been in the habit of giving into the urge by checking e-mail.

But this time, I invite you to try something different.  Instead of fighting or fleeing from that sensation, just sit there, and breathe, and relax your body, and allow that burning curiosity to pass away on its own.  Just let that tension or discomfort, wherever it may be coming up in your body, just drain out of you by itself.

The Core Experience Is Fleeting

What I think you’ll discover, when you practice Allowing in the way I’ve described, is that this Core Experience — this sensation you haven’t wanted to be with — is actually fleeting.  That is, it’s temporary, and it passes away quickly when you don’t resist it.  In that sense, it’s like any other thought or emotion we experience as human beings.

Take anger and sadness, for example.  If you feel angry or sad, as I’m sure you have at some point in your life, usually those emotions don’t stick around forever.  Normally, they pass away, and they’re replaced by some other thought or feeling.  That’s just the human experience.

What you’ll find when you take on this practice of letting the difficult experience pass away is that, in fact, the Core Experience is exactly the same as other thoughts and emotions in this sense.

Just letting it be there, without trying to force it away, isn’t going to make you spontaneously combust or disappear or be harmed in some other way.  Instead, it will simply fade away on its own.

Once you experience, firsthand, the fact that this Core Experience is fleeting and temporary, I think you’ll start to observe something remarkable, which is that you’ll actually begin to get more comfortable and more familiar with that Core Experience.  It will start to seem more manageable, and less disturbing and scary.

Moving Through The Core Experience

And ultimately, when you get comfortable enough with this Core Experience, this experience that used to be difficult for you to tolerate, you become able to keep moving forward in your work, even when that Core Experience is coming up.  In other words, you become able to make progress in the project you’re working on, even when that sensation is arising.

It’s as if, when that anxiety, sadness, tightness, or whatever it is comes up, you become able to say “yes, I’m feeling this sensation — and, I’m going to keep drafting this presentation, or coding this computer program, or sculpting this sculpture,” or whatever activity you happen to be doing.  And when you develop that ability, that’s when you really start to get the sense of ease and flow you want in your work.

This attitude of Allowing is similar to the practice of yoga.  If you’ve done yoga, you’ve probably had the experience of getting into a pose that involved a really deep stretch — and choosing to hold that pose, despite the intensity you were experiencing, and just allowing the sensations you were feeling to be there, without trying to do anything about them.

You may have had the urge to get up and run out of the yoga studio, or take a break and fold your socks, but you consciously chose to stay with that feeling.

I imagine you noticed that, as you stayed in that challenging pose, the intensity you were feeling in your body started to seem more comfortable.  You started to understand that you could be with that feeling, and that it wasn’t going to envelop you or destroy you if you just allowed it to be.

In the same way, when we allow the difficult sensations that come up as we’re working to just be, rather than distracting ourselves from them, we start to see that we can actually handle that intensity, and that nothing awful is going to happen to us if we continue working when that intensity is coming up.

How To Use This Course

So, like I said, the method of finding focus and motivation in your work I’m talking about in this program has two basic steps:  first, becoming Aware of the Core Experience you’re avoiding, and the Escape Route, the way you’re habitually escaping from that Core Experience; and second, learning to just Allow that Core Experience to pass away on its own, without resisting.

The exercises we’re going to talk about in this program are all about bringing this two-step process of Awareness and Allowing into your everyday working routine.

One last note:  as you’ll notice when you listen to this course, the course consists mostly of exercises.  It’s important to actually do those exercises if you want to get the benefits out of this program — this isn’t about just passively soaking up information.  The good news is that, for all of the exercises, you don’t need any special props — you just need your own mind and body.

With all that said, let’s dive right into the perspectives and exercises I’m going to talk about in this program.

Work Consciously Audio Course: What Do You Want?

I can’t believe it was nearly a year ago that, on this very blog, we had our fascinating discussion about the productivity challenges readers are facing, and how mindfulness practices like meditation and yoga can help us move through those challenges.  It was an inspiring chat for me, and I’ve re-read it many times.

Last time I re-read the post, it proved to be more than just a source of nostalgia — it gave me the idea to put out an audio program dealing with the questions people asked in the comments, and in the many other settings where I’ve spoken to people about Inner Productivity.

I now have voluminous notes about what I’m going to say in the program, and I’ve started recording it.  Before I release it, I want to check in with you to make sure I’m not leaving out any concerns you may be dealing with in your working life, whether it comes to focusing, staying motivated, letting go of anxiety, actually enjoying what you do, or something else.  Simple as that.

So, I want to throw the floor open to you.  Maybe “throwing the floor” isn’t the most coherent figure of speech, but you get the point.  I want to know what you’d like to hear me address in the program, and if you let me know I’ll do my best to cover it.

To get the creative juices flowing, here’s a list of some common issues people raised in our earlier conversation:

Self-Starting:  “I’m working from home, and it’s hard to stay on task when no one’s keeping tabs on me.”

Overwhelm:  “I feel overwhelmed when I see a lot of items on my to-do list.”

Perfectionism:  “I struggle with a sense that I’ve got to do everything perfectly, or not do it at all.”

Inadequacy:  “I have trouble starting the project I want to do, because I worry that it’s not going to be good enough.”

Image Consciousness:  “I’m having difficulty doing the work I want to do, because I get too concerned about what others will think of it.”

“I haven’t done enough”:  “I keep getting to the end of the day, and feeling like I didn’t accomplish enough.”

Resentment:  “I get bogged down in resentment, because it seems like people are asking so much from me in my work.”

Distraction:  “My mind keeps jumping around to all kinds of different ideas when I’m trying to focus on something.”

How about you?  What issues would you like to hear about in the program?

Guest Post at The Change Blog: “Procrastination and the Art of Allowing”

I just published a new guest post at The Change Blog called “Procrastination and the Art of Allowing.”

Normally, when uncomfortable thoughts and sensations come up as we’re working, we tend to run away from them by playing FreeCell or chasing some other distraction — and, voila, we have procrastination.  But when we simply relax our bodies, continue breathing, and let those sensations pass away on their own, we start developing the ability to choose to move forward in our work instead.

For those who haven’t read Inner Productivity, or my “Transcending Procrastination” special report (which you can download by signing up at the upper right hand corner of this page), this will serve as a helpful introduction to my work.  I hope you enjoy it!

Inner Productivity Intensive Workshop

I’m thrilled to announce that I’ll be holding a full-day workshop, which I’m calling the Inner Productivity Intensive, in the San Francisco Bay Area on Saturday, June 12, 2010.

This will be an intimate, small-group affair, limited to ten people, where we’ll be deeply exploring the challenges each participant is facing in their work, and how mindfulness practices can help them stay focused and inspired in what they do.

You can register for the event here.  More information about the workshop is below.

Supercharge Your Focus And Motivation In Your Work!

Why do you know what you want to do in your work, but you still don’t do it?

Why do you know you want to work more efficiently, but you end up wasting time on e-mail and social media?  Why do you want to write that book or start that business, but it’s never gotten off the ground?  Why do you want to change jobs, but you can’t seem to begin your search?

I think we’ve all asked ourselves this kind of question at some point, and the answer often seems maddeningly unclear. What is clear, however, is that the usual organization and time management literature doesn’t shed much light on it.

Yes, there are neat tricks and “hacks” out there for organizing your e-mail, color-coding your folders, and finding the right iPhone apps.  But as I think you know from painful experience, these tricks are useless if you aren’t focused and motivated enough to put them into practice.

What Are You Running From?

So how do you find the focus and motivation you’re looking for?  In my experience working with people around their productivity issues, to really get what we want out of what we do, the first step is to take a close look at what we’re avoiding.

What do I mean?  You’ll see for yourself, I think, if you carefully watch what’s happening when you’re at work, and you’re about to start procrastinating.  You’ll notice that, in that “clutch” moment right before you put off a task to do something else, you start having some thought or sensation — some inner experience – that feels uncomfortable or even dangerous to you.

The thought or sensation I’m talking about is different for each of us.  For some, it’s tension in their body — maybe a tightness in their neck or shoulders.  For others, it’s a painful memory or a worry about the future.  Perhaps, for you, it’s something else.

While the inner experience I’m talking about is unique for each person, the way people tend to deal with that experience is pretty much the same.  Because it’s scary and uncomfortable, we try to distract ourselves from it — perhaps by checking e-mail, playing Minesweeper, surfing the Web, or something else.

The trouble with this approach is that, when we distract ourselves, we take our attention away from our work.  We can’t code that computer program, paint that painting, or do anything else that’s productive when we’re messing around on Facebook.

The Art Of Allowing

As it turns out, there’s a better way to relate to this inner experience:  to fully allow it.  When you feel that tension, painful memory, or whatever it is coming up, simply hold your attention on your work, keep breathing, relax your body, and allow that experience to pass away on its own.  If you’ve done meditation, you probably have some idea what I mean.

The more you practice this, the more comfortable and familiar that experience will become.  You’ll start to realize it isn’t as scary as you’d thought.  More importantly, you’ll become able to move forward in your work, even in the face of that pesky experience.

Of course, this is easier said than done.  Usually, we’ve become so accustomed to running from that troublesome inner experience that we’re no longer aware we’re avoiding it.  We just “find ourselves” checking e-mail, playing FreeCell, or whatever our favorite distraction is, totally oblivious to why it’s happening.

The Inner Productivity Intensive is about getting conscious of that difficult inner experience, and developing a new relationship with it that gives you a new sense of purpose and freedom in your work.

What This Workshop Offers You

As you may know, I wrote a book called Inner Productivity: A Mindful Path to Efficiency and Enjoyment in Your WorkInner Productivity, which Getting Things Done author David Allen calls “a great read and a useful guidebook for turning the daily grind into something much more interesting and engaging,” is all about learning to allow – rather than resist — the thoughts and sensations that tend to disrupt our focus.

In this full-day workshop, we put the book’s ideas and techniques into practice.  Basing our approach on meditation, yoga and other mindfulness practices that have improved people’s lives for thousands of years, I and my skilled facilitators will help you notice, and transform, the patterns of thinking and behavior holding you back in your work.

You’ll come out of the workshop with an increased ability to focus on your work, a stronger sense of mission, and a deep-seated knowledge that you’ve got what it takes to face the challenges that arise in what you do.

This workshop is unlike any other seminar on organization or time management.  I’ve designed the course to be small — ten people or so — to make sure each person gets the individual attention they need, and the breakthrough they want.  This won’t be a lecture — you’ll be diving right into exercises that make you aware of the places where you’re limiting yourself.

I’d recommend this workshop to people who are ready to take a deep look at what’s really holding them back in their work.  If that’s what you’re interested in, this course will radically change the way you think about and relate to what you do.

Logistics

The workshop will be on Saturday, June 12, 2010, in San Jose, California, from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Registration for the workshop is $135.00 per person.  You’ll receive more information, including directions and the schedule, when you register, which you can do by clicking here.

Guest Post at The Change Blog: “How Getting Used To Silence Can Help Your Productivity”

I’ve published a guest post at The Change Blog called “How Getting Used To Silence Can Help Your Productivity.”  It’s about how developing the ability to tolerate silence helps us concentrate on our projects and get more done.  I hope you find it useful and I look forward to seeing you there!

Your Inner Productivity Questions Answered

As some of you know, I recently released a book called Inner Productivity: A Mindful Path to Efficiency and Enjoyment in Your Work.  While most productivity books are about techniques for rearranging your outer circumstances, like making to-do lists and organizing your inbox, Inner Productivity is about dealing with obstacles to getting work done that come from inside — the stray thoughts, difficult emotions, discomfort in the body, and so on that make it difficult to stay on task.

Inspired by mindfulness practices like meditation and yoga, Inner Productivity offers forms of visualization, movement, conscious breathing and more to help you find peace and focus in your work.  As Getting Things Done author David Allen puts it, Inner Productivity is “a useful guidebook for turning the daily grind into something much more interesting and engaging.”

Everyone’s mind and body is unique, and no two people seem to face exactly the same productivity challenges.  So, I think the best way to illustrate what the book has to offer is to show you how it applies to real-world problems people are dealing with.

In this post, I’ll open the floor to you to bring me the productivity issues you’ve been facing.  Whether it’s your pattern of procrastination, lack of inspiration in your work, anxiety about whether you’ve “got what it takes” to complete a project, or something else, I’d welcome an opportunity to work with you and illustrate how the techniques and perspectives in Inner Productivity can help you find efficiency and enjoyment in what you do.

So, I’m inviting you, in the comments to this post, to ask questions about the challenges you’ve been having.  Feel free to comment anonymously if you’d feel more comfortable that way.  I’m looking forward to talking with you.

Best,
Chris

Inner Productivity (My New Book) Is Now Available

innerproductivity

I’m excited to announce that my new book, Inner Productivity: A Mindful Path to Efficiency and Enjoyment in Your Work, is now available in both paperback and Kindle format.

The book is a compilation of the techniques and perspectives I’ve successfully used to help people find—you guessed it—efficiency and enjoyment in their work.   The book approaches productivity from a unique angle, using insights from psychology and mindfulness practice to help you stay focused and motivated.

I’ll say more about the book, and give you a taste of what others have said, in this post.  More information about the book, including videos and interviews, is also available on a separate site I’ve created.

About The Book

As I’m sure you know, it’s one thing to bone up on all the productivity “tips and tricks” out there—learning creative ways to make to-do lists, declutter your desk, hold shorter meetings, and so on.  It’s quite another to actually stick with those techniques and make them work for you.

A major reason for this is that productivity techniques usually don’t address the biggest obstacle to getting our work done:  our own minds.  If you find yourself mentally replaying an argument with your spouse, daydreaming about your next vacation, worrying about how big the bonus will be this year, and so on, simply knowing the latest “Top 100 PDA Hacks” won’t do much to keep you on task.

A Deeper Look At Procrastination

What’s really going on in moments when we find ourselves getting “off task”—becoming distracted or putting off your work?  In coaching individuals and groups on overcoming inner obstacles to productivity, what I’ve learned is that we often get off task because some inner experience—some thought or feeling—that we don’t want to be with is coming up.

Here’s a common example.  Suppose your boss assigns you a project, and you accept it but feel resentful that it wasn’t given to somebody else.  Naturally, as you do the project, you feel the resentment, which shows up as a tightness in your shoulders.  Because you don’t like that feeling, you distract yourself from it by checking e-mail, playing Minesweeper, or whatever your favorite procrastination technique happens to be.  Unfortunately, although you take your attention off the unwanted experience, you also get nothing done.

This is the “normal” reaction to uncomfortable inner experiences in our culture—procrastinate, take a drug to numb the feeling, go do something else, and so on.  In other words, we might say, we run away from ourselves.  The trouble is, of course, that we can’t get any work done while we’re fleeing from our inner experience.  And so we find ourselves spending large chunks of time accomplishing little, and feeling frustrated about it.

Accepting Your Inner Experience

Inner Productivity offers a different approach to dealing with these difficult inner experiences—allowing them to be, just as they are, without distracting yourself or pushing the experience away.  To understand what I mean, try this simple exercise.

The next time you’re working, and you start experiencing some uncomfortable thought or feeling, try breathing deeply, relaxing your body, and just letting the sensation move through you.  Where you would have run away from the sensation before, see if you can stay with it and welcome it for a little while.

What I think you’ll find is that the feeling actually passes away pretty quickly when you let it.  For instance, if you’re feeling resentful about working, and you breathe deeply and allow that tense sensation to simply move through you, it’s not like you’ll stay angry forever—the tension in your body will relax, leaving you in a calm and focused state.

The more you do this exercise, the more you’ll come to realize that the thought or sensation isn’t actually dangerous to you, and you don’t have to run away from it.  And when you understand, at a deep level, that you don’t have to flee from your inner experience, you become able to stay on task even in the face of intense sensations.  You become able to calmly respond “yes, I’m feeling angry or sad or afraid, and I’m going to continue with this project.”

The Yoga of Productivity

Yoga, one of the practices that inspired Inner Productivity, offers a good analogy.  People who are starting out doing yoga tend to assume that a pose is difficult because their bodies aren’t flexible enough to get into it.  But interestingly, surgeons have found that, under anesthesia, the human body can bend in all kinds of ways we’d usually see as impossible.

In other words, the problem often isn’t a lack of flexibility at all—it’s that we don’t want to be with the discomfort we feel while we’re doing the yoga pose.  But as we ease ourselves into the pose, and realize that the sensations we feel while doing it aren’t going to harm us, the pose starts to feel natural and even enjoyable.

We could think of the techniques in Inner Productivity like a form of yoga.  As with a difficult yoga pose, when we learn to accept, rather than flee from, the thoughts and sensations that come up as we work, working starts to feel more easy, natural and fun.  That’s what I want for you, and that’s why I wrote the book.

So, if you aren’t getting enough out of conventional productivity techniques, and you’re ready to take a deeper look at what’s really holding you back in your work, I think you’ll find Inner Productivity eye-opening and valuable.

What Others Have Said

I was amazed at the enthusiasm and generosity of the authors I asked to provide advance quotes for the book.  Here’s a sample:

“Chris Edgar has taken an exploratory dive into the procrastination pit and come up with a cogent explanation of this phenomenon as well as an elegant set of techniques to transcend it. It’s a great read and a useful guidebook for turning the daily grind into something much more interesting and engaging.”

David Allen, bestselling author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

Inner Productivity will show you how to clear your inner clutter and create a pathway to success!”

Marshall Goldsmith, bestselling author of What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

“Real productivity doesn’t come from forced behaviors. Inner Productivity can help you connect with the inner state of being that can empower you to act in new ways, choose new perspectives and have a different experience. There is no greater productivity than connecting with your true self.”

Tama J. Kieves, bestselling author of This Time I Dance!: Creating the Work You Love (How One Harvard Lawyer Left It All to Have It All)

Inner Productivity is packed with practical examples of how to achieve greater results and peace of mind at work.”

Laura Stack, bestselling author of Leave the Office Earlier: The Productivity Pro Shows You How to Do More in Less Time . . . and Feel Great About It

“A wonderful guide for organizing both your physical and your head space.”

Peter Walsh, bestselling author of Enough Already!: Clearing Mental Clutter to Become the Best You

Order The Book

You can order the book in either paperback or Kindle format—I’ve posted the links below.  (Note:  If you see an “out of stock” notice on the Amazon page for the paperback, don’t worry, it’s still available — just click on the “2 new” link and order the book from “Cruzado Press.”)

Print Edition

Amazon Paperback

Kindle Edition

Amazon Kindle

I’ve also created a separate site with more information about the book, which you can view here.

Reviewers Wanted

I’m always interested in constructive feedback on my work.  If you’d be interested in reviewing my book on your blog, please let me know, and I can provide you a copy in paperback or electronic form.

Inner Productivity, Part Five: Breathing Through Our Fear

This is the exciting conclusion to the “inner productivity” series of posts—unless there’s massive demand for more, of course, as I always seem to have more to say about it.  Feel free to let me know if there’s a topic in this area you’d like to see covered.

In my last post, I talked about getting in touch with our “inner experience”—learning to pay attention to, instead of running from, the thoughts and feelings that come up in our work.  Almost inevitably, when we start listening to our inner experience more closely, we start feeling some fear and shame that we may have been shutting out before.  In other words, we start to notice some painful beliefs we have about ourselves that we’re normally pushing out of our awareness.

Some Common Examples

I’ll give you a few examples of what I mean by this fear and shame, so you can both understand what I’m talking about and start to get familiar with the sensations that tend to disrupt your own work.  Of course, this isn’t a list of all possible forms of fear that can interfere with our work—the shape it takes is deeply personal to each of us.

1. I’ll be a “fraud.” Many of us, particularly when we’re working on something that uses our creative energies or will be seen by many people, experience the nagging doubt that we don’t “have the right” to do what we’re doing.  We need more education, experience, powerful friends or something else to be “worthy” of completing our project.  If we “put ourselves out there” before becoming worthy, we’d be “frauds” or “fakes.”

2. I’ll be alone. I’ve worked with people who have trouble focusing when doing a project that requires them to work by themselves.  When they’re alone, they find anxieties arising that don’t normally bother them in everyday life.  Because something about being alone feels unsafe, they find themselves constantly interrupting their work to call or e-mail others.  Or perhaps they feel strangely lost or confused when no one’s around, and unable to access their creativity and attention.

3. I’ll get smothered. Others have trouble staying focused because they fear that working will somehow cause others to get uncomfortably close to them.  Perhaps they worry that, if they produce good work, others will take credit for what they’ve done, or otherwise take advantage of them.  Or maybe others will shower them with attention and appreciation—and they feel unworthy of the spotlight, or concerned that others will take up all their time and they won’t have a moment’s peace.

Diving Into Our Inner Experience

Okay, three of those examples was probably depressing enough—I’ll stop the list.  Just by reading those few paragraphs, I imagine you got some idea of how shame and fear keep you from meeting your goals in your work and elsewhere—and why you may be making so much effort to avoid experiencing it.

Given how troubling many of our ideas about ourselves are, it makes perfect sense that we’ve developed so many ingenious ways to keep them out of our awareness—from switching on the iPod to abusing drugs.  As Neil Fiore sagely writes in The Now Habit, “people don’t procrastinate just to be ornery or because they’re irrational.  They procrastinate because it makes sense, given how vulnerable they feel to criticism, failure, and their own perfectionism.”

And now for some good news:  what I’ve found, in working with clients and in my own inner work, is that it’s possible to get more comfortable with these thoughts and sensations, so they don’t seem as frightening and threatening.  Instead of fleeing from them, we can try simply holding our attention on them, breathing deeply, and waiting until they pass away.

Consciously or otherwise, we tend to act as though, if we fully let ourselves experience the fear and shame that arise in our work, we’d keep feeling those sensations for the rest of our lives.  It’s as if we’d be plunged into an eternal abyss of fear.  But as it happens, the heat and tension these feelings create in our bodies fade away, maybe within a few seconds or minutes.  When we let the sensations move through our bodies and we emerge safe and unharmed, we dispel the myth that they’ll last forever.

What I think you’ll find is that, the more you get accustomed to experiencing the thoughts and feelings that come up in your work, the more you’ll be able to hold your attention on your task.  As you keep practicing just sitting there and breathing through what you’re feeling, the urge to run away from your work feels less and less compelling.

To illustrate, suppose that, when you sit at your desk to work, you start getting this nagging sense that you’re alone, and that being alone is dangerous to you.  Most of us would respond to this feeling by immediately calling our friends or doing something else to remind ourselves others are around.  But just once, if this example resonates with you, I invite you to try just staying where you are and focusing on your breathing, until the feeling fades away and you can gently return your attention to your task.

Beyond just letting ourselves experience our fear, we can learn to get curious about what it has to teach us—treating it like a message from the “inner guru” I talked about earlier, rather than as a problem to be fixed.

For example, if you notice yourself running away from your work for fear of being alone, perhaps you are carefully avoiding solitude in other areas of your life as well.  Becoming aware of this may prompt you to try spending a little time alone with yourself, and see if getting closer to yourself this way actually helps you grow as a person.

If you enjoyed this post, check out the others in this series:

Inner Productivity, Part I: 3 Keys To Developing “Inner Productivity”
Inner Productivity, Part II: Reuniting “Work” And “Life”
Inner Productivity, Part III: Listening To Ourselves
Inner Productivity, Part IV: Some Exercises For Self-Listening