2009 was rough. Celebrities dropping dead every which way. The economy in the toilet. One of our editors, at one point, had a pretty gnarly blister on his right foot. It was just a little too real. So, in 2010, we’ve decided to simplify things. We want to lower our stress levels, get more done with less effort, and maybe learn to fly through bamboo forests like in Crouching Tiger. In this list, we’ll help you accomplish at least a few of those things.
Separate whatever it is you’re de-cluttering into trash, maybe, keep. This exercise is scalable in that it works equally well for your glove box, your car, or your garage. In our experience, by the end of the separation, it’s pretty clear that the “maybe” pile is really just another trash pile. But it’s a nice way to ease yourself into getting rid of stuff you only think you need. Don’t be a hoarder
Zen wisdom: “Weeds only grow when we dislike them”.
Be a singletasker
You can only hold one or two thoughts in your brain at a time, so when you get distracted by Facebook, AIM, your cell, iTunes, your email, your work email, and the hot secretary, it’s understandable how you might not be as productive as you otherwise might be. In fact, a recent study by the American Psychological Association found that multitasking is significantly slowing you down.
“The measurements revealed that for all types of tasks, subjects lost time when they had to switch from one task to another, and time costs increased with the complexity of the tasks, so it took significantly longer to switch between more complex tasks.”
So, in 2010, make a list of the things you have to do for your work or personal life, then cover it all up but the top, incomplete item. Finish that first, then move the blocking paper down one item. You’ll finish your list must faster.
Zen wisdom: “After enlightenment, the laundry.”
Take a media diet
If there was ever a time where you were oversaturated with media, it’s now. With devices that can play your movies and music while editing text files and receiving internet radio almost ubiquitous, it’s hard to tune out the noise. And, it’s going to get much, much worse. One thing you can do is a mental cleansing, or a virtual detox. Vow to not check your email for a week. If that’s professionally unfeasible, make the same vow regarding turning on your television. You’ll be shocked what your brain actually does when it’s not pulled in 20 different directions at once.
Zen wisdom: Knock on the sky and listen to the sound!
Be a tripletasker
Don’t get us wrong. This tenant is not at odds with the singletasker tenant above. What we mean by “be a tripletasker” is that your list for the day should only have three items on it. This means that you either have to simplify the way you think about your tasks or cut unnecessary tasks from the list, but you’ll probably have to do both. Instead of writing down that you need to do the laundry, wash the dishes, make the beds, and vaccum, just write “clean house.” Then, you’ll subconsciously weed out the things that don’t really need to be done (like make the bed). Keeping your list at three assures the things that need to get done get done, but that you have time to deprogram your brain after they are.
A monk asked Chao-chou, "I have just entered the monastery: please give me some guidance."
Chao-chou said, "Have you eaten your rice gruel?"
The monk said,"Yes, I’ve eaten."
Chao-chou said, "Then go wash your bowl."
Like, work 4 days a week. Or 3. Or just 1. “Work expands to fit the time allotted,” isn’t just an accepted maxim of the business world. It’s a law. Obviously, this isn’t an option for everybody. But, say, if you’re a freelance writer you do have this option. You’re also probably a strikingly handsome man, but that’s not really the point. The point is, list precisely what needs to be done, and simply decide to do it in less time than you would have previously. When you know you only have a day to finish two days of work, you’ll ignore your Twitter feed. You’ll stop emailing relatives. You might still go to wwtdd.com, but you’ll work faster and be left with a bonus day when it’s all said and done.
Zen wisdom: When you can do nothing, what can you do?
Empty your teacup (of emails)
There’s a traditional Zen story called the story of the Tea Cup. It says that Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen. Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. "It is overfull. No more will go in!" "Like this cup," Nan-in said, "you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?"
Like the tea cup, your inbox is probably overflowing and spilling all over your keyboard and ruining your once-sharp-looking suit. Friend of the site, Laura J. has a good policy for this. When she’s at work, she doesn’t open her personal email account. She obviously will answer her work email (so that’s where we send awesome animated gifs), but she waits to deal with her personal emails until she’s home at the end of the day. Think about how much time you spend nitpicking through emails all day long. Now think about how long it takes you to do your first run through emails in the morning. Now, realize how much time you’re wasting not doing like Laura does.
Zen wisdom: “No thought, no reflection, no analysis, no cultivation, no intention; let it settle itself.”
You probably guessed this one was going to be in here. Good job! What you may not have guessed, though, is that meditation doesn’t have to be done on a mountain top in an orange robe over the course of a decade. You can do it in as little as 5 minutes on your bedroom floor in the morning. There are countless techniques, but we’ll just give you our favorite to get started.
This is one form of the most popular type of meditation in the West, Transcendental Meditation. This exercise goes by lots of names, but we’ll call it “Just Breathing.” Because, that’s what you do. You just breathe. Simply feel the breath going into you, then feel it going out. If you find yourself thinking about breathing, thinking about breakfast, or thinking about anything at all, don’t get mad. Quietly and calmly return your mind to a blank state, and just breathe.
Set an alarm for the amount of time you want to meditate so you don’t fall asleep or worry about leaving your house late. That was the biggest hurdle for us. You could also just let the below video play through.
Zen wisdom: “IF you’re afraid of being grabbed by God, don’t look at a wall. Definitely don’t sit still.”
Mindful driving (and eating, and walking, etc)
Oh, hey, this is appropriate. Glad you just read about how to Just Breathe, because it has a lot to do with this suggestion. Doing things mindfully is a large part of walking the path of Zen, and it’s also a great way to stay calm, reduce your stress levels, and simply feel better.
In the same what that you were just breathing when you were Just Breathing, you should just drive when you’re driving. When you’re going to lunch, eat your salad and do nothing else. Don’t look up totally sweet trailers on your laptop at the same time. Taste the salad, actively chew, and just eat it.
Zen wisdom: “When walking, walk. When eating, eat.”
The present is a present
In the highly-underrated movie “Kung Fu Panda” the old turtle master, Oogway, tells the highly-overweight, novice panda warrior that the present is named “present” because it is a gift. Well said, turtle sensei.
This one is a little bit harder to wrap your brain around, but you’ll feel a lot better about your life and how you live it the closer you get to this philosophy. Take your pick of the bumper sticker wisdom. Dance like nobody is watching. Carpe diem. No fat chicks. It’s all good.
A good exercise to do in the morning (it’ll sound a little silly, but bear with us) is to write down all your fears and frustrations on a piece of paper. Then, take a good hard look at it. Then, burn it. Tear it up. Eat it. Demolish it. This symbolic destruction of your anxiety is called “clearing,” and believe it or not, it works.
Zen wisdom: “Seize from every moment its unique novelty and do not prepare your joys.”