An excerpt from Practice #7 – Keep Making It Simpler – in Seven Practices of a Mindful Leader.

“Are you as busy as we are?” This was the question a female executive from a technology company once asked me as we began our Skype meeting. I was talking with her regarding the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, and I could have easily said yes. Instead I said, “We don’t do busy. We aspire to work in a way that is focused, engaged, and spacious.”

I was attempting to be playful, and we both laughed. Of course, I was busy, but I have a strong aversion to busyness, and she and I then had a meaningful discussion about our intention for how we wanted to work.

It’s easy to get caught up in the prevailing culture of busyness. Having a lot to do is one thing; it’s a common problem we are all familiar with. To me, busyness means becoming caught up in that complexity and losing sight of what is most important. Busyness equates to mindless rushing. For me, the antidote to busyness is remembering to be mindful and to practice being focused, engaged, and spacious.

So, what does this mean? How do we make this shift?

1. Be Focused: See what matters most; your ground truth, your creative gap, the most important thing, and focus on that.

Come back, over and over, to the simple, yet difficult question: What is my priority right now? What is the most important thing to accomplish in this call, this day, this week?

2. Be Engaged: This refers to your level of energy and attention. Whatever the task, engage with it fully until it’s time to move to a new task.

In general, I find I can remain fully engaged with tasks in 45-90 minute increments, then it helps to take a short break of 5 or 10 minutes. When working, engage with your full energy, then completely disengage and relax.

3. Be Spacious: This refers to bringing your attention away from concerns about yourself and noticing the space and openness, literally, that exists around you, wherever you are. At the same time, notice stress without becoming stressed. Expect stress, anxiety, and fear to arise at times, and let them go when they do.

Studies show that stress and busyness aren’t the real problem; the problem is our relationship with stress.

In one study, people who believed that stress was inevitable and positive had greater well-being than those who believed that stress was negative and something to be avoided. Further, those who had a positive attitude about stress lived longer than those who experienced relatively little stress in their lives.

Try this:

  1. Right now, notice where you may be feeling tight or constricted.
  2. Give attention to those places, and relax and soften them.
  3. Notice how much space is now available. So often we miss how much space there is right in the midst of our busy lives. We tend to look only at people and things and miss how much space there is in between.
  4. Explore, notice how much space there is, physically.
  5. Right now, look up, look to the left and right. There is lots of space everywhere.
  6. Then return to the question of what matters most to you right now.

Making it simpler doesn’t mean avoiding stress or accomplishing less. There is a good deal of evidence that we can live healthier lives and accomplish more, and more of what matters, when we are focused, engaged, and spacious.