The Japanese Secret to Productivity
Updated: May 1, 2020
We all search for ways to stay on our toes and keep up with the work that we do day in and day out but I learned one secret method that clears the voices in our heads while focusing on the things we’ve been dying to complete. It’s a method that will surprise you with how much you can actually get done in an hour, a day, a week, or a month.
This strategy takes practice and consistency. It doesn’t happen overnight. I like to think of myself as a superhero trying to control her powers – her powers to complete tasks, stay calm, and control her urges and habits. So, as I remind myself that I’m in training to become my super self, I’m able to stay consistent and take on this secret method with ease.
There is a trick to stopping, slowing down, and getting things done - a system from ancient times in Japan that Zen monks practiced in order to stay productive all while staying mindful at the same time. The secret is called ichigyo-zanmai. This concept was brought up by Japanese Zen master Sunryu Suzuki in his book ‘Beginners Mind’.
If you’d like to dive deeper into this topic, I suggest purchasing his book.
Ichigyo zanmai means full concentration on a single act. It can be anything from doing laundry to chatting with a friend over coffee at a café. Basically, focusing on one thing at a time instead of multitasking. I know, it sounds like something you’ve heard before. But hear me out, most people these days lose control because they have so many thoughts built up in their heads, a to-do list longer than a novel and no time to do it. But it’s simple, the secret to productivity is mindfulness, awareness, and staying centered while focusing on that ONE THING. It's time to tame that monkey mind.
There are five steps to accomplish ichigyo-zanmai:
STEP 1 –
When you wake up, create or check your to-do list. I use a program called Asana but Trello works just as well. If you prefer a traditional pen and paper, that’s ok too.
Write everything you need to get done. Don’t leave anything out.
star, separate, or circle the things to get done that will make you feel as if your day was successful. Think, “As long as I get these three things done, I will have a very successful day!”
STEP 2 – Next to each task, write how long it will take to complete it. Pay attention to how long it actually takes you to complete the task with no distractions. Write it down on paper as you test this method in your first week. The next time you write down your tasks, you’ll know that it takes you x amount of hours and minutes to complete a task like editing a video, writing a blog post, etc.
STEP 3 – Set a timer for yourself or turn on an app that deters you from using your phone, checking social media, or answering text messages. I use an app called ‘Forest’. This app allows you to grow virtual trees, obtaining coins every time you complete a session. If you get out of the app, the tree withers away and DIES. It’s quite sad actually. Therefore, it keeps you from being distracted.
Put your messages on silent. To make things easier, set your phone on the opposite side of the room so you aren’t tempted and it’s out of sight.
Step 4 - Here’s the kicker, while practicing Ichigyo Zanmai – whenever a thought that isn’t related to the task at hand comes up, observe that thought but act despite it. Bring yourself back to center (maybe focus on your breath - that always helps me) and get back into your flow state - a state in which you're in deep focus and time passes quickly.
Sometimes we have resistance when completing a project or task because it can be a large and exhausting one. Sometimes fears of it not being perfect or feelings of not being smart enough or good enough can get in the way. But, if you tell yourself that this uncomfortable feeling will pass once in the 'flow state, you'll most likely feel better knowing this resistance and discomfort is only temporary.
STEP 5 – As you do any task, from brushing your teeth to clipping your fingernails, always give it your full attention. Be aware of your surroundings, practice gratitude at that very moment, and be happy to be alive. If it’s a project you don’t want to do in the first place, try and feel grateful you even HAVE that project, a job, and the money that you’ll be paid once you complete it. Another example is to be grateful that you are able to go to school and learn something new every day because some people don’t have that privilege. It’s important to not only bring yourself back to center but to be grateful for all the amazing things we can do as human beings.
It’s easier said than done. It takes a long time to re-wire your brain and condition your mind to do certain things. So, practice consistently. If you miss a day of practice, that’s ok. Consistency does NOT equal perfection.
If you find getting into a flow state difficult to do, you can also write down your thoughts, that have nothing to do with your task, on a piece of paper to think about later. Imagine it pouring out of your head and onto paper.
In Zazen meditation, the practice focuses on bringing yourself back to center. You count one to ten in your mind while taking natural, slow breaths. When you find yourself drifting from the task at hand, which is meditation, you become aware and bring yourself back to your counting and slow breathing again.
There are many methods out there that claim to help others get things done. Some methods don’t work for others so it is important to try different ones based on your lifestyle. But remember, be patient. These methods take time so don’t give up after a day. Take a month or two to find balance and tweak it to your liking.
You can download my free Ichigyo Zammai Productivity Guide HERE!