Month: February 2018

The Pros and Cons of Mindfulness Reminders

There are a lot of apps out there that can remind you to meditate or be mindful. You can set them to remind you at a certain time and configure them in all kinds of ways. Some of them ring a bell to remind you to be present, and then it’s up to you to do what you want at that time. Either just pause and breathe, stretch, do a meditation or other things. Some of them will ring a bell and then actually play a sound to help you in your meditation. Some of them will ring a bell and offer you an inspiring quote or guided meditation.

There are all kinds of apps out there. I’m a big fan of them — I’m actually using two of them right now. I suggest you experiment with them and what works for you in terms of how extensive they are.

It’s always up to you to experiment, investigate and pay attention to what feels good and works for you.

 But there’s an interesting paradox here. As I’ve said many times, when your phone or computer pops up a reminder or notification about something, that itself can be distracting, create anxiety and thereby be counterproductive to your mindfulness. So the very apps that are reminding you to be mindful — if they remind you too much, in a wrong way or at the wrong time — can actually end up creating the issues we’re trying to help to alleviate with mindfulness.

I was at Wisdom 2.0 a couple of years ago in San Francisco and attended the breakout sessions on technology for mindfulness. They didn’t call it that, but it involved something about technology and a bunch of people. Some of the people in the group were app developers and one of them talked about a category of app that he called “Nag Apps” — apps that nag you to be mindful. And he meant it, albeit sarcastically, but I really like that term because when an app is bothering you to be mindful, it can indeed be very annoying.

Lately, I’ve been test-driving a new app. I’m not going to say what it is, but it has a very wide range of notifications that can provide reminders during the day. After installing it, I found that it was popping out notifications left and right. “How are you feeling now?” “Check in with your body,” asking you to write a journal note about how I was feeling. This is really frustrating.

So that’s an example of the potential downside of using technology too much to be mindful. That’s why we have to be mindful of our use of technology, how we configure it and how we choose to automate it.

Now the thing I like about this app is the settings: I can get complete control over when and how I receive notifications as well as what about. After some trial and error, I’ve struck a balance that’s good for me. Kudos to the app developers for thinking that through and giving the user the power to configure the app. If it wasn’t customizable, if it just always reminded me when it wanted to, I probably would have stopped using it because any mindfulness benefits would have been counteracted by annoyance with the many reminders.

As users, we also must take responsibility for how we configure our technology, how we choose which technology to use and we must stay aware over time of whether the apps we’re using remain helpful.

There might be some apps that are beneficial for six months, but you eventually don’t need that reminder anymore. Pay attention to how you actually feel when you’re using these apps. Pause and think: “Is there something about this that I like and something I don’t like? If so, are there any settings here that I can change to make it work more like how I want it to?”

I don’t know if it occurs to a lot of people, but if there aren’t any settings to change, you can contact the app developer. While I’m not saying they will necessarily be responsive, there’s so much competition among apps these days that developers are just craving feedback from their users — it’s one of the things they spend the most time, money and energy on. If they’re using something like a lean startup methodology, a key aspect of that is staying in touch with their users and keeping in mind what works and doesn’t work for the users.

So if you’re thinking, “No point in contacting an app developer. What are the odds they’re going to make a change for me?” You might be wrong about that. Get in touch with them. And I don’t just mean by posting a review. Send them an email or message them on their website and let them know what you would like changed. You may be surprised.

I’ve even done this for software from my law firm. They made changes based on my feedback. When a company gets feedback from one user, they usually assume that for every one user, there are probably a hundred others with the same issue or concern.

Another thing: Contact app developers when you like something too. Don’t wait until you have a problem and only tell them about the negatives. If there’s something that really works well for you, let them know. Or if you found a problem or bug that you want to fixed, tell them something that also works really well that you don’t want to change. That’s really helpful for them and may actually make someone’s day. Most businesses — not just app developers — often only hear from customers when they have a complaint. That means they never hear back from customers when things are going really well.

In the end, it’s tough to strike a balance between the benefits of mindfulness reminders and the risks that they will actually frustrate you and impede your mindfulness.

But even if you are not a programmer or software developer, there is a way to take a more proactive stance to influence how the technology you use is developed and deployed for your own benefit, others like you and the technology companies that put a lot of time, energy, money and other resources into creating apps that will help people be mindful.

Tips for Mindful Task Management: Part 2

One more benefit I found from scheduling my to-dos on a calendar is that I can visually rearrange them to address certain items earlier, later or on another day if I prefer.

1. Time Your Tasks and Prioritize Them

Sometimes if it feels overwhelming to get the to-dos onto the calendar — particularly at the beginning of the week. I start out by just dumping all of my to-dos on a Monday, creating an appointment for each item, putting a description and setting a duration for it. I throw them all onto Monday in any order simply to get them out with a description and period of time I want to allocate to them. Then I start dragging them around to different days and different times of day to see what feels right by looking at them visually. If you’re a visual thinker who feels hesitant and overwhelmed by the scheduling of to-dos, this tip could prove beneficial. I find that seeing them out there not only helps me schedule them but reduces the anxiety I have about the idea of organizing them, which then makes it easy to revise the schedule if I slip up on anything.

2. Incorporate This with Mindfulness

What does this have to do with mindfulness? Well, there’s a lot of value in stepping back from the chaos of the day and thinking mindfully about when to-dos should be done so that you can focus on what’s important rather than simply what’s urgent. To me, that’s all an exercise in mindfulness. If our norm is to mindlessly race from one thing to the next throughout the day and then again every time we have a spare minute to scan our to-do list for an item to check off, that’s a somewhat mindless approach — regardless of how important or relevant the to-do is. This process of stepping back periodically, once a week or once a day, and really thinking carefully or productively about what needs to be done and why represents an exercise in mindfulness. Reducing the stress and anxiety level can help create or facilitate a more mindful state. If I know that my important to-dos are sitting on my calendar somewhere, I feel much less anxious than when I’m thinking, “Oh no, there are things I know that I need to get done, but I don’t even know if I have them written down or indicated somewhere.” If I know I’ve scheduled them, then I’m less likely to believe that something critical is going to slip through the cracks. That decrease in anxiety can help me be more mindful overall.

Tips for Mindful Task Management: Part 1

This tip is still within the doing “one thing at a time” category. This one may not seem like it fits exactly but I’ll explain why I think it’s an example of helping yourself to do one thing at time.

  1. Put your to-dos or your tasks on your calendar.

All of us have to-do lists in many different forms. You might have them in an app, like reminders on Apple, or in outlook, on the pc. You might keep a list of your tasks in a spreadsheet or a document. You might keep it on a sticky note, physically on your computer or pad of paper and if you’re like me, you probably have different lists of task in different places and you probably spend a lot of your time just managing your to-dos. I call them your to-do lists.

But one thing that I know has been studies and found is that, nothing’s wrong with having to-do lists. They can be really helpful have to-do list. To keep track of what need to be done. But what’s been found by studying how people use them, is that, when they’re not put on calendar, when they’re not prioritized, when they’re not giving a due date, people often end up not getting them done when they need to be, letting them slip, often getting ones that are not import done first than ones that are important and people experienced a lot of anxiety and stressed around managing their to-do list and actually spend way more time than necessary just managing their list of things to do. It can seem sometimes like one of the major to-dos we have is managing our to-dos and that’s just kind of crazy. The tip here is to actually put your to-dos on your calendar and not just put them on a list,  a free floating list. The idea of putting your to-dos on a calendar may seem bizarre to you but it may feel like the previous tip of scheduling your time to check email and just as in that tip, I’m not going to suggest that you have to be overly strict or rigorous about this and that you put all your to-dos always on a calendar. I’m not gonna suggest that you should except to always stick to the calendar when you put your tasks, your to-dos on there. What I’m suggesting is, that if you do this, that you may find that you spend less time managing your to-dos, that you experience less stress around managing your to-dos, and that you actually get more of your to-dos done in the order in which they really need to be done rather than some random orders that’s based on what you happen to think of doing at a certain time.

Here’s one way I do it. I normally review my to-do list and I do have more than one. At the beginning of the week, do a big review and then I, at the end of each day, if I can’t review them for the next day. And each time I do the review, I organize my to-dos on the calendar. If I can’t get to it at the end of the day, I do my best to start the next day with reviewing my to-dos where they stand. Which one  I schedule the day before that didn’t get done? What’s really important now in terms of my priorities and reorganizing gym to-dos on my calendar. That’s my way, which is kinda a big review weekly and a smaller one daily.

Like I said, you can find your own system for getting your to-dos onto your calendar. Here’s what I found of some of the benefits of doing this, even if I don’t stick to it a 100%. The first thing is that, if instead of having your to-dos on a calendar, you know, 10 o’clock, and then you put in your appointment which to-dos you want to do at that time, if you don’t do it that way, then I found that I end up periodically throughout the day, looking down at my to-do list, which is very long, and then I have to spend time, and mental energy processing the to-do list, everytime I look at it, and figuring out what I should do next. That actually take up a lot of time, even if its just a minute, think about doing that 20, 30 times a day. That 30 minutes spent not actually doing something on your list but just deciding what to do next on the list and going over the same information on the list over and over again many times during the day, just to decide what you should next. That’s a big waste of time and it’s also a drain of energy because looking at that list in front of you every time you look at it, stressful. I look at it and I said “Oh, these are the things I haven’t done every time I look at that list”. And then if the result of it to pick one thing off the list then the next time I look on the list, it’s almost as big one as it look before. There’s that feeling go stress again. To do that may times during the day is time consuming and unnecessarily stressful. Instead by putting stuff on the calendar, I’m limiting the time I spend, time and energy, I devote to making decision about what do to to one time a day pretty much. At the end of the day before. The benefit is, after I made the decision of what to do, when I then look at the calendar or the calendar reminds me an appointment, “Hey, Robert, at 10 o’clock, you need to do these things”, I can then immediately jump into action at those times. The decision about what to do, has already been made by myself from the day before. And I thank myself, if it’s Tuesdays , I say, “Monday Robert, thank you, thank you for taking on the burden of this decision for me right now because now, I can just do these 3 things that I put in the calendar from 10 o’clock to 10:15” and I find that from being able to jump into action, I’m able to get started on them much more quickly. I can just “Oh, I need to do this”, I can just get started on it. I’m much more, much less likely to procrastinate or spend my wheels in getting starting off on doing these thing because the decision has already been made. I actually don’t need to spend any deciding, decision-making energy. I’m only spending action-making energy. And for me, that feels very different. It’s the constant decision making that can feel draining. So it’s another way of dividing energy. You’r doing decision-making once a day, on your tasks, and the rest of the time, you’re really just engaging in action. That’s a couple of related benefits.

2. Set Aside Some Time

Another one I found, a big one, is that by setting aside some time, let’s say the day before or in the morning, setting aside some time, to decide what I’m going to focus on doing during the day, I can really drop in, so to speak, into that task of stepping back, thinking about what my overall priorities are for the day, and then giving some real thought to which of these task fits into my plan for the day. Lets you engage in some higher level, integrated, holistic type of planning for the day so you’re more likely to pick tasks that fit in to the the day based on where you’re gonna be or what your other activities are, that are likely to be accomplished based on what else you’re doing or how much time you have. It just helps you more systematically, and I can say holistically choose what to do because your taking as step back in a calmer period of time to decide what you’re gonna to do instead of leaving it, otherwise, to me, sometimes, I’m busy throughout the day, and then I found I gotta spare 10 minutes, I look at the list and I’m frantically thinking, “What should I do?”, in that frantic state of mind, that’s not the best state of mind in which to decide what to do next. If I make that decision in that state of mind, I’m more likely to pick something that’s easy,  or fun, doesn’t feel to challenging or just at the top of the list. Those are not the best considerations to take into account in deciding what to do. Instead by choosing ahead of time, you can basically be more mindful about what to do. And to pick what are the important, relevant things to do, instead of the things that feel in the moment like they are pressing or urgent. Steven Covey famously talk about this  distinction between the important and the urgent and how all of us, I think, tend to by instinct, often decide to do things that feel urgent in the moment instead of necessary things that are important and as a result, those important things that aren’t urgent often repeatedly slip by the waste side. And then we find that we attend to those important things in a crisis once they become urgent because we haven’t attended to them for a month. Stepping back and having some planning when you’re not in the mix of your daily chaos can help you to decide, “Oh, there’s this things that’s important. It may not be urgent but I know it needs to get done. It’s like a deadline for it immediately. It needs to get done. I’m gonna put it in the calendar tomorrow.”

3. Allocate Time That’s Need for Each Task

The other thing is when you look at the scope of your day, you can really decide to allocate the time thats needed for each task. Again, when you happen to have free time, you look at your list, “Oh here’s something that I can do”. You might pick something that needs an hour to do but you only have 15 minutes of time. Instead you may end up doing number of things which are not ideal. One is, you spend 15 minutes doing this thing that needs an hour, you get it partially done, then you feel frustrated, you don’t do it at a high quality then you need to pick it up later. You know, a day later, or a week later and then you have to remind yourself where you left of. That’s not satisfying or efficient and it creates anxiety. Another thing you might do, if you pick that thing that really needs an hour but you only have 15 minutes to get it done, is you may end up spending an hour on it and you get it done, which is great. But now you spend 45 minutes that you didn’t have in your schedule when you should have been doing something else. And as a result, you end up over loading yourself for the day. It may mean you end up working later or you have to cancel something else. Whereas if you can plan, and look at your to-do, “You know I think this one is gonna take me 45 minutes. Let me put an hour in my schedule for it”. Or you say, “You know what, I don’t have an hour in my schedule for this thing. Let me see if I can put it in my schedule for the next day”. These are all examples of ways in which putting you to-dos in your calendar and having that separate time to put them in your calendar, to schedule in your calendar, can have you engage in that scheduling process in a more mindful and productive and efficient and effective way.

4. The “To-Do’s” That Need To Be Done At A Certain Time

I just mention one more benefit I found and this might seem obvious but, there’s certain types of to-dos that either need to be done at a certain time or benefit from being done at a certain time. Sometimes I have a to-do which is call someone and I know that person is only available during office hours, or they’re easier to reach during business hours or certain hours during certain days. That thing is just sitting on my to-do list and I haven’t scheduled it. And I happen to glance down at the to-do list at a random time and I need to call so and so. The time when I look at it may not be the time when its appropriate to do that task. So what happens, I end up saying, “I can’t do it now” and then the task slips until a later time and whether or not I ever happen to look at it at a time that is appropriate to do it, its  just left up to chance and that is not the good way of doing things. Or I see I need to call this person but you know its 7 o’clock at night now and this person is gone for the day. So I end up calling him or her and leave a message and we play phone tag for a while whereas, if I have spent the time day before, you know I have to call this person, wait a second, they are only available from 9 to 1, I can now put that to-do on my calendar for 10 am and I’d be more likely to reach the person. It’ll be more satisfying for me, less phone tag back and forth, and also, just way more efficient as well. You might have lots of different reasons why certain to-dos in you to-do list needs to be done at a certain time, it may be that you have a limited schedule, it might be that there’s certain things that take up physical and mental energy of yours, for me, I do best at writing, if I have to do really concentrated, focus writing, I’m better of doing that from like 1 in the afternoon onward. I can do it earlier, but its best for me to do it at certain time. When you have a physical task, maybe it needs day light, who knows what it is that you have but when you can look holistically at your to-do list and think about which things need or benefit from being done on certain days, at certain times a day, maybe to-dos that benefit from being lumped together in a group. If you’ve got a bunch of phone calls to make to different people or emails to send, you can really crank those out if you do them all in a batch,15 minutes or 30 minutes together instead of doing one at at time or separated from each other. This is just a sampling of the many benefits of scheduling your to-dos and again, I’m not expecting or suggesting that you should be able to stick to it religiously but I would suggest that you try it, and see if there’s even a 10 to 20% improvement in how you get you to-dos done and how it feels to get it done. Ask yourself if that’s not worth it, even if it’s not perfect. Or perfect is not the best way to put it. Even if you don’t end up always putting all you to-dos on the calendar and getting them done.

And the last thing is I say is: What do you do about those to-dos that don’t get done on a certain day? It’s pretty easy. At the end of the day or the next morning, I look at my to-dos that were on the calendar from the day before and I see which ones I didn’t do and either put them back on my to-do list and be re-scheduled or I re-schedule them for the next day or whenever its appropriate. That can be done pretty quickly in a calendar. You can just drag them to a new time and date and time.

Next week, I’ll share some more tips on this topic.