“There’s so much to do, and so little time,” says Connor Swenson, from the Partnerships team at Google for Entrepreneurs, as he explains how time is finite. There’s not a whole lot you can do about it in the office, except work more productively. As he tells the audience at TNW Conference: “I don’t have a magic life hack, but I do have some tips and tricks to boost your productivity. This is what we teach at Google.” So what did we learn from his talk?
Find more energy, not more time
Connor explains that we have four main kinds of energy: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. There are ways to find more energy in each type. For physical energy, sleep is a really important factor. Connor tells the audience that he turns off his laptop and phone at 10 pm every night, to prepare his mind for sleep.
Emotional energy comes from having more ‘me’ time. Connor carves him out at lunchtime, where he makes sure to sit down with his team every day to eat and discuss non-work things. “But it can be whenever works for you,” he says. “Whether it’s having breakfast with your family, or reading a book before bed.”
Mental energy is about ensuring that you don’t burn out mid-day. “Use your breaks wisely,” Connor advises. “Don’t just spend them scrolling through your phone. Go back to your four sources of energy, and try to replenish them.”
Finally, spiritual energy is about “aligning with the values you have,” Connor says. For him, it’s trying to help someone out every day. He jokes that it’s actually selfish since he’s doing it to replenish energy.
You can’t change what you can’t notice
Connor proceeded to give the audience an introduction to meditation. After we finished inhaling and exhaling, I’ll admit that meditation isn’t my cup of tea. Then Connor said something that resonated. “Meditation doesn’t have to be about big life decisions. It’s just about taking a second to be aware of the things around you. You can’t change what you can’t notice.” This can apply to things beyond yourself, such as the problems at work. “At Google, we try to take a minute before and after meetings to be aware of each other,” he said
Let your thoughts settle.
Ruchika shares the analogy that our mind is like a snowglobe. We’re constantly shaking it with information overload, distractions, and task switching. This results in reduced clarity of our priorities and a lack of focus. By practicing a brief meditation (as short as five minutes!)—we can let the “snow” settle and see things more clearly and vividly. Clarity of mind can help us prioritize what’s important, solve problems better, figure out new strategies or uncover issues we may have ignored.
Be mindful of what you say.
Mindfulness has a direct impact on our work culture and team effectiveness, Ruchika says. It helps you stay aware of what you say and what impact your words might have. It can help when you’re having difficult conversations because you’re more present and therefore able to take your own and another party’s perspective more actively, and respond instead of reacting to external or internal stimuli. She cites a study done at Google, which found that most high functioning teams have psychological safety as a key element of their work environments, which means that team members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other. Being mindful of that sense of safety can help boost everyone around you at work. “The teams that feel safe and trust each other actually feel more accomplished and do more,” she says.
Commit to a routine.
Ruchika says a mindfulness practice starts with making a mental commitment to it. It’s certainly helpful to take a workshop, but you can simply start the practice with an app like Headspace. The app provides bite-sized guided meditations for busy schedules. You can start the practice at home or during your commute if you use public transportation.
Have the right expectations.
Mindfulness is not a panacea, though. Instead, it’s an important tool that can raise self-awareness and help you identify personal needs more clearly. Ruchika recommends building an intention for your practice before jumping in. What is it that you want to improve? It could be better focus and clarity at work, healthier relationships, managing stress more effectively or adopting a healthier lifestyle. Then, practice makes it perfect. To actually feel the benefits of mindfulness, you have to make it a regular practice.
Step away from your screen.
Every 90 minutes, our mind and body need a break to rest and recover, Ruchika says. To remain alert and attentive towards what you’re doing, step away from your screen and go for a nice walk, have a glass of water or simply do something different, and really savor the moment. You may notice that you have fresh perspectives and ideas when you get back to your desk. You can also install the Mindful Break Chrome extension to go through a one-minute breathing exercise.
Experiment often, forgive quickly
There are multiple ways to master productivity, and it varies from person to person — what works for others won’t always work for you. That’s why Connor says to experiment and find your own formula. He also says to avoid beating yourself up if you fall off the wagon: “It’s okay to start small. Perfection is not required.”