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Productivity and Mindfulness: Two Wrongs Don't Make a Right

If the tension between productivity and mindfulness wears you down, change something.

Pamela J. Hobart
Pamela J. Hobart
3 min read
Productivity and Mindfulness: Two Wrongs Don't Make a Right

Quick, go do.

"Time is the most precious resource," They Say. "Once it's gone you can never get it back!"

Each day, wake up (early, of course) and be careful to lead your ~ best life ~. Get the most you can out of what you've got.

Productivity at work, productivity at home. Track your sleep so you can rest productively, too.

Time is the money that starts burning a hole in your pocket each morning.

Rise and shine, off to the races!


Sure, there's some low-hanging productivity fruit. If you don't enjoy tv, then turn it off. Stop surfing Facebook all day at work and maybe you can go home earlier.

But the truth is that the constant grind towards productivity optimization is widely experienced as miserable.

Burnout, "errand paralysis," general malaise, even existential dread.

Quick, now be.

Enter: mindfulness.

That's right - you're too caught up in the noise of everyday life. Life is so frenetic, fast-paced. You're so harried.

It's time you learned to be present.

This fix is old (Buddhism), but also new (Headspace app).

Not sure you can justify sitting around and doing nothing? Mindfulness **enhances productivity, according to Science.

You try to meditate. And you try.

Is this thing on? Is this thing off?

Or you don't try to meditate - which is almost worse, because it preserves the idea that meditation could do a lot for you if you did really do it. Add a little more vague guilt to the pile.

More time goes by. Unrecoverable. Tick, tock, tick tock.

The oddest bedfellows

So here you are, here you've been: schlepping around an unwavering commitment to unexamined productivity, a romanticized view of mindfulness, and a few breathing techniques

How's that going for ya?

Maybe these are really the things you need to carry on your journey towards happiness or, at least, sustainability. But, if you're reading this, I'm guessing not.

If the burdens of productivity and mindfulness are simply too much for you to bear, you can adjust or shed them.

Resolve the tension

I'm not what you would call a productivity expert or a mindfulness expert. I'm no guru.

Instead, I think about what people should do and why, how they should live. (I write about this here in a general way, and I undertake the nitty gritty of decision-making with individual clients)

It's very difficult to embody conventional ideals of productivity and mindfulness within the same flawed, limited human person.

I'm not going to claim that no one ever does this successfully. But if you can't you can't. What now?

You have a few options:

  • Stop trying to be productive, to make space for mindfulness.
  • Give up on mindfulness (anyways, a fully instrumentalized mindfulness is no mindfulness at all, so in that case you've chosen productivity.
  • Theoretically, you could give up both productivity and mindfulness, though I suspect one or the other would creep back in eventually.

Yet, the most promising option is to find a way to make ideal productivity and ideal mindfulness capable of residing meaningfully within you at the same time.

Mold productivity and mindfulness into something richly appropriate, and only then expand yourself to fit them inside.


Damn if I know, guys. But this challenge must have something to do with:

  • reinterpreting "productivity" as a very wide, all-things-considered undertaking.
  • being extremely strategic about what we take as our goals, how we measure them, and why we pursue them.
  • making ourselves curious about genuine mindfulness (a recursive task, given the prominence of "beginner's mind" within mindfulness philosophies).
  • relaxing our attitude towards time, which aids both real productivity and real mindfulness.

I've said it once and I'll say it again: there are no easy answers. Like, literally none.

But don't let cheap goals coarsen your life. Do the right things in the right way.

Are you interested in jettisoning the odd bedfellows of shallow productivity and shallow mindfulness from your tired psyche? Get in touch and tell me about it.

Pamela J. Hobart Twitter

Philosophical Life Coaching in Austin, TX. Also mother of 3, Miata driver, and DIY manicure aficionado.