Zen and the Art of Ninja Productivity

By Mary Jaksch

A short while ago, my friend Leo Babauta of Zen Habits recorded an interview with me about productivity for his great new book, The Little Guide to Un-Procrastination.

It brought home to me how much my long-time practice and teaching of Zen has boosted my productivity. Leo says I’m one of the most productive people he knows. But the funny thing is that there are some small pockets in my life where I’m also the world’s worst procrastinator. More about that below…

What is productivity?

Being productive means being able to create something with ease, steadiness, and joy.

In order to be productive, we need all our energy to be channeled. Think of a stream: when it flows freely, the water rushes along – right from the mountains to the sea. But if you build dams, divert the course of the stream, or choke it with rubble, the stream will have to use a lot of energy to circumvent or overcome the barriers in its way.

We all have access to the pure stream of creativity.

The problem is that many people throw up barriers that impede their natural productivity. The outcome can be stress, procrastination, and grief for lost dreams.

Yes, those lost dreams … Have you got dreams and even plans somewhere in the back of your mind that you’ve never realized? I bet you have.  It’s sad when we miss out on bringing our brainchildren into life. But it’s never too late to get pregnant with a great idea and give birth to a new brainchild!

So, let’s get cracking and take a look at how to crank up your productivity. But first a warning: if you’re looking for tips about dire stuff like making priority lists, or getting up a 3AM, you better read something else. My ninja recipe for productivity is Zen inspired and is not about getting things done.

The ninja thing

As many of you know, I’m a 4th Dan Blackbelt in karate in active training. One of the first things a martial artist learns, is that it’s better to go with an opponents energy, than to push against it. For example, if someone throws a punch at you, you can use your opponent’s forward energy to your advantage if you avoid or deflect the punch. And, once you’re more experienced, you learn to drop the idea of ‘opponent’, or of ‘self’ and ‘other’.

In terms of productivity, many books (but thankfully not Leo’s) espouse the use of inner force to conquer the nasty enemy of procrastination. Honestly, I don’t think it works. The Ninja approach of working with your inner opposing energy – instead of against it – is much more, well, productive.

How to stop self-doubts killing your productivity

Most people spend a lot of their creative energy fighting negative thoughts. These thoughts can range from downright ugly (‘You’re a loser!’) to fearful (‘What if I fail?’). Such thoughts can be deflating. You’re all pumped up to create something – and then those niggly, nasty self-doubts start attacking your confidence. Here’s a simple way to work with them:

Whenever you notice self-doubts in your mind, imagine a little green gremlin sitting on your left shoulder, whispering those nasty messages into your ear. Gently and calmly brush the gremlin off your shoulder with your right hand and say politely, “Not now, thank you!” (It will look as if you are brushing a piece of lint off your shoulder).

This may sound bizarre – but it works! The reason why it works is because it helps you to become aware of your negative messages. Often, these kind of doubts were implanted in us early on by parents, caregivers, or teachers. They are so deeply embedded that we are seduced into thinking that they are THE TRUTH about who you are, instead of habitual thought patterns that were originally someone else’s idea.

That’s where the Zen thing comes in. Through the practice of meditation, you learn to observe the mind, and to let go of prefabricated ideas of who you are. It frees you.

Connect with your core life force

The ancient Chinese called the core life force Chi or Ki. They imagined it coursing through the body along certain paths or meridians. I think they really knew something. In order to be more productive, you need to connect with the life force at the core of your being.

How to do it?

The ability to mobilize our life force is hardwired into each one of us. Just think about the amazing feats of survival human beings are capable of when life is threatened. What if you could harness that primal energy at will?

Two  ancient pathways to accessing and releasing your primal energy are meditation, and mindful exercise. In my own experience, for example, my productivity has increased significantly since returning to karate training a year ago. And of course my Zen practice underlies everything I do.

Life is short

Do you notice how fast – and faster – days, weeks, months, and years roll by? I remind myself of that every single day in order to appreciate the fleeting delights of each moment. The calm reflection that life is short is a great motivator for me. I have so many ideas I want to bring to fruition! ‘Now’ is all I have. ‘Tomorrow’ may not happen for me. Who knows?

If there is something you want to create, don’t wait until ‘later in life’! Start the journey of a 1000 miles today – just with one tiny step:  collect ideas; start making a plan; get excited.

The passion thing

I’m passionate about what I do! That’s why I’m so productive. I think passion is an expression of the life-force I was talking about earlier. When we’re passionate about what we’re doing, we’re fired up, and our energy is at our disposal.

Sometimes it can be difficult to find our passion, but it’s worthwhile finding out what really drives us.

Do more of what you love

If you look at your life, what percentage of your waking time is filled with activities you are passionate about? In my life, most of my waking time is spent doing things I love. I love being creative, so most parts of my work are also fun.

It pays to think carefully about your life. Are you enjoying it? Most of the time? Some of the time?

If you’re not enjoying your life, you need to change something fundamental about how you live. One of the changes can be to do more of what you love. But there is also another pathway, and that is exactly the opposite:

Love more of what you do

Let’s face it, in every project there are areas of work that are simply a drag. For example, I wake up to a deluge of emails with requests for help, niggles, comments, and so on, that all need to be answered. It takes me about 4 hours to hit them all on the head (the emails, not the people …). I used to feel resentful about this because mornings are my best writing time.

However, I’ve now changed the way I approach this task. I think of each interaction as an opportunity for connection. And – because I love connecting with others – the task that felt like a drag has now become meaningful.

Maybe you too can think about draggy tasks in a new way that infuses them with meaning.

Why everyone procrastinates – and it’s OK

There are some tasks that stay a drag – no matter how you look at them. And that’s were we tend to procrastinate. For example, I hate anything to do with accounting and tax. Mainly because I don’t really understand it, and that causes some fear. So, that’s an area where I’m the world’s worst procrastinator. I tend to leave business letters unopened for as long as possible. Oh, the tales my friends could tell…

If you have an area of procrastination like that, you need to call in the troops. For example, I’ve got a bookkeeper who collects my tax info electronically and then liaises with my accountant. I’ve asked her to ring me every three month and arrange a visit to collect all my statements. In this way, I’ve put a fail-safe system in place. Because that system is in place, I can forget about tax stuff most of the time because it takes care of itself more or less automatically.

So, if you tend to procrastinate in one particular area, call for help. Partner with someone who will remind you of deadlines and prod you kindly if you don’t deliver.

Does minimalist productivity work?

Some productivity gurus suggest paring down your activities in order to focus your energy on just one thing. Sounds good, eh? But it’s crap advice. The moment you start paring down, your whole energy flow can become disrupted. My advice is contrary: do too much! When you take on a bit too much, it heightens your productivity. Of course you have to be careful, because it’s important not to get overwhelmed.

How to overcome overwhelm

Do you sometimes get into a spin because there are just too many things you ‘should’ be doing? I’m sure you do. It happens to me too at times. We feel overwhelmed when we  hold too many different threads in our mind at one time. Here is how to deal with overwhelm:

Step 1: Wear an elastic wristband.

Step 2: Jot down all the tasks you are holding in your head.

Step 3: Focus on the task at hand.

Step 4: Whenever your mind slides off to other tasks, change the wristband to the other arm and refocus on your task at hand.

Step 5: Repeat as necessary.

Why productivity is important

Productivity is not really about producing something or being ‘valuable’ – it’s simply about having more joy in life. When you create something – whatever it may be – you’ll feel alive, and the joy of creation will pervade all areas of life.

If you want to learn more about how to be productive, I heartily recommend Leo Babauta’s new book, The Little Guide to Un-Procrastination It’s awesome! Leo shows how to emerge from the doldrums and crank up productivity in a way that’s both entertaining and inspiring. And you’ll get the interview with me as well..

What are your thoughts on productivity?

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  1. Mary, I love everything about this post — from the Ninja metaphor to the procrastination on taxes and bills! That’s me too. I love the idea of going with the flow, letting go of resistance. Whenever you fight against something, you lose energy. I also really love the passion part! When you are so connected with your work, procrastination is rarely an issue. It’s finding more time to do all of the things you love. And I totally agree that you should call in help for tasks that drag you down — if you can afford it. Or if not, make a trade with someone. Great, great post Mary.

  2. Mary Jaksch says:

    Thanks, Barrie!
    I’m glad you too struggle with tax and bills. I rang up a friend 3 days ago and said,
    “Hey, you won’t BELIEVE what I’m doing!”
    “What? What? Tell me all.”
    “I’m opening all my letters!!”
    She was VERY impressed …

    • Mary, that’s a funny story.

      Do you have any ninja tips on how to deal with interruptions, or how to focus when you only have small slots of time available to think and get productive most days? This is the reality of my life with two teens who homeschool, attend school, and attend college. I seem to be fairly productive on days when I am rested, but when I am tired I just get left behind on both the things I want to do and the things I need to do.
      Alison Kerr | Loving Nature’s Garden´s last blog post ..Reader question- Clara’s vegetable garden plan

      • Mary Jaksch says:

        Coping with interruptions is difficult. Mostly because creativity unfolds as we do a task, and if we suddenly stop, the great ideas we had can get lost.

        Here’s a weally weally simple tip how to cope with interruptions:

        In the last few minutes before you stop, record your ideas of what to do. next That’s where a notebook comes in handy. Just jot down the things in your mind that you were about to do or write about. I find that I can pick up a particular strand of work reasonably easily if I can refer back to those notes. It kick-starts my creativity again.

  3. Lisa says:

    I loved this! I read this post at the right moment(I am procrastinating as I write). It is important not to feel guilty when you start to have doubts and just ‘brush’ it off as you stated. Thank you for a great post!

    • Mary Jaksch says:

      Doubts are important safeguards that can get out of hand. As you say, it’s good to respect them – but ask them to leave when they’ve delivered their message.

  4. […] a timely post that will help.  It’s from A-list blogger and friend Mary Jaksch at Goodlife Zen, a monster blog about how to get things done, and done right.  Click HERE to check it out.  Mary […]

  5. Love your blog! This post is a fantastic overview… I’m working on a few of the areas you mention. Mindful exercise is one that particularly needs my attention. Going to read that post now! :o)
    Minimalist Wannabe´s last blog post ..Simple Minimal Makeup 3 Items

  6. John Sherry says:

    It’s very true Mary that what we resist persists so pushing away negtive thoughts or less than positive beliefs will only supress them and keep them buried within the pysche which eats away at us. Go with this harsher energy that has come up to understand it and make peace with it so it becomes a more calmer part of the self. Make friends with the inner enemy and the war will end.

    You offer great insight here Mary (could well be your best post ever!!) helping move us from whingers to ninjas in a stroke!
    John Sherry´s last blog post ..What’s Your Guilty Pleasures And Dirty Little Secret

  7. Absolutely fabulous post Mary – seriously! I am a procrastinator – not a general one, but where I have no interest or it causes me stress. When I am passionate – i.e blogging I can get it done! I am currently struggling with my piles of procrastination. Yesterday I did a short video on my progress which is appalling (and I plan to post this weekend) considering I had planned to have this all done and dusted by end of Jan. This post was just what was needed at this time, and I will link back to it… Thank you – Jo
    p.s. – I really need to check out more Chinese philosophy – I have a feeling there may be something in there for me
    Jo@simplybeingmum´s last blog post ..No Waste Tastes Great 25 March 2011

    • Mary Jaksch says:

      Great to meet you here, Jo! Hope you tiny that tiny step that will lead to eventual completion of your task. As to philosophy – it’s pretty, it’s inspiring, but it has no teeth. Action is what counts 🙂

  8. I was surprised to read your advice to “do too much”. However, when I think back to the most productive times in my life, I had more on my plate than any other time.

    One of my best tools for being producting and overcoming procrastination has been to time my work. I don’t write well first thing in the morning, so I usually spend my morning hours doing other things and focus on my writing in the afternoon and evening. If I do write in the morning, I find I’m less productive and don’t enjoy my time as much.
    Jason Billows @ Stop & Breathe´s last blog post ..Strategies To Get Your Exercise Program Back On Track

    • Mary Jaksch says:

      Ah- that’s very interesting, Jason. I think we each have a diurnal rhythm within which creativity waxes and wanes. I’m much better in the mornings and end up writing ploddy stuff late at night 🙁

  9. Hey Mary,
    Loved the post like all the other commenters did. I wondered if you can share more about how the last exercise in switching the elastic band works? What makes that effective? I am ever so curious about this.

    • Mary Jaksch says:

      Maybe I should write a post about the elastic band strategy – it’s so potent. Just briefly, the problem with thoughts that are fueled by emotion is that they are very ‘sticky’. That is, they tend to be circular, that is, thought loops that run over and over. When we’re deep inside that kind of thought process, it’s impossible to get out, because we are so flooded with the thought that we are not aware of the thought.

      What the switching of the elastic band does, is to take opportunity of the fleeting moments when we ‘come up for air’ during these kinds of thought loops. If we then switch the elastic band, the continuity of the thought loop is broken and we become aware of the thought. Once you become aware of such a thought, it tends to crumble away into nothing. However, if there is a strong emotion driving the thought, it will re-appear – and then you repeat the whole process. Until the thought loops dies down and you find a measure of peacefulness.

      Ok, I’ll write a post about this to really give all the background and details 🙂

  10. I have also used the rubber band exercise as a way to a complaint free life. Every time I would find myself complaining I would change the rubber band to the other arm. Finally, after a month, when I no longer changed the rubber band from arm to arm I would have broken the habit about complaining. And I made a complaint free life. It can work with procrastination as well as Mary says.

  11. Hi Mary,
    I seem to have left procrastination behind since I’ve started Zen Mama! I never flowed more than I have in the last year and 1/2. Although I do have the same trouble getting to the accounting that you do. And I am busy, too. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “If you want something done, give it to a busy person.” When it in flow, it does seem to affect all areas of your life.

    Thanks for a great post!!! It really hit home for me today!

  12. Jenny says:

    Fabulous post Mary! The reason I think you can “do too much” is because you take the time to meditate and be mindful. Without those two, doing too much, one can end up just running in circles. I like how you used karate as an analogy, going with the qi as opposed to against it- makes so much sense to me, thanks.

    • Mary Jaksch says:

      Thanks, Jenny. Yes – my meditation practice and mindful live help me to avoid the ‘headless chicken syndrome’. Sometimes I get touches of it. Then I refocus just on the thing at hand. That helps.

  13. I’m so glad I found this blog through Larry Brooks’ storyfix.com. Interesting stuff, and it resonates with a lot of what I believe.

    My big question, though: when you’re feeling overwhelmed, how do you choose “the task at hand?” That’s where I seem to keep tripping up. Or does it matter?

    • Mary Jaksch says:

      Good question, Kathy! When I review my task landscape, I tend to focus first on the task that really needs doing – otherwise I’m going to land in the shit. But in away, it doesn’t really matter. As long as you focus on one thing totally, and then on the next thing, you’ll have a good productivity flow.

  14. This really is a fantastic post Mary! I struggle with overwhelm and too many projects & commitments at once and I’ve always thought that I just need to figure out a way to say no and back out of some of the projects, but maybe you are right: being busy IS a good way to stay productive. I just need to deal with the overwhelm first and then I’ll be sailing right along completing tasks left and right!

    I am not sure i completely understand how the elastic band will help, but I am willing to try it and see what it does!
    My problem with focus is that while I am working on one thing, my mind wanders and I start to think of other things I need to look up or do or whatever. I think that what I am going to try is keep a notebook and just jot down those things as they come up, so they don’t get lost or forgotten and I can get back to the task at hand and feel confident that I haven’t forgotten something.
    marianney | A Life Set Free´s last blog post ..How Everyday People Change the World

    • Mary Jaksch says:

      Your notebook idea is great, Marianney!

      My way of working is with huge bursts of energy. And then I let the project marinate for a while. During the time of marination, I’ll only look at it obliquely.

      [Alert! Stray thought coming through…]

      While responding to your comment, I realized that I’ve left out some important information in this article. And that is by using mindmaps. That’s one of my secret productivity tools. Oh well, I’ll have to write a follow-up article … 😉

  15. Hi, Mary,
    I just found your blog via Leo’s tweet. I think we’re on the same page about a lot of things! I totally agree that it’s important to work with your own tendencies and preferences instead of trying to become a different person.

    I disagree with your take on minimalism though. Whether that works for someone depends on how they think and what they’re working on. Some of my clients are extremely distractible and they really don’t get anything done unless they turn off the distractions and focus. When I’m working on an art project, I often need uninterrupted time or else I can’t get deep enough into it.

    On the other hand, I have projects that I like to flit between and that does increase my energy, as you say. It’s helpful to be aware of one’s limits. When I take on a bit too much, I just get nervous and intimidated. And then discouraged. So that’s not a good strategy for me.

    • Mary Jaksch says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Claire. Yes, we need to work skilfully with ourselves. There is a fine, fine line between being in full flood of productivity – and being overwhelmed.

  16. Mary,

    This is fabulous and I needed to read this for so many reasons today. Thank you!

    I love your advice about how to work with the gremlin of self-doubt. I too find that I’m more productive when I have too much to do. On the other hand, I get overwhelmed with too much unnecessary “stuff.” So keeping things simple does help me out in that way. Mindfulness and meditation are also key elements of my life.

    I would love it if one day you would write about your spiritual practice and how you balance getting in your time on the cushion with all your valuable activity, and the amount of practice that provides a good foundation for you.
    Sandra / Always Well Within´s last blog post ..10 Important Ways to Prepare for a Natural Disaster

  17. Manal says:


    This is truly a beautiful perspective on productivity and creativity — an effortless surrendered approach to work, passion and life in general.

    This article is a reference indeed . I’m going to bookmark it and refer to it often. It will serve as a gentle reminder.

    And I have to tell you, I fully understand numbers(more like I breathe them) and I still hate doing taxes :).

    Thank you for the motivation.
    Manal´s last blog post ..The Truth About Stuff and the Peace of Less

  18. Kimmoy says:

    You know, I love your advice about doing too much. I was thinking that in college I took hard Engineering courses, took on leadership roles in 2 orgs, danced, and worked part-time but kept it together. Now my flow of energy has dwindled as I’m not juggling anymore and my day is not filled with those fun stuff anymore. I definitely have some chamges to make, thanks for such an insightful article!

    • Mary Jaksch says:

      Yes, Kimmoy, taking on ‘too much’ is quite counter-intuitive. But it work for me. Ok, I must admit, some days I think “YIKES! How am I going to do all that??” But that’s just a fleeting moment.

      Another interesting point in this equation is that go to 4 karate classes a week, and do a bit of running. Now, I started back into exercise last year February. So, theoretically, I should be less productive now because I’m using so much time and energy on exercise. However, it’s exactly the opposite! I’m more productive and ride tricky patches with more ease. Go figure!

  19. Hi Mary,

    great post and the right moment to read it 🙂 It adds to some of the ideas I jotted down lately. I like to see how ancient ideas remain present in new methods.

    While reading I saw some interesting connections with Transactional Analysis (TA). Even if I see a link it might be a bit far fetched to say that going with the opponents strength correlates with the idea of “I’m Ok, You are OK” as this life position would not use the word opponent.

    I know the little green gremlins perfectly well and have had long discussions with them, interestingly they too come up again in TA through the life scripts and injunctions.

    It is great to see different approaches – all of them together clarify the picture
    Françoise Hontoy @frogstalk´s last blog post ..How to Learn With Matti

  20. Mary, I love to read your blog post and today morning I was thinking to myself.. It is long since I read your blog and there you go! What an excellent way to explain productivity. The analogy is perfect. I read this ONLY till ” Connect with your Life Force” and I want to write my thoughts here….

    I have found that it is always helpful to acknowledge those negative/dis-empowering thoughts. However it takes time and experience to become AWARE. I have found it challenging to do so when I was busy in a Corporate job. The moment I switched to Entrepreneurship, I had to face a new world and every moment the thought ” You don’t know everything” , “You can’t do that” etc kept coming up.

    The tactics that helped me become Aware AND address those boldly are:
    1. Deep breathing.
    2. Reading and implementing tips from mentors like you.
    3. Doing Daily Praxis as per Simpleology.
    4. Exercising.
    5. Listening and singing songs and learning music
    6. affirmation and EFT
    7. Writing down my thoughts and feelings on paper.

    I had to let go of the NEED to do something ONLY if it is Revenue Producing Activity ( as programmed in a Corporate World), but ALLOW myself to use the above activities on a consistent basis EVEN for SMALL amounts of time. The end result- I was able to do Revenue Producing tasks easily and effortlessly like the flow of calm river.

    I plan to read the rest of the article later and leave a comment

    • Mary Jaksch says:

      “Listening and singing and learning music”? I love it! It’s so important to include in your life activities that have no apparent ‘use’. I mean, activities that are absolutely not ‘productive’. You know, fun suff.

  21. Joe Morris says:

    Great post. I love reading your advice and this post came at a time where an overwhelming amount of work somehow seems manageable. So thank you for that. 

    One other suggestion I might add comes from Tony Schwartz and Paul Boag. It’s called the sprint. The sprint is 60 to 90 minutes of real focused activity followed by some form of total relaxation. You do this again after your energy is restored and you see how many of these sprints you can do in a day. At night you can look back and actually measure your productive periods. It becomes a game of sorts. Conclusively, it can’t be denied that we humans are cyclical and, as it is, so are our energy levels. 

    As you’ve stated in other posts, Tony Schwartz says that we are most productive when we’re in the right mind–when our energy levels are in line with our passions and we’re observing our natural cycles. Your tips Mary are a great way to be observant. Looking forward to getting stuff done (and relaxing). Peace. 

  22. Susan Cogan says:

    Thank you for this post! I write, I draw, I do a lot of charity work…and I get overwhelmed pretty easily. I’m definitely implementing the gremlin idea and the wristband idea. Both are physically based with actual physical gestures. That’s what makes them so intriguing. This is my first visit to your blog and I’m definitely going to stay a while and look around! Thanks again.

  23. I’ve often heard it said that when someone writes (or speaks) from personal experience it carries a ton of extra weight. Your words here Mary so clearly flow without interruption from your own experience and your own source. Like a clear mountain stream. A stream that’s more than able to handle any ugly boulder that gets in the way.

    Doesn’t fight with it of course, just as you say. Just relies on being irresistible. We too are irresistible when we honor our own core character. Congratulations on a great, great post.
    Christopher Foster´s last blog post ..Joy likes to surprise you

  24. Thanks, Mary, for this excellent article. I’m going to use the gremlin trick for sure! When negative thoughts threaten to overwhelm, I’ll just brush him off my shoulder!
    Elise Wormuth´s last blog post ..Turn and Face the Strange

  25. […] weeks after starting this strategy, I got to 20 subscribers. And then Goodlife ZEN grew to 100, 1000, 13,000 and […]

  26. Thank you, Mary. I’m beginning of our B&B season in a few weeks and I ‘m fretting (a lot). What I really want to do is get my blog launched, finish my book and make beautiful pottery. As the B&B is the main income source right now, I have to focus my energy there – painting, spackling, getting the kitchen together, getting revved up for the onslaught of guests. I am feeling a bit paralyzed and that is leaving me feel dissatisfied.

    Your paragraph on accounting and taxes hit me like a load of bricks off an LKW on the Autobahn. I have the same issue. I need to figure out a way to deal with it, because it costs me an unbelievable amount of energy to procrastinate about it. It has to do with multi country tax rules and the like. Thanks for writing that, I don’t feel so wierd now. 🙂

    Since joining A list, I’ve improved my writing skills measurably but I have realized something more important: I want to write for a living. I tend to have a chaotic mind but notice that when I write I tend to focus easily because I am doing something that comes naturally.

    Between you and Barrie, I am sensing so many things that I need to be hearing right now. And I am ready to listen. I am happy that the Universe has put you along my path. So I send you a very big DANKE and wish you a beautiful, warm, gentle day.
    Diana Strinati Baur´s last blog post ..the breakfast rules at baur b&b

  27. Sherrill Leverich-Fries says:

    This, especially, hit hard:

    “Productivity is not really about producing something or being ‘valuable’ – it’s simply about having more joy in life. When you create something – whatever it may be – you’ll feel alive, and the joy of creation will pervade all areas of life.”

    I’m working on wrapping my brain around this. Much of my internal struggle right now seem to be centered around the issues of productivity and accomplishment, and your statement has unlocked something important here. Perhaps the conflict for me is that I need to change my definitions or understanding of those two words, because your sentence about creating rings so true. Something along the lines of being in love with what I’m producing….

    Must go ponder…. 🙂

  28. […] been spending a lot of time thinking about procrastination and creativity (and found a great post on productivity that sort of relates over at Good Life Zen). It’s so easy to let negative thoughts (you know, like […]

  29. Alison Law says:

    Mary, thank you for this post. This sentence hit home with me:
    “Most people spend a lot of their creative energy fighting negative thoughts.”
    I find that my procrastination stems from me thinking that I can’t do whatever it is that I should be doing. Sometimes only the anxiety of not doing can unseat the self-doubt and negative voice.

  30. Productivity advice is always tricky. I had a student today who asked me about time management and in particular how to manage all her university homework. It might fall into the hard basket, like your tax story. What to when you definitely want to do something and achieve it, but there are some steps along the way which you don’t wish to take?

    I agree with do what you love. Something to be said too for good ol’ fashioned sleep well, eat well, live well. And the smaller tasks take care of themselves…
    David | Get Into English´s last blog post ..Improve your spoken English with one simple tweak

  31. […] ·         The article Zen and the Art of Ninja Productivity […]

  32. Mary,
    I love these words…ease, steadiness, and joy. If I don’t feel these things I won’t write. I’ll put myself in this state first. I believe our energy is felt through our words.

  33. […] I really love Mary Jaksch’s take on life. She applies her years of Zen and martial art training to procrastination and overwhelm in her article “Zen and the Art of Ninja Productivity” […]

  34. Paul Baarn says:

    Hi Mary,

    Great advice. I’ll be coming back to this again multiple times, I’m sure. The rubber band and the brush off the shoulder do the same thing for me: they stop the internal chatter. I don’t hear voices in my head, fortunately, but using those techniques makes it somehow more quiet in my head. It’s funny to find that out.

    For myself I’ve changed the definition of procrastination. I used to think of it as postponing stuff I had to do, so it was about not doing. Now I define it as being busy doing one thing when I think I should be doing something else. It works better for me. I can focus on stopping the unproductive activity. I can focus on what I think I should be doing and why. I can reframe what I’m doing as productive in some sense. For instance if I choose to do some mindful relaxation when a heap of administration is waiting for me, I’m not procrastinating. I am taking care of my body and mind, so I’ll be better prepared to tackle the tedious task.

    Thanks for the wonderful post.

    Paul Baarn´s last blog post ..The status quo you’re holding on to is what you resisted before

  35. Galen Pearl says:

    I can relate to this post on so many levels! First, I am insprired by your martial arts practice. I am training now for my black belt in taekwondo. I hope to test this fall. Second, I am training in Shambhala meditation this year, going through the different levels. Having a meditation practice has helped me get through a lot of upheaval and big life transitions this year (with more to come!). Third, I’m wearing a wristband, but for a slightly different reason. I’ve invited my blog readers to join me in trying to go 21 days without complaining. Every time I complain, I switch the band to the other wrist. So same idea, right?

    So, as you can see, when I started reading your post, I was in sync! Thanks for an excellent article and an affirmation that I am on the right track!

    PS–Love the post title and the picture!
    Galen Pearl´s last blog post ..The Perfection of Imperfection

  36. Thanks for the advice to “do too much.” I’ll try to remember that. Attempting too little may not result in increased productivity anyway, because of the principle that “work expands to fill the time allotted.”
    Clingspiration´s last blog post ..Inspirational Quote | Be Strong

  37. nochnoch says:

    sometimes though, i wonder how do we balance the need to make a living and put a roof over our heads, or indeed to live the lifestyle we want, if we what we are passionate about would not bring us the same income as a job which we are not passionate about would? hard to find the balance
    in any case, i’m quitting my financially secure job and jumping into passions – at least rediscovering them!


  38. Sandy says:

    “Most people spend a lot of their creative energy fighting negative thoughts.”

    Yes, I realized I often do this “using my own power against myself thing” too during my daily life.

    To be productive, I will use my force into the positive direction first.

    Thanks for reminding me this Mary 😉

  39. […] out Mary’s post Zen and the Art of Ninja Productivity to find […]

  40. […] This is from a post of mine, called Zen and the Ninja Art of Productivity  […]

  41. Galen Pearl says:

    I needed to read this today for several reasons. First, I’ve been listening to that little gremlin on my shoulder. I just brushed him off. Thanks for that! Second, I’ve been very unfocused and procrastinating on a major project. Thanks for the helpful perspective on that. And last, I’m testing for my black belt in Tae Kwon Do in a few weeks. Your martial arts practice is an encouraging inspiration!
    Galen Pearl´s last blog post ..Serendipity

  42. Vijay says:

    What a fantastic post Mary. The wrist band technique is very interesting. I wonder what the psychology behind the technique is and how it works.

    I get distracted too often because I am constantly craving for new information which can be both a boon and a curse.

    This affects my productivity and I need to be more self disciplined so that I can complete my tasks.

    By the way, I noticed that your Contact form is broken. Did you know that?
    Vijay´s last blog post ..How To Convert Your Traffic Into Sales

  43. sean koon says:

    What an incredibly powerful mind we have! Brilliant enough to confound itself, agile enough to step on its own feet. If only we could have the presence and peacefulness of the animals but still access the vast resources of our humanness.
    sean koon´s last blog post ..Motivation is Always 100%

  44. Josh Sarz says:

    Wow, I really love this post, Mary. I got a question though, what’s with the elastic wristband thing? I’m just curious. Heh
    Josh Sarz´s last blog post ..The After-Reading: Every Bush Is Burning

  45. I thought the most provocative part of this post was the idea of not fighting counteproductive habits such as procrastination. It reminds me of what a mentor of mine always used to say: “What you resist, persists.”

    Kristoph Matthews´s last blog post ..How to Generate More than 24 Hours in a Day

  46. […] Zen and the Art of Ninja Productivity Mary Jaksch | GoodLifeZen […]

  47. Charles says:

    Hello! This is my first comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and tell you I really enjoy

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