It’s fair to say life has gotten a little crazy. With the uncertainty of the financial markets and the constant barrage of news on coronavirus, we all feel a little overwhelmed. When life and work become overwhelming, it’s easy to go on autopilot.
But when you just go through the motions at work and let the day control you, you do more harm than good. Putting your mind on autopilot eliminates the intrinsic rewards of a job well done, making every assignment feel like a slog. Over the long run, it only demotivates you and makes you resent going to work.
Intentionality is the opposite of living on autopilot. It can alter everything from the way you approach your long-term goals to how you act and operate in your career. Understanding how to use intention effectively can increase what you put into your work, and what you get out of it. And the best part is that the only barrier to living more intentionally resides between your ears.
Intention provides agency
Intentional living is an increasingly popular remedy to the ceaseless pace of modern life. The philosophy supposes that our lives are so busy that we can end up shuffling mindlessly from one task to the next.
Anybody who’s gone down a rabbit hole on social media knows exactly how this haphazard behavior happens. You open your browser for a very specific purpose, but before you know it, you’ve clicked somewhere else. An hour later you look up at the clock and can’t even remember why you logged on in the first place. That hour is now lost, and you may still have to do the original task.
Being intentional doesn’t involve a series of behaviors; it’s the animating force behind all of your behaviors. Intentionality is often discussed alongside minimalism, and it’s easy to see why. Our lives are filled with clutter, both digital and analog. When we act with intention, we often end up cutting out some of that clutter, so we don’t work extra hours by default.
Eco-friendly choices, healthy eating and mindfulness practices also dovetail naturally with intentional living. However, your intentional life will be authentic to you and your personality so you shouldn’t feel pressured to conform to any specific set of behaviors.
We find meaning, both in our work and in our lives, by exercising agency. When that agency gets lost, you can feel disaffected and powerless. By taking control over our decisions and actions — which is exactly what intentional living asks us to do — we automatically create a greater sense of agency.
There will always be factors outside of ourselves that we can’t change. But when we act with intention, we harness those that are within our control.
Where can you apply intentional living to your professional life? Everywhere from high-level principles and ideas to small details, like the way you organize your desk. If somebody has a messy workspace, you can bet it didn’t get that chaotic on purpose. People in leadership roles should tackle big picture ideas, like developing firm culture and setting company-wide goals with a sense of purpose, rather than focusing on the details. If you try to do everything yourself, you’ll never spend the necessary time on the most important areas of the business. That’s a problem of intentionality.
The best way to start working more intentionally is to begin small. Take 10 minutes at the start of your day to set your intention. Choose 1-3 areas on your list to prioritize finishing before the end of the day. Block time on your calendar to ensure you get it done, and don’t give that time away. Be intentional about what you need to accomplish in a day and vigilant with accepting meeting requests.
At the end of the day, review yourself. Were you able to accomplish your prioritized tasks? Give yourself a moment of gratitude for those you finished. If any weren’t completed, prioritize your next day around them. Turn this into a habit and you’ll stop letting the day run your schedule.
If there’s a single takeaway to living and working intentionally, it’s this: Remember that your engagement and effort has a direct impact on what you get from your job, your relationships and every other facet of your life. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “The reward of a thing well done is having done it.” When we are intentional, we exponentially increase our chances of doing a thing well. At a time when the pace of life is frantic and every second counts, you want to impact each moment as much as you can. You won’t do that without being intentional.
An Example of Intentionality
An easy way to illustrate intentionality is with dining choices. Grabbing fast food at a drive-thru on the way home is about the least intentional choice you can make. Odds are you made it out of force of habit or simply because you saw the sign.
Compare that choice with the act of preparing dinner. If you make food for yourself, you chop the vegetables, you adjust the seasoning, you wait as the meal cooks. These are all intentional choices that allow you to get greater reward for your meal. And let’s be honest, no meal from a microwave is better than one cooked by hand.
Want to quickly test the power of intentionality? There’s no better proving ground than the action we all take for granted: breathing. Intentional breathing is a core mindfulness practice and an excellent way to de-stress and refocus when work gets hectic.
The next time you’re overwhelmed, take a few moments to be still and calm. Focus on each breath you take. Building on these small, easy, intentional actions will allow you to get a better control of the situation than letting your emotions go disregarded.
The next blog in Amy’s series offers valuable productivity tips and tricks. It will post on or about April 10. And be sure to check out Amy’s guided meditation to accompany this blog. A short, free registration may be necessary.
To learn more about time management and productivity check out this course: Time Management tips for time crunched professionals.