An Unusual Productivity Hack We Can Learn From Mother Nature
Focus on being productive instead of busy.
– Tim Ferriss, author of ‘The 4-Hour Work Week”
There are only so many hours in the day, and often it seems that no matter what we do or don’t do, we somehow fall short of truly tackling the ever-growing to-do list.
When we perceive we’re not doing enough or aren’t able to meet deadlines, overwhelm and stress start creeping in, compromising our productivity even further.
But true efficiency and effectiveness aren’t found by running rampant on a hamster wheel.
They aren’t found by wearing busy and “barely slept” as a badge of honor.
Instead of “more is more” it turns out that “less is more.”
And Mother Nature has proven it in the most unsuspecting way…
Looking to Nature for Productivity Advice:
By observing natural flow patterns and emulating them, we can experience the Flow State – that optimal state of efficiency, creativity, inspiration, intuition, insight, and productivity.
In fact, there’s a whole field of study dedicated to observing and utilizing natural patterns as a means of solving problems and making processes more efficient, it’s called Biomimicry or Biomimetics.
Let’s look at one specific area of nature – a butterfly’s metamorphosis process.
A recent scientific discovery proves that there’s a lot we can learn from the butterfly in terms of how to gracefully get more done with less…
Life lessons from the Chrysalis (Cocoon):
UCLA physics professor and scientist, Dr. Jim Gimzewski researches how cell vibrations create sounds.
Thanks to the groundbreaking nature of his work, Gimzewski is considered by many as a pioneer and frontrunner in a new field of research: sonocytology (the study of cell vibration sounds.)
Stay with me here, I promise this is about to get interesting…
In 2009, Dr. Gimzewski studied how butterflies develop whilst inside the chrysalis (cocoon), and so measured the butterfly’s heart rate oscillations as a means of tracking the changes inside. (2)
For an entire week, he tracked what was going on within the chrysalis by observing heart rhythm patterns and found that:
“There were bursts of periodic oscillations.
What happened was that this thing as it undergoes metamorphosis is not continuously changing, it’s undergoing bursts of oscillation. Then there’s a period of quietness, and then another burst.
And towards the end of the cycle where it emerges, the amount of activity increases so that the ‘on’ period is much longer than the virtual ‘off’ period.” (1)
Here’s the actual recording of the butterfly’s heart rhythms taken from Gimzewski’s TEDx talk. You can see the bursts of activity followed by the pause periods that appear as a straight line:
Adopting an Activity/Pause Cycle:
Seeing this activity/pause pattern made me realize:
This is how a butterfly is made… By honoring both the yang side of life (action) and the yin side of life (pause).
The butterfly maximizes resources by mobilizing energy flow at specific, strategic times followed by periods of silence, nothingness, stillness, and integration.
What would happen if we applied this flow cycle in our lives too?
How would our stressed-out bodies and minds respond?
Could overwhelm and stress be transformed by simply living more rhythmically?
Could we achieve more by putting our foot on the brakes at specific times?
So I began to look at my own life in an effort to gain discernment and awareness in order to know when it’s time to expend energy and take action, and when it’s time to conserve energy and pause, rest, and integrate.
I found that the more I connected to this flow pattern in my own life, the better I felt.
It’s like I stepped into some sort of energetic field that facilitated my ability to tap into my inner knowing.
The more I tapped into my inner knowing, the more in the flow I was and the more I accomplished.
And the quality of my output and work was of a higher caliber.
Honoring the flow pattern in my life helped grow my intuitive capacity, it brought on waves of new and inspired ideas, and it eventually led to experiencing a much deeper connection and trust in myself.
This propelled me to create more… of the right things.
I also realized that committing to live in the flow of Nature’s rhythms was more complicated and involved than it sounded.
The concept sounds simple enough and do-able: take action, rest, take action, rest…
But the implementation and application of this practice is another thing entirely because it goes against our “go-go-go” nature in today’s society.
This practice is about learning to slow down and turn inwards so we can hear the subtle promptings of when to put our foot on the gas pedal, and when to put the brakes on and rest.
Learning to live in Nature’s flow requires commitment, tenacity, willingness, and a lot of freaking patience because it takes time and it’s a lot of work to become familiar and connected to your own flow pattern.
In fact, it’s a never-ending endeavor.
This kind of science reveals to us that the caterpillar (future butterfly) understands that in order to create something beautiful and valuable, on any level, there’s a dance that must take place.
True flow is rhythmic and cyclical.
There is an optimal time for activity, action, creation, and work; and there is also an optimal time for pausing, resting, silence, surrender, and integration.
Our work lies in being so connected to ourselves that we intuit and sense which time is which and when it’s time to switch gears.
Like I said, this is a lifelong learning process for all of us.
The objective isn’t to get it perfect.
The objective is to keep getting better and better at it while also gracefully learning from the times we don’t get it so right.
Adopting an Activity-Pause cycle + flow rhythm in your life can:
- Help you avoid burnout and unnecessary energy drains and leaks.
- Increase creativity, focus, imagination, and inspiration.
- Help you restore and replenish the moments you need it most.
- Reduce guilt and inner dialogue like: “I should be doing more.”
- Help minimize “workaholic” tendencies as a means of escape.
- Clear your mind and sharpen your mental processing.
- Improve mental or physical performance.
- Help you integrate and process difficult emotions and unconscious charges.
- Increase self-awareness and auto-reflection.
- Help you slow down so you can respond to your surroundings instead of reacting to your surroundings.
- Increase physical energy reserves.
- Give your body time to heal and recover.
Remember: the Pause is just as important as the Action!
The Pause ensures that the Action is optimal and most efficient.
How to Apply Action (Yang)/ Pause (Yin) Cycles in Real Life:
How do we actually achieve this kind of intuitive cyclical living?
How can we apply all of this information to our own lives to be more productive, effective, inspired, and creative?
We can start by breaking this all down into smaller parts.
There are two practical perspectives from which we can approach this:
1) Daily Basis (24 hour period) Perspective
2) Project Basis Perspective
1) Daily Basis:
Your body is wired and programmed in such a way that it already functions according to a 24-hour period.
This is called your biological clock or circadian rhythm, it’s your body’s built-in natural time-keeping system.
Your circadian rhythm function is reflected in clear daily patterns of biological activities such as brain wave activity, hormone production, and cell regeneration. (3)
According to UCLA Sleep Center:
“Light seems to play the largest role in setting your circadian “clock.”
Sunlight and other time cues are used to keep your clock set from day to day…
The circadian rhythms of a healthy person are “in tune” like the many instruments of an orchestra.
Body temperature, for example, starts to rise during the last hours of sleep.
This occurs just before waking up.
This may promote a feeling of alertness in the morning.
Body temperature decreases at night when the time for sleep draws near.
A small drop in temperature also occurs in most people between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.
This may explain why many people feel sleepy in the early afternoon.
It has not been proven that changes in body temperature determine our sleep habits.
But there does appear to be a link between the two.” (4)
You can take advantage of this built-in daily system by intentionally and deliberately setting up habits and practices that take advantage of your body’s natural cyclical phases.
This will help strengthen your mental, emotional, physical, and energetic resilience in the face challenges, stresses, and shifts in your life.
One the best ways to do this is by starting your morning with a meditation, mindfulness, or contemplative practice.
This is a tried and tested small yet extremely powerful way of incorporating the Pause into your day before the Action and flux begins.
Starting your day with a mindful Pause will help take advantage of your natural rhythms so that you harness your energy, focus, and alertness with more flow, grace, and ease.
It’s no wonder that some of the most successful, inspired, influential, and creative people hold this daily ritual and habit.
Steve Jobs, Oprah, Tony Robbins, and Tim Ferriss are all part of the Morning Meditators Club. (5)
If you want to take this practice even one step further, you will also end your day with a mindful Pause.
By adding a Pause right at the end of your day and right at the end of your Activity period you’re allowing yourself to integrate what you’ve accomplished for the day.
You’re also re-balancing your mental, emotional, physical, and energetic system so you can recalibrate and release tensions accumulated throughout the day.
This will allow for a more enhanced and optimal Rest period, which will ultimately lead to a more optimized Wake period the next day:
This is why many meditation teachers, myself included, encourage meditating twice a day for optimal and most efficient results…
First thing in the morning (before coffee or other stimulants and before breakfast), and in the evening, preferably before dinner but at least make sure you fully digest your food before the evening session.
This doesn’t have to be a daunting or long process…
You can start with 10 minutes in the morning, and 10 minutes in the evening.
To help get you started, here are 9 different ways to meditate – some of them you can practice right as you open your eyes in the morning!
I get my AM meditation session in the minute I wake up before I get out of bed.
Regularly giving your mind support and noticing the way it benefits your body will nourish your spirit to its fullest form of expression.
Mark Hyman, MD, physician, author, educator
2) Project Basis:
Another way you can honor the Activity-Pause Cycle in your life is when you’re working on any kind of project.
You’ll soon find that incorporating such cycles will increase your productivity as well as creativity.
When I’m working on researching, prepping, writing, and editing a piece of content I often get in the zone and it takes me all day or multiple days.
Being mindful of the Pause during each phase of the project, (no matter how long or short or involved it is), helps keep energies balanced, and helps keep the creative juices flowing.
The best thing I can do for myself if I have a full entire day of researching and writing, is to chunk it down.
I aim to achieve this in two ways:
#1 – I chunk the day/work down by working for an hour straight and forcing myself to take a 10-minute break before returning to my desk to tackle another hour.
I step away from the computer, try to ignore the phone, try to rest my eyes away from screens of any kind.
I’ll either sit in the reading corner of my office and meditate, go to my yard and just sit on the grass barefoot, or hit the yoga mat for some stretching and yin poses. (It’s truly amazing how effective just 10 minutes of yin yoga practice can be for releasing tensions!)
#2 – The second structured and easy-to-implement technique I use is called the Pomodoro Method.
The technique involves batching work activity based on a set amount of time and then pausing for a short period of time before continuing on with the next work batch.
You can read more about this productivity boosting technique here.
Some other benefits of the technique:
1. Manage distractions by chunking down the tasks and setting yourself up to win. On average it can take 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back into the flow after an interruption, so this method is “focus gold.” (6)
2. The regular, programmed micro-breaks reduce mental + physical burnout, thereby helping you cultivate more reserves for the long haul.
3. It helps to take advantage of the brain’s natural reward centers. With each successfully completed set AND each time we mark our task as complete, we’re signaling our brain to register that as a reward and an accomplishment. Our brain then secretes the ‘feel good’ chemical dopamine, which has been linked to pleasure and motivation. This sets off a ripple effect that builds momentum and the desire to ‘do more’ and ‘keep going.’
4. Eliminate the feeling of ‘wasting time’ because you can track every task and really have a good grasp of your progress so the hours in the day don’t zoom by.
When We Match Our Nature to Nature, We Grow & Thrive:
The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.
Joseph Campbell, profesor, mythologist, & author
There you have it, two specific and implementable ways in which you can honor Nature’s cycles at work within you.
Like the caterpillar-turned-butterfly, if you create the spaces and pauses necessary to honor the rhythmic dance happening in your life you too will be upgraded to a higher version of yourself.
Your stress levels will shift and become more manageable.
You’ll grow more resilient.
You’ll approach projects and deadlines from a more grounded and balanced stance.
You’ll go from a limited perspective like that of the caterpillar, so a higher more ascended perspective on your life and all of the circumstances in it.
Just the like butterfly, who by fluttering its wings is able to view the world from below and look down on the landscape with a wider vantage point, so too will you see things you didn’t see before.
You just might find yourself reaching heights you previously thought unlikely.
I’d love to hear about your experience in implementing both or any one of these strategies in your world!
If you’d like further guidance or clarification on how to best go about it, drop me a line or hit me up on the Contact page.