Meditation for Productivity

Stress + Rest = Growth

Stress?  Got it covered.

Growth?  Oh yeah.

Rest?  Huh?


In the book Peak Performance by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness, the growth equation is Stress + Rest = Growth.  It is a model of human development.  We grow our skills (and muscles) through periods of intense work coupled with intentional breaks for rest.

I read (i.e., listened to) Peak Performance a couple of months ago.  I finished it a few weeks before Lent.  Lent is the time on the Christian calendar between Good Friday and Easter where, for 40 days, some people either (1) give up something, or (2) start something new.

This year, I decided to start something new:  meditation.

For years, I pictured meditation as something for which you needed to learn a Gregorian chant, burn smelly incense, and achieve some transcendental state.  It sounded exhausting…and strange.

But, I kept reading about how useful it is for productivity, well-being, and blah, blah, blah.

Meditation had its own chapter in Peak Performance.  So, I gave in.  For 40 days, I meditated (almost) daily.  My goal was to be more mindful.


What is mindfulness and why should I want some of it?


My rush to accomplish tasks makes me lose connection with the present moment.  I am always thinking ahead.  What are my next steps?  What do I need to bring with me to the car?  What’s happening later today for which I need to prepare?

My mind is always racing.

Mindfulness is a discipline where I bring my attention to the present moment and accept it without judgment.  Rooted in Buddhism, it is key to stress reduction and happiness.

Being mindful makes it easier for me to savor life, be fully engaged, and deal more effectively with adversity.  It also purports to improve my physical health, primarily through stress reduction.  Stress reduction in turn reduces heart disease, lowers blood pressure, and improves sleep.

Okay, so that sounds pretty good.  So, where do I pick up some incense?


Meditation does not require incense


When you are doing a mindfulness meditation, you are:

  • Alert
  • Focused
  • Relaxed
  • Judgment-free


You do not have to be:

  • Cross-legged
  • Cross-eyed
  • Wearing any sort of robe
  • Listening to plinky-plunky music
  • Chanting
  • Burning anything that will make you sneeze


How to meditate:

  • Sit quietly and focus completely on your breath. Feel your inhalations and exhalations travel through your nose, throat, and torso.
  • Notice your intruding thoughts and, without annoyance or judgment, return your focus to your breath. I picture my thoughts as a piece of paper folding itself into oblivion.  A friend of mine imagines that her thoughts flow away on a river.
  • Scan your body from head to toe. Notice how each part of you feels.  Don’t evaluate it.  Just notice it.


Or…there’s an app for that.


Here are the apps I tried:

  • Stop, Breathe, & Think – The one I use the most. You tell the app how you are feeling, and it recommends guided meditation practices.  There are two voices you can choose between.  There is no background music or nature sounds, just a soothing voice guiding you though a 3 to 8-minute practice.
  • Headspace – Very approachable app for someone new to meditation. I only used it once so far.  You choose a goal and the app gives you meditation practices along that path.
  • Calm – You can’t try this out without signing up for the 7-day free trial. It incorporates background music/nature sounds with the guide voice.  So, if you want the plinky-plunky music, this is the app for you.


Meditation can be done anywhere you can close your eyes and be still for five to ten minutes.  No Buddhist temple required, I promise.  Although, I’m sure that the Buddhist temples are very nice.


Here are some tips for success with mindfulness meditation:

  • Put your phone in airplane mode.
  • Do not strive for perfection. Keep at it even when you miss a day or two.
  • Don’t expect miraculous levels of relaxation. Some mindfulness meditations will be relaxing, some won’t.
  • Do expect some unexpected consequences. In the past month, I stopped drinking my nightly glass of wine.  I wasn’t even trying to cut down on wine-based calories.  I still enjoy an occasional glass, but I’d rather have water now.


One of my favorite books growing up was The Precious Present by Dr. Spencer Johnson.  It taught mindfulness before mindfulness was cool.

One of the things I like about meditation is that it gently encourages me to live in the now.  Not the past or the future, but the precious present.

Stress + Rest = Growth

It is nice to make some progress on the “rest” part of the equation.



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Dr. Melissa GratiasMelissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) used to think that productivity was a result of working long hours. And, she worked a lot of hours. Then, she learned that productivity is a skill set, not a personality trait. Now, Melissa is a productivity expert who coaches and trains other businesspeople to be more focused, balanced, and effective. She is a prolific writer and speaker who travels the world helping people change how they work and improve how they live. Contact her at or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.


  1. Janet Barclay

    I love the concept of mindfulness and understand how it can benefit me, but like you, I’ve always struggled with meditation. The way you explain it makes me think I can actually do it. Thanks for sharing your personal experience.

    By the way, I can totally here Phoebe saying “plinky plunky music.” Was that intentional? 😀

    • Melissa Gratias, Ph.D.

      It was! I love to see who can pick up on obscure “Friends” references. You are a kindred spirit, Janet.

  2. Hazel Thornton

    Meditation is an excellent pathway (one of many) to mindfulness. I think people avoid it not realizing how simple it is, or can be. Thanks for de-mystifying it. You are reminding me of something they told us in Transcendental Meditation training (which I have not been doing, but this post reminds me that I could, easily…..): If you are too busy to meditate, you are just too busy.


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