Haiku; what Japanese poetry can teach us about productivity


The essence of Haiku is cutting ("Kiru"). It is a Japanese poetic form consisting of just 3 lines and 17 syllables.

The traditional art of Haiku writing started with Buddist monks in Japan. The poems are inspired by living in the moment. The shortness of the poems (just 3 lines) reflects the minimalist mindset of extracting excess, being left with only what you need.

The Haiku writing form is a true reflection of Zen Buddhist philosophy and arguably something that we can apply to every area of work and life. As Haiku is restricted to such tiny parameters, poets are forced to focus on one concept, choosing only the words that are most important for the poem. The task of the poet is much harder, they must master their concept, ensuring the strict word limits, do not detract from the overall meaning.

Examples of Haiku poetry can be found here.

Haiku principles and productivity  

If we apply the Haiku writing process to our productivity, it means that in order to succeed, we must limit ourselves to the essentials. It’s a simple but effective way to ensure that we focus only, on what matters to our objective(s) and that we don't waste our valuable time on irrelevant tasks.

Here are the four, most effective, Haiku inspired, productivity hacks to make our working life more efficient:

1) Limit your goals

Can we truly give our 100% to more than one goal at a time? Personally, I find several goals distracting. Dividing time between several things, at once, means doing everything in a mediocre way, instead of doing one thing well. Try to limit the number of goals you have at once. The ideal number is just one. If you do this, you will find yourself more effectively reaching your targets than you could otherwise.

2) Limit your tasks

This may seem counterintuitive if your to-do list is as long as your arm, but you will be surprised at how much energy is wasted on tasks that undermine your goal. Start by writing your overriding objective at the top of your to-do list, then eliminate the tasks that do not directly, support your goal. Stop wasting your precious time on irrelevant things. This to-do list, re-vamp, will redefine your focus and de-clutter your mind.

3) Limit your communications

Technology has advanced our productivity in many, unimaginable, ways but it equally causes idleness in undisciplined users. Think about the number of times you've been distracted from a task by a phone notification or an email? I have personally lost count. A great Haiku inspired way, to manage your communications, is to set strict time limits for when you can check your phone or email. Typically, people create 2 times slots one in the morning and then in the late afternoon. This way you allow technology to make your life easier but you don’t allow it to control your time.

4) 7 minutes of limitless fun

My favorite Haiku inspired advise is taken from Zen Habits. In their insightful blog on Haiku productivity, they describe a Haiku reward, of allowing yourself to do anything you want for 7-minutes, once you complete a task. This helps to motivate you, refresh your mind and sprinkle fun throughout your day, but limits it. No endless scrolling through your favorite blog, just 7-minutes and then back to work.

Remember, the rule of Haiku productivity is to put limits on everything you do. The things you limit depends entirely on your work and personal goals. By restricting yourself to the most important tasks, you only focus on the essentials and you give those essential your 100%.

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