Weird meditation / productivity question

I keep a small notebook and a pencil with me. If something comes to me that is important I can write it down and ‘get rid’ of the thought for the rest of the session. That works well for people who have racing thoughts at night - it’s basically parking the issue and removes the worry of forgetting it or not dealing with it. Of course, if it’s not actionable then just let the thought float away. You don’t need/want to record everything.

These days I keep technology well away from me in meditation (or at the very least in flight mode and do not disturb). Technology is the centre of my work life, and I don’t need it there. This is a special time (in my case, just for me and God). This conduit to busyness can stay away.

One thing I would comment on is the suggestion that we need a way to measure success. I think that should be avoided. As @tonycraine eloquently put it, meditation is a practice not a performance, and you shouldn’t set yourself targets for how well you’re doing it. Rather, simply ensure you do it regularly and you will over time find it more meaningful and helpful in whatever you want to achieve with it.


I so love that you are asking a question about meditation on the MPU forum (well, Focused, but you know what I mean).

A couple of things come to mind. One is about when you are meditating. Is it happening after you’ve had any ‘inputs’ (like checking phone, reading, email, etc) in which your mind-body is a bit stimulated?

The second is that my understanding is that there is tremendous value and heart in the experience you are describing in relation to knowing your mind. That is, if a central idea of mindfulness type meditations is to observe one’s mind, then observing that ‘hanging on to an idea’ is a delicate and important experience. Rather than ‘letting it go’ (as in “notice a thought, let it pass”), I see the practice at least in part to be noticing the holding on. Moreover, it is not to judge the holding on as being ‘bad’ but rather to simply observe it.

Have been reading Jon Kabat-Zinn’s “Wherever you are, there you go” and I so recommend it.

Of course, none of this response is really answering your question! (well, in a roundabout way I think my contribution would be that perhaps if you stop the practice to write something down – or shriek at Siri – then the writing down inadvertently takes precedence over the practice of understanding and observing one’s mind).

Thanks for opening up this surprising thread. It’s so great to read the responses.

Now, back to DNS configurations. :wink:


I wanted to +1 this, and to add that advice applies to meditation and to GTD.

Sounds like you’ve found yourself a beautiful conundrum!


Actually, I threw it into “Uncategorized” on MPU. Rosemary decided that instead of being arguably off-topic for MPU, it was on-topic for Focused. :smiley: We have great mods here.

Yes. I’m trying to look at it “one level removed”, i.e. WHY are “the rules” the rules? Rules are frequently sensible-but-arbitrary demarcation points for ideas that are otherwise reasonable.

Treating a meditation session as a GTD brain-dump exercise - where (quite literally) anything and everything that gets noticed gets dumped into the “trusted system” for analysis later - is clearly NOT what one is trying to accomplish in meditation.

But I can see the flip side too. If the goal of getting things important things noted somewhere is to help free oneself of the “monkey mind”, what effect does “letting it go” have on that goal?

That’s a good question, and something I’ll have to do some more thinking about. Maybe rescheduling the meditation would be useful…?

Right. The follow-up question, of course, is what you do with that noticing. Frequently, I think it’s perfectly-valid for the answer to be “nothing”. But I would think that “what to do” would be on a continuum.

If, for example, the building were to catch on fire, you wouldn’t just “notice it and let go”. By the same token, jumping up and screaming and running around and panicking would be natural - but that wouldn’t be what “mindfulness” looks like in that situation either. A mindful response to a fire would be to either put it out (if feasible), or get oneself (and any others who may not be aware of the fire) out of the building in as safe and direct a way as possible.

Obviously my “important things” don’t rise to the level of “the building is on fire”. But using that analogy, I’m trying to frame the question more as “what does ‘a mindful response’ look like in this situation?”

The fascinating thing is that according to somebody like David Allen (GTD), the reason for writing everything down and getting it into a system is to enable you to not require your brain to do the “holding on”.

The underlying question here may be more one of “action threshold”. At what point does it move from “something to notice” to “something to do”?

I’ll check into it. Thanks!

As a completely random side note, all discussions of meditation vaguely remind me of this exchange from the great comedy routine “Ti Kwon Leep” (The Frantics - Boot to the Head - 16. Ti Kwan Leep - YouTube):

Ed Gruberman: Yeah, uh, no disrespect or nothin’, but, like, uh, how long is this gonna take?
Teacher: Ti Kwan Leep is not a path to a door, but a road leading forever towards the horizon
Ed Gruberman: So like, what, an hour or so?

I’m in the same camp. The term meditation is a very loaded one. Everybody has some and often strong aspirational assumptions about it. Yet, there isn’t the one right approach.

I never got into a fixed habit of meditating every day at a set time. Yet, I usually feel the need to meditate when my focus level dropped noticeably. In those situations I am constantly pondering on “project B”, while “project A” actually needs to be done.

If during those times I can’t calm my racing mind by just sitting down and meditating and even a guided meditation doesn’t cut it, I just let it go for that day.
For me, there is not much value in suffering through a forced duration while stressing out about the feeling that I might be doing meditation “wrong”. Just noticing that it doesn’t work in that situation is already a valuable insight to take note of.

If a particular thought keeps popping up, I will write it down to get back to it later, but I will also need to reset my mind.
A small mini-workout does the trick. Usually, I will grab my bike and go for a short ride to run a (fake) errand in the city. While the buzzing city surroundings might seem too noisy and anything but calm, being forced to pay close attention to traffic will help me to be present and reset my drifting mind.

If that’s not possible the games Good Sudoku and Bad Chess will do the trick. Especially the expert skull sudokus won’t leave much room for other thoughts. The same goes for solving Rubik’s cubes or the more challenging cube shape mods of which there are countless.
To me, all this has a meditative effect. I can notice the thoughts as they will disturb my flow of solving the puzzles.

When I noticed my mind was racing too much, I found great benefit in doing “Yoga Nidra” especially in the early afternoon, which essentially is a (guided) body scan. It can work wonders for me in terms of calming my mind and overcoming a post-lunch energy slump. Some research suggests that the effect on the body is comparable to a short phase of deep sleep.
Again, having something to focus on like muscle tension or pressure of the ground against the body helps me to catch thoughts more easily and it occupies my mind enough to distract me from stressing about whether I can meditate or not.


This is the skill I’m really trying to practice. e.g., I was just getting stressed about being feisty over in the Jony Ive 10-year memorial thread and, noticing my stress, took a deep breath. It helped a lot!

This part of meditation/mindfulness is really all about emotional regulation. It’s funny: we’re doing a course for how to help our near-toddler learn to work with emotions called Big Little Feelings. A core idea is to notice what you’re feeling, acknowledge and appreciate it, then move forward. We’re supposed to say “You look like you’re upset. It’s okay to be upset. Why don’t we do [x] instead?” I’m finding the lessons valuable for my own life too.

This idea of “intuitive meditation” seems related, and really valuable.

Then again, I’m reminded of something a meditation teacher I had once said: “if you actually kept up a good meditation practice, you wouldn’t have these moments where your head is spinning!” Maybe the same is true for @webwalrus and these intrusive thoughts. :wink:

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I would tweak that slightly and say, “You’d have fewer of those moments when your head is spinning.” Head spinning and persistent thoughts can happen to any of us from time to time.

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Fascinating conversation. I’m with @Leo about many different types of meditation practices. Also @ryanjamurphy’s question on why is that each of us meditates is a vital one.

One of the playful things Kabat-Zinn says is that even though we call ourselves human beings we are really human doings. I tend to think that it’s all too easy to instrumentalise everything we do in our lives, and so finding spaces and activities which are done for their intrinsic value is essential. Perhaps this also speaks a bit to your question regarding ‘action’. I’m pretty biased here because my work is as a dancer-choreographer, and specifically in improvisation. You don’t really get anything more useless than that frankly. :wink:

Perhaps it’s a wee bit weird to admit on a productivity forum that I practice meditation precisely because it is not productive.


Interesting conundrum. One purpose of mediation is to notice the arising and passing away of sensations, thoughts and feelings. But, if you have a really good thought that you want to hold on to, now you activate craving. You would likely spend more mental energy to try and chase the thought away or to try and not forget it.

Probably to most practical way of letting go of the feelings of attachment to the thought is to record it on a voice recorder or notebook - no iPads or other bright flashing screens because that would just add another level of craving and inattention. Once recorded, continue on meditation journey.

Too many people have given too many thoughtful answers, so I won’t rehash them.

But this made me think of two interesting questions

  1. Is this happening less and less? Because if it isn’t… shouldn’t that idea have already been captured? This may not be about meditating as much as about getting to empty during work processing.

  2. Is this idea more important/urgent (decide for yourself what word to use) than whether or not I’m meditating? If you left the stove on then by all means go turn it off… If you think of the answer to some issue on a project on your Someday/maybe list, then just let it go. Obviously the middle of that spectrum is more difficult than my examples.


Seems to be. I’ve only been at this for a few weeks, so my data points are limited - but it seems to be getting at least a little bit better. And yes, these ideas almost certainly should’ve been captured previously. But occasionally that doesn’t happen.

Yeah. That’s always the trick, isn’t it? :smiley: I think that as long as we’re acknowledging that there’s some sort of a continuum, with it being acceptable at some point, the definition of the exact point isn’t as important - just the idea that it should ideally be rare, and getting more rare over time.

Sometimes the “rules” for practices like this kind of remind me of the “spherical cow” - Spherical cow - Wikipedia


I wrote a blog post about this a while back, and it still says everything I’d like to say on the matter:

TL;DR - either break the meditation practice and write the thing down, or let it go. The important thing is to commit to one or the other. I find that I almost never need to break my meditation practice to write things down.


Very interesting viewpoint. I am not a meditation practioner by any stretch of anyones imagination but I do spend time thinking and then clearing my mind usually daily. For me, if I’m trying torelax and let solutions come to me or ideas or just well being I HAVE to write down the intruding issues/thoughts or I never get back to the path.

Interesting post!, Thanks

I’m going to wuote from there "Another way of thinking about it is this: What would you do if you were trying to get out of the rain when the thought occured to you?

Would you stop in the pouring rain to record the idea, getting drenched in the process? Or would you wait until you reached shelter to record it — at the risk of having forgotten it?"

Actually in my case I usually stop, and capture the idea or record the idea, even if I DO get drenched. Because that is transitory, I will dry out, but thoughts sometimes never come back and sometimes the most fleeting of thoughts/ideas/revelations have the most meaning in the future so it’s important to honor and evaluate and acknowledge them when they initiall occur lest you don’t get to the same level of thinking later. If you continually shut down your imagination eventually it goes to live in someone elses’ head.


Also, when I’m trying to get out of the rain, I can think about other things, including the thing that just occurred to me (so I don’t forget it).

That said, the point is a good one. Is it important enough to interrupt ? If not, let it go; otherwise, write it down.

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either break the meditation practice and write the thing down, or let it go.

I agree with this. If something comes up that is important I’ll break my practice and write a note somewhere.

Depending on your goals be aware that interrupting your practice will have an effect on the quality of your practice. If you are using meditation to develop focus / concentration / stillness breaking your practice to write something down with impact that practice. If you are using meditation to develop insight / mindfulness then you develop that skill by working with things as they arise and learning to investigate them and let them be.

Just like an under exercised muscle the mind can be lazy, it doesn’t like being concentrated or mindful at first. Until you develop skill it will try and talk you out of doing your practice by doing things like reminding you of important things. If it’s happening regularly I’d encourage you to investigate it. Notice the worry about forgetting, the attachment to it’s importance etc

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Coincidentally Ajahn Brahm’s Mindfufulness book was just recommended to me. Browsing I saw this:

The Goal of Meditation

To know where your effort should be directed in meditation, you must have a clear understanding of the goal. The goal of this meditation is beautiful silence, stillness, and clarity of mind. If you can understand that goal, then the place to apply your effort and the means to achieve the goal become much clearer. The effort is directed to letting go, to developing a mind that inclines to abandoning. One of the many simple but pro- found statements of the Buddha is that “a meditator who makes letting go the main object easily achieves sam›dhi,” that is, attentive stillness, the goal of meditation. Such a meditator gains these states of inner bliss almost automatically. The Buddha was saying that the major cause for attaining deep meditation and reaching these powerful states is the ability to abandon, to let go, to renounce.

Letting Go of Our Burdens

During meditation, we should not develop a mind that accumulates and holds on to things. Instead we should develop a mind that is willing to let go, to give up all burdens. In our ordinary lives we have to carry the burden of many duties, like so many heavy suitcases, but within the period of meditation such baggage is unnecessary. In meditation, unload as much baggage as you can. Think of duties and achievements as heavy weights pressing upon you. Abandon them freely without looking back.

I’d put my watch on the wrong arm or take one shoe off. Something you are sure to notice once you are through. So you notice it, let it go and voila! once you are finished you notice your reminder. That way you’d avoid getting a bit anxious which is what meditation should ideally do for you.

OR you can tell yourself in whatever your second language is as well as your first and it will be more likely to stick. Then try letting it go.

If it is extremely important, by all means, jot it down.

The only time I have had much luck in noticing a thought and letting it go is typically if I am drifting off to sleep. Then it comes naturally.

Like anything you learn to do, you just need practice.

A lot of the advice in this thread seems to be saying “the practice is more important than your client”

A lot of the advice in this thread also seems to be ignoring your ADHD. If it were me, I’d jot down a note and get it out of your mind, then you can resume your practice without the worry that you’ll forget something.

Me, personally, I went through a period of attempts at meditation. I managed to sit relatively still and acknowledge thoughts as they went by for almost 30 minutes once. In the end, the only benefit I perceived was a mild sense of accomplishment. Mostly I just observed an ADHD thought process at work, random thoughts constantly parading by. It seemed like an exercise in futility.

Having said that, I’m still drawn to the concept of mindfulness. I believe I can achieve a sense of it while doing other things, routines, repetitive tasks. Maybe some day I will achieve this state. YMMV

Side note: I did a quick Google search in an attempt to produce an article that might help me explain what I am thinking here. This resulted in two additional tabs open in my browser. The article I read gave me many things to think about, and research, which resulted in an additional six tabs. An ‘epiphany’ caused one more tab to be opened. I can’t even reply to a forum thread without a swirl of distraction! And this happens almost every single time I reply to a thread.

The article, if you’re interested:

I am coming from a more or less traditional approach to meditation practice, so keep this in mind while reading. It may not be the answer you were hoping for, but it is one you would get from a teacher in a traditional context of intense practice and retreats.

So, it is worth pointing out that you don’t need to let it go. It will go, whether you want it or not. That is the nature of phenomena: it shows up, does its thing, and then it vanishes. All phenomena are transient (anicca), outside your control (anatta), and cause of distress (dukkha). Your job while practicing is simply to pay attention to that, whatever that is. Or think about it like this: what are you observing during practice? Bare reality. Is there a part of reality that is better to observe than the rest? No. It makes no difference what is happening, as long as you keep paying attention to what happens from one moment to the next. Sometimes, doubt arises due to blind spots (caused by identification with phenomena). In this case, what you should be noticing is “what does it feel like having a thought perceived as important”. Where does it arise in your body? How does urgency feel like? Does it burn? Stings? Itches? Does it last long? Is it pleasant, painful, neither? Who is having these thoughts? Does deliberation ensue about whether to write it down or not? Then, notice this too. This is just something new to observe as well.

Whatever happens, just take a step back and notice it. It could be a fly buzzing around or the fire alarm. It doesn’t matter, because you’re committed to just seeing things for what they are. And while you practice, all they are is just transient sensory data (the mind is the sixth sense in this model). So, noticing things involves checking how it happens in your experience, how it feels like in your body. (For all purposes, there is no distinction between what happens inside or outside during practice. It’s all the same). If you need clearer instructions as to what observe, it is useful knowing that there are four foundations of mindfulness.

i. Physical sensations
ii. Feeling-tone (pleasant, painful, and neutral)
iii. Mental objects (images, voices, memories, and so on)
iv. Mental states (doubt, joy, concern, tiredness, etc).

Try to pay attention to (i) as much as possible and start including (ii), (iii), and (iv).

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