Concentrate Like A Roman: 2000 Year Old Productivity Advice From Marcus Aurelius

This morning I was reading ‘Meditations’, by Marcus Aurelius.

Marcus Aurelius was Roman Emperor from 161 to 180. …and is also considered one of the most important Stoic philosophers.. – source

I needed some wisdom to start the day with and this book never fails.

I opened it up to a random page and read what is probably the best productivity advice that has ever been written.

Concentrate every minute like a Roman – like a man – on doing what’s in front of you with precise and genuine seriousness, tenderly, willingly, with justice. And on freeing yourself from all other distractions. Yes, you can – if you do everything as if it were the last thing you were doing in your life, and stop being aimless, stop letting your emotions override what your mind tells you, stop being hypocritical, self-centered, irritable. You see how few things you have to do to live a satisfying and reverent life? If you can manage this, that’s all even the gods can ask of you. – Marcus Aurelius, from the book ‘Meditations’

You can stop reading here if you want to.

That’s really all you need to know. Enjoy your own interpretation, get focused on what’s important and I’ll see you later.

But if you want to continue reading, I’m going to share the thoughts that went through my head as I read that paragraph myself.

marcus-aurelius

1. Concentrate every minute like a Roman – like a man – on doing what’s in front of you with precise and genuine seriousness, tenderly, willingly, with justice.

How often do you focus 100% of your attention on the task at hand? Hardly ever, I know.

Remember to stop multi-tasking.
Concentrate on one thing at a time.

Remember what Thich Nhat Hanh said in ‘Peace is Every Step’. About being completely present in an experience while you’re doing it. If you’re sweeping the floor, only sweep the floor. Be nowhere else.

2. And on freeing yourself from all other distractions. Yes, you can – if you do everything as if it were the last thing you were doing in your life, and stop being aimless, stop letting your emotions override what your mind tells you, stop being hypocritical, self-centered, irritable.

Remember that Marcus Aurelius wasn’t writing this stuff for others to see. They say he was writing notes to himself, as a source for his own guidance and self-improvement.

So when he says “Yes, you can” Maybe he’s telling himself (or the negative voice in his head) that it is possible to free yourself from all other distractions. If you do it “as if it were the last thing you were doing in your life”.

This is the answer.

  • How differently would you approach your next task if it was going to be the last thing you were doing in life? Would you try a little harder? Would you do it better? Or would you even do it at all?
  • Eliminate as much trivial garbage as possible. Delete it or delegate it immediately. Redesign your daily plans. Fill your day doing as many meaningful things as possible. The rest is useless clutter.
  • Create things. Write music, blog posts and make videos. Immerse yourself in creative work. If you died today and those were the last things you did, would you be okay with that? (Yes)

3. You see how few things you have to do to live a satisfying and reverent life? If you can manage this, that’s all even the gods can ask of you.

When you do too many things at once, you lose focus on all of them. So simplify your goals. You really only need to do about five things on a regular basis to feel satisfied with your life.

  1. Make Things
  2. Work Out
  3. Socialize
  4. Contribute
  5. Progress

A perfect day for you goes like this. Make something (music, art, blog post, ad campaign), exercise, see a friend, help someone else and make a little progress towards your goals.

That’s it. Focus on this small set of meaningful things and do them more often than you do not and you’re life will be satisfying. You’ll be a person you can live with and that other people can look up to.If you can manage this, that’s all even the gods can ask of you.

// End of thoughts

Conclusion

There are about a billion new productivity articles and to-do list apps put out every year. You can spend your time playing around with them if you like.

But if you want to get more done and do work you can be proud of, use this incredibly powerful, 2000 year old productivity mindset from Marcus Aurelius.

  1. Concentrate like a Roman on doing what’s in front of you
  2. Do everything as if it were the last thing you were doing in your life

That is what I will be doing. And I encourage you to do the same.

‘Meditations’ by Marcus Aurelius has become one of my favorite books. You can get it using my amazon affiliate link or if you prefer, this direct link.

  • Daniel Nguyen

    Very Great Advice! Your Blog Posts Are On Point!

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      thanks Daniel!

  • Mac

    Doh, I’m second 😀
    I picked up ‘one thing a time’ idea from your other post Malan, one a time. One thing a fucking time!
    And it works like a charm.

    Not talking IM/AM now, but life.
    For long time I ‘wanted’ to loose some weight, get fit again, start doing campaigns, quit smoking and about 50 other things. Every Monday morning was like new beginning to do it all at once and of course every Monday evening full of grief and disappointment with myself.
    Since I have focused on 1 thing a day I achieved: quitting smoking ( a week today! 🙂 – no regrets, no problems), gym every day, 4kg less (that Sodium/water loss made it, now weight loss slows down, and I’m fine about it).
    Next I have fixed my wife’s beloved shoes and gained another £400 against my campaign by selling on ebay some stuff which was dusting for 5 years 🙂

    Obviously, simplicity and dedication is a key and ancient Romans knew it very well.
    At the end of the day their buildings are here till today 🙂

    I also like your point about creating things… that’s true, when you create something, that make you feel positive.

    Yet, I sleep better myself if (again, picked it up on your blog somewhere) I do/make/create/deal with one important thing every day. At least one. Of course, I don’t freak out if I can’t sort it out immediately. What is important for me is the fact that I can look in the mirror and say ‘Today I’ve done everything I could’.

    Thanks mate!
    Mac

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      yeah Mac, that’s what has worked well for me. ONE damn thing a day. Then, it’s a bonus if I happen to get a few more things done too. But I always try to get the one thing per day.

      And yeah man. Kill those email subscriptions. I try to keep mine to 3-5.

  • Ken L

    Yes this is great, especially when you really put it into practice. I have an old leather bound copy which I prefer to the digital one.

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      Ken – you have an old leather bound copy of ‘Meditations’? Nice, sometimes it’s great to pick up a real book. Totally different vibe.

      • Ken L

        Yes its an old copy of Meditations. I also have a few other books like that. If it’s something I can read time and again, then I prefer a real book.

        Like you said Malan, it’s a totally different vibe!

  • Sándor Varga

    Well done! Number 6: Do something for the society! I think you have helped a lot again, for many of us! Great thanks!

  • Jay

    Awesome post! This post got me into stoicism!
    Thank you for this.