This Productivity Hack is Where Meditation Meets Getting Stuff Done

Before the internet coined the term “productivity hack”, I had a hack of my own. I lived in a tiny 1-bedroom apartment, and I spent hours at my desk writing fiction, writing essays, and researching. My classes often required that I read at least 100 pages a night, so there was no room for distraction.

After sitting at my desk or being curled up on my futon for hours, I realized that I focused better when I lit a candle. If I was typing at my laptop, I lit a candle beside the computer. If I was reading a book, I placed the candle beside my cup of tea. The calming flame set my mind at ease.

I half-jokingly called it “The flame of productivity”.


I’ve always been a great lover of candles. When I was a kid, I traipsed around our house in Rhode Island, flipping off overhead lights and lamps and lighting candles. I preferred the soft ambience. (I was also a nerd who liked to pretend it was 1776, but that’s another story for another time.)

In college, I used candles for a more practical purpose. They helped me focus. And they still do. Whenever I sit down at the computer for hours upon hours of work, I make sure I had a lit candle (or five) right beside me.

The other day, my husband came into my home office/music room/artistic escape oasis to see me burning candles while I wrote.

“Hey look!” I said, “Ever since I was in college, I like working by candle light, because as long as the candle is burning, I can be working.”

Charles burst out in laugher.

“That is the most puritanical thing I’ve ever heard you say,” he said, and he laughed himself out of the room.

The image of exhausted monks – fallen asleep over their bibles, their quill pens dripping across the page as the candles burn to the wicks – is conjured.


And the more I thought about it, the less I prescribed to the puritanical thought process that made me light those candles all those years.

Instead, I realized the lit candle represented something else.

It represents meditation and mindfulness. 

The lit candle focuses my mind. It calms my brain, and everything gets quiet and stops. Some suggest lighting a candle and focusing on the flame while meditating, and I’ve found this helps my workflow as well.

The lit candle keeps me present in the moment, at my computer, with the words on the page.

What else do I do when I have a hard time focusing?

  • I listen to meditation music or nature sounds. This really ends all distraction and serves as prettier “white noise”.
  • I burn incense, which is just another way to focus the senses.

Basically, I don’t have trouble focusing anymore, ever. It really worked – to put mechanisms in place so I could focus, and not just get work done, but enjoy the work.