10 Ways to Be More Mindful at WorkNone By Shamash Alidina
Mindfulness may seem like a great idea, but how do you become more mindful in the context of a busy work day? You may have emails, phone calls, meetings and presentations to deal with. And, of course, your own work! In the middle of all that, how can you apply the principles of mindfulness so that you feel more alive and present, while being productive?
1. Be Consciously Present
Mindfulness is, above all, about being aware and awake rather than operating unconsciously. When you’re consciously present at work, you’re aware of two aspects of your moment-to-moment experience—what’s going on around you and what’s going on within you. To be mindful at work means to be consciously present in what you’re doing, while you’re doing it, as well as managing your mental and emotional state. If you’re writing a report, mindfulness requires you to give that your full attention. Each time your mind wanders to things like Helen’s new role or Michael’s argument with the boss, just acknowledge the thoughts and bring your attention back to the task in hand. This scenario sounds simple, but many aspects of your experience can get in the way.
Here are some ideas to help you stop being mindless and unconscious at work and more mindful and consciously present:
- Make a clear decision at the start of your workday to be present as best you can. Pause for a few moments before you start your work day to set this intention in your mind.
- Make an effort to work more consciously, even if that means that you need to work a little slower at first—doing so pays in the long run.
- Keep all the advantages of working mindfully in mind to motivate you.
- Connect with your senses rather than getting lost in trains of thought when you’re doing a task.
- Give your full attention to seemingly mundane tasks like washing your hands, opening doors, dialling phone numbers, and even just feeling your breathing as you’re waiting in a meeting room. These little moments add up to make the day a more mindful one.
2. Use Short Mindful Exercises at Work
Mindful exercises train your brain to be more mindful. The more mindful exercises you do, the easier your brain finds it to drop into a mindful state, thus optimizing your brain function. In the busy workplace, finding time for a 30-minute mindful exercise can be difficult. So does that mean you can’t be mindful at all at work? Nope. Mindful exercises can be as short as you wish. Even one minute of consciously connecting with one of your senses can be classified as a mindful exercise. You don’t need to close your eyes. You don’t even need to be sitting down. Be creative about finding slots in the day to practice mindfulness exercises. At times of excessive pressure at work, practicing a short mindfulness exercise can be a savior. The process helps to rebalance your nervous system, toning down the fight-or-flight response and engaging the wise part of your brain, so that you make reasoned decisions rather than automatically react to situations.
3. Be a Single-Tasker
Single-tasking is doing one thing at a time. Multi-tasking is trying to do two or more tasks at the same time or switching back and forth between tasks. Nobody can actually multi-task. In reality, your brain is madly switching from one thing to the next, often losing data in the process. Most people know multitasking is ineffective nowadays. If multi-tasking is so inefficient, why do people still do it? The reason was uncovered in a study by Zheng Wang at Ohio State University. She tracked students and found that when they multi-tasked, it made them feel more productive, even though in reality they were being unproductive. Other studies found that the more you multitask, the more addicted you get to it.
Here are a few ways to kick the multi-tasking habit and become a mindfulness superhero:
- Keep a time journal of what you achieve in a block of time. Work out when you’re single-tasking and when you’re multi-tasking. Note down what you achieved in that time block and how mindful you were.
- See whether you can notice your productivity going up when you single-task—noticing the benefits can motivate you to do one thing at a time in a mindful way.
- Group tasks in categories. For example, put together emails, phone calls, errands and meetings. Then you can do them all together in one block of time rather than switching from emails to calls to running an errand.
- Switch off as many distractions as you can. Silence your phone, log off from your email account and so on. Then set a timer for the amount of time you need to work, and record how much you get done. Do what works for you to focus on one task for a fixed period of time.
- Practice mindfulness in your breaks between tasks. Stretch, take deep breaks or go for a mindful walk.
4. Use Mindful Reminders
The word "mindful" means to remember. Most people who’ve read about or undertaken training in mindfulness appreciate the benefits of mindful living. Unfortunately, they keep forgetting to be mindful! The reason you forget to be mindful is because your brain’s normal (default) mode is to be habitually lost in your own thoughts—running a sort of internal narrative. When you’re going about your usual daily activities, your brain switches you into this low energy state, which is unmindful, almost dreamy. Doing some things automatically, without thinking, is fine but research undertaken at Harvard University showed that 47 per cent of a person’s day can be spent lost in thoughts. The same research found that daydreaming can have a negative impact on well-being. Being on auto-pilot means that you’re not fully present and awake to the opportunities and choices around you. You can’t be creative, plan something new, or respond appropriately if you’re operating mechanically.
By using some form of reminder, you can be mindful again. The reminder shakes you out of autopilot mode. Try these reminders:
- Set an alarm on the phone—even a vibrating alarm that doesn’t disturb others can work well.
- Put mindfulness in your calendar—set an appointment with yourself!
- Place a small note or picture on your desk to remind you to be mindful.
- Associate certain activities with mindfulness, such as mealtimes or meetings or when finishing one task and starting another.
- Use the sound of bells and rings in the workplace as "bells of mindfulness."
So, every time your phone rings, you take a mindful breath. Every time you hear the ping of a text message, you pause to be mindful of your surroundings rather than immediately reacting by checking the message. All these things are opportunities to come back into the present moment, to see yourself and your surroundings afresh. You take a small step back and reflect rather than automatically react to what’s coming at you in the form of demands, tasks, and challenges.
5. Slow Down To Speed Up
Mindfulness at work does seem counter-intuitive. You’re considering the fact that, by stopping or slowing down, you can become more efficient, productive, happy, resilient, and healthy at work. You may not think that slowing down and being conscious can have such an effect.
Imagine being asked to stop sleeping for a week. Sleeping is resting—and resting isn’t work. So, simply stop sleeping and just keep working. Maybe you’ve experienced this when studying for exams or trying to meet a deadline at work. Eventually your efficiency drops to almost zero; you’re completely living out of the present moment and perhaps even hallucinating! Most people need to sleep at least seven hours every night to be able to function effectively.
Clearly, rest can increase efficiency. If you do manage to get about seven hours of sleep and achieve a certain amount of work, imagine what would happen if you also did a few mini-mindfulness exercises during the day. Your brain would become even more efficient, focused, effective at communicating with others, and better at learning new skills.
Being in a panicky rush leads to bad decisions and is a misuse of energy. Instead, pause, focus on listening, stroll rather than run and generally take your time when at work. Effective leaders, workers and entrepreneurs slow down and reflect to make the best decisions and actions—they slow down to speed up. That’s a mindful way of working.
6. Make Stress Your Friend
Research conducted at the University of Wisconsin-Madison asked 30,000 people the same question: "Does the perception that stress affects health matter?" The results were astonishing.
The researchers found that people experiencing high levels of stress but who believed that stress was good for them had among the lowest mortality rates, whereas highly stressed people who believed that stress was bad for their health had the highest chance of dying. Your beliefs about stress clearly affect how they impact on your health and well-being. Another study even found that the blood vessels constricted (as is seen in those with heart disease) in people who believed that stress was bad for them, but stayed open and healthy in those who believed that stress was good for them.
So if you want to make stress your friend, you need to change the way you think about it and, in turn, your body’s response to it.
Mindfulness can help you achieve this change in perception. The next time you’re facing a challenge at work, notice how your heart rate speeds up and your breathing accelerates. Observe these responses and then switch your attitude—respond to your stress creatively rather than negatively. Be grateful that the stress response is energizing you. Note that your body is preparing you for your upcoming challenge and that a faster heart rate is sending more oxygen around your body. Be grateful that the process is sharpening your senses and boosting your immune system. By viewing the stress response from this perspective, you see your upcoming problem as a positive challenge and recognize your body preparing to meet it. This small change in attitude can literally add years to your life and improve your productivity and achievements in the workplace.
7. Feel Gratitude
Humans have a negativity bias. Essentially, this means that you’re much more likely to focus and dwell on something that’s gone wrong than on things that have gone well. Behaving in this way every day means that you ultimately adopt an excessively negative and unbalanced way of thinking.
Gratitude is the antidote. Plenty of evidence suggests that actively practicing gratitude makes you feel better and has a positive impact on your creativity, health, working relationships, and quality of work. Gratitude makes being at both work and home more positive experiences.
If you feel like you’re stuck in a job you don’t enjoy, the first step is to practice gratitude. What’s going well in your job? Maybe you’re grateful for the money? Even though it may be less than you’d like, you probably prefer it to having no salary at all. You may not like your manager, but maybe you’re friends with a couple of colleagues? You hate the office politics, but they give you insight into what you don’t like in a job, so in the future you know what to look for. After practicing gratitude, you can then consider whether you want to continue in that role or need to find another job.
Being mindful of what’s going well at work helps to improve your resilience. Rather than allowing your mind to spiral into anxiety or dip into low moods as you brood over all the aspects of the job you don’t like, you can feed your mind with thoughts of gratitude to raise your well-being. Then, if you do decide to find another job, your positive mental state can help you select an appropriate position and optimize your performance in the interview. People hire positive people, not those who just complain about what’s going wrong. Use gratitude to neutralize your brain’s natural negativity bias.
8. Cultivate Humility
Humility comes from the Latin humilis, meaning grounded. Humble people have a quiet confidence about themselves and don’t feel the need to continuously remind others of their achievements. Humility may seem counter to our culture of glorifying those who make the most noise about themselves, grabbing our attention. But actually, humility is attractive—‚no one enjoys being around those who continually sing their own praises, and most people enjoy the company of those who are willing to listen to them rather than talk about themselves all the time.
In Jim Collins' hugely popular book Good to Great, he identified leaders who turned good companies into great ones. He found that the companies exhibiting the greatest long-term success (at least 15 years of exceptional growth) had leaders demonstrating all the skills of your standard leader but with one extra quality—personal humility. They were willing to work hard, but not for themselves—for the company. If things went wrong, they didn’t seek to blame other to protect themselves. And if things went well, they immediately looked outside of themselves to congratulate others. They didn’t have an inflated ego that needed protecting all the time.
Humility is often confused with meekness or timidity but they’re not the same. Humility does not mean seeing yourself as inferior; rather, it means being aware of your natural dependence on and equity with those around you.
How is humility linked to mindfulness? Mindfulness is about accepting yourself just as you are, and being open to listening to and learning from others. Mindfulness is also synonymous with gratitude—you appreciate how others have helped you. And someone who is grateful for the contribution of others is naturally humble.
To develop a little more humility, try the following:
- Undertake mindful exercises: Mindfulness reduces activity in the part of the brain that generates the story of your self—sometimes called the narrative self. Giving too much attention to you and your own story is unhealthy. Mindfulness practice helps you to be more connected with your senses—the present self. Your attention widens and you can see how much others contribute to your everyday successes.
- Consider who has helped you right now: Spend a few minutes thinking about the number of people who have enabled you to read this article: your parents, guardians