Mindfulness and productivity may sound antithetic. Many people still see mindfulness as something you practice outside of work, as an activity with a dedicated time and place. Being mindful means interrupting the autopilot mode we often use on a day-to-day basis, taking the time to appreciate the little things, and observing your mental events.
Mindfulness is a secular contemplative practice that is derived from predom-inantly Buddhist meditative techniques. It is only one of many meditativetechniques that vary in the object of the meditation, the width of the attentional focus, the desired outcome and more . While mindfulnessis typically used by people to make themselves feel better and less stressed, the traditional use of mindfulness is to make the mind more pliable such that it is less overpowered by the negative emotions of greed, hatred, and delusion.
PRINCIPLES OF MINDFULNESS
- Free yourself from past and future worries. Don’t get trapped in reliving past work problems or pre-living future worries. If you’re struggling with a particularly painful memory at work, such as an epic project failure, use the noterday exercise to move on and focus on the present moment.
- Watch your thoughts and emotions at work. This is not about judging your emotional and mental states. Rather, it’s about being aware of them, accepting them, and moving on so you can get back to being productive.
- Get in the flow. To achieve a flow state, you need to find the right balance between the challenge of the activity and your own skills levels. Define your goal, cut out distractions, take a deep breath, and keep your mind fully attentive so you can stay relaxed and focused.
- Avoid multitasking. Humans are notoriously bad at multitasking. But few people can afford to stay focused on a single task until it’s done. Customers need to be helped, emails need to be answered. Use mindful context switching to strike a balance between productivity and responsiveness.
- Question your procrastination. Understanding the emotions behind procrastination is essential to overcome it. Run a quick motivation clinic to analyse the reasons why you struggle to feel motivated.
- Cultivate your curiosity. In order to be productive and creative, make sure to balance your input and output. Observe the world, take time to learn, ask questions, don’t take anything for granted.
- Develop a growth mindset. Having a growth mindset means you believe you can improve your intelligence and skills with hard work. Having a growth mindset is linked to better resilience and better long-term performance.
- Use metacognitive strategies. Metacognition is “thinking about thinking” or “learning about learning.” Instead of blindly working away, take the time to plan, monitor, and evaluate your working and learning experiences.
- Pay attention to your work environment. Be mindful of where you work and how it affects your productivity. Is it cluttered? Noisy? Note that none of these are negative in themselves — some people do feel more creative in messy, noisy environments. It’s all about being aware of what works for you and adapting your environment based on your findings.
- Take mindful breaks. Not just getting up to grab a cup of coffee, but instead using breaks to remind yourself to be mindful of your thoughts, emotions, and your environment.
WAYS TO APPLY MINDFULNESS AT WORK
1. Meditation exercises
Meditation doesn’t have to be regimented or intimidating. It can be done virtually anywhere and anytime, just by giving yourself a few minutes. Here are beginner tips on meditating, for whenever you have some free time:
Get comfortable. There’s no requirement that you have to be sitting cross-legged and upright to meditate. The most important thing is that you’re comfortable, so feel free to meditate in a chair, lying in bed, or even standing if that’s what comfortable for you. The idea is to minimize distractions, so find a position you can maintain without problems.
Scan your body for tension. Starting at the top of your head and working down, notice any points in your body with tension and release it. The usual suspects involve your brow, your shoulders, your neck, and sometimes even your jaw.
Don’t beat yourself up for thinking. Naturally, it’s not easy to clear your mind of all thought. Don’t get frustrated at yourself for not being able to shut off your mind — it happens to everyone, even meditation experts. Rather, simply observe these thoughts as they “float by” your consciousness. Letting them come and go is part of the process. As long as you don’t engage them, it still counts as meditating.
4–7–8 breathing technique. Here’s a good method for beginners who have trouble clearing their minds: Focus on your breathing, specifically using the 4–7–8 technique:
- Breathe in for four seconds.
- Hold your breath for seven seconds.
- Exhale for eight seconds.
This is a good “training wheels” meditation for people who struggle with being idle. The instructions are involved enough to keep your mind occupied with counting, but still simple enough that they won’t distract from mindfulness.
2. Avoid multitasking
Multitasking is what you might call a “false friend”: it makes you feel like you’re more productive, but research shows it doesn’t help us get more done and can actually negatively impact the quality of our work — and our mental health.
All multitasking does is water down your efforts for each task, as opposed to applying full focus to each. Completing one task at a time, however, helps train your focus, fitting hand-and-hand with mindfulness.
3. Be consistent
To get the most out of mindfulness, you have to practice it regularly. A common piece of advice for newcomers is to meditate at least once a day and turn it into a habit.
Daily meditation doesn’t have to take long, but when you’re just starting out, the trouble is less about the time commitment and more about actually remembering to do it every day. During those first few days, set an alarm reminder so you don’t forget. You can pick whatever time of day is best for you, as long as you do it.
4. Professional guidance
Are you interested in mindfulness training for your entire organization? Getting an individual to embrace mindfulness seems easy compared to getting a group of people on board, but you can still enlist the help of experts or agencies for company-wide implementation.
There are plenty of programs to teach business-centric mindfulness. Search for groups under MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Relief) or MBCT (Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Training), with most courses lasting four to eight weeks. Alternatively, you don’t need an in-house trainer if you use an online course or webinar. These are more flexible with logistics, and can offer the same quality of instruction.
If you’re really serious about maximizing your productivity — to say nothing of improving your life and happiness — mindfulness isn’t something to brush off. It may feel fluffy at first, but with research backing up its effects, it’s worth trying out for yourself, or your entire team.