In this “always on” world of work, it’s difficult to balance what we need to do with how we feel. Stress levels jump off the scale and focus goes out the door. Ironically, productivity sometimes drops as we try to do more. Science and high performing professionals increasingly point to mindfulness as an effective way to reverse that trend. Is it really possible to be more stress resilient and get more done? Yes, yes it is.
This doesn't have to be the mindfulness practice of sitting in silence. There are fast and simple ways to squeeze mindfulness into your work day. Here are five to get you started (you can work your way up to the silence eventually):
As much as we like to think it’s possible, human brains can’t focus on more than one thing at a time. In fact, a study at Stanford University found that if we try doing multiple things at once, we damage cognitive control. Of course you can have an email open on your screen next to a spreadsheet and a blogpost while messaging with a colleague. However, your brain is really only doing one of those things at a time, just at shorter intervals and with less focus. Embrace it. Finish your most important task first. As Mark Twain would say, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” Your brain will thank you. Your body will thank you (goodbye shoulder tension and headaches). And your team will be grateful because you get things done.
Host mindful meetings
Have you ever sat through a meeting wondering why you were even there? Meetings can often seem like a waste of time, if not well directed. Set your intentions for the meeting from the start. One team member should outline the reason for the meeting, then each member should state their intentions and what they hope to get out of it.. Everyone is more engaged when they know why they’re there. You'll be surprised how much more is accomplished. Perhaps there will even be fewer meetings. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Give your brain a break
At your desk or in a conference room, take 5 minutes to tune out and tune into yourself. Try a guided meditation, listen to music or savor some good old peace and quiet. Initially, it won't be easy. That upcoming meeting, the thing someone said or that report due at 4 will fight for your attention. The key is not to battle it. Let the thoughts in, then pass on through, kind of like clouds. Eventually your brain will settle and you'll return back to work focused and ready to rock.
Balance gratitude with growth
We get so focused on completing the next task, wrapping up the next project or getting that promotion, that we rarely look back in gratitude. Lots of positive things happen along the way. Both good and bad decisions transport you to the present. Looking back in gratitude for the help of others and lessons learned provide context for where you are and the destination ahead. Perhaps the only way to grow is to recognize where you’ve been. Experiment with gratitude journaling - it’s shown to improve sleep. Start by listing five things you’re grateful for in your career. Keep that list at your desk to remind yourself of the good, especially when things are hard.
Take a walk
Saving the easiest one for last. Take time to walk away. It can be to the other side of the office, around the block or a couple blocks. Leave your workspace. Get your body in motion and allow your eyes to focus on something else. New ideas will pop up. Science shows that this really happens. Your perspective will change and you’ll return to work a little more brilliant. Sometimes, invite a colleague to come along. This fosters relationships, but that's a another topic altogether…
Practicing even one of these five will make a noticeable difference in your work life. By allowing yourself to be more mindful at work, you’ll lower your stress and shift your perspective to focus better. Everything is going to be alright.