Mindfulness at Work: Practical Tips for Busy Professionals
Mindfulness at work might sound like an oxymoron.
With the frenetic pace, constant interruptions, and “always-on” expectations, the modern workplace has become the land of distractions.
According to the 2018 Workplace Distraction Report by Udemy, 70% of workers say they feel distracted at work.
But you don’t have to write off mindfulness in the workplace as a pipe dream.
We’ll share how you can easily incorporate effective micro-practices into your workday and reap the many benefits – for you, your team, and your organization.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a hot topic right now, but it’s often oversimplified and misunderstood. So, let’s take a moment to define the term before we talk about the benefits and practical applications of mindfulness in the workplace.
We turn to Jon Kabat-Zinn, who’s internationally known for bringing mindfulness into the mainstream. He defines mindfulness as, “The awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.”
In other words, mindfulness is the act of:
- Being fully aware of whatever you’re doing
- Accepting your thoughts and feelings as they arise
- Taking action (or inaction) based on this awareness
But mindfulness doesn’t just take place on a meditation cushion. It’s always available to you – anytime, anywhere.
Even when you’re at work.
How can mindfulness help at work?
Incorporating mindfulness at work has been found to improve focus, reduce stress, and enhance your decision-making skills. When an entire organization embraces mindfulness at work, it can boost collaboration skills, overall productivity, and agility in times of change.
How mindfulness helps you perform better at work
Mindfulness appears to set off a positive chain reaction within the brain. Research has shown that by practicing mindfulness techniques, you can increase density in your pre-frontal cortex. This is the area of the brain associated with higher-order brain functions such as awareness, concentration, and decision-making.
Not only that, the amygdala appears to shrink. This primal region of the brain, associated with fear and emotion, is involved in the initiation of the body’s response to stress.
What’s most fascinating is that the connection between the amygdala and the rest of the brain gets weaker, while the connections between areas of the pre-frontal cortex get stronger. In other words, by growing neural networks, you’re rewiring your brain to find better ways to handle tasks and cope with stress.
As one meditation study participant noted, “I now have moments of choice that I didn’t have before.”
When you practice mindfulness, you take in more vital information and give yourself the luxury of pausing before you leap to decisions.
How mindfulness helps your entire organization
Based on the personal benefits described above, we might naturally assume that mindfulness increases productivity. If you’re concentrating better, making smarter decisions, and feeling less stressed, it seems likely you’ll get more accomplished. Although there’s not enough research to state that definitively, studies are positive so far.
But the benefits of mindfulness for organizations go beyond productivity.
Initial evidence from a new comprehensive analysis of mindfulness research suggests that mindfulness can also impact how we relate to others. Researchers theorize that it may improve our interpersonal relationships through greater empathy and compassion as well as strengthen our listening skills. This translates into coworkers collaborating more effectively and leaders incorporating broader perspectives. It’s a distinct advantage.
Why is mindfulness important at work?
Ultimately, the benefits of mindfulness at work are greater resilience and adaptability to change. Not just for individuals, but for the entire organization. These qualities are critical for success in our modern world.
After all, work is stressful. Many of us face mounting workloads, job uncertainties, and new challenges every day. With burnout recently recognized by the World Health Organization as an official medical diagnosis, it’s even more obvious that organizations need to address stress in the workplace.
How to practice mindfulness at work
So, now that we’ve discussed its benefits, what is mindfulness in the workplace?
Since mindfulness is often associated with a formal sitting practice (are you picturing yourself on a cushion in the breakroom?), you might be wondering how you’re going to do mindfulness meditation at work.
But it’s nothing like that.
You can easily weave our exercises and tips within your workday. Plus, no one will even know you’re trying to incorporate mindfulness at work.
We’ve organized these into steps for clarity, but you can pick and choose which ones feel most comfortable as a starting point.
- Remove Distractions
- Single Task, Don’t Multitask
- Take Mindful Pauses
- Have Mindful Conversations
Step 1: Remove Distractions
First, let’s make it easier for you to be mindful. That means taking control of your digital environment.
Most of us spend our days reacting to the beeps and pings from our technology notifications. Distractions like these can really add up — and stress you out.
Not only do you lose time reacting, but it also takes time to refocus. In fact, according to a study from the University of California Irvine, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to a task after being interrupted.
We’ll show you how to create a work environment that’s conducive to mindfulness by managing your notifications and adding tools specifically designed to help you focus.
Uninstall unused apps
While this tip will take a little time, it’s a good investment. Let’s start with your phone. The average smartphone user has more than 80 apps on their phone, but only uses about 40 each month. Think about how many unnecessary notifications you could eliminate if you cleared out unused apps.
Computer notifications can be just as distracting.
- For PC users, here’s an article from AVG on cleaning up your PC.
- For Mac users, Clean My Mac offers a similar tutorial on keeping your Mac clean.
Revisit your notifications
Most people get up to 63 notifications in a single day, according to a recent study. That’s 63 times you had to stop, look, and re-focus on your work!
But don’t get overwhelmed at the thought of updating all your apps. Start by focusing on the ones that send the most unnecessary notifications. You could also update apps as you use them. And don’t forget to choose one device for notifications – you don’t need your phone and computer to beep when they’re sitting next to each other.
You might also consider pausing your notifications. Whether you use Windows or a Mac, you can pause notifications on your computer. Microsoft calls it Focus Assist (known as Quiet Hours in earlier versions). On your Mac, it’s called Do Not Disturb. You can also pause notifications on your phone. Here are instructions for both Android and iPhone.
Install a website blocker
It’s very easy to fall into an internet black hole. We’ve all done it!
Fortunately, there are tools that let you limit access to certain websites or apps for periods of time. You can block only certain sites, the entire internet, or everything except the sites you need. Check out Freedom or FocusMe.
Set up multiple virtual desktops
Have you ever seen someone with several monitors? This set-up allows them to view all their projects while keeping them separate. By setting up virtual desktops, you can have multiple, distinct desktops on a single computer, making it easier to focus on one project at a time. This is very simple to do on both Macs and PCs.
Listen to music designed to help you focus
Many people report that music (and certain sounds in general) enhance their focus. If that’s the case for you, check out Focus@Will. They offer specially curated and produced music tracks designed to improve your focus. You might also like Noisli. This site allows you to create your own set of background sounds by combining clips from rain, water, wind, and more.
Step 2: Single Task, Don’t Multitask
No one can actually multitask. Your brain is just switching back and forth between two activities, making it harder to complete both tasks. Paul Crenshaw, the author of The Myth of Multitasking, calls this background tasking or switch tasking.
This way of working is less efficient, causes more mistakes, and over time, can sap our mental energy.
We often multitask because we’re reacting to something — an email, a notification, or someone stopping by our office. Here are some suggestions that encourage a more mindful approach.
Work in time blocks
Switching between different projects during the day can be unproductive and draining. After all, you need a few minutes to “get your bearings,” and if you’re using a totally different part of your brain, it takes even longer.
Instead of haphazardly working on tasks on your to-do list, see if you can cluster them into batches. Are they all related to the same client? Do they all require focused time writing? Could you make all your phone calls at the same time?
Schedule uninterrupted time to work
When you need to focus on a specific task, put a meeting on your calendar to let colleagues know that you’re busy and shouldn’t be interrupted. With an hour of no emails, calls, or texts, you’ll produce a better final product — and do it in less time.
Answer emails at specific times during the day
It’s tough to break the habit, but you might consider only reviewing and responding to emails a few times per day, rather than as they arrive. If you can’t stop yourself, try Inbox Pause by Boomerang. This allows you to receive emails automatically on a schedule of your choice. It’s available through Google, Outlook, and iPhone.
Step 3: Take Mindful Pauses
So far, we’ve focused on creating the conditions for a more mindful workday. Let’s switch gears and talk about some mindfulness at work exercises. These practices will give you the mental space necessary to reduce stress and improve your decision-making. Here’s how to be present at work.
S.T.O.P. for a mindful moment
S.T.O.P. is an acronym that reminds you to pause and check-in with yourself. You might choose to do this at certain times of the day. For example, before you step into work, before you eat lunch, or before you walk into your house at the end of the workday. You could also set an alarm on your phone. But don’t do it if it’s just another notification that will stress you out!
- S – Stop whatever you’re doing
- T – Take a breath deeply to center yourself
- O – Observe your thoughts, feelings, and emotions without judgment
- P – Proceed with what you’re doing, using any insights from your new awareness
Listen to a brief guided meditation
There are a growing number of meditation apps available. You could pop on your headphones and listen to a brief five or ten minute guided meditation to reconnect with yourself.
Take a mindful walk
When you have a moment for a break, find a spot where you can walk quietly and slowly. This could be a long hallway, city street, or local park. Be aware of your feet touching the ground, your arms moving beside you, or your breath as you walk. You could also count your footsteps up to ten and start over.
Take notice of the smells, sights, and sounds around you. As your mind wanders, gently guide it back to the present moment and the sensations you’re having.
Just ten minutes of mindful walking can be a refreshing break in your day and give you a new perspective when you return to your work.
Eat a mindful lunch
Many of us rush through our lunch, even working straight through as we inhale our food. But it’s another excellent opportunity for a mindfulness break.
The most important thing to remember is to slow down and pay attention. Make sure you sit down to eat (at a table), chew each bite longer, and set your fork down between bites. Avoid doing anything other than eating. We know you want to look at your phone, but this isn’t the time.
Instead, be present to the experience of what you’re eating. The texture, the smell, the heat or coolness, the colors, and taste. You’ll feel more satisfied with what you’re eating and your stomach will thank you for it too.
Step 4: Have Mindful Conversations
Mindfulness is often considered an individual endeavor. However, it extends to our interactions with others. When you give your full attention to another person, you’re able to understand nuances that weren’t evident to you before. In addition, you can observe your own thoughts and feelings before reacting automatically. This creates an opportunity for heightened understanding.
Let’s talk about two ways you can elevate your work relationships through mindfulness.
Have a beginner’s mind
We often enter into conversations or relationships with preconceived notions — about what the person will say, what they mean, or how you’re going to respond.
Instead, try to listen without making immediate judgments. Observe what’s being said and try to place yourself in the shoes of your colleague. What might they be feeling or thinking? Take on a curious mindset. Confirm your assumptions and stay open.
Create boundaries at meetings
If you’ve ever been at a meeting when everyone is checking their phones and computers, you know how much of a time-waster it can be. Set a good example for your colleagues by implementing guidelines, such as:
- All phones must be turned off
- Keep your computer closed unless it’s necessary as part of the meeting
- Have one person take notes, so everyone can pay attention
- Give everyone an opportunity to speak, uninterrupted
Mindfulness at Work
Hopefully, you’re ready to begin incorporating mindfulness at work now that you have our tips, tools, and exercises to guide you.
If you’d like even more support, we recommend taking our new Insight Timer course Develop Healthy Digital Habits.
It dives into these concepts even more and you can interact directly with our founder Robert Plotkin.