Practice presence for more meaningful & fulfilling days
What is usually running through your mind as you work? If you’re not sitting at your desk right now, take a moment to imagine you are…
Is your mind racing, hectic with stressful thoughts? Do you feel yourself chasing after the next project deadline, worrying over the email you have to write, or wondering if what you do really matters?
What if your mind felt open, relaxed, and focused on the present? It could be – if you make a conscious effort to make your workday more mindful.
Remember—your thoughts are not facts. Through mindful practices, you can train your mind to respond (rather than react to) circumstances around you.
Not only is this a game changer when it comes to reducing stress, but mindfulness can help you build healthy habits that increase your focus and productivity while improving overall work performance and job satisfaction.
The practice of mindfulness: what it’s all about
Mindfulness is about living in the moment, gently noticing what is going on in and around you, without passing judgment on anything or anyone.
According to one study on workplace mindfulness, it can be defined as a “present-focused consciousness”, where you’re not overthinking the past or worrying about the future.
Throughout a mindful workday, you’re paying close attention to internal and external stimuli, simply accepting each situation without analyzing or trying to rationalize them.
Dan Harris, author of 10 Percent Happier, describes mindfulness as “the ability not to be yanked around by your own emotions.”
Practicing mindfulness—training yourself to come back to the present moment time and time again—develops your ability to focus better, and for longer. But the benefits don’t stop there.
Why be more mindful?
The short answer: Because it’s good for you.
Let’s take a peek at some of the research that’s been done on the effects of mindfulness in life and in the workplace.
Positive social relationships are enhanced by mindfulness, as revealed in a 2011 study. By buffering the negative effects of stressors, mindfulness creates an environment where people can flourish and creativity thrives.
The same study also demonstrated that mindfulness fosters resiliency. In light of the interpersonal and task-related stressors all of us face at the workplace and in our personal lives, the ability to persist through difficult circumstances with a smile is vital to workplace wellbeing and mindful productivity.
Productive mindfulness at work
In a study published in The Journal of Applied Psychology, researchers discovered that mindfulness increases self-determined behavior, which in turn positively affects job satisfaction. When you’re able to align your work with your personal needs and values, your day-to-day tasks become more meaningful and fulfilling.
Mindfulness also decreases automatic functioning at the workplace, according to the same study. As attention and awareness of the present moment increase, job satisfaction also increases, making burnout a rarity.
Enhanced performance is also on the list of benefits mindfulness offers to employees (and employers). Mindfulness is associated with a decrease in cognitive failures such as forgetfulness and distraction and is also thought to promote better decision-making. In other words, mindful workers enjoy improved work performance.
The previously mentioned Cambridge study discovered that mindfulness training has proven benefits for the wellbeing of workers, by decreasing workplace stress through building resilience. This also enhances engagement, decreases chances of burnout, and promotes better work performance.
Techniques to build a mindfulness practice at work
It’s easy to slip out of a focused, relaxed mindset at the ping of a notification, a sudden worrying thought, or even a musing daydream. Being mindful means being present, intentionally.
But let’s admit it—not all of us have the time to meditate for an hour every day.
Given limitations on our time and energy, what can we do to ensure we consistently and mindfully return to the present even on the busiest of workdays?
Here are 12 small ways to make your workday more mindful:
1. Breathing techniques
This is probably the most popular mindfulness technique out there, and for good reason. An effective, relaxing breathing practice need not take more than a few minutes. Plus, you can do them just about anywhere, anytime—even at your desk.
For starters, try the box breathing method: inhale, hold, exhale, and wait, for four seconds each.
You’ve heard us talk about this a thousand times, but it’s so important (and true!) that it bears repeating. Multi-tasking is the enemy of mindfulness, as it requires your brain to be focused on two different things at once, making “being in the present” impossible.
As you single-task your way through each Pomodoro session or the whole day, keep a notebook by your side to note down any distracting thoughts or the next to-do so you can return to the task at hand without being afraid you’d forget something important.
3. Mindful eating
Eating without worry, stress, or anxiety can be difficult when you’re in the middle of the workday and there’s still a lot to get done. Many of us are probably guilty of wolfing down lunch, eating junk food, or eating in front of the computer when under work-related pressure.
Why not take the concept of monotasking and mindfully approach it to your snacks and meals? Take the time to focus on your meal and actually enjoy the food.
4. Make note of your senses
During a hectic workday, it’s easy to forget that we are human beings who feel, hear, see, taste, and smell things.
Perhaps you’ve experienced moments when you’re aware only of your mind racing and your fingers typing; that’s a sign that you’ve lost a mindful connection with the rest of your body (including your emotions and other senses).
Take a moment every hour or so to step back from your work and fully be present where you are in your body and in your environment. What do I hear? What’s that smell? What does the floor beneath my feet feel like?
Asking yourself these questions can help you make note of your senses in a mindful way.
To take this workplace mindfulness practice to the next level, try one of the following exercises on your next break:
- Do a body scan: Intentionally focus your attention on one specific area of your body at a time, starting from the soles of your feet to the top of your head.
- Melt your muscles: Are your shoulders hunched over? Is your jaw clenched? Working in front of the computer for hours on end can lead to some tense, unhealthy postures we’re not even aware of. Use the next several minutes to drop your shoulders down and back, sit up tall, close your eyes, and consciously relax your body.
5. Use mindful prompts
Ask yourself one (or all three) of the following mindful prompts to bring a more intentional, and meaningful approach to the task or project you’re going to tackle next:
- Why does this work matter to me? How does what I do impact others?
- Who supports me and my professional success, and how can I demonstrate my appreciation for them through my work?
- What would I like to focus on today? What one thing do I most need to get done?
6. Purposeful pauses
Being present doesn’t require sitting on couches for hours focusing on your breath. Find short moments throughout the day to focus on your breath, emotions, or physical senses.
Practice ignoring the hubbub around you or on your device, and allow yourself a minute to breathe mindfully. Be purposefully present and focused on that moment, even if it’s just to pause for a couple of breaths.
7. Mindful commutes
It’s tempting to spend time in transit worrying over work-related issues or the stressors around us, such as delays or road closures. When negative thoughts invade your mind, take a few calming deep breaths, acknowledge the stressors and frustrations, and simply let them go. Refocus on the present moment without judgment, and smile.
If you’d like something to listen to as you mindfully unwind from the workday, try an on-the-go meditation.
8. Mindful listening (especially in meetings!)
Whenever someone’s speaking to you, give them your full attention and focus on what’s being said, instead of what you expect or want to hear, and absorb the information without passing judgment on it.
Make it a point to not bring your phone or computer to meetings. If that’s not practical, make sure to have all notifications turned off in advance to help you stay present and focused on the speaker. Not only can mindful listening enhance your interpersonal relationships but you’ll also be a more effective and powerful communicator.
9. Mindfulness apps
Since digital devices are often our biggest obstacle to practicing mindfulness at work, it does seem a little oxymoronic for us to recommend digital tools. However, apps like Headspace, Calm, Personal Zen, and others can be useful in guiding your thoughts during purposeful breaks and supporting a mindfulness practice.
10. Freedom Focus Music
Music is powerful. It can make you dance, cry, laugh, or scream. (Okay—maybe not that last one.) But relaxing, meditative sounds as you work can help you stay mindfully focused on the task at hand. Freedom’s Focus Sounds and music tracks are specially designed to promote attention and productivity as you tune out distractions and dive into work.
11. Block distractions with Freedom
Distractions are the number one enemy of workplace mindfulness. And in our information-saturated, constantly-connected world, the battleground for “peace of mind” often starts with our phones and computers. Web blockers like Freedom remove digital distractions that stand between you and a mindful workday, increasing your ability to focus and produce great work.
12. Mindful work mornings
The blurred lines between work and personal life–checking work email before bed, staying awake thinking over professional issues, etc—cause exhaustion, procrastination, and even burnout.
To counteract this, we’re often advised to detach from work. Set your “out of office” times and stick to them. Take time to have fun, simply do nothing, and make a concerted effort to find a better balance.
But what about getting back to work? After completely detaching from work and relaxing for a while, you may find it difficult to motivate yourself to go back to work and actually be focused and productive again.
Overcoming that slump by mentally preparing for the workday before it begins can lead to a better work experience, according to this study. By mindfully “reattaching” yourself to work when the weekend or even a short break session is over, you’re giving yourself the signal that it’s time to buckle down, focus, and do things. This prepares you for a productive, relaxed, and mindful workday.
What about on a corporate level?
Mindfulness at work starts at the individual level—but it doesn’t have to end there.
Leading companies such as Verizon, Intel, and LinkedIn (all part of the Mindful Workplace Alliance ) report that building mindfulness practices and programs into the workplace at the corporate level results in:
- Decreased absenteeism
- Increased employee well-being
- A higher percentage of skilled applicants
- A 200% return on investment
- Improved employee engagement and leadership trust
Company-wide mindfulness programs included the Three Breaths practice from LinkedIn, guided walking meditations at Verizon, and calming five-minute body scans from Infineon.
When a company is made up of mindful people, you’ll begin to see emotional flare-ups in a meeting being diffused quickly, and discussions that focus on finding solutions to problems rather than shifting blame.
The state of your mind at work
Mindfulness doesn’t only offer benefits for your work and productivity. As you develop mindful practices and habits, you’re bound to experience positive changes in your personal life, health, and overall wellness.
Taking time before, during, and after each workday to reflect on what you do, why you do it, and how you might best approach each task brings calm, focus, and a sense of meaning to your work life.
Instead of just going through the motions during your workday or worrying over project details at midnight, build mindful productivity into the way you approach your job through the techniques we’ve covered.
Why not put mindfulness to work?