Five ways to use mindfulness at work
When most people think of mindfulness, they usually think of a meditation, which is something that is hard to get away and do at work unless your office has a dedicated meditation space. However, mindfulness is merely the act of being aware of your thoughts and feelings, focusing on the present moment, and achieving a state of non-judgmental acceptance – all things that can be done without meditation.
Here are five ways to use mindfulness at work without sitting down to meditate.
You may not be willing or able to meditate every day, but the breath is the core of any meditation practice. This is one of the easiest things you can do to use mindfulness at work because you can get some of the benefits of meditation just by taking a few minutes to breathe deeply at your desk – something anyone in any type of job can do. Breathing deeply will instantly calm your nervous system and reduce your stress levels, leaving you balanced and able to better focus on whatever you have in front of you.
Here’s how you do it: Sit with your back straight up and both feet flat on the floor and your arms uncrossed. Inhale as deeply as you can through your nose, almost to the point where you feel like you’re going to snore. Feel the cold breath go down your throat all the way into your belly. Hold your breathe for a few seconds and then exhale slowly through your mouth. Do this 2-3 more times and whatever stress you’re feeling will melt away, leaving you more grounded and centered.
2) Turn off your email.
Mindfulness at work means you’ve got to stop multi-tasking, and the number one obstacle in the way of that is email. Most of us have gotten into the bad habit of keeping our email open on our desktop all day long, stopping whatever we are doing when a message comes in to read it and instantly respond. But doing so is keeping you in a constant state of multi-tasking, in which you have to switch your brain from one task to another without getting into flow with anything you’re doing. We’ve convinced ourselves that we owe a response to any message the moment the moment it comes in, but the truth is that most messages can wait! If it’s an emergency, someone will come and find you.
Do this instead: For the first 45 minutes of every hour, turn off your email entirely. Focus on what you’re doing, one task at a time, with no multi-tasking allowed. This will allow you to achieve a higher quality result for that task in a shorter period of time. Then, for the last 15 minutes, turn on your email and see what has come in, responding to whatever you need to. This gets your colleagues timely answers but allows you to flow with other projects.
3) Listen actively
Between laptops and phones in meetings, and people fighting to make sure their individual points are being heard, listening is becoming a lost art in the office. However, this is to everyone’s detriment – allow people to feel heard, understood and considered is the easiest way to get their buy-in for projects, even if you don’t end up using their ideas. Most change initiatives in organizations fail because they overlook this point – they don’t listen.
Try this: When you’re having a discussion with a colleague, focus your full attention onto what they are saying, listening both for the direct content of their words, and the meaning and context behind the words. Then repeat back what you just heard. “What I heard you say is that you think the project is a good idea but you’re worried about how the timeline will impact your other priorities and it would really help you out if we pushed it back two weeks. Is that right?” Repeating it allows you to demonstrate that you heard them and their concerns, and gives them a chance to clarify their answers. Sometimes, you might even if that you didn’t hear them correctly at all and it cuts mis-communication off at the pass before it causes more problems down the road.
4) Take a walk
One of the worst things you can do to yourself at work is chain yourself to your desk all day – it’s doing to reduce your own enthusiasm for your job and the quality of your work. Taking breaks gives your mind a chance to rest and to reduce to look at problems with renewed focus and clarity.
Pencil it in: Block your calendar every day for a 15-20 minute walk outside (or walk around the office if the weather is bad). Get away from your desk, clear your head, and get some physical activity in. On nice days, you can also take a moment to be really appreciative to be able to be outside in the good weather instead of eating lunch in your cubicle.
5) Understand why you’re angry/annoyed/frustrated
Using mindfulness at work means that you should always be aware of your thoughts, feelings and emotions. Most of the time when you’re feeling any of those negative emotions at work, they are a mask for something else going on. Here’s your key question: What am I afraid of? If you can answer that question and focus on fixing that problem, rather than lashing out at the co-worker that caused it, you’ll set yourself up for greater success.
Here’s an example: Your co-worker misses a deadline and you get rightfully annoyed by that. You could send them an angry email, or complain to their boss, or be passive aggressive in a meeting about it, but none of those get to the heart of what you’re truly afraid of: The project not finishing on time, you being to blame for it, and getting in trouble. Focusing on solving for that problem is much more productive than focusing on your co-worker messing up. Maybe you go to them, show a little vulnerability, and say “I’m worried we’re not going to be able to meet this deadline. What can we do to stay on track? How can I help you?” You’ve instantly changed the tone of the conversation to one that could have been adversarial to one of collaboration and support.