Mindfulness has become something of a buzzword over the past few years. However, during these crazy coronavirus times, it’s becoming more important than ever to take some time during the day to focus on the present.
According to the Mayo Clinic, mindfulness is a simple (and fast) way to reduce stress, with benefits that include fewer negative emotions, increased self-awareness, and improved coping methods for managing stressful situations.
In this article, I’ll go over some of my top tips for making room for a mindfulness practice, so you can set the stage for a happier, more productive work life. Read on to learn more.
1. Make time in the morning
We all have our own morning routines. Some of us like to get up early, have a cup of coffee, and squeeze in a workout before logging on to the computer.
Some of us scramble to head out the door–or, these days, make that morning Zoom call. In any case, carving out a mindfulness routine in the morning starts the night before.
Mindfulness meditation is designed to help you broaden your awareness (or your ability to exist in the present). Over time, you’ll develop an ability to observe incoming thoughts and emotions, but let them pass like it’s no big deal.
That said, start by planning out a ten or 15-minute session in the morning instead of launching into a longer block of reflection. Set your alarm a few minutes earlier than normal and put your inbox on hold.
You might use this time to work through a deep breathing exercise, set your goals for the day, or finalize your schedule–but whatever it is, your goal is to set your intention for the day.
2. Pick a few times during the day to be mindful
While it’s tempting to try to power through the day to maximize the amount of work you can pump out, that approach often backfires. Consider how often you spend minutes (hours?) staring at a blank page, falling into an internet rabbit hole, or struggling to write a few simple emails. It’s probably more time than it takes to walk around the block, do a few yoga poses, or even just sit quietly and enjoy a really great snack.
In this article on Mindful.org, productivity expert, Joe Burton recommends taking a 5-10 minute break for every 50 minutes of work. Burton says that it’s important to give our minds a break so that we can jump back in and be more productive. You don’t need to do a lap around the block every 50 minutes–just make an effort to grab some water or stretch out a bit.
3. Reduce distractions
Okay, this one is easier said than done. Many of us have recently moved from open office plans to a shared work-from-home situation with kids, pets, and partners in the mix.
Whatever your situation, my recommendation is that you make an effort to reduce phone and email time. Start small, and challenge yourself to check your devices once every hour or so. Try setting a timer to help you stay on task.
Long-term, you’ll want to work toward carving out longer blocks of time where you avoid checking emails, texts, or socials. You might instead try making time for messaging once at the beginning of the day (after your morning meditation, of course), again in the middle, then once again just before the workday is done.
If you’re sharing a space with family members or colleagues, work with them to establish certain hours during the day where they’re not allowed to interrupt you. I get it, it’s hard, but a couple of two-hour “quiet sessions” can help you power through some of your pending cognitive tasks.
Finally, if noise is an issue, it’s worth investing in a pair of noise-canceling headphones and making white noise part of your daily soundtrack. Noisli is a great app (it’s free, too) for customizable white noise, while even Spotify can help you out (playlists like “Lo-Fi Study Beats” and “Atmospheric Calm” are great for drowning out distractions).
4. Plan your day
Time management, either you have it or you don’t, right? Well, not exactly. Sure, some of us are better at time management than others, but if you weren’t born with the gift, it’s definitely something you can work on.
And planning happens to be one of the best ways to improve this skill. I like to create a daily plan the night before–this way, when I wake up in the morning, I already have a roadmap in place for what’s ahead.
Make a list of obligations such as client calls, meetings, and appointments, and map out time to spend working on projects, brainstorming, and catching up on emails. From there, build in time for meditation, exercise, or catching up with family and friends. If you’re new at this, you might even block out times during the workday to take a break.
Finally, a lot of people like to make a list of their top priorities for the day–what do you hope to accomplish? Stick to two or three tasks that you think you can make progress on, breaking big projects into digestible pieces so that you don’t get overwhelmed.
5. Start each morning with what you are grateful for
According to a study published by the University of California, Berkeley, counting your blessings can be good for promoting well-being and overall satisfaction. Positive psychology researchers from Harvard also found a link between gratitude and improved health outcomes, greater happiness, and the ability to deal with adversity.
Practicing gratitude is effective because it helps people focus on what they have, rather than what they lack and gives them an opportunity to recognize and plan for the challenges ahead.
Additionally, gratitude can slowly change how we perceive situations. Over time, we start to notice new things and make adjustments to what we focus on.
Given these well-documented benefits, starting the day by reflecting on what you’re grateful for allows you to tap into a healthier headspace before you start work.
Some experts recommend writing down your blessings in a gratitude journal, others suggest picking a target number—think 3-5 items—others prefer a less structured approach like turning this practice into a daily meditation.
In any case, you’ll want to be specific, considering the feelings associated with each item you’ve chosen that day.
6. End each day with what you are grateful for
Just as we do in the morning, many of us rely on a tried-and-true set of routines before we shut the computer and close out the day.
Establishing a routine for ending the day on a positive note is just as important as starting off the workday with a few things you’re grateful for.
Close your email, clean up your workspace, and take a few deep breaths and think about what went well, what you’re looking forward to tomorrow or later down the line.
This site offers a mindfulness exercise you might try working through if you need a bit of guidance.
I like that they mention how important it is to remember the experiences you have each day, to reflect on the small things that made you happy–this could be anything, from finishing a major project to something that made you laugh, or whatever you had for lunch.
7. Bring passion to your job
Bringing passion to your job doesn’t necessarily mean that you already have your dream job.
Rather, it’s about assessing whether you’re learning new things, working toward goals and that there’s this sense of enthusiasm and discovery that you bring to work.
If you don’t feel “inspired,” ask yourself if it’s time to go. If you’re in a situation where it’s not realistic to leave (I get it, the job market is going nuts right now) consider what you can do to improve your situation.
Do you have time to learn a new skill through an online class?
Can you devote a couple of hours a day to a passion project or putting together a plan for your own business?
Whatever you can do to keep moving–even if your job situation isn’t ideal can help you stay motivated toward a brighter future.
8. Make sure your profession aligns with life goals
This one builds on my last point, being happy at work goes beyond gratitude and meditation. Whether your current career path aligns with your personal values and goals plays a major role here, as well.
Research has found that workers gauge workplace happiness based on the following criteria:
- Variety of projects
- Challenging tasks
- Task significance
- Opportunity to develop professional skills
- Social support
- Healthy environmental conditions
- Regular constructive feedback
- Networking opportunities
Ask yourself the following questions:
- How do you define success?
- What is your ideal work situation?
- What goals do you have for your professional life?
Once you’ve established a sense of what meaningful work looks like to you, put together a career to-do list that will help you achieve a series of realistic goals. Consider giving yourself a small task each day to keep up the momentum.
9. Keep balance
People get burnt out for all sorts of reasons. Long hours, a growing set of work responsibilities, unrealistic expectations, kids, trying to have it all. You get the idea.
Burnout happens when we get so overwhelmed we can’t keep up with the continuous stream of demands. Work-life balance has become something of a cliche but it’s a critical factor in fighting burnout and bringing your best self to work.
A few things to think about:
- Set Boundaries. Define clear boundaries to keep your work and personal lives separate. That might mean avoiding the inbox on the weekend or ending the work day at a certain time each day–whatever it takes to create a healthy separation from the pressures of work.
- Get Enough Sleep. Sleep deprivation isn’t a badge of honor. It hurts work performance, lowers your cognition, and makes it harder to cope with adversity.
- Take a Vacation. If possible, make vacation a priority. Time away from the office can reduce stress, improve sleep, and boost productivity.
Don’t worry about dedicated X amount of time to family & friends, hobbies, and work. Instead, look toward how you might improve your big picture well-being.
I hope the tips outlined above offer some inspiration for establishing a healthier relationship with work.
Especially in these uncertain times, carving out space for gratitude and personal development could bring some much-needed clarity around what’s next for you professionally.