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Mindfulness practice improves performance

5 ways to be more mindful at work

Photo by Mark David

Mindfulness may seem like a great idea, but
how do you become more mindful in the context of a busy work day? Juggling
e-mail, phone calls, meetings and presentations, we often work at a dizzying
pace. As Jan Bruce reminds us in Forbes, mindful leaders slow down to go faster. Here
are five ways you can get started on going faster by slowing down.

1. Be Consciously Present

According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness is “The awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally, to the unfolding of experience, moment by moment.” Be consciously aware of two aspects of your moment-to-moment experience—what’s going on around you and what’s going on within you. To be mindful at work means to be consciously present in what you’re doing, while you’re doing it, as well as managing your mental and emotional state. Pause for a few moments before you start your work day to orient yourself both physically and mentally. Focus your attention on emotions, thoughts, sensations and the surrounding environment in an acceptable and non-judgmental way.

2. Integrate Short Mindful Exercises

Practicing mindfulness 20-minutes a day over 8 weeks demonstrated measurable positive changes to the brain (Kabat-Zinn, 2010). If you find it difficult to allocate 20 minutes for meditation, here’s some good news. Neuroscience researchers believe in the cumulative effects of short mindfulness exercises. The next time you feel pressure mounting at work, try practicing a short mindfulness exercise. The process helps to tone down the fight-or-flight response and engages the wise part of your brain, so that you make reasoned decisions rather than automatically react to external stimuli. Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter’s article “How to Practice Mindfulness Throughout Your Work Day” is an excellent place to start.

3. Be a Single-Tasker

Multi-tasking is a myth. When you multitask, you are actually switching back and forth between tasks damaging your brains and losing valuable data in the process. Switch off as many distractions as you can. Silence your phone, log off from your email account, and close your door. Then set a timer for the amount of time you need to work on a project that requires focused attention.

4. Use Mindful Reminders

Even after attending one of my Mindful Performance Workshops, you may forget to be mindful! Our brain cycles through states of awareness with 47 percent of the time wandering in often negative thoughts (Ricard et al, 2014). We need to be reminded to stop our unconscious wandering and return to a state of awareness. Try these strategies for staying mindful: (1) Set an alarm on the phone to remind you to meditate or do another mindful exercise. Even a vibrating alarm that doesn’t disturb others can work well. Only use this during the day. Charge your phone outside of your bedroom at night to get at least 7 hours of undisturbed sleep! (2) Put mindfulness on your calendar – setting an appointment with yourself!

Every time your phone rings, take a mindful breath. Every time you hear the ping of a text message, pause to be mindful of your surroundings rather than immediately reacting to the external stimuli. A mindful breath helps you take a small step back and reflect rather than automatically react to what’s coming at you in the form of demands, tasks, and challenges.

5. Slow Down To Speed Up

Mindfulness demonstrates how by stopping to take pauses during your day, you can become more efficient, productive, happy, resilient, and healthy at work.  Arianna Huffington’s book The Sleep Revolution observes that “We are in the midst of a sleep deprivation crisis and this has profound consequences – on our health, our job performance, our relationships and our happiness.”  

If you get seven hours of sleep with mindful breaks throughout the day, your brain would become even more efficient, focused, effective at communicating with others, and better at learning new skills. Sleep deprivation leads to bad decisions. Instead, pause, focus, and take your time when at work. Effective leaders slow down and reflect to make the best decisions and actions—they slow down mindfully to speed up.

Starting your mindfulness practice today with small steps could lead to a long-term commitment of achievement. If you do the work, it will work for you. Follow me at @DonnaOti to learn more.

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