Mindfulness at work – how to practice?

 

“If, then, I were asked for the most important advice I could give, that which I considered to be the most useful to the men of our century, I should simply say: in the name of God, stop a moment, cease your work, look around you.” ― Leo Tolstoy, Essays, Letters and Miscellanies

Earlier this week, I took part in an event for World Mental Health day, where we hosted over 385 people on two webinars to talk about Mindfulness. It was great to talk about what mindfulness is all about, but the biggest part of the discussion and questions from people was how you can practice mindfulness at work.

How do you practice Mindfulness at work? Does your work environment encourage you to practice? I was given the opportunity to describe how I practice.

Think about being present and not just on auto-pilot

  • Make a clear decision at the start of your workday to be present as best you can. Pause for a few moments before you start your work day to set this intention in your mind.
  • Focus your attention on the people and the discussions you have. Don’t just nod and agree. Really try to listen.
  • Don’t skim read emails, articles, and documents. I read from the bottom of emails back to the top to make sure I focus on the content.
  • In meetings, don’t do your emails at the same time.

Use Short Mindful Exercises at Work. I use the Three-minute Breathing Space meditation during the day, normally at lunchtime. 

Use short breathing exercises before or after meetings; telephone conversations or when you feel stressful

  • The exercise we shared this week was the 4,7,8 exercise. You place the tip of your tongue against the back of your top teeth. Breath in at your normal pace for the count of 4. Hold your breath for a count of 7. Then exhale for a count of 8. Repeat this at least three times and you will feel less stressful and more relaxed.

Use Mindful Reminders

  • Use some form of reminder to be mindful to take you out of auto-pilot mode. I use a reminder in my Outlook diary and set an appointment every day.Mine is set for 12:30 every day. It just gives me a little nudge, “have you been mindful so far today?”. Perhaps place a picture on your desk to remind you to be mindful. I have a mindful workplace mat that I glance at during the day.

Be a Single-Tasker

  • Single-tasking is doing one thing at a time. Multi-tasking is trying to do two or more tasks at the same time or switching back and forth between tasks. Nobody can actually multi-task. In reality, your brain is madly switching from one thing to the next, often losing data in the process.
  • Group tasks in categories. For example, put together emails, phone calls, errands, and meetings. Then you can do them all together in one block of time rather than switching from emails to calls to running an errand.
  • Switch off as many distractions as you can. Silence your phone, log off from your email account, and so on. Then set a timer for the amount of time you need to work, and record how much you get done. Do what works for you to focus on one task for a fixed period of time.

Pay Attention to the Small Stuff

  • When you are working, focus on the immediate task and the single element in front of you. Don’t worry about all the other tasks around you. Being present on.

“Pause, Reflect, Act” rather than “Fire and forget” on emails

  • We live such a reactive hectic work live that we have a tendency to “fire and forget”. When that email comes in from a colleague asking for help; raising an issue; complaining; or whatever, we have this insane habit of reacting immediately to the email. Get it done and out of the way. I see it all the time. People do not take the time to either read the email or to fully understand the context. You can end up in an email war of words. Instead, “Pause, Reflect and then Act” before responding. Take time. Even 24 hours before responding. I will even pen a response but hold it in my “draft items” for up to 24 hours before responding. It tends to take the heat out and you can more calmly review what you are writing.

Feel and Share Gratitude

  • Humans have a “negativity bias.” Essentially, this means that you’re much more likely to focus and dwell on something that’s gone wrong than on things that have gone well. Behaving in this way every day means that you ultimately adopt an excessively negative and unbalanced way of thinking.
  • Gratitude is the antidote. Plenty of evidence suggests that actively practicing gratitude makes you feel better and has a positive impact on your creativity, health, working relationships, and quality of work. Express gratitude to those around you, even if they do not respond. It is amazing how much a simple thank you and smile impacts others.

Cultivate Humility

  • Value other people’s opinions: If someone makes a point that challenges yours, suspend judgment. You can easily jump in and argue—but that implies that they’re wrong and you’re right. How can you be so sure? Stop and consider in what ways they may be right, too. This is true mindfulness in action—non-judgemental awareness together with curiosity and respect.
  • Show appreciation: When someone helps you out, in whatever way, show appreciation. Say thank you and really mean it.
  • Consider who has helped you right now: Spend a few minutes thinking about the number of people who have helped you at work today.
  • Humble people have a quiet confidence about themselves and don’t feel the need to continuously remind others of their achievements. Humility is attractive—no one enjoys being around those who continually sing their own praises, and most people enjoy the company of those who are willing to listen to them rather than talk about themselves all the time.

Finally, Make a Habit of It

  • For mindfulness to work at work, it helps to have both a formal practice of mindfulness – such as the 3-minute breathing space meditation as well as informal practices that you can do during the day. What is more important, though it to practice some of the elements I have mentioned every day. A little and often is far better than one practice, one day every month.

 

I would love to hear from you on how you practice Mindfulness at work. Do share your thoughts, practices, tips and advice.

I leave you with the following quote:

“Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.” ― Studs Terkel

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