Mindfulness sounds good in theory, but it can be difficult to imagine mindfulness as part of a busy workday. Back-to-back meetings, notifications dinging across multiple platforms, approaching deadlines and working lunches…how could you possibly include a mindfulness practice?
A daily mindfulness practice can act as a buffer against workplace fatigue when you have a process in place for recalling breathing techniques to bring your attention back to the present moment. Mindfulness can help reduce feelings of burnout and improve levels of optimism at work.
What is mindfulness? Mental clarity achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations
Practice the following 6 tips – start with one that you feel will be the most helpful – to become more mindful at work.
Each of the following tips begins with a short practice, statement, question, affirmation or a mixture, in italics, to provide an example of how mindfulness might look in the context of your workday.
I encourage you to read and pause for reflection, revisiting it as many times as you need throughout your day. You might find it helpful to write them in your journal or print them and post them somewhere you can refer back to as needed.
Mindfulness At Work
1. Take Breaks
Acknowledge your mental, physical, and energetic capacity for work. Notice how your body feels in this moment. Locate your breath as you inhale and exhale deeply, relaxing your shoulders down and away from your ears. Think back to the last time you took a break as you prepare for another break right now. Remember, you are not a machine.
Our nervous systems are not wired to process the influx of information we consume all day. Time chunking, often using the Pomodoro Technique of 25 mins of work and 5 mins of rest, is a simple way to start adding mindfulness breaks into your day.
You can find an app or use your phone to set interval timers of 25 minutes of focused work and a 5-minute break to stand, stretch and look away from the screen. If you work from home, it’s easy to work all day without taking breaks or feeling the need to take an actual lunch break.
Breaking up the day can help you become more mindful of time and of what you need to feel your best. A bonus that it keeps the day from feeling like one big blur.
2. Be Present
Bring your attention to what you are doing in this moment. What do you see in front of you, on your screen, on your desk, in your immediate surroundings? Each time your mind wanders to the meeting you have this afternoon, the conversation you had with your team this morning or the errands you have to run when you log off, bring your attention back to the task at hand.
Multitasking might have you thinking you’re getting a lot done, but to what end? Are you running on fumes, becoming more forgetful or on auto pilot without paying attention to detail?
Practice mindfulness to be present in the moment. You might have to bring your attention back to your task over and over and that’s ok; mindfulness is a practice that gets stronger by repetition.
Some aspects of your work environment might be outside your control and practicing mindfulness can help you regain focus among distractions.
3. Lean into Stress
Take a deep breath in through your nose and exhale fully through your mouth. Repeat this breath cycle three more times at your own pace. As you return to your normal breath, take a metal scan of your body from head to toe – take note of your stress level. Welcome your stress as a healthy indication of a need for change.
This may sound counterintuitive, but stress can be helpful to show you parts of your work life that may need improvement. Stress at work can illuminate areas where you need support from your team, advocacy from your boss, freedom to take leave or to block off “no-meeting days.”
Above all, stress can be an indication that you need to slow down. If you heed the signals your body sends you when you have to make a presentation, you might notice that you’d like to take some speaking courses to ease your fears of public speaking.
Or, if you notice that your heart rate kicks up when you’re about to take leave, you may need to delegate tasks so that you can fully unplug on vacation without anxiety.
Being mindful about your stress levels can help change your perspective about stress – instead of avoiding a stressful situation, you become curious about what your response is trying to tell you.
4. Practice Acceptance
Take a moment to acknowledge the events of the day so far. Release the need to control the outcome of the day, at home and at work. Accept that you have done your best and that tomorrow is a new day where you can try again.
Some days are better than others. Some days feel productive and some are a slow crawl to 5pm. You may feel like you aced one presentation while another felt like a total blunder.
At the beginning of each day, set an intention to accept the day as it is and release the need to control or to know the outcome. At the end of the day, acknowledge that you did your best.
Acceptance is key to knowing when it’s time to log off. Be aware of your patterns and accept those that don’t serve your work life balance – any pattern is open to being changed as long as you are mindful.
5. Notice Your Body
Stand, stretch and notice your breath. Take a moment of gratitude for your body.
When we notice our cell phone battery dying, we immediately start searching for a charger and will stop at nothing until we’ve found a power source.
However, when our bodies need a charge, we keep pushing and pushing until we start to run on fumes. Mindfulness means treating our physical energy like we treat our cell phone – notice a dip in power and immediately start looking for a charge.
6. Practice Gratitude
Think of 3 things about your work, company or team for which you are most grateful. Maybe it’s your team dynamic, your role in the organization, an upcoming interview or a recent promotion. Write them down and add to your list each day.
Humans are wired toward a negativity bias, meaning that it’s easier for us to see and dwell on the negative than to focus on the positive. Gratitude is the remedy.
A daily mindfulness practice makes it easier to notice things you’re grateful for because you’re focusing on the present, not dwelling on the past or being anxious about the future. Gratitude in the workplace can lead to deeper connections to your team, the mission and the work you do as part of a collective.
*This is not to be confused with toxic positivity or spiritual bypassing of smiling through abuse or unsafe working conditions, but rather focusing on things that you’re grateful for while you’re waiting for your situation to improve.
Most days at work are challenging enough to just do your actual job let alone balancing the other demands on your time. But, making time for mindfulness has many benefits including prioritizing your mental energy to enhance creativity, being grateful, paying attention to detail and being proactive about avoiding burnout.
Mindfulness is a practice and practice makes progress. Dedicate time to mindfulness each day and you’ll find that taking care of your mental wellbeing becomes second nature.