I am a recovering perfectionist. I have a gift for being able to create and execute new ideas and strategies. Many would assume that this is the secret to my success; however, the real secret is how I pursue excellence every day in my personal and professional life without losing myself in the process. Or, as Zen-master Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “You cannot stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” I hit my breaking point eight years ago and knew I had to find a better path. With every breakdown, there is always a breakthrough, and it led me to research-backed mindfulness and meditation. Since that time, I practice it regularly and – just like brushing my teeth or a regular sleep schedule – it has become an essential part of my routine. Now I cannot live without it.
Recently, companies – large and small – have seen the evidence around mindfulness and realized many of their best employees could benefit from practicing meditation. I asked my guru Dorsey Standish of Mastermind Meditate some questions about workplace mindfulness to help those who are curious about establishing a practice.
What are the benefits of cultivating a mindfulness practice at work?
Regular mindfulness practice has been shown to reduce stress as well as improve focus and short-term memory, thereby enhancing performance. There’s even evidence that mindfulness can shift your perception of time to make you feel like you have more time to get things done. There’s a saying that if you don’t have five minutes to meditate, you need to spend 15 minutes meditating to give you perspective and time efficiency.
What do you wish all leaders and teams knew about slowing down through mindfulness?
That it’s actually a superpower. In our rush to get things done, we forget that we are human beings, not human doings, and that connecting with each other and the present moment is the whole point of life! Slowing down can help you reconnect with yourself, the people around you and why you’re even doing the work you’ve chosen in the first place.
Why is going fast not always better when it comes to productivity?
Going fast and rushing to get things done often results in mistakes that end up costing you more time. Go slow to go fast.
In which ways can slowing down help you speed up your productivity? What does slowing down to benefit productivity look like?
Slowing down to benefit productivity means concentrating on one thing at a time and doing it well. Researchers at Stanford have found that task-switching (trying to multi-task) can reduce your productivity by up to 40%, and that people who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information cannot pay attention, recall information or switch from one task to another as well as those who complete one task at a time. Slowing down to focus on one thing at once results in greater productivity and effectiveness.
Please share examples of the benefits of slowing down in the workplace (e.g., during a team project)?
- Starting a team meeting with a moment of silence for people to breathe and gather their thoughts
- Starting a meeting with ground rules and clear expectations around “success”
- Building personal connection by pausing to ask how someone is and really listening before getting down to work (this personal connection will enhance any work done later)
- Starting and ending your day intentionally, with a few moments to strategize on your priorities and schedule, and a few moments at the end of the day to review your progress and make a plan for the next day
What do you wish all leaders and teams knew about the benefits of mindfulness and meditation in the workplace?
If you talked to a professional basketball player that didn’t exercise their body regularly, you would think they were crazy — it’s their job to use their body to win games! But in the corporate world, where a knowledge worker’s best asset is their mind, you don’t see enough people training their brains with intention to be the best they can be in the workplace and in life. Mindfulness and meditation support workplace performance as well as overall well-being, and just like a professional basketball player’s gym routine, mindfulness practice should be a must-have for knowledge workers.
What are your top tips for meditating at work to boost your performance?
Informal mindfulness practices are a great way to pause and reset while at work. Here are a few ideas to incorporate mindfulness into your workday for reduced stress and enhanced productivity:
- Breathe. We may not have time to sit for a 10-minute mindfulness meditation, but we always have time to take a deep breath (or three!). When we are stressed or distracted, we tend to take shallow, hurried breaths. The next time you notice yourself getting frazzled in the workplace, breathe deeply into and out of the lower abdomen. Breathing in this way massages your vagus nerve, which calms your central nervous system and takes you out of “fight or flight” mode.
- Practice single-tasking. While far from commonplace in the digital age, dedicating all your focus to one task at a time is actually the most efficient mode for your brain. Even if you can only prioritize single-tasking for 30 to 60 minutes, you can use that time to focus all your brainpower on your top priority task. You’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish!
- Listen. When we are stressed and overwhelmed, it’s easy to forget that our lives are made up of moments. Connections with those around us are what make these moments memorable! You can always take a moment to ask your coworker how they are doing and listen wholeheartedly to their response. To stay present while in conversation, practice maintaining awareness of your own body and breath as you listen. Listen with open, engaged body language and attempt to understand your conversation partner rather than to fix their problem or share your own agenda. Mindful listening can transform relationships and bring more meaning to life.
- Practice gratitude. Our brains have evolved to protect us with a negativity bias, meaning our brains are wired to cling to bad memories and discount good ones. Practice being extra aware of the good things by pausing to be grateful during your day, even if it’s something as small as a coworker who made you laugh or a nice cup of coffee or tea. A positive attitude at work will enhance your productivity and help you keep your stress levels down.
- S.T.O.P. When you notice yourself stressed or frantic, that is actually a moment of mindful awareness. Instead of fighting against stress or strong emotions, S.T.O.P. and take a mindful pause:
- Stop what you’re doing
- Take a few deep breaths
- Observe your experience (thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations)
- Proceed with something that will support you in this moment.
I wholeheartedly endorse all the suggestions above – and believe it has not only improved my life and my outlook, but it has produced better work product. I do best when I’m connected to the work, have a clear sense of direction and positive momentum, and have space to really consider all the options. We’d love to hear how you’ve created a mindfulness practice for yourself or in your organization.