Could embracing mindfulness in the workplace be the answer to all of your productivity woes?
Take a deep breath. Feel the moment. The way you work is about to become a lot more productive. And it won’t require any effort. In fact, you’ll need to do absolutely nothing.
It wasn’t that long ago when mindfulness and meditation was dismissively associated with vegan hipsters, tie-dye hippies and Buddhist monks. Today, it’s firmly in the mainstream. From vloggers, to Instagram stars, to entrepreneurs, it seems like almost everyone is shouting about the advantages of mindfulness and meditation. Even mindfulness at work!
For those of us who haven’t been swayed by the trend, mindfulness is about being fully in the present — without the pressure of past mistakes and potential future failure. In some respects, it doesn’t seem a natural bed mate of productivity in its innate calmness.
But there are many reasons why big organisations, from Google, to Transport for London, are encouraging mindfulness in their workplaces. TfL itself, after introducing employees to mindfulness at work, saw a 71% reduction of days taken off due to stress, anxiety and depression.
Whilst it’s certainly no bad thing that by embracing mindfulness you’ll be less stressed and anxious, it doesn’t directly link to your personal productivity. Just being in the office alone won’t lead to a more manageable workload.
So what is it about meditation and mindfulness that can improve productivity at work?
The benefits of meditation and mindfulness for productivity
Doing nothing doesn’t seem like the best solution for being productive. But taking time out to meditate and practice mindfulness can have a big impact on your success at work.
1. Focus and attention
For starters, meditation has been scientifically proven to increase both focus and attention. With more focus, you’ll be able to concentrate longer on each task you undertake. More focus and attention equals better quality work. That endless to-do list will become manageable with just a little more focus on doing nothing.
Whatever role and industry you work in — whether HR, marketing or accountancy and finance — creative thinking can help reduce costs, increase conversions and improve the way we work. But creativity can’t be spun out of doing nothing. Or can it? Research by Professor Jonathan Schooler of Psychological and Brain Sciences department at the UC Santa Barbara indicates that meditation and mindfulness at work can help us develop better creative ideas and initiate outside of the box thinking. Taking some time to focus on the present might just help you come up with the next great business improvement, strategy of marketing idea. And those who come up with great ideas are the most in-demand staff in the modern economy. Mindfulness might just help you get a promotion or your next big career move.
If that wasn’t enough, practicing mindfulness can also improve your memory and cognition. A study by Sara Lazaar, a research scientist at Massachusetts General Hospital, found that: “the daily practice of meditation thickened the part of the brain’s cerebral cortex responsible for decision making, attention and memory.”
To put it in simple terms, meditating for just 5 minutes every day can greatly improve your memory. What’s more, a thinning cerebral cortex is a sign of ageing — meditation and mindfulness through thickening can help you keep your mind young!
Our jobs require more multitasking than ever. With technology, our workplaces are becoming increasingly distracting. So what’s the solution? Yup, it’s mindfulness again. Research by David Levy and Jacob Wobbrock at the University of Washington indicate that meditating can help you stay on tasks longer with fewer distractions. And to top it off, the research found that it greatly reduced stress too. Meditating and mindfulness at work could mean leaving the office at a more reasonable time, becoming less stressed outside of work, and producing better quality work.
How to practice mindfulness at work
Whilst the evidence suggests that mindfulness can improve the way you work, there will still be some who are thinking: where will I find the time to meditate when I’m already so short on time? But there are simple steps that you can take to allow you the space to meditate at work:
1. Make your commute more mindful
Commuting can be stressful. Whether you’re stuck in traffic, weaving your way through the crowds, or trying to cram into a train carriage, the commute is very rarely a place that you would associate with relaxation. But by being mindful of your thoughts and rejecting negative emotions it could be. When negative, or stress-inducing thoughts come into your head, focus on them for what they are, and let them fade.
2. Mindful breathing at your desk
Most jobs will involve spending vast swathes of time sat at your desk, staring at a computer screen all day long. We already know it’s bad for our posture and our eyes, but it’s also bad for stress levels. Instead of getting distracted by an Instagram notification on your phone, sit, close your eyes and focus on deep breathing. Just 2 minutes can help you recuperate and become more productive.
3. Turn toilet time into mindful time
Think about it. The time when you’re most likely to do nothing during the day is sat on the toilet. Which makes it a perfect time to practice mindfulness at work. Rather than checking your phone, focus on your breathing and mindfully unwind all of the stresses that have entered your thoughts during the day. You’ll be visiting the toilet at least 3 times a day. At 5 minutes each visit, that’s a whole lot of time when you could be more mindful.
4. Stop constantly checking your email
Consider this: how many emails actually need responding to right away? Would the world fall apart if it took you an hour to respond to a request? Unless you work at a 999 call centre, the answer is probably no. And if it is a true emergency, you’ll get a phone call soon after. If you’re tempted to immediately read an email notification, be aware of that buzz in your brain. Is it trying to distract you from the meaningful project or task you’re currently working on? Become more mindful, and you’re distractions will drift away.
5. Set up mindfulness groups in your workplace
We all know that it’s much easier to stick to a habit if you do it with other people. Whether it’s going to the gym or healthy eating, the support that comes from peer support makes even the most strenuous task simple. Because of mass social media coverage, meditation and mindfulness are something almost everyone is aware of. Few people don’t understand the advantages it offers. Setting up a group will allow everyone to finally follow through on their wish to become more mindful. Whether it be officially through a company’s corporate social responsibility agenda, or a private group, making it a process that is group-based can improve your chances of benefiting from consistent mindfulness at work.
How mindfulness can turn you into an interview guru
It should be obvious by now that mindfulness at work is a positive practice. But what if you’re not currently in work and are searching for a new role? Well, there’s some good news. Mindfulness and meditation can help you smash your next interview, whether it’s for an entry-level receptionist or a management role.
Being successful in an interview is predominantly about remaining calm at all times. Being relaxed allows you to really express who you are, what your experience is, and what you can bring to your new company.
Focusing on breathing and being mindful can help you achieve this. When we are anxious our brains enter into fight or flight mode. Mindful breathing sends oxygen back to your brain, allowing you to think straight. By being mindful, interview nerves can become a thing of the past.
What are the other advantages of mindfulness?
Whilst we all want to become more productive at work, and mindfulness is, as we’ve learnt, a big part of this, what are the benefits of mindfulness outside of the office?
For starters, mindfulness improves your mental health. As mindfulness encourages us to live in the moment and accept our experiences, problems such as eating disorders, depression and anxiety can be reduced or potentially eliminated through mindfulness techniques. In recent years psychotherapists have started prescribing mindfulness. But by forming a habit of mindfulness and meditation, you can reduce the risk of these problems surfacing in the first place.
It’s not just mental health that mindfulness and meditation can improve either. Your physical health can also improve. It has been scientifically proven that mindfulness can reduce blood pressure, reduce chronic pain and help to treat heart disease. But outside of this, a mindful existence encourages us to think about decisions. By living in the moment, we might leave that extra donut or jog a little longer, improving our chances of living long healthy lives.
Ultimately, mindfulness improves every aspect of our lives as it encourages well-being, leading to a more satisfied life. Whilst it’s not the ultimate miracle cure, it isn’t far off. And when it comes to mindfulness at work, if you’re not engaging with it, you’ll be less productive, more stressed and potentially be wasting your potential.
With more and more of us realising the undoubted benefits of a more mindful life, it won’t be too long before we seeing more and more meditation mats in breakout rooms. Until then, be sure to make good use of your toilet breaks!