Mindfulness. It’s a popular buzzword that you’ve probably heard before, but most people aren’t sure what it actually means. When I first heard about it, I associated it with hot yoga, meditation, and other things far too zen for my fast-paced and hectic lifestyle.
According to the experts at mindful.org, mindfulness is the objective observation of whatever is occurring. I initially struggled with the concept of mindfulness. Sure, it sounds like a nice thing, but how do you observe objectively?
Luckily, my incredible therapist had a very useful way of helping me to truly understand and visualize mindfulness. Imagine a notification popping up on your phone, you calmly read it and register what it means, and then you gently swipe it off of your screen. That’s essentially mindfulness.
When a thought pops into your head, you acknowledge it and feel the associated emotions, and then you gently let it leave your head. Without mindfulness, our minds become too full, just like the screen of your phone when notifications pile up. Thanks to mindfulness, you can recognize the start of toxic emotions (like anxiety, which is very common in the workplace) before they take over and cause you to react negatively.
If you’re like me, it can be very difficult to focus on one thing at a time. Often, my morning at work will start something like this:
Open my laptop, and go to my inbox. I see an email about an upcoming team meeting on Monday. What else is happening on Monday? Oh, that’s that the season finale of The Bachelorette! I loved Rachel’s rose ceremony dress on last week’s episode. I need to make sure I mail back my dress from Rent the Runway so I’m not charged a late fee. Speaking of which, I need to call the bank to dispute that foreign transaction fee. Why did I even get charged? I didn’t buy anything overseas, that is SO annoying! Overseas…I’m so excited for my trip to London next year! Is it too early to start researching West End shows? C’mon girl, get it together, focus on your inbox! Ok, clicking on that second unread email…
Does this sound familiar to anyone? It should! We are all guilty of multitasking. Even as I write this, I am in the middle of texting in the group chat with my friends. Unfortunately, this can cause a variety of negative effects. By being inundated by too much information at the same time, your brain can’t figure out the difference between the important info and the non, which can negatively affect your memory and the quality of your work.
The solution? Tackle one work task at a time.
According to a study by Zheng Wang at Ohio State University, students felt more productive when they multi-tasked but in reality, they weren’t actually more productive. In fact, the opposite is true. This is where consciousness can help. Consciousness is closely related to mindfulness. When you work consciously, you select and execute the things you want to accomplish, and how. When you have a plan and go after each task separately, you can give all your mental energy to compete that single item rather than working between 5 projects simultaneously and giving each a percentage of your mental power.
The solution? Make a plan to tackle your to-do list and stick with it during the entire work day.
Does all this talk of consciousness and mindfulness overwhelm you and make your head start to spin? A good way to help you reset is to go for a walk. This can double as a productive task if you go out to grab a coffee, tea, or your lunch. *Gasp!* Yes, I am asking you to go outside of your office and eat lunch beyond your desk. While you’re out, try to focus on the feeling of your feet with each step as they hit the pavement. If the weather’s nice, sit outside on a bench and concentrate on how the sun or wind feels on your face. Live in that moment and let your mind rest before returning to the task at hand.
The solution? Get moving and try a change of scenery.
Don’t underestimate the power of the connection between your physical senses and your mind. According to Dr. Angela Williams, you can use touch (along with sight, sound, smell, and taste) to practice mindfulness. I personally really love using these stress balls. I started using these in therapy sessions, but now I use them while at my desk, on the train, and at home. They hold their shape and have the consistency of clay, which is especially therapeutic to me as an artist! You can practice mindfulness by trying to only think about the feel of the ball in your hands. Start with doing that for one minute, and then work up from there.
The solution? Sensory therapy!
Your stress ball can fit easily on your desk or in a drawer, which should not be cluttered. Physical clutter has a huge effect on mental performance. It is very difficult to concentrate at the task on hand with piles of paperwork, old candy wrappers, or promo chatchkes surrounding you. Feng shui expert Ariel Joseph Towne, Author of book Serene Makeover, explains how your surroundings can affect your performance at work. According to Towne, surgeons and accountants perform their jobs better in rooms with low ceilings, because this promotes concentration. Alternatively, creative types do better in well lit rooms with high ceilings, as this environment promotes innovation. Regardless of your industry and office space layout, clutter can hinder concentration. I personally love Kate Spade’s collection of desk accessories to keep me organized.
The solution? Less is more!
Now let’s think about how the time we spend outside the office affects the time we spend at our desk. We all know working out is essential to living a healthy lifestyle, both mentally and physically. If you’re like me and get bored during slower activities like yoga, try Body Combat or Zumba. I particularly like martial arts classes since they are a mix of cardio, stretching, balance, and breathing. Don’t get discouraged if you get distracted during workouts, as long as you come back to focusing on the present moment and really concentrating on the feel of each move and breath when you’re being active. Bonus points for listening to the Mulan soundtrack while you work out to help you get down to business (to defeat the huns.)
The solution? Move your booty and breathe!
These tips are just a small portion of the ways in which mindfulness can improve your productivity and overall enjoyment of your work. I encourage you to explore more and test them out. Be sure to let us know your results!
In closing, I leave you with my favorite quotes from mindfulness experts all over the world. I suggest writing these down on a sticky note and putting them on your desk, next to your stress ball. In addition, pyschologytoday.com is a wonderful resource to help you find your own therapist as wonderful as mine. Enjoy!
“Mindfulness is a way of befriending ourselves and our experience.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn
“Meditation is not evasion; it is a serene encounter with reality.” – Thích Nhất Hạnh
“Wisdom says we are nothing. Love says we are everything. Between these two our life flows.” – Jack Kornfield
“You are the sky. Everything else is just the weather.” – Pema Chödrön
“Not my circus, not my monkeys” – Polish proverb (also one of my mom’s favorite sayings)