Often at the beginning of the year we come back to work with lots ideas. We think of how differently we are going to work or new habits we are going to incorporate into our day, or new projects or tasks we’ve been given that require us to think and work differently.
And if you’re like me and have a new workspace and environment to work in, it’s only natural that you want to set it up and get into good habits from the start of the year.
In my old job of managing a large team I was always multitasking to get the job done and keep up with an ever evolving and growing ‘to do’ list. Do you know that feeling? Trying to be efficient by multitasking?
Unfortunately, the idea that multi-tasking is efficient is really a myth: it actually means that your attention is taking repeated, rapid changes in direction. It gets your brain fired up on adrenaline, so you feel superficially alert – like the effect of caffeine. This uses up a lot of energy and can leave you feeling drained by the end of the day.
This approach to work also undermines your ability to pay attention which has knock on effects for how much you enjoy work, leisure activities and others’ company. When your brain is used to being in overdrive, it is hard to shift into just ‘being in the moment’.
Practicing mindfulness = practicing attention
Mindfulness is a word that is often associated with meditation but what does it really mean?
I like to define it as being fully present, attention focused, and connected to what you are doing.
Mindfulness can help you to be more productive at work, as well as offering a number of other benefits to our overall health and wellbeing. It reduces stress; enhances creativity; improves your physical health, calmness and happiness; and allows you greater enjoyment in what you are doing and creates a greater sense of appreciation for your surroundings.
So how do you become more mindful at work?
Make time for mindfulness
Practicing mindfulness for 10 minutes every day can have huge benefits for your attention, focus and stress levels. It can lead to a healthier and happier day and lifestyle.
Headspace’s free guided 10-minute meditations are a great way to get started, they also have a 2-week free trial, which is a great place to start before signing up:
Throughout the day, take some moments (or minutes) to connect with your surroundings and calm your mind. Notice what you can see, hear and feel around you. Be present in the moment.
Create a ‘to do list’
Doing one task at a time and putting all your attention towards it produces better quality work. Invest a bit of time at the start of the day to make a prioritised and realistic To Do list for the day i.e. not just a scrawled list of every job that needs to be completed over the next week.
You can then work though each task mindfully, with your full attention. Let go of other thoughts about workplace stresses, like your heavy workload or a difficult boss, and focus only on the task at hand.
Every time you notice your attention has drifted to another task, remind yourself that you have already decided that this is the most important thing for you to be working on right now. Having fewer windows on your computer open is also a way of focusing on fewer tasks at once.
This will generate better workflows and foster creative problem solving.
Be aware of distractions
Email alerts and workplace noise can often be distracting when going about your working day. Turn off your email alerts, if possible, and prioritise one or two hours each day to answer them. Turning off your phone and putting on some headphones (even if there is no music coming through them) can also be a good way to shield against interruptions when you need to focus intensely for an hour or so e.g. writing a report.
Open plan offices do have their benefits but also create lots of distractions and additional noise. When you find yourself getting distracted by what is going on around you, close your eyes, relax, and sit upright. Focus on your breathing and listen to yourself inhaling and exhaling. Each time you find yourself getting distracted simply focus on your breathing to return your focus to your task.
Links to useful resources:
Check out this book, which explores how to manage your attention, boost productivity… and enjoy your work: How to Be a Productivity Ninja by Graham Allcott
Headspace free guided 10-minute meditations
Mindfulness expert Andy Puddicombe describes the transformative power of mindfulness