Fit Mindfulness Into Your Workday
It’s hard to carve out time for a formal daily sitting practice during your busy workday, and even harder when things don’t go as planned—you get sick, sleep in, or work is extra busy. Yet it’s still possible to make mindfulness part of your day through informal mindfulness practices.
News anchor and converted meditator Dan Harris spent a year traveling through the United States asking people why they didn’t practice mindfulness if they believed it was helpful and he discovered some common roadblocks. The top ones are that people “can’t do” meditation, and don’t have time to fit meditation into an already busy schedule. So if you are facing these same issues, know that you are not alone and that most people struggle to make time for what’s most important in their life.
When things get hectic, remember that mindfulness can help you cope with the stress that comes from busyness. Here are some practices that you can do in your regular workday that don’t take a lot of time, and will support you in developing a more mindful way of living that will reduce your stress and enhance your well-being.
Practice 1 – Mindful commuting
The opportunity – Most of the time when we are in transit we are thinking about where we’re going, what’s coming next, and focusing on the stressors around us – construction, road closures, other drivers, bad weather, delays. Do you become frustrated when you’re stuck in traffic, worrying about being late? Or maybe you listen to the radio or watch alerts coming into your phone.
The practice – When you notice yourself getting frustrated with things outside of your control, such as traffic, bad drivers, and red lights, connect with your breath, and take a few deep calming breaths. Acknowledge the frustrations of driving, because labeling stressful thoughts helps you to think more clearly. Re-focus on the here and now of holding the wheel or sitting in transit. You can use time waiting for a light to change as a mini-mindfulness practice, connecting with your breath and becoming calmer and more focused instead of more frustrated and hurried.
Practice 2 – A mindful start to your workday
The opportunity – Do you rush into work, sit at your desk, and dive right into your email as soon as you arrive? That’s what most of us do, but it can set us up to feel rushed and frustrated all day.
The practice – Delay checking your email right away unless it is absolutely required. As you get settled into your office, ask yourself what your highest priority work is. Review any meetings you have coming up so that you can be prepared. If possible, work on your highest priority work for 30 to 60 minutes before checking your email. Making progress on your most important work before facing the demands of others will help to set a positive tone for the rest of your day so that you can respond to requests and interruptions more flexibly.
Practice 3 – A mindful lunch
The opportunity – Eating at your desk while you work, or during a conference call or meeting can feel productive, but can detract from what should be a pleasant part of your day when you step away from the stress of work.
The practice – Eat away from your desk if at all possible. Eat something you enjoy, and focus on eating, even if it’s only for a few minutes. You can also try eating lunch with a friend or going for a walk. If it’s not possible to take time for a pleasant lunch experience daily, aim to do so two or three times a week.
Practice 4 – Mindful minutes
The opportunity – It would be ideal to sit in a nice quiet place, uninterrupted, for a 10 or 15-minute meditation practice, but your day is just too busy and there’s no way you’ll find a quiet corner where no one will interrupt you.
The practice – If you can’t schedule 10 minutes, take one minute 10 times a day. Instead of looking for a quiet space, just do one minute of mindful breathing right where you are. Put on your headphones to create quiet if you really need it, or just practice ignoring the hubbub around you and focusing on your breath. Use the regular events of your day as triggers to take a minute. For example, take one minute to breathe every time you hang up after a phone call, or return to your desk after a meeting. Do you work on a high floor? Focus on your breath for one minute whenever you get in the elevator. Visit clients often? Practice mindful breathing for one minute of each taxi ride.
Practice 5 – Mindful listening
The opportunity – Most of the time that we’re listening to someone talk, or to a presentation, our minds are wandering (in fact research shows that our minds are off task 47% of the time), and this can make it harder to connect with the people around us.
The practice – Mindful listening involves giving the person you’re speaking with your full attention. Close your laptop, put away your phone, and focus on really listening to the other person or people speaking. If you notice yourself preparing what you want to say next or thinking about something else, return your attention to the speaker. This practice will make you a more effective communicator and will enhance your interpersonal relationships.
Practice 6 – A routine for ending the workday
The opportunity – Just as we do at the start of the day, most of us rely on our habits and routines as we send our last emails and get ready to go home. Establishing a routine for closing off the day’s work can save you time and energy throughout the week and help you disconnect from the office.
The practice – At the end of each day, review what you wanted to get done that day, and make note of what the day actually entailed. This will help you catch things to move to the next day’s focus, and can be helpful for making sense of a busy day. Write down what you accomplished, including things that weren’t your key focus. Write down 2 or 3 things you want to accomplish the following day, and any other to-do’s. Close your email software and files and tidy your workspace to signal the workday is ending. Some people find it helpful to say something to themselves like “I did the best I could, this workday is over” to further strengthen the feeling of leaving work at work. This is a good time to do a short meditation practice before you go home, but even just a few deep breaths here is helpful as you transition to your personal life.
By working these informal approaches to mindfulness into your regular workday routine, you’ll gain many of the benefits of a formal mindful meditation practice, such as reducing your stress, enhancing your well-being, increasing your focus and productivity, and improving your interpersonal relationships. Pick one to try this week and see for yourself.
SIGMA Mindfulness Coaching
Established in 1967, SIGMA has spent over 50 years developing and delivering science-based assessment products and leadership coaching services. We bring simple, intuitive platforms and real-world applicability to our leadership suite of assessments, coaching, and mindfulness. Learn about our mindfulness workshops, retreats, and one-on-one executive mindfulness coaching, and ask us what mindfulness can do for you, your organization and leaders.