In theory, carving out pockets of time for mindfulness amidst a chaotic workday sounds blissful. What a great way to recharge, right? But, when it comes time to put this idea into practice, it’s really easy to get caught up in the familiar woes of not having enough time or, simply, feeling unable to prioritize something like mindfulness over an important deadline or a request from a coworker.
The good news is, though, that you never have to choose between being productive or making time for mindfulness. In fact, making time for mindfulness can actually make you a more productive employee (not to mention partner, parent, and friend).
A recent study in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology examined the impacts of mindfulness in the workplace. 60 employees at a digital marketing firm were given mindfulness training by a long time expert. After this training session, participants were randomly assigned into two groups – one group that practiced mindfulness over a six-week period and one group that did not. The former group was found to have experienced less work-life conflict, more satisfaction with their jobs, and increased focus.
So, there’s no doubt that practicing mindfulness can come with a whole host of professional and personal benefits, but what exactly does it mean to be mindful? And, how can it be done without sacrificing an unrealistic amount of time? Let’s take a closer look.
Focus on how you start and end your day
Does your typical workday lately start with a snoozed-too-many-times-need-coffee-before-this-meeting panic? It should seem fairly obvious why this would not frame the rest of your workday in a great way, and could lead to a continued harried feeling throughout the day. But, how can you combat this?
Having a morning routine can bring a whole host of benefits – from lower stress, to more energy, to less forgetfulness – and incorporating mindfulness into your morning routine can help you even further. Plus, it’s a chance to sneak in this time before the workday even begins, so less feeling crunched to make it happen.
Mindfulness in the morning should start sans cell phone and can include:
- A 5- or 10-minute meditation
- Writing in a journal
- Saying positive affirmations
- Taking three deep breaths
These tweaks range from 30 seconds to 10 minutes of additional time, something that any schedule can accommodate (and any exhausted person can give up a little sleep for).
All of this is true for after the workday, too. Trying to transition from busy employee to open and receptive partner, parent, friend, or even just self may leave you unable to form boundaries. Something as simple as setting time in your calendar to take 5 minutes to mentally transition from work to home life can provide the mindful buffer you need to compartmentalize.
Grant yourself permission to take breaks for the greater good
This one’s tough, but repeat it after us: taking breaks makes you a more productive employee. There is research to support that breaks of all kinds (lunch breaks, relaxing breaks, and social breaks) have tangible impacts on the short-term and the long-term, making employees less stressed and exhausted, and even improving effort and enthusiasm over time.
All of this is to say, wholeheartedly, it’s okay to take a break, especially to practice mindfulness. Mindful breaks during the workday don’t have to just look one single way. Meditating may come to mind (and that’s a great way to carve out time for mindfulness), but even Calm themselves would tell you there are countless ways.
Do what feels mindful for you, but make sure your breaks are a time that don’t include emails, Slacks, or work calls. Take the 5, or 10, or 15 minutes away to truly be away, even if that means walking away from your at-home workspace and changing the scenery to a different room in your house.
Stay mindful even when you’re not taking a break
This one is huge, and is likely the part of workday mindfulness that’s most often disregarded. Being mindful during a break, or in the morning/evening can seem logical, while being mindful during the heat of the busiest workday can seem like an afterthought, or even a hindrance.
Before you shake your head at this Harvard Business Review article titled “A Modest Proposal: Eliminate Email”, consider for a moment the crux of why emails overwhelm us. Checking emails can actually release dopamine, making it no wonder we feel so good when we race to take our inbox from 132 unread to 0. But, what cost does this come at?
When diving into a packed inbox without being mindful of what’s the most immediately important, we may fall into a trap of seeking dopamine any way we can get it and answering these smaller, lower priority tasks first. This, naturally, will land us in a place later on where larger and more important projects became de-prioritized, and the stress cycle continues.
So, when tackling your inbox (or your unread Slacks), flip on your mindfulness switch and take a moment to ask yourself what, when, and how:
- What is the most important here?
- When will I realistically be able to get to X person’s lower priority task?
- How will I organize all of these needs to ensure that I get them done?
Communicate effectively with your colleagues, set boundaries, and don’t let a pile-up of work make you feel out of control.
The bottom line is: mindfulness looks different for everyone
If writing in a journal isn’t for you, go for a walk. If the weather is bad, practice yoga. If cooking gets you in a good, thoughtful mood, make food. There is no one way to be mindful at work – all that matters is that you don’t let stress and pressure take away your ability to focus on yourself and your needs.
If you find yourself in a situation that calls on you to choose between your wellbeing and your productivity at work, tell someone. Odds are, your supervisor is going to be on board with you finding ways to feel better. It’ll only make you run more smoothly in and out of the workplace.
For more tips and ideas, check out our partner apps! From workouts to therapy, meditation, and everything in between, a Gympass membership can help you start small in the biggest of ways. Sign up today and start flexing your mind, body, and mood.