There are times when stress and other factors at work can negatively impact our productivity and performance. The good news is that we can often overcome this and train our brains to focus better by practicing mindfulness exercises at work.
Mindfulness is all about developing moment-by-moment awareness of the surrounding environment, which helps us to cope better with any negative or difficult thoughts and feelings that can cause anxiety and stress in everyday life.
Simple mindfulness exercises can help us to combat stress and retain our focus throughout the working day. Put simply, focus and awareness are the two key elements of a mindful mindset. Mindful working means applying focus and awareness to everything we do from the moment we step foot into the office.
By focusing on the task in hand and letting go of external and internal distractions as they arise, we are able to increase effectiveness, reduce mistakes and enhance our creativity.
Below we have outlined 5 simple mindfulness exercises that you can practice daily at the office, to help you become more present, productive and less stressed:
1. Minute meditation
Start your day with the decision to be present as much as possible and pause for a moment to set the intention.
When you get to the office, spend a minute simply noticing your breathing. As thoughts about the day ahead come into your mind, set them aside and return your breathing.
Taking a minute to be more mindful could be as simple as just taking a mindful moment to give your brain a break from reading emails, a lengthy task, or rushing straight into the next task on the to do list.
Set a reminder to continue to practice a minute of meditation at regular intervals throughout the day. Alternatively you can do this in-between tasks, to clear your mind before moving onto the next so that you can focus better on the task in hand.
2. Mindful stretching
Mindful stretching can be as simple as getting up from your chair and taking time to focus on your breathing. Aim to take a few deep breaths to reduce the carbon dioxide built up from shallow breathing, and allow your shoulders to drop from the tense hours in front of your screen.
You can even practice mindful stretching whilst waiting for the kettle to boil – just take a moment to stretch and notice where there is tension. Pay attention to the physical sensation rather than letting your mind wander to other things such as the email we need to respond to or task we need to complete.
It’s important we remember to get up out of our seats and stretch, as not only does it help to reduce the negative effects of sedentary behaviour, it also helps to reduce and release stress.
3. Active listening
We all know that communication is important, but do we really listen?
Being an active listener is about filtering distractions when taking part in a conversation. You need to really listen to what colleagues are saying and understand the sentiment behind it. This requires taking note of their body language and how they communicate as well as the content.
Make sure to face the person you’re speaking with, maintain eye contact and pay attention - withholding any judgement, as active listening requires an open mind. Listen for repeated themes or ideas to spot the central idea and make sure to ask regular questions to show that you have understood what is being said.
Wait until the speaker has finished to share a similar experience or idea that was triggered by a comment made previously in the conversation. By taking this approach to communication we can have more meaningful discussions, leading to increased productivity and the ability to work more effectively as a team.
4. Mindful immersion
Rather than letting your mind wander and think about everything you need to accomplish on the day or over the course of the week, make a conscious effort to fully immerse yourself in the task at hand.
Set aside all thoughts other than those related to what you’re working on at present. Instead of labouring through, become aware of every step without anxiously thinking about what’s next on the list.
You could also focus on one moment, such as looking out of the window without any distracting thoughts, rather than looking at your computer screen. This also has the added benefit of taking a break from our screen which helps to prevent eye strain, headaches and eye fatigue.
Mindful immersion helps us to be more present and eliminates any feelings of stress or anxiety associated with workloads, in return helping us to be more productive.
5. Take time away from your desk
How often do you find yourself eating at your desk?
Eating at your desk reduces productivity because effectively we are multitasking and not putting our efforts and focus on the task in hand. Taking no time to shut off can also add to stress, which can lead to fatigue and burnout.
There are also health benefits of eating away from our desks - if while we eat we focus on something else - we can eat too fast and too much. Mindful eating is simply focussing on the process of eating slowly, chewing more thoroughly and savouring our food. We tend digest our food better and eat less as we pay attention to the 'internal receptors' in our stomachs that tell us when we are full, and we actually enjoy the flavours more too.
Taking time away from your desk also forces you to slow down and take a break, allowing you to rejuvenate and return feeling more motivated and focused. Whilst walking, bring your attention to the ground beneath you and take note of what’s going on in your surroundings, rather than thinking about the tasks you’ve just left at your desk.
If you don’t feel comfortable in carrying out any of the other exercises outlined above, simply taking your lunch break away from your desk might be the ideal first step in developing a more mindful mindset.
When it comes to mindfulness, the reality is that most people feel like they don’t have the time or simply aren’t willing to carry out formal meditation exercises on a regular basis.
The informal mindfulness exercises above are a quick alternative that you can fit into your working today. You can also take any longer more complex exercises and tailor them so that they fit into your working day, such as a quick body scan or breathing count.
Simply put, it’s all about developing a sharp and clear mind so that we are rooted in the present moment, rather than going about the day on auto-pilot led by emotions influenced by past experience and future fears.