Our constant pursuit of productivity and success is leading to higher levels of stress and burnout. In fact, research shows that 83% of Americans suffer stress levels that negatively impact their work and health.
Fortunately, there’s a way to enhance our productivity, improve our job satisfaction, and even double our salary, all while reducing stress and improving our overall quality of life. So in this post, I’ll share with you how to adopt mindfulness in the workplace and tips on how to make it work for you.
What Is Mindfulness?
At the heart of mindfulness is the ability to pay attention to the present moment. Mindfulness isn’t just about being fully present when you meditate, it’s about consciously being aware when your mind is wandering and bringing your attention back to the task at hand.
Left alone, the mind will ruminate about the past and worry about future events.
The concept of mindfulness has its roots in ancient Buddhist philosophy, but it has gained significant popularity in the Western world over the past few decades. This is largely due to the work of individuals like Jon Kabat-Zinn, who has been instrumental in integrating mindfulness practices into mainstream medicine and society.
What Mindfulness Isn’t
It’s a common misconception that you should clear your mind. Mindfulness is about being aware of what you are currently doing and observing everything that is happening without judgment.
As the famous Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh put it:
“The essential thing is not to let any feeling or thought arise without recognizing it in mindfulness, like a palace guard who is aware of every face that passes through the front corridor.”– The Miracle of Mindfulness
How Mindfulness Can Impact Your Work Performance
Mindfulness enhances productivity by promoting focus and reducing distractions. It encourages us to slow down and give our full attention to one task at a time, leading to more efficient and effective work.
Workplace stress is common, but mindfulness can help manage it. By promoting a balanced response to stressful situations, we can respond in a more thoughtful and composed manner.
The benefits of mindfulness are supported by scientific research. Studies show improvements in productivity, decision-making, creativity, and interpersonal relationships. For example, a study in the Journal of Management found that employees in an eight-week mindfulness program reported lower stress levels, higher well-being, and improved job performance.
14 Ways to Practice Mindfulness in the Workplace
1. Practice mindfulness before you even get to work
If there is one thing that you take away from this post, it’s this: Mindful meditation after you wake up. My exact routine nearly every morning includes at least 10 minutes of mindful meditation practice.
I am a hybrid worker, so I am fortunate to have both the experience of working from home and working in the office. This is what a typical morning looks like for me:
The more you can do to be mindful in the morning sets you up to be mindful throughout the day.
2. Pick one thing a day to do mindfully
There’s research to show that in business productivity, you can only really effectively work on 1 to 3 tasks with a strong focus, and we have a maximum window of four hours to work on important tasks. So pick one task to do mindfully.
Even on a busy day pick when you have lots of different tasks popping up like daisies, pick one thing – even if it’s just writing an email – to practice mindfulness.
3. Respond mindfully, not react mindlessly
On some days you might need the skills of a Zen master to halt the rage you feel when things don’t seem to be going your way, but mindfulness can help. Being emotional in the workplace usually leads to poor decisions and friction with colleagues.
So before you become hijacked by your emotions, try to S.T.O.P.
If you are experiencing a particularly stressful moment, try the following:
4. Use mindful walking at every opportunity
Being mindful at work can be something that you want to keep to yourself. My covert superpower is mindful walking.
Mindful walking is exactly what it sounds like, being mindful about walking. That means noticing what you feel with each step, focusing solely on those sensations, and if your mind wanders, bringing it back to sensations of your body as you walk.
Mindful walking does have to be a long intense walk, I usually do it either by walking to the tea station at work or refilling my water bottle. A minute’s walk is usually enough to give your mind that pause and reset you need.
5. Focus on one thing at a time
Only 2.5% of people can actually multi-task. So unless you are one of these magical beings, research has shown that doing one thing at a time is more productive than trying to ‘multi-task’.
Mindfulness in the workplace has a lot of similarities with business productivity tips, and when we only focus on one task we are more mindful and more productive.
6. Have lunch and a break on your lunch break
One study found that 82% of workers in the UK skip taking lunch, while another study found that 20% eat at their desks and 13% seldom take a lunch break at all.
Office lunch breaks can sometimes become sudo-meetings with some food. So make an effort to enjoy your lunch, giving your full awareness to eating. That means putting away your phone, not thinking about what you have to do when you get back to your desk, and just focusing on your mental health.
7. Find short opportunities to be mindful
Don’t have to close your eyes and meditate in the middle of your workplace to be mindful. Mindfulness in the workplace is all about finding those opportunities to focus and be present.
Being mindful at work doesn’t have prolonged or complicated, any opportunity you can find to focus on the moment and practice being in the present can help you create a more focused mind.
8. Set a silent reminder
The moment my day starts, I set a silent alarm for 2 hours. You should be taking breaks more often, but I’ve found this to be the most consistent time to remind me to stop and take a break. The break is usually a couple of deep breaths and an opportunity to check in with how I am feeling.
Don’t have a smartwatch, then set an alert in your outlook calendar. Part of mindfulness training is improving your awareness of yourself and your surrounding throughout the day.
To avoid becoming overwhelmed, the brain will only focus its attention on a particular area. In the workplace, this is usually what you’re working on, so setting a reminder is a good way to bring awareness to how your body and mind are feeling.
9. Mindfully work slower to get more done
It sounds counterintuitive, but many of us are busy, either so we feel more valued as a member of the team, or so we feel like our work is validated to ourselves.
But studies show that people who take time to slow down and even occasionally stop are generally more productive.
So try to be more self-aware when your stress levels spike and instead of speeding up to get more work done, instead slow down or even stop.
Something that would make me ‘busy’ first thing was all the communication channels. In my day-to-day work we use, MS Outlook for emails, MS Teams for chats with certain departments, Slack for other departments in the organization, and then several Whatsapp groups for social messages.
I would try to answer everything urgently at the same time, but since I’ve started to use mindfulness in the workplace, I spend thirty minutes in the morning, just organizing the messages; deleting spam and things that don’t need my attention, marking ones I need to respond today, and marking those that can be done when I have time.
It sounds like a general productivity best practice, but when done mindfully you’re not frustrated by the continued notifications coming in during that time.
10. See stress as a signal, not a state
If you’ve ever been on a diet and tried to convince yourself that eating a rice cake is actually a delicious eclair, then you’re already familiar with the practice of mindfully changing your perception.
A study of 30,000 people at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, found participants that who didn’t perceive stress as bad would actually live longer!
One of the suggested exercises was to recognize when you are feeling stressed, and instead of seeing it as a negative emotion, see it as a positive sign that it’s time for you to stop and try some mindfulness exercises.
Feeling stressed? Try some box breathing.
- Start by emptying your lungs
- Breath in for a count of four
- Hold your breath for a count of four
- Breath out for a count of four
- Hold for a count of four.
Repeat this three to four times and try to notice how you feel after.
11. Practice gratitude
If you find yourself being a glass-half-empty kind of person, don’t worry, it’s natural.
Evolution has meant that our brain has a ‘negative bias‘, so we are more likely to think about what’s gone wrong and be critical of everything we do.
Being in a job that you don’t enjoy can make that worse and create a destructive cycle where the more you hate and complain about your job, the fewer opportunities you create to make things better. The antidote to negative thought is gratitude.
Instead of hating your job, recognize and be grateful that you have a job. Perhaps you have a terrible manager, then maybe be grateful that you have good relationships with some of your colleagues. The mindfulness practice of gratitude.
I have to credit my wife for helping and supporting me with this practice. Each day we start by sharing three things we are grateful for. Training your brain to recognize what’s going well in your life gives you a positive mindset, and employers are more likely to employ people with a positive mindset.
12. Accept things without judgment
Acceptance is one of the fundamentals of mindfulness and it works on different levels. The first is the acceptance of situations.
When we get angry or frustrated about something, it’s because we’re comparing what we expected or wanted to happen to what has actually happened. But being angry or frustrated doesn’t help the situation, especially in the workplace.
Acceptance doesn’t mean being passive. In fact, being angry and denying what has happened leads to less actually being done. Once we expect what has happened, you can calmly move things forward.
The second type of acceptance is self-acceptance. Being aware of both what you’re good at and what you need to work on, stops exhausting self-criticism and helps you work towards a better you.
13. Be friends with fear
The one thing that had the largest impact on my career was overcoming my fear of failure. I spent years watching people equally as good as me and sometimes less get promoted.
The thing holding me back was my fear that I would fail. How could I get a promotion when I wasn’t even applying for jobs?
The more you practice mindfulness, the better you become at being the observer of your thoughts. Your brain starts to notice these thoughts and rationally understand them.
Another tip is to write down on a page something that’s on your mind and then on two columns write down on one side what you’re afraid of, and on the other side what would life look like if everything went perfectly.
If you need more help, try my ‘Dealing With Dread’ guided meditation.
14. See things with a beginner’s mind
The last on the list is something I believe has always been part of my skill set. At school, it frustrated the hell out of my teachers, and in my early career, it frustrated my peers why I just didn’t do things like everything else.
Mindfulness in the workplace has helped me realize that asking “why?” about everything as if it’s the first time you’ve seen it, is something that is desperately needed in many organizations.
Two years ago I write a ‘beginner’s guide’ for my organization, what my lead thought was a guide for beginners was actually an attempt to look at processes with a beginner’s mind.
While I wrote the guide, I was asking the most experienced of the team two questions: why do we do this, and do they think there’s a better way?
In most cases, the ‘why’ we did things was usually because ‘that’s how they were told to do it’ and how things had always been.
When you’re fully present, you start to see things with a fresh perspective that you probably wouldn’t have noticed before.
Some tips to help with mindfulness in the workplace
Mindfulness at work is a great way to reduce stress, become better at being focused, and ultimately improve your performance. And it makes you feel better too. Whether you’re a manager or an employee any of these practices can give you the tools you need to succeed in the workplace.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be construed as professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you are experiencing symptoms of any mental health condition, we strongly advise consulting with a qualified healthcare professional.