By Emily Morrow for forbes.com
Mindfulness at work is something we’re hearing a lot about these days. It’s supposed to make our lives better, but what is it?
We associate mindfulness with things like meditation, yoga, and deep breathing, and know that it’s supposed to make us less stressed and more productive. But nailing down a practical, tangible explanation of what it means to be mindful, live mindfully, or practice mindfulness on a day-to-day basis can be challenging.
Let’s take a few minutes to define this seemingly nebulous topic and learn how you can actually work it into your already busy life.
Mindfulness explained: What it is, what it isn’t, and how to get there
Lots of explanations go something like: Mindfulness is the practice of being in the present moment, and accepting it in a non-judgmental way.
This sounds nice, but doesn’t provide much clarity.
Let’s start with what mindfulness isn’t.
Mindfulness isn’t yoga, and it isn’t meditation. Those are both extremely useful methods to improving mindfulness, but are not the thing itself. While “mindfulness” feels a bit harder to nail down, most people understand what it means to be mindless.
When someone is acting mindlessly, they’re usually lacking purpose, direction, or attention. We all know what it feels like to mindlessly scroll through our social media feeds, or mindlessly binge a series on Netflix. We’re there, but maybe only halfway. Our minds are wandering, without purpose or focus, and we become disengaged. We’re running on auto-pilot.
Mindfulness means the opposite: Being present and engaged with what’s happening in the moment. It’s engaging with purpose and attention.
SERENITY NOW! Nope, sorry, that’s not how it works: Mindfulness in our day-to-day lives defined
Being present: Focusing on the task at hand, instead of thinking about schedules, prior phone calls, or anything else on your to-do list.
Being deliberate: Moving through life with intention, not on auto-pilot.
Being accepting: Not thinking about what you wish had happened, or how things could’ve been better, and instead working with what is.
Seems simple, right? Simple, but not easy. Day-to-day life involves so many distractions at any given moment; we’re constantly struggling to stay on top of our ever-increasing to-do list. Reining in our thoughts to focus on only one thing at a time can seem nearly impossible. But with practice, mindfulness can help transform how you work, and how you move through the rest of your life.
Tips to incorporate mindfulness at work
Mindfulness at work has demonstrated a number of benefits. It reduces stress, improves attention span, and sparks creativity and innovation. It leads to better overall well-being, prevents burnout, and reduces employee turnover.
Being mindful transforms our decision-making from reactionary to strategic. It helps us maintain perspective, bring our focus to what’s important and leads to a more fulfilling work-life. And it doesn’t depend on a grand, formal mindfulness program.
There are simple things you can do to start to make your workday more mindful:
1.) Set an intention for your day.
Start your day with a few deep breaths, setting an intention of what you want to get done – what would make this day productive, impactful, successful. Throughout the day as life creeps up, pause and check back in with that intention and see if you’re on-track. Maybe even set reminders on your phone to get you into the practice.
2.) Make a priority list.
If you’re like me, your to-do list is more of a running task-list that carries over from day to day. It includes big things like assignments and brainstorms, and little things like emails to send. Unlike a to-do list, a priority list should be short – what are the one to three things you must accomplish today? Then minimize distractions – including other to-do’s – as best you can until those tasks are complete.
Pro-tip: Keep your to-do list nearby as you tackle bigger priorities. That way, as things pop into your head, trying to pry your attention away from the task at hand, you can simply add them to your to-do list to handle later, and get back to where you need to be.
3.) Take a “minute to arrive.”
When work gets busy, it can be difficult to switch gears from one task to another, especially when meetings are scheduled back-to-back. When you start a new task or meeting, take a minute to breathe and mentally arrive at the present moment. It will help let your mind know that it’s time to refocus, so you can give the new task your full attention.
4.) Stop. Multitasking.
Multitasking has long been glorified in work culture, but it’s just not effective. Don’t do five things sub-par when you can do one thing well. When you’re in a meeting, turn off email and be in the meeting. By giving your attention fully, you’ll prevent needing to go through the same material later. Embrace the power of the ‘Do Not Disturb’ setting on your phone to reduce distractions, and get out of the habit of checking your device every few minutes.
Pro-tip: Most phones have a setting to assign certain contacts the ability to reach you, even when your phone is on Do Not Disturb. So you can silence all your distractions, but still be available in case of emergencies.
5.) At the end of the day, turn it off.
Part of being mindful at work means turning work off at the end of the day, giving your brain a chance to recharge so you can be more focused and attentive tomorrow. While technology makes it easy to be available 24/7, setting boundaries and giving yourself time to ‘clock out’ prevents burnout and makes you more effective in the long-run.
The best part about mindfulness is that it’s available to anyone. No special certifications or equipment are required, and it’s not a fundamental change to who you are. It’s simply using the tools already in your toolbox in a slightly different way, allowing you to make the most out of each moment.