Yes, You Can Totally Be Mindful At Work

We’ve all heard about mindfulness, and the many benefits it can bring into your life, but for most of us, it’s something we leave at home – something that seems impossible, or incompatible with work.

Well, I’m happy to be the bearer of really good news – it actually isn’t hard at all to bring mindfulness into the workplace. I’ll tell you how I do it, but first I want to tell you how much of an amazing difference it’s made in my work life.

I used to get really blown up mad about snarky emails, or people who were condescending jerks to me, or people who stole big projects from me, or people who took credit for stuff I did.

Now, I just don’t.  People still do these things, but it seems that my mindful habit is creating more space between the offender and the offense – and my reaction to it. I use that space to create a better response, typically one that is pretty compassionate.

As we know, most things are not as bad as we eventually make them with our own reactions to them. So in my work, this has all but disappeared.

I don’t feel like I’m just waiting for the day to end. Much. Not as much as I used to, anyway. The day seems to fly on by, for the most part. Some days, I’m not even ready to leave when it’s time to leave. I’m actually enjoying my work.

My co-workers have noticed that I’m more in tune to the projects, and to them as people – people with things to say. I listen better, and my work is much easier because of it.

Also, I get all of the usual benefits of mindfulness – the ones we’re used to hearing about all over the place.

So how do I do it? 

I look at my whole job. I find opportunities for mindfulness in each thing that I have to do as a job function. I also  eliminate things I have been doing for no reason.

Step 1 – Identify Opportunities for mindfulness.

You have to determine the granularity or resolution at which you work. If you are able to sit at a desk and do tasks one by one, you’ve got an easier job identifying opportunities for mindfulness. If you’re constantly distracted and task switching – you need to look at each of those micro-moments as a unit of work – that’s much smaller than a task, and be mindful of that moment.

I do have to mention that if you do get interrupted a lot – that’s a clue that maybe you need to organize your day a little differently or do some work on your process in general, but I guess that’s a different article.

So if you get to do big projects, where you just work on that for hours at a time, you need to break it into smaller tasks. I recommend the Pomodoro Technique, which will help you work on one thing at a time, mindfully. This works for medium to large tasks.

If your tasks are tiny from a time perspective (think cashier, air traffic controller) you can learn to focus more on one thing at a time, make that one thing your whole experience. (Especially air traffic controllers, please do this! 🙂

Take breaks and do something that’s not work. Stretch some part of your body (like your hamstrings, if you sit too much), and take a moment to focus on your breath for one minute. Again, if you work in larger chunks, make this 5 minutes. Cashiers, and Air Traffic Controllers, micro breaks.

Make the mindfulness an unobtrusive part of your day, a part of your process. 

My tasks tend to be 30 minutes to 2 hours, so I get up every half hour, no matter what, and take 2-5 minutes to stretch, and follow my breath as I gaze out a window. Perfect for me.

Step Two – Be Mindful In Those Opportunity Areas

So whether its 30 minutes or a quick interaction with a customer, make that your whole experience. Sink into it, notice it, let it be your entire experience while it lasts. Sometimes I think of it as a movie scene – you know how they can be really vivid and dramatic and attention capturing – well, life can be that way too.

Don’t judge it, even if it’s not bad. Remember to keep the big picture in mind. This is important. At first it may seem like I am telling you to “dive in” to experiences, but keep the big picture in mind. Sounds contradictory, but it’s totally possible – in fact that what a good meditation practice can help you to learn.

You want to fully experience each moment, without judging, without letting it carry you away, without expectations. At the same time, remember there is a whole world out there, carrying on. 

Step Three – Audit Your Process

You may be doing things that don’t need to be done. Maybe they used to be valuable, or maybe they never were and you’re just doing them because someone said they were valuable. You’re the one who has to do them, so make your own call. Maybe you have to sell it to your boss if you determine it’s not valuable.

Eliminate anything that isn’t beneficial. This will obviously leave more time for what is beneficial, and provide more time for focus and breaks, so that you can kick ass on what is beneficial.

Remember, it’s pretty simple. By increasing mindfulness, benefits will come. Don’t start with the benefits and try to foster those things in the workplace. Just be mindful. I guarantee, the rest will follow.