Mindfulness has become a buzzword in recent years, yet, from my experience, it’s so much more. This practice is extremely beneficial for self-awareness, mental health, cognitive function, and, yes, even work performance. So, without further ado, let’s discuss about mindfulness. In this month’s installment of The Productivity Box, we’ll learn how hacking this technique can boost productivity, both on the job and in other areas of life.
A brief 10-minute mindfulness meditation is enough to help train the mind to rein in wandering, repetitive, or anxious thoughts, so you can refocus on the task at hand. This, in turn, makes it easier to finish the project without interruptions or distractions competing for your attention.
So take a deep breath—and let’s dive right in!
Mindfulness helps reduce stress levels
According to this research paper published in 2019, employees who worked at a high-pressure biotech firm showed significant stress reduction after practicing a mindfulness intervention. That’s because mindfulness teaches the brain to concentrate on the present with non-judgmental awareness. It’s simply noticing if attention wanders to a source of stress or anxiety and then redirecting it back. This calming effect helped the employees maintain a clear mindset in a stressful work environment, the study continues.
While you might not be in the biotech industry, it’s crucial to manage your own stress levels for maximum productivity as well. When your brain isn’t overwhelmed with stressors, you will be able to think more flexibly. This can bolster resilience, decision making, problem-solving, and emotional intelligence.
The next time stress rears its head, return your awareness to the present. Focus on taking deep, slow, even breaths. Notice your thoughts and emotions without judgment. This mindfulness exercise will restore mental clarity.
Mindfulness boosts focus and attention
One of the main predictors of strong work performance is the ability to focus for long periods of time. Mindfulness helps cultivate this skill because its goal is intense concentration on a singular moment. Practicing this can change neural pathways to connect three networks in your brain that influence focus, attention span, and emotional regulation (fronto-parietal, sensory-motor, default mode), explains the Scientific Reports Journal.
So how does connecting these neural networks increase your concentration on the job? When all three regions interact directly with one another, their combined processes work together to optimize focused thinking. At the same time, this represses distractions or task-irrelevant thoughts.
As you build those connections in the brain through mindfulness, you’ll learn how to catch an unproductive thought before it turns into a full-blown distraction. This, in turn, will re-orient your attention to the more important task at hand.
Mindfulness increases work engagement
It’s no secret that when you feel high levels of motivation, commitment, and satisfaction at work, you’re more willing to put in a solid, consistent effort. But if it’s hard for you to feel engaged, mindfulness can help in that area too. In fact, there’s a direct correlation between mindfulness and positive work engagement, according to Frontiers in Psychology.
The research suggests that practicing mindfulness can make employees more innovative, energized, resilient, adaptable, and enthusiastic in their roles. It seems as though employees also experience a higher level of work absorption, along with lower risks of burnout. All of this contributes to increased work engagement. Ultimately, this can improve mental health, executive functions, personal well-being, coworker relationships, ability to meet challenges, and overall performance metrics. Which basically translates into better teamwork.
It’s actually quite simple—the better you feel, the more productive you’ll be.
How to start your own mindfulness practice
If you’re new to mindfulness (or it’s been a while), don’t stress about the learning curve. Mindfulness can seem unnatural at first since most of us aren’t used to silencing mental chatter and tuning our awareness to the present. As with any other skill, it can be honed incrementally. Be patient with yourself and take it one step at a time with these simple strategies to build mindfulness into your routine.
Begin with short intervals
It’s unrealistic to expect that you’ll launch into a half-hour mindfulness practice right away, and that’s okay. Start with 5 or 10-minute sessions and gradually increase the amount of time as you feel comfortable. This will help you adapt to being quiet, aware, and fully present with no external stimuli to cause a distraction.
Breaking your mindfulness practice down into short intervals will make it feel more natural and less intimidating.
Focus on your breathing
Conscious breath work activates the neural processes in your brain responsible for focused attention and stress relief, according to Scientific Reports.
When you inhale deeply from the diaphragm, then exhale slowly and intentionally, your nervous system relaxes and gives the brain a rhythmic, stabilizing pattern to concentrate on. As a result, you feel calmer and more emotionally centered to take on challenges with a clear, level head.
In my case, I discovered this in my fast-paced walking exercise. To be able to get there—at the fast-paced part—first I had to consciously control my breathing. This, in turn, helped me become more aware of the present moment. And it was just a hunch until I got my hands on this article. Now it’s much clearer why it felt that way.
Connect with your senses
One of the most effective ways to root your mind in the present is to tune into your senses. At any moment, you can ask yourself: What can I see, hear, touch, smell, or taste?
Pay attention to the various colors of artwork on your wall. Listen to the sound of the air conditioner in your office. Feel the texture of wood grain on your desk. Breathe in the aroma of your hot coffee right from your cup and enjoy its robust flavor. I might be some sort of a coffee aficionado because this tiny gesture can help plunge right back into the present in a heartbeat.
Try whatever works for you, be it a smell, a taste, a sound or even a touched texture.
Meditation is an excellent gateway into mindfulness. This technique will walk you through how to deepen your breath, redirect your thoughts, build your self-awareness, and regulate your emotions. And as we already have learned, meditation can empower your work performance.
The simple productivity hack you need
The benefits of mindfulness are hard to ignore, both in the workplace and in every other area of life. Bring mindfulness into your daily routine so you can leverage it at work, while feeling more focused and less stressed.
And, as usual, keep an eye on this blog for my monthly series of simple productivity hacks and for other interesting articles. Stay productive 😉