We often try to be efficient by multitasking at work. However, multi-tasking is really a myth: it is actually our attention having to take repeated, rapid changes in direction. It gets our brain fired up on adrenaline, so we feel superficially alert – like the effect of caffeine. This uses up a lot of energy and can leave us feeling drained by the end of the day.
This approach to work also undermines our ability to pay attention. This has knock on effects for how much we can enjoy our work, our leisure and others’ company. When our brain is used to being in overdrive, it is hard to shift into just ‘being in the moment’.
Practicing mindfulness = Practicing attention.
Mindfulness is a word that is often associated with meditation but what does it really mean?
According to Fit For Work Occupational Therapist Lois Hill, “mindfulness means being fully present, attention focused, and connected to what you are doing”.
Mindfulness can help us to be more productive at work, as well as offering a number of other benefits to our overall health and wellbeing. It reduces stress; enhances creativity; improves our physical health, calmness and happiness; and allows us greater enjoyment in what we are doing.
So how do we become more mindful at work?
Make time for mindfulness
Practicing mindfulness for 10 minutes every day can have huge benefits for our attention, focus and stress levels, Lois says.
Headspace’s free guided 10-minute meditations are a great way to get started:
Throughout the day, take some moments (or minutes) to connect with your surroundings and calm your mind. Notice what you can see, hear and feel around you. Be present in the moment.
Create a ‘to do list’
Doing one task at a time and putting all your attention towards it produces better quality work. Invest a bit of time at the start of the day to make a prioritised and realistic To Do list for the day i.e. not just a scrawled list of every job that needs to be completed over the next week.
You can then work though each task mindfully, with your full attention. Let go of other thoughts about workplace stresses, like your heavy workload or a difficult boss, and focus only on the task at hand.
Every time you notice your attention has drifted to another task, remind yourself that you have already decided that this is the most important thing for you to be working on right now.
This will generate better workflows and foster creative problem solving.
Be aware of distractions
Email alerts and workplace noise can often be distracting when going about your working day. Turn off your email alerts, if possible, and prioritise one or two hours each day to answer them. Turning off your phone and putting on some headphones (even if there is no music coming through them) can also be a good way to shield against interruptions when you need to focus intensely for an hour or so e.g. writing a report.
When you find yourself getting distracted by what is going on around you, close your eyes, relax, and sit upright. Focus on your breathing and listen to yourself inhaling and exhaling. Each time you find yourself getting distracted, simply focus on your breathing to return your focus to your task.
Check out this book, which explores how to manage your attention, boost productivity… and enjoy your work: How to Be a Productivity Ninja by Graham Allcott
Headspace free guided 10-minute meditations:
Mindfulness expert Andy Puddicombe describes the transformative power of mindfulness: https://www.ted.com/talks/andy_puddicombe_all_it_takes_is_10_mindful_minutes