Researchers at Harvard recently reported that we spend over 46% of our waking hours distracted, thinking about something other than what we’re doing. And almost all of us know the feeling of coming to work for 10 hours and accomplishing only a few of our goals for the day.
We’re now living in what many people are calling an “attention economy.” Our ability to stay focused and concentrated on our tasks is as important as any management or technical skill we might have.
One solution? More mindfulness.
Oxford English Dictionary defines mindfulness as “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment.” During the workday, this means remaining conscious and aware and (ultimately) less distracted by smaller tasks.
Here are some ways The Harvard Business Review suggests we might all find more mindfulness during our workdays:
1. Begin your day without thinking.
Studies have shown that we release the most stress hormones minutes after waking in the morning. When we consider the day ahead, our body’s fight-or-flight instinct is triggered, and we release cortisol into our blood.
Instead, try waking up and spending two minutes lying in bed, only noticing your breath. In-and-out. If any thoughts come to mind, let them go. Get back to that breath. In-and-out. Just relax. This will help you stave off the cortisol and decrease your stress.
2. Don’t get to work and work (right away).
Take the first 10 minutes for yourself. Sit at your desk, close your eyes, and relax, placing all of your focus (again) on your breath. Anytime you feel distracted or a thought rushes into your mind, try releasing it with your next exhalation. If it helps, you can count as you exhale.
You’re typically at work for eight hours or more. That’s at least 480 minutes every single day. Taking 10 minutes for yourself at the beginning of the morning is only 2% of your day, and it’s going to make you way more productive with the remaining 98% of your time.
3. Hide your email. (Hide it in a galaxy far, far away.)
Avoid checking email first in the morning—email shouldn’t feel more important than your other tasks. And during the day, only check email between more major tasks. (Better yet, put email in its own browser window and minimize it or hide it behind your bigger tasks. This will help make checking email a conscious decision, not something you do without thinking.)
Most of us are deluded into thinking that emails are so easy and fun. One individual email is a small, quick task, and each time we complete it, we release dopamine. As these tasks add up, so too does the dopamine. But then email becomes an addiction and ruins productivity, which ruins long-term happiness and fulfillment.
4. Start your meetings in silence.
Instead of immediately launching into the topic of the meeting, encourage your co-workers to allow two minutes of silence for everyone to arrive physically and mentally. (Or grab two minutes on your own on your way to the meeting.) During this two minutes, revert back to your breathing exercises from earlier in the day. Focus only on your inhale and exhale.
Will this help you from having a meeting about the meeting? Maybe not. But it will most likely make your all your meetings shorter, more focused, and highly productive.
5. After lunch, ring the alarm.
Set three or four alarms throughout the afternoon—just to check in with yourself. When these alarms ring, stop what you’re doing. (Are you stuck on your email? Or are you working intensely on a bigger project?) Take 30 seconds to focus on your breathing again, then return to your bigger tasks.
After lunch, our bodies naturally slow down. It’s hard to focus, as the rest of the day unfolds. It’s particularly important during this time of the day to have regular check-ins with yourself to be sure you’re staying mindful and productive.
6. Head home offline.
For at least 10 minutes of your commute, turn off your phone and simply be. Go back to the start of your day when you were in your bed just breathing. Exhale all the stresses of the day; exhale all your on-going projects; exhale all your unanswered emails.
There’s immense pressure to stay online these days. You owe it to yourself on your way home to let go of your day and prepare to devote the rest of your evening to yourself or to friends or family. They deserve your presence as much as your co-workers.
7. Make mindfulness a habit.
Try these exercises for 14 days. See what they do for you. A mindful life is a slower, more aware life, where we’re more cognizant of our actions. It takes time to slow down—but it’s well worth the effort.
IVY is a social university dedicated to inspiring connection, collaboration, and growth. To learn more, visit IVY.com.