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How to incorporate more mindfulness into your workday, from meetings to coffee breaks
Can mindfulness really help reduce stress and improve attention? Yes. And it's easier than you think to get started with some simple practices at work. Here's how.
Last updated18 Aug 2022
In one of our optional Friday afternoon ‘Chilljar’ sessions, our Senior Brand Editor, Nicole, and Sales Associate, Laura, hosted a mindfulness session. Laura led a 30-minute yoga flow and Nicole a guided, seated mindfulness meditation. Many in our team found it useful and wanted to learn more practical ways to incorporate mindfulness into their work and lives.
So in this post, we'd like to share some simple ways to bring mindfulness into your workday.
You don’t need any experience—or even interest—in meditation or other ritualistic practices. All you need is your mind, and a desire to sharpen it.
Step out of automatic pilot with this short guided mindfulness meditation. Take note of how you felt before the practice and after. Come back to this session any time you need mini-break from your workday.
Your wandering mind
What are you thinking about right now? With any luck, you’re paying attention to this sentence, curiously wondering how you can be more mindful at work.
But chances are that, even as you read, your mind is being bombarded by thoughts.
Have you ever stopped and listened to it? If you do, you’ll find that your mind is a little like a toddler—incessantly rambling in every direction.
“I need to finish that report.”
“What am I going to make for dinner?”
“Don’t forget to buy milk on the way home.”
“I sounded like such an idiot in that meeting. Why can’t I just keep my mouth shut?”
This ability to reflect on the past and anticipate the future is one of the pinnacles of the human mind. But it’s also the cause of a lot of hot mess.
Psychologists estimate that most people are lost in thought nearly 50% of the time. That is, up to half of our day is spent thinking about things we're not actually doing in a given moment. The Harvard researchers behind this study concluded that a wandering mind is not a happy mind.
It’s also not an effective mind. Distracted task switching can consume up to 80% of your daily productivity.
And most of the time, you’re not even aware you’re doing this. Your mind is on autopilot. You wake up and impulsively grab your phone and check email. You receive feedback on your work and automatically go into defensive mode.
But there is a way to regain control over your rambling inner child. Enter mindfulness.
What is mindfulness and why it matters
Mindfulness is simply being aware of what’s on your mind. Or as Jon Kabat-Zinn frames it: “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
And this can affect every part of your life. Scientific research—and the experience of thousands of people over thousands of years—has shown that mindfulness can help:
Reduce stress and anxiety, which if left unchecked, lead to burnout
Control focus and attention, which helps us direct our minds toward the deep work that matters
Increase positive emotions toward yourself and others, which facilitates interactions with coworkers
Mindfulness also helps you turn off the autopilot. It creates a small space between stimulus and response, giving you more control over your thoughts, emotions, and actions.
So you show up better for yourself and your colleagues, all while being more focused and productive. Sounds useful.
And best of all: you don’t need to be an expert meditator to experience the benefits. You can practice in brief, simple ways every day.
Small ways to incorporate mindfulness throughout your workday
No need to sit cross-legged and chant mantras. Here are some simple ways to bring mindful moments into your workday.
1. Cue awareness reminders
Mindfulness starts with awareness. To help, you can use environmental cues as reminders to (re)direct your attention to the present. James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, outlines five habit triggers that can be used to cue a behavior: time, location, the preceding event, your emotional state, and the presence of other people.
For example, “when I see [my team lead], I take a deep breath.” Or “at 2:30 pm, I stop whatever I’m doing and take a 10-minute walk.”
2. Pause during transitions
Our days are filled with meaningful activities (like preparing a presentation, responding to messages, and attending meetings), separated by moments of transition.
Between sitting at your desk and going to the bathroom, there’s the transition as you walk down the hall. Between writing a document and attending a meeting, there’s the transition as you move from your browser window to your Zoom screen.
These transitions make great mindfulness triggers.
Before you turn on your computer, connect to Zoom, or head to the bathroom, take a moment to pause. Bring to mind what you were just doing and what you need to do next. Have you been focused on the most useful things?
3. Take three deep breaths
Why three? Because it’s a nice number. But even one or two can help. And if you need ten, breathe away. A deep breath can anchor you to the present. Use it as a way to pull your mind out of thought loops and back to the here and now.
4. Catch your mind wandering
Periodically throughout the day, become aware of what’s on your mind. If you catch yourself lost in thought, just notice this—and then return your attention to the space around you. And congratulations. Every time you catch your mind wandering, you’re becoming more mindful.
5. Take intentional breaks
When you start running through your workday, it can be hard to stop for a break. But downtime is essential for deep work. And research shows that just 25 minutes of yoga or mindfulness practice can improve focus and boost energy levels. If you have trouble disconnecting, set a timer to help you remember to pause mindfully. Then go for a walk, take a breath, or have a mindful coffee (see below).
6. Say thank you
If you’re reading this article, you are lucky in many ways. There are at least a billion people in this world that would happily change places with you in an instant. Notice your privilege, and appreciate what you’ve been given. Practicing gratitude deliberately directs your mind away from rambling thoughts and invites a calmer mind.
7. Scan your body
Take five to 10 minutes to mentally scan your body. Close your eyes. Notice your forehead, your eyes, your jaw—any tension? Relax it. Now feel your neck, your shoulders, your chest. Relax any tightness you feel. Continue down the body, all the way to your feet and toes.
8. Find a mindfulness buddy
Do you know someone in the office who would benefit from a periodic mindful check-in? Partner up with a colleague to help each other remember to reconnect with the present.
A growing number of companies also recognize the importance of mindfulness for employee productivity and well-being. So talk to your manager or HR team about setting up group classes for you to attend.
And if neither of those options work, you might try an app. Headspace and Waking Up are a couple that people in our company seem to enjoy.
9. Turn off notifications
Imagine if every time—LOOK AT ME!!—you were trying to read a message—DON’T FORGET THIS!!—you were interrupted by—JUST ANOTHER HELPFUL NOTIFICATION!! Reading that last sentence was an awful experience. But this is what much of our work days look like.
Notifications are like anti-mindfulness. Instead, deliberately set aside time to check messages. Someone in our office told us they try to only check emails at 11:30 am, 2:30 pm, and 6:00 pm. Easier said than done, but definitely a more mindful approach.
10. Notice the flip side
Few things in this world are either right or wrong. When something feels wrong or hasn’t gone according to plan, it’s okay to acknowledge this. But most situations also have a positive outcome if you look closely enough, and all outcomes offer an opportunity to learn.
11. Remember that tomorrow is another day
We all have rough days. And when we’re stressed or upset, it can seem like that feeling will never end. But every bad mood you’ve ever felt has passed. This isn’t to say that persistent mental health concerns aren’t real for some people. But for most of us, bad days come and go. No matter how glum today feels, recognize that tomorrow brings another day to start fresh.
Mindfulness at work: examples in practice
Now let’s put the above tips into context.
1. How to host a mindful meeting
On your way to another Zoom call? Here are a few mindful practices that anyone can do.
Before the meeting:
Plan well. Be mindful of others' time. Know why you’re there and how you can contribute. Could it instead be an async meeting?
Take a deep breath. Leave your previous, and next, tasks behind.
Notice your mood. Are you tense, calm, distracted, tired? Become aware of the mindset you’re bringing to the conversation.
Check your biases at the door. Are you clicking into Zoom already thinking about how boring the meeting will be, or rolling your eyes because that one colleague is going to be there? That sends your mind looking for cues that confirm your expectations. It’s a self-feeding loop that doesn’t do anyone—or any meeting goals—any favors.
During the meeting:
Be mindful of your own words. Don't ramble on. Are your words moving the conversations forward? Or are you veering off topic or returning to already finished points?
Listen attentively to who's speaking. Don't multitask. Put away your phone. Turn off Slack. If you take the time to attend, take the time to be present.
Be aware of others' moods. Is someone out of sorts? Give them the benefit of the doubt. We all have off days.
After the meeting:
Bring to mind the key points and next steps. What do you need to take away and follow up on?
Transition mindfully. What is the most important thing to focus on when you sit back down?
Note: here are a few other tips on hosting meetings people actually want to attend.
2. How to have a mindful coffee break
Need a bit of caffeine? Here are a few awareness pointers to try along the way.
Transitioning to your break:
Be intentional. Pause before you get up and recognize your intention to rest.
Take a deep breath, and leave your work behind.
Be aware as you walk. Notice something along the way that you’ve never noticed before.
During your break:
Wait patiently. Being anxious won’t make the coffee come quicker. Notice how the barista or machine prepares your brew. If you feel the urge to look at your phone, notice that urge before diving directly into your screen.
Sip mindfully. Notice the taste and texture of the coffee as it hits your tongue.
Speak conscientiously. If you’re with someone else, take time to make eye contact, listen, and smile.
Walk silently. Rather than talking to yourself or chatting on your phone, look at the world around you.
Transitioning after your break:
Take a deep breath. Appreciate the short rest you just had.
Think consciously about what you need to focus on next. Otherwise, you risk opening up a window or channel that will throw you down the wrong rabbit hole.
Note: the same applies to British tea time
Pay attention to what’s on your mind
Mindfulness at work isn’t an elite, esoteric endeavor. It’s simply about becoming aware of what’s on your mind and developing tactics to help return your attention to the present moment.
Mindfulness is like a muscle—you have to train it. Any of the above techniques can be useful to recenter your mind. And all of them get easier and more effective the more you practice. The same techniques can be applied at home, while driving, and on the weekends.
But you don’t need to think of mindfulness as one more thing to add to an already busy life. It’s about doing less, not more. It’s about giving your mind time to rest from the busy thought loops and non-stop inner chatter.
And this isn’t just for your own focus and peace of mind. Your friends, family, and coworkers will also notice and appreciate your dedicated attention.
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