Perhaps now more than ever, we are all being pulled in more competing directions. At the onset of the outbreak of COVID-19, a majority of workers struggled with balancing work, life, and the stresses of a global pandemic. Parents attempted to juggle working from home with educating and entertaining their children as spouses adjusted to working and cohabitating under the same roof as their partner 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. No matter the professional or personal situation, in 2020, everyone was just trying to survive, let alone find balance.
Fast forward to mid-way through 2021 and the arrival of the delta variant of COVID-19. Most people would still admit to feeling burned out, unbalanced, and just generally mentally fatigued. These feelings can largely be attributed to the new work-life balance we are all trying to strike – again.
While most workers, especially those in information technology, worked from home throughout most of 2020 and into 2021, the tides are starting to change. Some organizations are encouraging people to come back into the office full-time, others are continuing with the work-from-home model for the foreseeable future, while others are trying out hybrid work schedules. The increased time available to work by eliminating commutes is being taken away in some instances, while others still struggle with drawing the line between their job and their personal lives while working from home. It all boils down to change and more adjusting, and to settling into another new norm.
All of this has led to increased attention paid to mental health, employee well-being, and mindfulness.
What is Mindfulness?
There is an opportunity, as there always has been, to be more mindful. Post-2020, however, it is becoming a business imperative. In short, mindfulness is the art and the practice of being intentional, present, and aware. Today, we are all faced with mounting distractions, pressures, stress, and competing priorities, resulting in a general feeling of unhappiness, dissatisfaction, and disorder.
Mindfulness comes in as a means to relax the mind and body and uncross the wires that are naturally getting mixed throughout our busy days.
How to Practice Mindfulness.
Mindfulness is not an automatic response. It is singularly concentrating on one thing and directing all your thoughts and energies towards that one thing. It must be learned and practiced. The best first place to start: To focus on your breathing. If you are outside for a walk, it could be focusing on the sounds of your steps, or you could listen to running water. By doing this, you quiet your thoughts, which can bounce from your to-do list for work, the email you plan on sending or responding to, or what you will eat next or do after work.
Practicing mindfulness will open you up to feeling more focused, grateful, and present. It is not thinking about what has happened or what will happen; it is only thinking about what is happening, right then and only on the object, thought, or activity you have chosen. It is not easy. The first few times you try to focus on only one thing, your mind will likely start to wander because it's not yet trained. Your mind is used to doing what it wants to and going where it wants to. Try to control it. Start small—practice mindfulness, or this state of meditation, for a few minutes every day. Try extending your mindfulness sessions to 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 30, or even 60 minutes a day as you improve.
What Mindfulness Looks Like at Work?
The ability to focus on what we need to when we need to leads to clarity, better decision making, happier, more productive work, and has countless other benefits. When we run our workday in crisis mode – constantly responding and reacting to what happens as it happens – there is little opportunity for ownership or thoughtfulness.
We have likely all said or heard people say, "there’s so much going on, I can’t focus,” or “I don’t know where to start,” or “I can’t concentrate.” Yet, this is your mind begging to be tamed, thoughts to be collected and put into a workable order. We may think we are multi-tasking and good at it – but don't be fooled; we are not.
To practice mindfulness at work, try these five simple tips:
Plan. Time-block your day to focus on what you need to get done for dedicated periods. It is equally as important to plan time to respond to email and rote tasks. If you don’t, these things will creep into your dedicated working time.
Delegate. Being pulled into too many directions can sometimes result from poor task management or failing to delegate what should live with someone else on the team. When you can, delegate.
Be responsible about being responsive. As things come up throughout the day that you have to react to, try this: Stop, sit still long enough to make a thoughtful assessment, make a judgment, or craft a response, and move it out of your thought path.
Focus on one thing at a time. Try shutting email notifications off while you are working on work. Pop-ups are a sure-fire way to distract your thoughts from the work at hand. When you are on a call, do not have web browsers, email, or your phone open. Focus on the conversation, and that is it.
Practice. In business and life, mindfulness takes practice. It's about self-control, which can take a fair amount of training, so don't give up on mindfulness or yourself. Practice, practice, practice.
Attention is a limited resource. Every day we are bombarded by so much information that it is easy to become overwhelmed and overloaded. As you consume new information and as things happen, give yourself time to think and process – if you don’t, and these things go on running in the back of your mind, they will subconsciously drive your thinking and behavior.
Burnout and feeling stressed are not badges of honor. Regain control of your thoughts, and your life, by practicing mindfulness.