Four Ways to Be Mindful at Work – Melli O’Brien

Work is an important part of life. Necessary not just for income, but also for self-expression and personal fulfillment. Work life can be very rewarding, but for many of us it’s also one of our major sources of life stress.

At work many of us get caught up in ‘driven doing’ mode. We lose touch with ourselves and the present moment. We push our bodies and minds too far and then end up exhausted and stressed at the end of each day.

I propose that  there’s no need for it to be that way. We can be productive without pushing ourselves. It is also very possible to enjoy our work life with a sense of balance, ease and energy. The key to it is to bring more mindful moments into the work day.

I’ve been experimenting with ways to infuse my days with more mindfulness (my partner and I run two businesses and have an 8-acre property to take care of, which keeps my days full) and here are my 4 most effective ways to be more mindful at work.

1. Regular Mindful Check-Ins

Take time out, at regular intervals during the day, for a mindful check-in. There are two methods I use to remind myself to take a pause.

A. Mindfulness Bells

Set a gentle alarm to go off periodically and call your attention back to your mind and body. I use a free app called Zazen (for iPhone), which I set to go off every 30 minutes during the day. It chimes the sounds of a meditation bell. When I hear the bell, I stop whatever I’m doing for a mindful check-in.

B. Visual Mindful Reminders

Visual mindful reminders can take the form of a note taped to your computer monitor or perhaps a symbol such as a little Buddha statue. When you look at your reminder, let it bring you back to mindfulness, even if just for a moment.

You might make your office doorway a portal to mindfulness — put a sticker on the door to remind you to ‘check in’ as you enter or leave. Another good place for a visual reminder is in the car so that you see it just before you drive off.

How To Do A Mindful Check-In

1. Start by taking a deep, slow conscious breath. Physically stop where you are or take a seat for a moment.

2. Then take awareness into your physical body and notice how it feels. Is there any tension in the body? Notice any feeling tones of energy or tiredeness. Ease or aches. Notice the touch of clothing on skin and any other sensations like temperature and pressure. Aiming to feel what’s there to be felt without any judgement (There’s no right or wrong way to feel. You’re just tuning in to what’s here right now.).

3. Tune in to your emotional and mental states. Notice what kinds of thoughts are present in the mind. Check out the overall state of the mind (calm, restless, tired, energised, focused, or unfocused) and also any emotions that are present.

4. Open your awareness to take in the whole present moment — the sounds of the day, how you’re feeling, visual perceptions such as the objects around you and the play of light and shadow in the room. Open up to the unfolding of the present moment.

5. Proceed with awareness.

This five-step process can take as little as 30 seconds or as long as 5 to 10 minutes if you feel like you’d like to take a longer pause.

2. Breathe Mindfully

The breath can keep your awareness tuned into the moment. Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” Think of the breath as a mindfulness tool you have on hand at all times.

Tune into your breath for a moment whenever you transition from one activity to the next. Before you make the next phone call, or get back on the computer, or return from lunch, stop for a moment to notice your breath.

You don’t need to alter the breath; you’re not doing breathing exercises here. Allow it to flow naturally, effortlessly, in its own comfortable rhythm. Simply become aware of it. Feel your lungs expand and contract, belly rising and falling, and the sensations of breath at the tips of the nostrils.

Let the breath bring you home to yourself in the present moment.

3. Practice Unit-Tasking

In this busy modern world we live in, multi-tasking has become the buzz word for people driven to success. While it might seem like a good idea, studies show that multi-tasking is ineffective. Switching gears repeatedly from one task to another trips up the brain and inhibits focus on any one of them. (1, 2)

Unit-tasking – focusing on one task at a time- improves your productivity and accuracy. Even more importantly, it means you can focus your attention in the present moment. Being mindful of the moment while performing tasks keeps you happier while you work, and isn’t that what life’s about? Not just being productive, but being happy?

4. Meditate Regularly

Doing a regular daily meditation practice will greatly strengthen your ability to maintain mindfulness during the work day. If you don’t have a practice already, why not start with just five or ten minutes every  morning? Another suggestion is you could do a short meditation during your lunch break at work.

There is really no substitute for a regular daily practice. Regular meditation is the most powerful way to infuse the energy of mindfulness throughout the rest of the day.

I believe that there is no need for the stress, struggle and striving that is considered to be normal at work. Try these 4 ways to bring a little more ‘being’ into your ‘doing’ and I believe you’ll find you can be just as productive but with a little more lightness, ease and joy.

With a little more mindfulness at work, we can really allow our skills and creativity to shine.


PS If you like this post you might also enjoy learning 7 ways to be more mindful with technology


1. http://news.stanford.edu/news/20009/august24/multitask-research-study-082409.html

2. http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2001/08/multitasking.aspx

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