Illustration created by upklyak –

By Kate Lehnerdt

Each day we bring a certain amount of energy to work. Some days may be high-energy days, and some days you may feel like you’re running on empty. Typically, this happens on a Monday or Friday!

We’ve all had the experience of feeling scattered and perhaps a bit overwhelmed at work. Maybe you’re inundated with projects or feel demotivated to complete something, and attending a meeting makes you think, “I just don’t have the time! I’m going to miss the deadline now”.

Directly linked to motivation in the workplace is what is known as mindfulness. Mindfulness is our ability to stay focused yet flexible and is a way of reprogramming the mind to think in a healthier, less stressful way.

According to a study conducted by The American Institute of Stress, 80% of employees report that they feel stress at work and need help learning how to manage it.

Feeling stressed in the workplace?

Burnout vector created by macrovector –

Stress-related? But why?
Employees are more stressed than ever these days. One of the most obvious reasons is as a result of the tumultuous two odd years we have had with the Covid Pandemic, and, according to a survey conducted by LinkedIn, nearly half of workers today feel stress in their jobs, with 70% of them feeling it from their workload and work-life balance. Gallup reports that 23% of employees feel burnout at work very often or always, while an additional 44% report feeling it sometimes. Those are some scary stats!
Let’s look at a simple definition of mindfulness?
“Mindfulness is the ability to know what’s happening in your head at any given moment without getting carried away by it.”
Dan Harris
So why bring mindfulness to work?

By training us to pay attention moment-by-moment to where we are and what we’re doing, mindfulness can help us choose how we will behave, nudging (or jolting) us out of autopilot mode.

Here are four ways mindfulness transforms how we work:

  1. It allows us to keep an open, curious mind.
  2. It teaches us the skill of responding, rather than reacting.
  3. It helps us remember that our thoughts are not facts.
  4. It builds healthy habits that cultivate creative potential.

This may seem simple, but the reality is our days are often filled with phone calls, stand-ups, and client meetings. And, of course, our own work! In the middle of all that, how can you apply the principles of mindfulness so that you feel more alive and present, as well as being productive?

Mindful work means being consciously present in what you’re doing, while you’re doing it, as well as managing your mental and emotional state. If you’re developing a course, creating videos, creating project timelines, mindfulness requires you to give that your full attention.

But how do we bring mindfulness to work?

Each time your mind wanders to things like Zoleka’s new role or Michael’s argument with his Line Manager, just acknowledge the thoughts and bring your attention back to the task at hand (see How To Stop Thinking). This scenario sounds simple, but many aspects of your experience can get in the way.

mindfulness in the work space

Woman coffee vector created by storyset –

Try these mindfulness exercises
  • Set an alarm (at realistic periodic times during the day) on your phone – a vibrating alarm that doesn’t disturb others.
  • Every time your phone vibrates, you take a mindful breath. Literally taking a deep breath in, holding it for 3 seconds, and exhaling (if you are brave you can push the exhalation out so that it “whooshes”). Do this three times with your eyes closed.
  • Every time you hear the ping of a Slack message, pause and be mindful of your surroundings (briefly) rather than immediately reacting by checking the message. I’m not asking you to wait 5 minutes. Just pause and be aware.

All of these things are opportunities to come back into the present moment, to see yourself and your surroundings afresh. You take a small step back and reflect rather than automatically react to what’s coming at you in the form of demands, tasks, and challenges.

There are many ways to cultivate mindfulness at work, from walking during the day to taking purposeful pauses when eating. These are simple things to do. When you walk to the coffee station or the bathroom, be conscious of every step. When you drink your coffee – sip it and enjoy the flavor. When you eat your lunch or have a snack – savor each bite.

Why is it difficult?

Your brain’s normal (default) mode is to be habitually lost in your own thoughts – running a sort of internal narrative. When you’re going about your usual daily activities, your brain switches you into a low energy state, which is unmindful, almost dreamy.

Doing some things automatically, without thinking, is fine, but research undertaken at Harvard University showed that 47% of a person’s day can be spent lost in thoughts! That’s almost half a day – and now I’ve publicly outed everyone, including Management!

The same research found that daydreaming can have a negative impact on well-being – don’t pretend you don’t do it! Being on autopilot means that you’re not fully present and awake to the opportunities and choices around you. You can’t be creative, plan something new, or respond appropriately if you’re operating mechanically.

Skipping or refusing to take breaks altogether can lead to increased stress, exhaustion, and stagnant thinking. This is especially true for projects or tasks that require an extended period of focus.

Mindfulness can also help with problem-solving by freeing you from distractions and giving you a new angle on which to reflect. When you are in the thick of a challenge, and you practice mindfulness, you may be able to process the information in a new and different way that is needed for a resolution.

So what now?

Here’s something to consider. A meeting can be started with a “minute-to-arrive” practice (side note be on time!).

Place your feet on the floor and lengthen your spine. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and begin to notice any sensations in the body. Look at internal weather patterns, noticing how do I feel right now. Set an intention; who will I choose to show up as during this meeting?

Not the typical start to a meeting but a welcome and calming one. This sort of mindfulness practice is becoming common in the workplace culture of a growing number of companies that are implementing systematic mindfulness programs in the form of mindful moments, meditation apps, and dedicated quiet rooms.

Why are these global enterprises spending employee time and financial resources on these programs? Because, no matter what stats you research, you will always see that there is a significant ROI on the back of them.

Practice being present
Make a clear decision at the start of your workday to be present as best you can. Pause for a few moments before you start your workday to set this intention in your mind.

One of the things that often came up when I was training wellness and mindfulness at work, is that people felt embarrassed just sitting quietly at their desks for three minutes with their eyes closed. I say three minutes because one of my favorite mindfulness exercises for coming into yourself involves sitting at your desk with your eyes closed. For three minutes.

Minute 1:
Close your eyes and place your feet firmly on the ground and feel the sensations in your body, sitting on the chair, drawing your attention to your arms and legs and neck, and relaxing them fully.

Minute 2:
Listen to the sounds around you, but extend your hearing as far as you can to sounds outside and distant noise.

Minute 3:
Smell and taste. What can you smell, what can you taste?

You can set a three-minute timer for this if you want (it can go on for longer as the feeling of relaxation can be intoxicating) so best you don’t lose 10 minutes in this exercise!

Stand up stretch your arms high above your head then slowly drop over so that your hands hang towards the ground. Roll yourself up again and take a big stretch.

You will be amazed at how you feel! Don’t worry what others think. If they ask, tell them you are getting back into the present!

The goal of mindfulness isn’t to stop thinking or to empty the mind. Rather, to pay close attention to your physical sensations, thoughts, and emotions in order to see them more clearly, without making so many assumptions, or making up stories.

Mindfulness is a wonderful concept and tool to use at the office as it will leave you feeling rejuvenated, refreshed, and ready to move on to the next task.

Give it a bash you will surprise yourself! Let the creativity flow and your mind reset and then onwards and upwards you go!

Kate Lehnerdt: Author of Mindfulness in work spaces by
Kate Lehnerdt: Learning Designer

Feeling inspired? Don’t stop here! Take some time to read a few more wellbeing articles from our Construct team.