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Acorn’s Top Tips for Being More ‘Mindful’ at Work

  • Mindfulness, workplace effectiveness, personnel development, performance

In the current recession with downsizing, restructuring, global competition and technological advances we find we are all busier than ever. We respond to increasing and changing work demands by multi-tasking and working longer hours. Over time this impacts adversely on our well-being. As we become more stressed we become less productive. Our performance deteriorates and we may even burn-out.

At Acorn, we believe we have a novel solution to this problem.

Be more mindful

Mindfulness is defined by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the leading expert, as "the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and without judgement"1. Awareness is being open to our experiences and noticing. Paying attention is being curious and focussed rather than distracted. On purpose is setting an intention or choosing to attend. In the present moment is being present right now rather than dwelling in the past or looking ahead to the future. Without judgement is acknowledging things as they are without needing to change them in this moment.

Benefits of mindfulness

Mindfulness-based approaches have become increasingly popular in psychology and medicine and there is a growing body of research to support its benefits for well-being. In their Mindfulness Executive Summary (2010)2 The Mental Health Foundation state in their conclusion “We live fast, complex, pressurised lives. Mindfulness practices are an easy-to-learn, inexpensive, portable and sustainable means to achieving ‘headspace’.”

Mindfulness is now beginning to be applied to the workplace. In his ground breaking book ‘The Mindful Workplace’ Michael Chaskalson sets out how to develop resilient individuals and resonant organisations. He identifies potential benefits to business including improvements to concentration, data manipulation, communication and interpersonal skills and also reductions in stress and health-related absence3. The traditional approach is an eight-week mindfulness course based on the Jon Kabat-Zinn programmes.

For those who are unable to make such a big commitment, there are ways you can reap some of the benefits by incorporating a little more mindfulness into your day.

How to be more mindful at work

There are many ways that we can all be more mindful at work and here are some for you to consider:

Be more present

We may think we are fully present when in fact we are often in the past or future, fretting over something that went wrong last week or planning ahead for a task coming up next week. This means our attention is divided and we are not applying ourselves fully to what we are doing right here, right now. We cannot change what has happened in the past, we can only learn from it and apply that learning when the time is appropriate.

By maintaining our attention in the present we can increase our concentration levels and extend our attention span and so improve our personal effectiveness. Doing our work well in this moment will bear fruit in the future. Set an intention to start noticing where your mind is. When you notice it is in the past or future, gently bring it back to the present.

Be more focussed

We may be working in busy workplaces surrounded by people, interrupted by phone calls or multi-tasking. We can easily become side tracked by what is going on around us or preoccupied with thoughts or feelings in our own mind and body. Our minds naturally wander all the time and we spend a great deal of time distracted rather than being focussed on the task in hand.

Sometimes we digress into convoluted trains of thought that can take us a long way from our current task. This may be unproductive and fritter away valuable time and energy. So, minimise distractions as much as possible and notice where your mind is. When you mind is not where you want it to be, gently detach it from where it is and bring it back to where you want it to be and keep it there. You may find yourself doing this a lot.

If your mind wanders a hundred times then you simply gently bring it back a hundred times.

Be more open to possibilities

In our knowledge economy, we are becoming increasingly more specialised and expert in what we do and this intellectual capital provides valuable competitive advantage for our organisations. Our expertise provides us with intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. We constantly use our know-how and experience to inform what we are doing now so that we enjoy our work and perform to our best. In addition, our experience is recognised, valued and rewarded by our organisation. This proficiency corresponds to a significant shortcut as we are not approaching each task with a beginner’s mind.

This familiarity, however, can mean that we may get “stuck in the rut of our own expertise”1 and overlook new creative solutions. Begin to be more aware of how your past experiences shape your expectations and see if you are able to view situations with fresh eyes.

Be more responsive and less reactive

Another shortcut we often employ is to react to situations with enduring patterns of behaviour, thoughts or feelings. Sometimes we are aware of this process and other times it is out of our awareness. We may put off tasks that we don’t enjoy and yet be frustrated with our procrastination until we complete the task at the last possible opportunity. At the same time we may enthusiastically engage with tasks we enjoy and attempt to monopolise or extend the experience. This hanging on to positive experiences and avoidance of negative experiences is all part of the stream of judgements we make every day.

The solution is to become aware of what we are doing. When you notice you are jumping straight into judgement, stop and step back and take a little time to consider the possibilities for a more resourceful response.

Be more aware of others

Many of us work with others in groups or teams of varying sizes and configurations. We liaise with clients, we consult with colleagues, we coach staff and we hold discussions in meetings. All in all, we can spend a great deal of time involved in conversations. Whilst we may think we are fully engaged, we are often not really listening at all. We may be distracted by external events or by internal thoughts or feelings. Very often we are planning how to respond and formulating what we will say next. This response may be based on our own viewpoint and preference for giving advice rather than actually appreciating the view of the other person. To improve your listening skills, talk less and be more present and receptive to allow others the space to have a voice.

Being mindful is a powerful antidote to being stuck in our ways or operating in mindless auto-pilot. This seemingly simple method has been proven to show positive results with training and regular practice.

Organisations reaping the benefits of helping staff to be mindful include Google, KPMG, Toyota, Starbucks, The Cabinet Office and The Home Office.

At Acorn we believe that this easy to learn, inexpensive, portable and sustainable intervention is easily applied to all businesses. Please call us to see how we can help you achieve this.

Article Credits / References

1. Kabat-Zinn, J. (2012) Full Catastrophe Living. London: Piatkus.

2. The Mental Health Foundation (2010) Mindfulness Executive Summary. London.

3. Chaskalson, M. (2011) The Mindful Workplace. UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

See Acorn's Top Tips for Improving Employee Engagement.