Stop measuring days by degree of productivity and start experiencing them by degree of presence.– Alan Watts
Have you found yourself hours deep into a work project having forgotten all of your basic needs (hydration, regulated breathing, bathroom breaks)? Have you ever started your work day, blinked, and suddenly you’re about to close up shop- wondering where the day actually went? Whether it’s information overload leading to higher levels of stress and distraction, or finding yourself on autopilot for 9 hours struggling to be present at all- bringing mindfulness into your daily routine may make a meaningful difference in your quality of life, especially at work.
Mindfulness practices ideally increase our ability to tolerate and engage with everyday stressors. At its core, mindfulness means to bring awareness toward what’s occurring in your present moment non-judgmentally. At this point in time, we know several studies have shown that mindfulness can increase subjective well-being, improve emotional regulation and improve our ability to focus. So, how do these things translate to the workplace?
“While mindfulness has received relatively little investigation from a workplace perspective, it is suggested that it can carry unique variance beyond some work-related variables. For example, Dane and Brummel, (2013) considered that mindfulness and engagement are two very similar concepts. Dimensions of work engagement (vigor, dedication, and absorption) are highly related concepts with mental resources to tasks and events unfolding in the present moment. Since work engagement and its dimensions have been connected many positive work-related attitudes and behaviors such as job performance, satisfaction, turnover (Christian et al., 2011; Halbesleben, 2010; Salanova et al., 2005), it is reasonable to expect the similar relationship between mindfulness and work-related outcomes” (Saraç, M., 2020). Research has also shown engaging with regular mindfulness practices at work may reduce work-life conflict and increase job satisfaction (APA, 2018).
The task here with mindfulness is more simple than you might think: Bring yourself into conscious presence over and over again. In a 2022 Harvard Business Review article, the authors suggest that in order to determine the most optimal times to integrate mindfulness into your workday, take notice of when you tend to be the most stressed out (Cameron and Hafenbrack, 2022). Check out some of my favorite steps you can try below to see what can increase presence in your work-life routine.
1. Mindful beginnings.
Think about the beginning of your day. Where’s the first place your mind goes? What’s the first thing you reach for? The start to your day is a great opportunity to begin to condition mindfulness. In a field study exploring the effects of different mindfulness focused meditation practices in workplace settings, it was found workers who meditated in the morning were more attentive and helpful to their coworkers and customers throughout the day (Cameron and Hafenbrack, 2022). The article also sheds light on circumstances where specific practices may not be helpful for some.
Try greeting the day with slow movements, guided meditations (such as loving-kindness meditation on YouTube), stretches, and gratitude practices to ease into the day ahead.
2. Mindful minutes.
Something I encourage many of those I work with who are approaching burnout is to carve out a few minutes at least three times a day to simply ‘just be’. Often this involves closing the laptop and a few minutes of breath work (look into box breathing and see if this can work for you), or anything else that feels regulating for you. Use this time to bring intention to the day and step off of wherever auto-pilot was taking you.
3. Body scans.
We tend to forget about the body while engaged with our jobs. However, the mind and body and inextricably connected. So if you’re neglecting one, the other will feel those effects. If you’re someone who tends to work on overdrive, setting an alarm on your phone at certain times of the day to remind yourself to check in with your body and its needs can be invaluable. This can look like doing a body scan, head to toe, asking what each part of your body needs. (Ex. How’s my head? Neck? Have I hydrated? Have I made time for a bathroom break today? Did I skip lunch while working on this project? Are my legs needing to move for a few minutes? Do I have time to take a quick walk?) Your body deserves this check in. Think of this as an act of kindness to yourself.
4. Mindful eating.
Have you ever heard of mindful eating? It’s something I was first introduced to when taking a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Course a few years back, and it was a game changer in reminding me that I can actually enjoy my lunch (rather than wolfing it down on a 15 minute break). It can look like simply bringing awareness while we eat to the physical sensations we feel in our mouth while eating, what emotional cues follow, and feel gratitude toward our meal. Note, this one’s best to try if you’re able to engage in non-judgmental eating practices.
Try these questions: How does this food look, taste and smell? How might this meal have been prepared? What does this food feel like on the roof of my mouth? On my tongue? Can I feel grateful for nourishing my body today?
5. Mindful movement and micro breaks.
Sometimes being glued to a screen all day, our bodies don’t get the movement it desires. Also, our minds don’t get the breaks it needs to potentially boost optimal performance. This is where micro-breaks come in. Simply taking time to walk away from your laptop or stretch at your desk, is a great way to increase mind-body connection. If you have the opportunity to create a quick walk around the office or step outside mid-work day, those can be great too. Try dedicating about 5-10 minutes to these breaks.
Mindfulness is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach and is ultimately quite a personal practice. Taking notice of what feels most beneficial to your unique mind and body is what’s likely going to move the needle for you in increasing presence within your daily routine.
Slutsky, J., Chin, B., Raye, J., & Creswell, J. D. (2019). Mindfulness training improves employee well-being: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 24(1), 139–149. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/ocp0000132
Saraç, M. (2020). A literature review on mindfulness at work places: Conceptualization, measurement, and outcomes. In E. Baykal (Ed.), Handbook of research on positive organizational behavior for improved workplace performance (pp. 55–71). Business Science Reference/IGI Global. https://doi.org/10.4018/978-1-7998-0058-3.ch004
Cameron, Hafenbrack (2022). Research: When Mindfulness Does — and Doesn’t — Help at Work. Harvard Business Review.
APA (2018). Mindfulness in the Workplace: Does It Really Work?