Practicing mindfulness can help professionals minimize productivity barriers.
My previous post revealed that just 10 minutes of daily mindfulness practice can dramatically impact one’s productivity. While there are many definitions, mindfulness is generally regarded as focusing on the present moment and is often encouraged through meditation practice. While many may agree in theory that meditation seems like a “good thing”, busy professionals often reject it out of hand as a tangential touchy-feely topic – missing the significant, direct impact it can have on daily productivity and ultimately performance levels. While mindfulness often produces highly regarded quality of life benefits, it can also act as an antidote against some of the most productivity draining behaviors in the workplace. Let’s explore some of these very real benefits….
Discourages Mental Multitasking
How often during the day do you find yourself just going through the motions of an activity because you’re distracted by nearby conversations, emails popping into the inbox or even worrying about a task waiting for you at home? Or maybe you read a report or email then realize you didn’t really comprehend what you just read because your brain was still stuck on an argument you had with your spouse before work? This happens all the time for most of us. Clearly, we’re more productive with a task when we’re laser focused on it and with all the distractions around us (not to mention the ones we create in our mind), that level of consistent focus is rare. Author of The Business Casual Yogi, Vish Chatterji explains that meditation is in essence a practice of managing one’s attention and focus which typically reflects in their daily work. He explains, “I believe productivity is a result of focus, and the ability to recover focus from distractions – whether while working on a task or in an important discussion. A regular meditation practice of any form, helps train the brain to maintain and recover focus better.”
Vish Chatterji, MBA, with Yogrishi Vishvketu, PhD, co-authors of THE BUSINESS CASUAL YOGI: Take … [+]
Co-authors of Thriving in Healthcare, Gary Simonds, MD and Wayne Sotile, PhD reached similar conclusions.
“The myth that multitasking is a success skill has been exploded. Instead, it’s the person who can focus, execute, move on, and do it again (and again, and again…) who sustains success. Practicing some form of meditation that enhances mindfulness has been found to be one of the “meta factors” that distinguishes some of our culture’s most successful business leaders and performers across disciplines.”
Counteracts “Negative Fantasies”
About a year ago, I had to talk a physician friend of mine off the metaphorical ledge because she’d engaged in some “negative fantasies.” She and her boss had been tapped to serve on a panel interviewing candidates for an open medical director position. As the interview progressed, she told me that she became increasingly anxious because she felt some of the candidates were a bit more impressive than she felt she was. Afterwards, she began to wonder if some of her boss’ questions suggested that the organization was moving in a different direction and her particular strengths wouldn’t be as valuable in the future. By the time she called me, she’d all but assumed that her days with the company were numbered, and she asked me to review her resume for her! That might sound extreme but having those types of “negative fantasies” happens all the time. We become anxious over something minor, and then we mentally obsess on it so much that it snowballs in our mind into a significant problem (albeit an imaginary one in most cases). This type of negative fantasizing isn’t just stressful and anxiety inducing, it can become a breeding ground for misguided assumptions, communications or behaviors. Fortunately, meditation teaches the practitioner to become aware of wandering thoughts and gently refocus their attention to the current moment. The Harvard Medical School article “Mindfulness Meditation May Ease Anxiety, Mental Stress” acknowledges that these practices can help alleviate anxiety, depression and even pain.
Promotes Active Listening and Engagement
Without a doubt, active listening is a rare superpower in the workplace. Too often, we confuse active listening with “waiting to talk”, and they’re clearly not the same. Some people distinguish this by referencing “listening to understand” versus “listening to respond.” With the former, you’re really engaged in what the other person is saying and you’re giving your undivided attention. With the latter (more common) approach, you may be there physically – you may even be able to repeat some of what was said, but mentally you’re elsewhere and actually focusing on what you want to say. We’ve all been guilty of it and experienced the negative consequences ranging from minor embarrassment on a conference call to seriously fractured relationships. Indeed, one of our fundamental needs as humans is to feel heard and when we don’t listen actively, it can inadvertently send others the message that we don’t care or we don’t think they’re worthy of our full attention.
Meditation encourages the habit of maintaining (and redirecting as needed) focus and attention on the current moment. Thus, it helps build and reinforce that practice of actively listening, staying in the moment and valuing the current interaction, and that can produce significant benefits throughout the work day whether it’s a discussion with a colleague or a client conference call.
“Mindfulness allows one to slow down the extraneous mental chatter and truly focus on what one is doing. If one is involved in a conversation with a colleague, shut off the mental commentary and meanderings and zero in on what the colleague is trying to get across. Reflect on it. Repeat it back to ensure full comprehension. Mindfulness allows feelings of empathy, compassion, respect and admiration to surface.”
Helps Prevent Burnout
Most would agree that a key to achieving and maintaining peak performance is learning to manage stress and avoid burnout, and meditation is widely acknowledged help professionals do just that. Dr. Lynn Chang, founder of Career Zen and Zen University insists that mindfulness practices can be an effective component of one’s overall wellness strategy. “You need to interrupt the ‘go, go, go’ mentality because you’ll never get everything done and you’ll burn out in the process. Instead, take mini breaks throughout the day and you’ll feel uplifted and energized. Your thinking will be clearer, your work will be better quality, and you’ll feel great at the end of the day,” says Chang. Furthermore, Chatterji suggests that mindful meditation techniques drastically enhance self awareness and position professionals to press pause before pushing themselves too far. He explains, “A workaholic puts any concern of their mind or body aside and just keeps pushing through until reaching a breaking point, from which recovery can be impossible. The professional who is mindfully aware can sense their mental strain levels at a healthy recoverable point versus a damaging strain level.”
Indeed, many organizations are recognizing the tremendous benefits that mindfulness can bring to the organization. CEO of Greenlight Guru, David DeRam firmly believes in the connection between mindfulness and productivity. As a result, the company began working with a mindfulness coach and after three months of incorporating mindful activities, the sales team delivered the largest revenue generating quarter in the company’s history. As a result, the company is now extending these mindfulness focused opportunities to all its team members.
If you’re interested in becoming more mindful, stay tuned for the next article in the series which will explore specific habits and exercises you can use to do just that!