3 Realistic Ways to Sneak Mindfulness Into a Busy Workday
Is anyone else feeling exceptionally scatterbrained at the moment? Work is enough of a juggling act as is, but now, staying productive, organized, and emotionally stable while working remotely (and, in many cases, simultaneously caring for kids or do-si-doing around roommates) seem like insurmountable challenges.
But there is an effective method for handling the digital barrage of tasks, pings, and video calls; pivoting business strategies; pay cuts or downsizing; the looming uncertainty about the future; and simply missing the reaffirming presence of coworkers and friends. That method is mindfulness.
"As the uncertainties of COVID-19 and social distancing make us feel anxious or overwhelmed, mindfulness can help us remain grounded in change and ambiguity, and manage emotional triggers," says Scott Shute, head of mindfulness and compassion at LinkedIn, a company that takes mindfulness very seriously, especially now. "Practicing mindfulness lowers stress and increases productivity, which ultimately contributes to an employee's success both inside and outside of work."
Mindfulness is not the time-consuming, otherworldly phenomenon you think it is. It's something you can do throughout even the busiest work day to stay centered, prepare to tackle big assignments, and just escape for a few sweet minutes.
"A lot of people think mindfulness is a synonym for meditation, but this is not the case," Shute explains. "I like Jon Kabat-Zinn's definition: 'Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.'"
If fact, how's this for a paradox: You're likely already practicing mindfulness in some capacity without even realizing it.
"One might be waking up each day and going about their routine without realizing that simple rituals, such as washing your hands or preparing breakfast, are practices of mindfulness and compassion," Shute says. "Someone who's passionate about yoga or cycling could also find these exercises cathartic and healing. We have to give ourselves a pat on the back for things we're already building into our everyday routines as rituals or practices of mindfulness."
Shute reiterates that creating a mindfulness practice during the day doesn't need to take up a lot time. For instance, before diving into work in the morning, begin your day with a few deep, purposeful breaths—breaths you really feel, listen to, and notice with intent. Midday, go for a quick walk free of work distractions, paying close attention to the five senses. Stand up between conference calls to take a big, satisfying stretch. These allow you to come back into your body, reset your brain, and calm the sympathetic nervous system (which gets triggered by stressors).
In his guided LinkedIn Learning course on mindfulness and meditation for work, Shute shares some of his favorite mindfulness strategies to use in various workday scenarios.
If you have 10 or 15 extra minutes, Shute loves to recommend a technique known as the body scan. "The incorporation of the body, mind, and imagination allows for a deeper level of focus," he explains in his guided body scan practice. You'll spend this exercise becoming aware of different parts of your body, both how they feel physically and how they relate to what you feel mentally.
Visualization is another mindfulness technique, and it's great for getting yourself into the right frame of mind for a particular circumstance, be it focus, joy, compassion, or relaxation. Visualization can be a tricky concept at first, since it's more abstract and requires some imagination, so it helps to follow a guided visualization session. Shute often sneaks in a visualization practice before a meeting where he needs to present and be at the top of his game.
Easiest-Ever Breathing Exercise
Oftentimes, the outlets we rely on reduce stress (taking a walk, getting a workout, baking, playing with the cat) aren't realistic options between meetings and tasks. But many effective mindfulness exercises, like Shute's Three Breaths practice, don't require taking any sort of break or even leaving your chair, making it an ideal workday tactic.
A mindfulness exercise that only requires three breaths and takes less than a minute? Yes, please. "I might use this one if I'm about to step into a meeting that could be stressful," Shute says in his intro to the Three Breaths practice.
Before giving this one a try between Zoom calls, find a quiet(ish) place and a posture that's "comfortable, yet alert." For example, to provide a physical grounding cue, Shute prefers a chair that allows his feet to touch the floor.
First, exhale completely in order to begin on an inhale.
- Inhale slowly and fully.
- Hold your breath at the top for a few moments.
- Exhale slowly and fully, thinking of a calming phrase, such as "letting go," as you do so.
- Hold your breath at the bottom for a few moments.
- Repeat, starting on the inhale.