If you're thinking stopping an activity wouldn't help you complete it faster, logically, you're right. Taking a breather doesn't instantly improve physical productivity, but it does improve the components that make us work more efficiently.
Components like rational thinking, decision making, employee engagement, and creativity all impact efficiency when completing tasks. And there's plenty of research to prove how mindfulness can improve all of these components.
The Link Between Mindfulness and Productivity
Research from INSEAD Business School found that doing just 15 minutes of mindfulness-based meditation such as concentrating on breathing can lead to more rational thinking when making business decisions. The study investigated the effects of mindfulness on a phenomenon known as sunk-cost bias. Sunk-cost bias occurs when you've invested so much into a hopeless project, you can't bring yourself to stop for fear of losing all that was invested.
This type of thinking influences future business decisions--some that may even bury you in debt. The study found that mindfulness reduced the tendency to allow prior unrecoverable costs to influence future business decisions. Participants used meditation to draw focus away from the past and future temporarily so they could make decisions based on information known in the current moment.
This type of rational, present thinking improves and expedites decision making. Not only are better choices made, such as pulling out of a bad investment, but also decisions are no longer over-analyzed for weeks.
A Mindful Leader Means Happier Employees
Studies show that leaders who display mindfulness on the job result in happier employees and increased employee morale.
Mindfulness is associated with higher quality relationships because mindful people are fully present. Employees can usually tell when their managers are zoning out or daydreaming--possibly indicating they don't want to be at work with them. Whether they realize it or not, employees pick up on this disengaged behavior, and feel not only peripheral, but also allowed to be just as disengaged at work.
When managers are fully present, not just physically but with their entire being in their interactions with employees, employees feel valued and respected. Feelings of value and respect translate into a sense of interpersonal justice in the workplace, the studies found. This leads to higher job satisfaction and organizational commitment.
Mindful People Are More Creative
The benefits of meditation extend far beyond relaxation. A study by cognitive psychologists at Leiden University found certain meditation techniques can promote creative thinking.
The study investigated the effects of two meditation techniques (open monitoring and focused attention) on two different styles of creative thinking (divergent and convergent). When using the open monitoring technique, participants performed better at a divergent thinking task in which participants were asked to come up with as many uses for an object as possible.
Meditation is an effective tool for creativity because it changes how we think and experience events.
Mindfulness Can Lead to Better Teamwork
At its very roots, leadership is a relationship. Effective leadership depends upon the relationship between the leader and follower. Mindful people function better in relationships because they are better at relating to others emotionally and coping with relationships stress.
Why? Mindfulness leads to higher emotional intelligence. People who take time to recognize and understand their own emotions will naturally be better at doing the same with others' emotions, studies show. Mindful managers can show employees understanding and empathy as they support, guide, motivate, and give feedback to employees. In the same way, employees can relate to one another and work together better due to mindfulness' effect on relationships.
5 Tips for Increased Mindfulness
1. Take five to breathe.
Concentrating on something so intensely that you literally forget to engage in routine, life-sustaining tasks such as eating and sleeping will only slow you down. If you catch yourself in the middle of a stressful situation, step away for a few minutes, close your eyes, and take slow deep breaths. Focus on the feeling of the air nourishing your lungs. When you return, you should feel more relaxed and rejuvenated.
2. Download a meditation app.
Our phones can do virtually everything for us, so why not help us meditate? No, scrolling through your Instagram feed is not considered a meditation technique. The point is to mentally step away from outside distractions. Download an app like Mindfulness for guided meditation sessions, or Simply Being for a calming voice. Or, you can relax to the sound of Tibetan singing bowls with the Meditate app.
Just as it sounds, uni-tasking is the exact opposite of multitasking, which research proves is a myth anyway. In contrast to switching between multiple tasks quickly, uni-tasking requires you to only do one thing at a time. This might be more difficult than it sounds, especially in a culture that praises getting more done faster. But, if you're feeling overwhelmed, it's the best route to take, as opposed to wasting time agonizing about multiple pending tasks.
4. Let your mind wander.
As mentioned in the studies above, the meditation technique called open monitoring promotes the generation of more ideas. When trying to solve a difficult problem, try techniques used in open monitoring. Allow your thoughts, feelings, and sensations to flow. Observe and experience them without assigning any attachment.
5. Unplug occasionally.
In an age of hyperconnectivity, it's rare to see anyone without a digital device within reach. People don't like feeling alone and disconnected from others. Maybe it's why 75 percent of drivers still admit to using their smartphones while driving despite the dangers--they'd rather risk lives than be left alone with their thoughts.
Every once in a while, turn off your phone, tablet, laptop, etc. and engage with the natural world around you. Go for a hike, a swim, or snow sledding, if weather permits. Invite friends over for a deviceless dinner where everyone leaves their phones in the other room and engages in conversation. You can use the same technique in the workplace, challenging co-workers to leave their phones behind while you walk to a nearby cafe for a lunch break.
Productivity is not always about hammering away at a problem. To be productive, we have to put ourselves under the right conditions. Mindfulness resets our brains and temporarily frees us of the emotions that impede decision-making.
The next time you feel overwhelmed by the number of tasks on your plate, take a moment. Step away. Breathe.