Most people spend over 30 percent of their adult waking life at work. For many of us, that time is a blur of meetings, email and frenzied activity. If there's a gap during the day, the web usually wins our attention. We leave work exhausted and out of touch with our basic humanness.
Last month, I organized a meet-up at SXSW called "Mindfulness at Work" to discuss a challenge so many of us face every day. Even though I've been practicing mindfulness since college and have experimented with everything from meditation retreats to daily rituals, it can still be difficult. I wanted the meetup to create a respite from the hectic environment at SXSW for people to learn from each other's experiences and find strategies that make us more aware day-to-day.
Although Marc Andreessen wasn't there, 50 other professionals showed up to share stories, tactics and techniques for encouraging mindfulness at work.
Below are just a few of the ways people at the meetup suggested developing mindfulness on the job:
Getting into the Habit
You've read all about the benefits of mindfulness and are ready to start, well, being mindful. But actually putting intention into action can be challenging. Here's what meetup participants had to say:
- Create 15-minute calendar invites for mindfulness every day and commit to spending time with yourself.
- Set up mindfulness "triggers". Take a conscious breath when you walk through a door or before you sit down to a meeting.
- Stretch a bit when you stand up from your desk, or as you walk to your next meeting.
- Focus on one task at a time--multitasking doesn't work.
- Take breaks from work to gain perspective on what you are doing.
- Find other workmates interested in mindfulness and practice together.
- Connect with a mindfulness mentor--someone you can talk with about your practice.
Finding the Space
Unfortunately, our lives often aren't set up to facilitate mindful practice. One of the common themes at the meetup was our need for a space to practice mindfulness. Here are some strategies we came up with:
- Sit in your car for a bit before going into the office.
- Take a 10-minute walk outside every day and leave your phone at your desk.
- Ride a bike to work--you have to be mindful when you're biking through traffic.
- Yoga, Aikido, Qi Gong and other contemplative exercises help connect mind and body.
- Sit quietly at your desk for ten minutes before going to lunch.
- Pause at your computer for 30 seconds before diving into work.
- Turn an unused room or closet into a "Wellness Room" or meditation space.
- Set up boundaries to protect your mind--shut off your phone after 8 p.m., don't bring it to your bedroom, etc.
Apps and Resources
Technology is often the cause of our mindlessness, but it can also contribute to the solution. Here are some helpful resources--high-tech and low-tech--everyone can incorporate into their routine:
- For your phone/tablet:
- Insight Timer--A meditation app you can program to help you meditate for a range of different times, keep track of your practice, and connect with others.
- Headspace--A beautiful, friendly step-by-step app for practicing mindfulness.
- Calm--Another great option for learning mindfulness from your phone, this app provides timed meditation along with soothing pictures and sounds.
- Habit Bull--Android app that encourages you to make or break habits.
- For your computer:
- Experts to follow:
- Mipham Rinpoche--an accomplished meditation teacher, artist and marathoner, he teaches mindfulness meditation all over the world.
- Jon Kabat Zinn--he started the mindfulness movement in the US in the early 90s, and is still working to help people find a mindful practice (including Anderson Cooper).
- Tara Brach--is clinical psychologist and the senior teacher and founder of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington. Check out her guided meditations.
- Chade-Meng Tan--former software engineer-turned-Google's "Jolly Good Fellow." His job description: "Enlighten minds, open hearts, create world peace".
Becoming mindful isn't going to happen overnight--it's a lifestyle change that takes time and patience. Here are some things to keep in mind through your personal journey:
- Be gentle with yourself. Mindfulness is not about getting rid of thoughts.
- It's normal to get distracted--some days are just more hectic.
- It's called "practice" for a reason--it takes repetition to develop the mindfulness muscle.
- Some people say it takes eight weeks to develop a mindfulness habit. It hasn't been that fast for me!
- Committing to "doing nothing" for at least ten minutes every day is not a serious undertaking--a sense of humor helps.
- Keep your goals in mind. One from our meetup: "look for and recognize the good in other workers and in myself."
What did we miss on this list? What do you do to encourage mindfulness at work?