If you are like me, you probably find yourself multitasking more, yet feeling like it really isn’t benefiting you. As a society, we’re stressing out about more and accomplishing less, adversely impacting both our mindsets and our productivity.
Most of us think of this as the new normal, and we’ve gotten used to juggling more. The begrudging acceptance of this attitude prevents companies from taking actions needed to keep workers focused and productive.
A stretched-thin, stressed-out workplace is not the workplace of the future. It falls on business managers to change this culture and promote focus and compassion—a concept making the rounds in workplace circles known as "mindfulness." This is the technique of tuning out the noise and focusing deliberately on what is important.
Studies have found that mindfulness at work can increase engagement, productivity, innovation, and measurable business results. Here are three tips to increasing your mindfulness so that you cross tasks off your list and stress about them less.
Neuroscience research shows that even short trainings in mindfulness can measurably reduce stress and increase cooperation and team-building. In other words, focus, well-being, happiness, and compassion are skills that complement executive behaviors and can be learned, practiced, and mastered.
And here’s the thing: You don’t have to visit a yoga studio or spend a ton of money to become mindful. You can start by paying extra attention to one seemingly mundane task a day, at the start of your day before other people’s demands take over, like while you are brushing your teeth or making breakfast. Simply listen to the noises created by your movements and watching each task you do.
Another great time to practice is while you are waiting. If you arrive to a meeting early, let your mind wander for a short period of time, and gently bring it back.
Neuroscientists are still figuring out exactly how, but multiple studies, including these from UW-Madison, consistently show that our bodies benefit when we rewire our brains, and vice versa.
Having a clear mind increases your efficiency in the meeting and can provide a more productive output.
You don’t have to be mindful alone. Once you’ve mastered the mindful, consider how the attributes associated with mindfulness, from faster decision making to better social relations and workplace atmosphere, could benefit your organization, and share it with your team.
You wouldn’t be the first to get on board the corporate-mindfulness express. Many Silicon Valley firms have discovered the value of mindfulness. Google offers formal courses on the subject, led by the company’s mindfulness training mastermind, Chade-Meng Tan "Meng," who joined Google in 2000 as a software engineer and now holds maybe my favorite title ever, Jolly Good Fellow.
As Meng describes in a TED Talk, he was on a personal journey to find the happiest person on earth and replicate that happiness. The man Matthieu Ricard, a French academic turned Buddhist monk, allowed his brain activity to be measured to determine his level of happiness. While meditating on compassion, his happiness was measured off the charts. Inspired by Ricard, Meng now teaches corporate executives how to harness compassion into a fun and profitable meditation, and he’s brought his training public by founding the Search Inside Yourself Institute.
Corporations large and small are taking advantage of his trainings, and executives across the globe are becoming trained teachers and sharing this positive and present thinking with their peers:
- Genentech’s award-winning mindfulness program boosted employee engagement for its 800 Genentech IT employees from lowest to second best in the company within four years. In that time, 88%t of participants reported an increased sense of meaning and satisfaction at work.
- Intel reports its nine-week mindfulness program drives measurable increases in on overall happiness and well-being, mental clarity, creativity, new ideas, insights, and ability to focus as well as reduced stress.
- At SAP, trainings are led by Peter Bostelmann, director of Mindfulness Programs. To deter folks from being turned off by the concept, he calls the training Attention Training, and it’s rolling out across the global offices to rave reviews. One C-level executive said the program "significantly changed my own happiness and personal and professional productivity."
Whether you go about it through corporate training, at your local yoga studio, or at your desk, practicing mindfulness is the best way to make it stick. Focus, or mindfulness, is a muscle. The more you practice, the stronger it gets.
And the good news is that you don’t need to be an expert at being mindful or spend years meditating to see the benefits. In a recent study, volunteers spent just seven hours learning the Buddhist practice of compassion meditation. After listening to 30 minutes of daily online instruction focused on cultivating caring feelings toward others for two weeks, participants showed measurable advances in altruistic behavior.
It’s a self-fulfilling upward spiral. And in a world of constant digital and information overload, upward is where we, and our companies, must go. We need to cut out our mental clutter and become more productive. But with additional mental clarity, we’ll have both better mindsets and more impactful work in the process.
—Jenny Dearborn is senior vice president and chief learning officer at SAP.