Sometimes just bringing up the topic gets people’s stress levels rising. Many people think of work as something they have to do that they would rather not do.
Work is a four-letter word. But does it have to be?
The workplace can be an extremely stressful environment. How can you keep your focus on point and your productivity high in the midst of pressure and chaos? With mindfulness.
Mindfulness in the workplace
Research has shown that when mindfulness techniques are incorporated into the workday routine, employees can experience reduced levels of stress and burnout and increased productivity.
When you understand that you have the power to shift your mindset, you can change your productivity.
The reality of work is that there is always stress and pressure to deal with, so let’s be clear on a few things from the start.
Stress that is related to expectations is not a bad thing. Stress is necessary for us to push our boundaries. Stress keeps us from being lazy. An organization can not function efficiently without some level of stress.
The problems are how we deal with the stress and how we choose to manage our expectations.
The second thing is that mindfulness is not a magic bullet that eliminates the situations that cause your stress; it simply helps you to better deal with your situation. Mindfulness takes you out of reactive mode so that you can properly respond to the needs of your circumstances.
Mindfulness for creativity
My favorite way to improve your problem-solving and creativity is to simply change your perspective.
Let’s set the record straight here; offices and schools are not set up to be the most effective environment for creative thinking. Sitting at desks, cubicles, and offices for hours at a time is not how our brains were designed to solve problems. Instead, our brains are most creative when we are on the move.
Did you ever notice how you naturally start moving when you are looking for a creative solution to a problem? We pace, rock in our chair, or tap our fingers or our feet. In essence, our brains rely on movement in our thinking process.
So when faced with a problem, get up and move around.
Take a walk. Go for a glass of water or a cup of coffee. Go to the bathroom. Or move your chair around, so you look at something new.
While the need for a change of scenery is helpful in a traditional office setting, it’s even more necessary in our current social climate where working from home has become the norm and not the exception.
When you work outside your home, you get a brief change of scenery. But when you work from home, it’s the same point of view 24 – 7. Same walls, furniture, and the same cat walking across your keyboard.
So while physically moving through space is the preferable way to do this, you can also simply use your eyes.
There are two easy ways to use your eyes to trick your brain into changing states. The first is called panoramic vision.
When we become too focused on a single issue, we develop tunnel vision. We can only see what we are looking at. And while there was certainly an evolutionary advantage to this, tunnel vision is our enemy when it comes to finding new and creative solutions.
When we use panoramic vision, we de-emphasize what is directly in front of us and open ourselves up to the things that are in our peripheral field of vision.
This simple exercise can reduce our stress levels and shift our awareness away from the minutiae of a situation, allowing us to see the big picture.
According to Stanford University neuroscientist Dr. Andrew Huberman, using panoramic vision for 2-10 minutes a day calms down the portion of the brain stem that is responsible for our states of alertness and arousal.
Using the panoramic vision exercise is a great way to reduce stress and give you a fresh perspective on your situation, leading to creative solutions to your problems.
The second eye exercise you can use is to simply move your eyes from side to side. This exercise also taps into the way that our brains are wired and is extremely useful when you are feeling stuck.
Our eyes naturally move from side to side when we are moving forward. This action is an unconscious process and is part of what helps us maintain our balance. In addition, the simple act of moving the eyes laterally has been shown to calm the amygdala, which helps to reduce fear and anxiety levels. When the amygdala is quiet, we exit our reactive fight or flight mode, allowing us to tap into the prefrontal cortex more efficiently, which is the home for our logic, reasoning, and creativity.
So the next time you are feeling stuck stressed, or worried, just move your eyes from side to side for a few seconds.
“Mindfulness is not a magic bullet that eliminates the situations that cause your stress; it simply helps you to better deal with your situation. Mindfulness takes you out of reactive mode so that you can properly respond to the needs of your circumstances.”
Mindfulness techniques to increase productivity
So we’ve discussed ways to increase creativity, but what can you do when you need to sit down and crank work out?
The answer might surprise you.
The benefits of slowing down
When you need to execute at a high-level, one thing that you should do is to slow down.
Now I know that seems counter-intuitive. Why would you want to slow down, particularly if you have stuff that needs to be done?
Well, let me explain what I mean.
When I say slow down, I’m not talking about taking your good old time or procrastinating. I’m talking about working at a relaxed pace instead of working frantically.
Let’s consider a real-world example. How easy is it for you to put on a pair of pants or tie a pair of shoes? I would bet that it’s pretty effortless.
Now think back to the last time you tried to do those things really fast. For example, maybe you were running late for an important event, or your pet escaped, and you needed to get dressed quickly so you could chase it down.
How easy was it? How good of a job did you do?
The odds are not so well.
Because when we try to do things faster than usual, we become stressed. And that stress decreases our ability to complete our tasks accurately.
Trying to do work at break-neck speed leads to increased errors. And those errors mean that you will either have to spend more time fixing your mistakes or in a worst-case scenario, making an oversight that you can’t fix that could lead to disastrous consequences for you or someone else.
When you mindfully approach a task, you begin to slow down because you are actively engaged in each detail. This is not to say that you obsess over the minutia; it simply means that you are present in the task. Our minds focus on the future when we are rushed, putting us into an anxious state. We worry about what will happen if we don’t finish on time or make an error. When we slow down and become present in the task, we can increase our efficiency and enjoyment.
One way to slow down and become more mindful is to go to my one-size-fits-all solution – just breathe.
Your breath is a direct link to your autonomic nervous system. Therefore, when you learn how to consciously regulate your breathing, you learn to regulate your physical, mental, and emotional states.
There are several techniques that you can use including the 90- Second reset breath and square or box breathing. Or you can try the following exercise, which brings us to another thing you need to do to maintain productivity – taking regular breaks.
For the average person, you reach a point of diminishing returns regarding your focus and attention to detail. Some research suggests that you should never focus on a singular task for more than about 50 minutes.
So I suggest combining the benefits of a break with the benefits of mindful breathing. Set an alarm on your phone or watch to remind you it’s time to take a break. Get up and get a drink or use the bathroom, walk around, or stretch – any simple task that helps take your mind off work. Then at least 2-5 minutes before you need to go heads down again, do this simple breathing technique.
Sit down, close your eyes, and breathing in a slow, steady rhythm, count your breaths. Each inhalation and exhalation cycle counts as one breath.
The trick is to count to ten without losing track of your count. If you lose track, you start the count over at one. And if you make it to ten, try counting backward until you get back to one.
As simple as this sounds, it can be a challenge to keep your mind focused.
Since stress is an inevitable part of our work-life, the ability to maintain high performance without burning out requires simple but effective strategies. Incorporating mindfulness-based strategies into your work-day activities can give you the performance edge you need without pushing you over the edge.
If your organization is looking for practical ways to keep your workers happy, healthy, and satisfied, give me a call for a free initial consultation or fill out the form on my contact page.
Remember, it is what it is, but it becomes what you make of it. So make it great!
“Trying to do work at break-neck speed leads to increased errors. And those errors mean that you will either have to spend more time fixing your mistakes or in a worst-case scenario, making an oversight that you can’t fix that could lead to disastrous consequences for you or someone else.”
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