mindfulness at work

Mindfulness is a centuries-old practice that teaches you, over time, how to be fully present and aware of what you’re doing. But, you don’t always have the luxury of time to hone your mindfulness skills before you actually need to put them into practice.

There are moments you need mindfulness like, right now—when that new email pushes you over the edge, when the day’s stress suddenly bubbles up, or when you have a frustrating interaction with a coworker. In those moments, you can’t stop what is happening, pop in your earbuds, and start listening to the soothing voice of Headspace’s Andy Puddicombe.

In times like these, you need actionable tips to calm your mind and recenter your focus, whether you’re driving to work, multitasking like crazy, or attending a team meeting.

mindfulness strategies

From eating your lunch to checking your email, here are six very real scenarios during the workday where you can seriously benefit from a little mindful thinking. 

Rise And Shine? More Like Rise And Stress

A 2015 study by Bank of America found that 71% of people sleep with or next to their smartphone. And, get this: of those people, 3% sleep with their device in their hand.  

Grabbing your phone first thing in the morning (or waking up to it already in your palm) and scrolling through Instagram influencers may be an entertaining way to allow your groggy mind to wake up, but it doesn’t do any good in the long run.

Researchers have found that we release the most stress hormones 30-45 minutes after waking up.

Why? Thinking of the day ahead of us triggers our flight-or-fight instinct and releases cortisol into our blood. The only way we can reduce this emotional response is by giving our minds the space and silence to process the upcoming 24 hours, not by bombarding ourselves with social media or emails.

When you wake up, turn off your alarm and, bear with us, leave your phone on your nightstand. Spend a few minutes in bed and simply notice your breath. As thoughts about the day pop into your mind, let them pass by and return to your breath.

If you need help adjusting to this new morning routine, your smartphone can (ironically) help you unplug. Use Apple’s Screen Time or Android’s Digital Wellbeing to block access to your phone until a certain time—say, after you’ve showered and are actually awake.

The Slog, A.K.A The Commute

Americans spend more than 100 hours a year commuting, most often driving in a car by themselves. That’s more than the average two-week vacation that most employees take each year.

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There’s no question that we’d all much rather be relaxing on a beach than driving to work. Until we all get private helicopters or self-driving cars, the slog will continue to slog on. And, unfortunately, it’s not a pretty picture for our mental health. Commuting can increase anxiety, decrease happiness, and temporarily increase your blood pressure.

The good news? Mindfulness can help you keep your cool when you’re stuck in traffic or when someone cuts you off without even using their blinker. All you need to do is turn down your Ariana Grande playlist and learn to enjoy the radio silence. 

For the first five or ten minutes of your drive, turn off the radio and focus on what it feels like to be in the car in silence. Bring your attention to the physical experience of driving: your posture, your foot on the gas pedal, your hands on the steering wheel. Each time you brake at a stop sign or a red light, pause and take a deep breath.

Do you ride public transportation to work? You can also incorporate mindfulness into your commute.

Nikki Jankelowitz, co-founder of Centered Meditation, recommends belly breathing. Put your hand on your belly and deeply, slowly breathe in, feeling your belly rise and fall.

“This is such a quick and easy one to do on your commute, and all you have to do are these slow, deep, steady breaths and feeling those breaths rise and fall. Three to five minutes of doing that would be enough to sink your body into that relaxation response,” she told The Huffington Post.

Browsing The Internet…Erm, I Mean Working

Perhaps your job requires you to browse the internet (sure…*wink*), but let’s be honest, we have all surfed the web for non-work related things to entertain us when we’re bored. And we do this on autopilot: one minute we’re feeling tired and unmotivated and the next we magically land on YouTube to watch puppy videos.

This automatic behavior prevents us from being present in the moment and understanding our feelings. Instead, we end up covering up our moments of stress or lack of interest with distractions to avoid addressing those emotions. This just makes matters worse: a study from the University of Texas found that avoiding emotions actually makes them even stronger.

So, turning to Facebook when you feel stressed may feel therapeutic in the moment, but in the long run, you’re just multiplying your stress levels.

To interrupt this behavior, try a Chrome extension called Momentum. Typically, when you open a new tab in Chrome, you see the Google search bar and ten of your most frequently visited websites.

Momentum google chrome extension

Momentum turns this new-tab page into a personal dashboard to inspire calm and focus. There’s a new inspirational photo and quote each day, and you’re prompted to answer the question, “What is your main focus for today?” This simple question allows you to focus on your intention for the day, rather than automatically jumping to YouTube or Buzzfeed.

Not. Another. Meeting.

If you can make it through an entire meeting without checking your email, chatting online with a coworker, or thinking about something else entirely, we bow down to you; the rest of us are not so strong. Research has found 91% of meeting attendees spend that time daydreaming and 73% do other work.

There’s no question we spend too many hours in meetings, but instead of focusing on the negative or frustrating aspects, mindfulness can help us be aware, set intentions, and get the most we can out of a meeting.

Here are some tips for making meetings more mindful:

  • When someone is talking, really listen to them and be fully present in that conversation. Don’t pick up your phone, open your laptop, or stare out the window. Make eye contact and let their words really sink in before you speak up.
  • If you’re leading a meeting, state the intentions for the time together before diving in. For example, in addition to sharing an agenda of things you will discuss, share the end goal: We will be exploring X, Y, and Z topics to help our CEO make a decision on ABC.
  • Spend five minutes at the end of the meeting to recap what was discussed and clarify next steps. Dave Kashen, co-founder and CEO of MeetingHero, recommends asking questions like: What have we decided today? Who’s going to do what, by when? How will we resolve the issues that are still open?

Time For A Break… Or Three

Mindfulness can help you decompress in the heat of the moment, but the practice should be used to optimize moments of calm as well. Take your lunch break, for example. You already have a built-in opportunity to leave your desk, go outside, and re-energize.

Go one step further and be deliberate about your environment and the food you’re eating:

  • Avoid eating at your desk, in front of a computer, or in your car. Find a place where you can comfortably sit down and focus your energy on your lunch.
  • Then, slow down and really taste your food. Unless you moonlight as a competitive eater, there’s no need to scarf it down in a matter of minutes.
  • And lastly, stop eating when you’re full. Listen to your body and eat until you are satisfied.

Lunch shouldn’t be the only time that you’re able to relax and get away from your desk. Make time for mini-breaks throughout your day—even a few minutes of quiet time to refocus your energy can make a huge difference.

Auditing and tax service company Deloitte has recognized the benefits of “mindfulness breaks” and has baked them into their workday schedule.

“We also encourage our people to incorporate small breaks throughout the day by scheduling 25- or 50-minute meetings,” said Jen Fisher, managing director of well-being, in an Inc. article.

This approach to scheduling creates opportunities for you to recharge. Whether you practice mindfulness, listen to music, or go for a short walk outside, these moments give you freedom and flexibility.

On The Quest To Achieve Inbox Zero

It can feel like there’s no escaping your inbox, especially when the average person receives 90 emails each day. Whenever we hear that chime alert from Outlook or see that red, unread badge notification from Gmail, our pulse quickens.

Who emailed me? What do they want? And, what we’re usually all thinking: Do I have to respond?

inbox zero goals

Email is often full of deadlines and expectations. In fact, one study found that checking and sending email at work can increase your blood pressure and heart rate, and cause levels of the stress hormone cortisol to spike.

Dr. Lillian Cheung, mindfulness expert and editorial director of The Nutrition Source at Harvard, recommends that we change our mindset about email and view it as an opportunity to refresh and restore ourselves.

Before sending out your next email, try a simple breathing exercise that Cheung and Zen master Thich Nhat Hahn describe in their book, “Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life.” After writing your email, stop and take three deep breaths, focusing on each inhale and exhale. Then, click send on your message.

This simple pause helps you calm down and prevents you from making mistakes. Because, let’s be honest, we’ve all spelled someone’s name wrong or made a typo in an important email. *cringe*

Keep The Mindfulness Alive

Mindfulness shouldn’t stop as soon as you close your laptop or leave the office for the day (remember that whole centuries-old practice thing?). We suggest practicing mindfulness at work simply because we tend to be more stressed than when we’re at home drinking a glass of kombucha on the couch.

However, take advantage of that relaxing time at home to sharpen your mindfulness skills as well. It’s much easier to be in the moment when you’re stress-free and calm than when you’re in a tense work conversation with cortisol running through your veins.

And, practicing mindfulness in your comfy pants with your feet up doesn’t sound like a bad place to start, now does it?

Next: Stuck In A Rut? How Passion Projects Can Reignite Your Motivation

6 easy ways to empower your workday with mindfulness