Put simply; mindfulness refers to a state of being aware. This includes being aware of your surroundings, the interactions you have with others, your feelings and their causes, and the ways you respond to various situations.
We live in a fast-paced world where we’re often required to divide our attention between many tasks at once.
With your attention stretched thin, it can be difficult to acknowledge your accomplishments or understand the cause for your failures. As soon as you finish one thing, you’re often expected to move on to the next, leaving little room for reflection.
Practicing mindfulness can bring you closer to what you’re doing and experiencing right now and help you live in a more meaningful way.
When you’re engaged in the moment, you’ll be more productive, and there’s a good chance you’ll be less stressed out by the overwhelming amount of things you could otherwise be doing. Likewise, paying attention to the things that slow you down and cause stress can help you identify areas of your life that could use some healthy adjustments.
Here are some tips for cultivating mindfulness and boosting your productivity, whether you’re at home, at work, or on the road.
Just because your home is a private place doesn’t mean it’s free of distractions. In this digital age, it’s too easy to stay plugged into social media, news outlets, streaming entertainment, messaging services, and video games. However, sometimes you just need a chance to breathe and process your life without constantly taking in information.
Fortunately, your home can offer a great opportunity to slow down if you’re willing to be intentional about giving yourself that space. Meditation is an obvious choice for people to get in touch with themselves and take a mental break. Even brief meditation sessions on a regular basis can improve your physical and mental health, boosting your motivation, focus, energy, and memory.
Despite these benefits, meditation can seem unapproachable to some. At times, this is because people may assume that meditation has to be associated with particular religions. People may also have a set definition for what meditation looks like — often, sitting in a cross-legged on the floor — which can be uncomfortable. And then sometimes it’s simply difficult to carve out the time from our busy schedules.
To dispel a few of these issues, know that meditation doesn’t need to be complicated, spiritual, or time-intensive. It’s just a chance for you to give your mind a break, whether you try it for an hour or five minutes.
While traditional forms of meditation can be helpful, you don’t have to light candles and sit in a dim room with your eyes closed; you could be seated in a chair with your hands on your lap or lying in your bed.
One way to begin is to focus on taking slow, deep breaths. To clear your mind, you can count each time you inhale and exhale up to 10 and then start over. Your mind will likely wander onto other things, including stressful thoughts. Having these thoughts doesn’t mean you’re failing at meditation. Simply acknowledge the thought and try not to judge it as good or bad. Then let it pass as other thoughts arise and pass as well.
By regularly refreshing your mind this way, you can better tackle your responsibilities and the challenges of your day-to-day life.
Being mindful can be equated to paying attention, and household tasks like cleaning and cooking are great opportunities to be present in the moment.
For example, when you are washing dishes, aim to be fully engaged in what you are doing. This may take some practice, but try to push out thoughts about what you’ll do afterward, how long it will take you, or what a pain it is to do chores. When you can push out those thoughts, what is left is running water, soap, a sponge, a dish, and your hands. Focus on the textures you feel, the temperature of the water, and the sounds you hear.
This may sound overly sentimental, but the point isn’t to necessarily appreciate all these sensations. You just have to be present. In a way, this gives your mind a break and functions as a productive form of meditation. Also, you’ll do a much better job if you aren’t distracted from what you’re doing. This can apply to many areas of your life.
Beyond yourself, consider how present you are with the other people in your home and community. Understanding the difference between hearing and listening is crucial to genuinely engage with someone else.
It’s possible to hear and comprehend what someone says to you while you’re writing an email or scrolling through social media. However, you may miss so much of what is being communicated through that person’s expression, tone of voice, and body language.
Instead, try to really listen and give people your full attention. You’ll learn more about the people in your life and create deeper, more fulfilling connections by practicing clear communication and listening skills.
Some amount of stress in the workplace isn’t unusual. The stakes set by deadlines and production goals can push employees to do their best work. However, daily stresses can easily spiral into anxiety, disrupting your productivity at work as well as your emotional well-being.
The first step in dealing with anxiety at work is to identify the specific source that triggers anxious thoughts and feelings. Is it situational? For example, perhaps one part of your job requires public speaking, and this is your main trigger. Keeping a journal about the circumstances surrounding your anxiety can help you to identify and understand patterns in your behavior.
Once you’ve identified these triggering situations, you can better anticipate your personal challenges and find strategies to offset your anxiety. Looking back at the public speaking example: Maybe you need to allot extra time to prepare what you’ll say or take more extensive notes to keep your presentation on track.
Evaluating your time management skills can also relieve anxiety at work. If you’re constantly rushing to get work done or feeling like you’re behind, you can quickly become panicked, unfocused, and irritable. This can affect the quality of your work, and you may even forget to address important details.
Instead of blindly racing against the clock, create a to-do list that prioritizes the most important tasks. Estimating a realistic schedule for how long each task will take will keep you from being shocked by where all your time went. When possible, blocking out extra time for each task can help you do higher quality work while feeling less stressed when you accomplish something.
When creating a task list, try setting micro-goals that will allow you to break up larger projects into smaller tasks. This can make the project seem more manageable and help prevent you from feeling overwhelmed.
Aside from your own responsibilities, the people you work with can contribute to your stress levels. For example, if a particular co-worker always makes suggestions for how you could do your job better, you may feel like you’re being judged. The person may not even be aware that their advice is coming across as criticism as their comments chip away at your confidence.
If a co-worker’s behavior is disrupting your ability to happily do your job, it’s best to calmly let them know what is helpful and what is not. Hopefully, they’ll adjust their habits when interacting with you. If you think this might create drama or negativity, it may be best to work with someone in human resources who could help you navigate the situation.
In some cases, increasing your job satisfaction could be as simple as working with the right kind of manager. This will require some introspection about your positive and negative experiences with managers. Leadership styles can vary greatly, and the more you understand and communicate your needs, the better a manager will be able to help you solve workplace challenges.
Wherever your stress stems from, it’s important to find a technique you can use to calm yourself. This could include breathing exercises, taking a walk, speaking with a friend, meditating, or listening to music, a podcast, or a white noise generator. Experiment with some of these and figure out what works best for you.
You’ll likely still feel stressed about the more troubling parts of your job, but understanding the causes and making appropriate adjustments can ease your tension and help you do better work.
During Your Commute
Traveling between your daily destinations can be one of the most stressful parts of your routine. I can speak to this personally.
In general, I’m a calm and easygoing person, but that changes drastically when I get behind the wheel. There’s a certain unpredictability of having to drive alongside strangers who aren’t always careful. This is troubling when we’re all controlling 2-ton machines that move up to 80 miles per hour or more.
For me, the stress from this potential for chaos manifests as anger toward other drivers who may speed aggressively to make it through traffic lights, change lanes quickly without signaling, ride too closely behind other vehicles, or text while driving, among other dangerous habits. I’m not here to wag my finger at those drivers but to point out that these factors can weigh on a person’s mental health.
Another potential issue with driving and other commuting options involves how variable the amount of time a trip could take. Traffic jams, construction zones, detours, and accidents can have major impacts on whether we will make it to our destination on time.
If, like many people, you’re running late or just on time, this can create a lot of distress and may even cause you to make unwise and aggressive decisions on the road.
The first step in combating stress while commuting is to clear your mind before starting your drive. If you start out upset — even if that feeling is not related to the drive you’re about to make — you may be more susceptible to the dangers and stresses on the road.
You should also give yourself plenty of time. Inevitably, you will run late for an appointment or work, either due to an honest mistake or some traffic delay that is out of your control. However, if you can get into the habit of giving yourself extra time, you’ll have nothing to worry about when some circumstance slows you down.
Be intentional with your emotions. Again, this is a personal challenge for me because it’s easy to become angry, shout at other drivers, and even drive more aggressively in response to stressful situations.
However, giving in to these feelings and behaviors will not make you any safer or get you to your destination more quickly. Instead, you’ll just do immediate and long-term harm to your mental health.
Instead, try to be calm and even forgiving of other drivers. Consider that the person you’re frustrated with may be having an off day, or maybe they simply made an honest mistake. You’ll feel much better if you can forgive them rather than letting yourself get wound up.
As with stress in the workplace, look for some technique for staying calm during your commute. Taking slow, deep breaths is a simple way to stay calm. Just make sure you don’t breathe so unnaturally that you become lightheaded or disoriented.
You might try listening to music or podcasts that you enjoy. While you don’t want to be distracted by selecting audio while you’re driving, it can give you something else to react to emotionally.
For example, I’ve been loading up the audio of stand-up comedy albums before I start my drive. It’s much easier to avoid becoming stressed and angry at traffic if I’m laughing.
You could also use your commute to decompress from the stresses of your day. The next time you’re driving, try turning off the radio and just spend some time alone with yourself. You could go into a meditative state of focusing on your driving, the rate you accelerate, and the ease of your braking.
By paying this kind of attention, you’ll be safer, and you can even save fuel.
Making the effort to be mindful can be rewarding, improving your mood, your productivity, and your relationship with others and the world around you. Creating positive habits takes patience and persistence, and you won’t likely create major changes all at once.
However, once you begin to incorporate mindfulness practices, you’ll find it becomes a natural way of living your life.