“Mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally”–Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, 1994
Here’s a little quiz. How often during the workday do you find yourself putting out fires and moving in two hundred directions at once? Have you ever found yourself thinking that you do many things during the day but feel that you do very few of them well? If you answer yes to either of these questions you can consider yourself a functioning member of the modern workforce. It seems that multitasking is here to stay. It is the only way we can possibly keep up with increasing productivity demands in an environment plagued by diminishing resources.
Studies show that our minds wander away from the task at hand about 49 percent of the time. And that is without any additional prompting or stimulus. Throw in digital technology–texting, face time, email–and it seems that focusing on what we feel is important is almost a lost cause. We have been conditioned to respond to a smartphone alert almost like a Pavlovian dog. It is not at all unusual to see someone stop during a conversation to check a text or email. Couple this with the fact that a whole generation has grown up with TV remote surfing syndrome, and it is not surprising that staying focused on one subject for a given period of time seems almost impossible.
Many people regard multitasking as the ultimate productivity tool. The number of items crossed off a list in the shortest period of time indicates your effectiveness at work. However, findings from Basex, a New York based business research firm tend to disprove this concept. Data from their studies shows that multitasking costs the US economy an average of $997 billion in lost productivity and a minimum of 28 million hours annually. In a time when people are asked to do more with less, it would seem that multitasking has finally become counterproductive.
So how can you, and the company you work for, possibly hope to combat this loss of productivity? Is there a way to create an increased productivity flow with stronger personal interactions along with a decreased error ratio?
Yes, there is. More and more forward-thinking companies are introducing mindfulness training programs into their daily operations. The result? More rational decision-making and problem-solving, not to mention a stronger sense of equilibrium no matter how many fires are burning around you. Companies such as General Mills, Apple, Google, and AstraZenenca, to name a few, have a successfully incorporated mindfulness practices into their workforces. Apple even has meditation rooms where employees can regain focus during difficult periods.
There is a bias against mindfulness in many circles. Often it is thought of as some esoteric type of Eastern religion that couldn’t possibly mix with a modern corporate culture. Mindfulness is most often associated with meditation, which when misunderstood can seem like a selfish waste of time. However, if meditation is introduced not just as a mindfulness technique, but a secular exercise in concentration, there is more often a willingness to explore the possible benefits in corporate cultures. After all, who wouldn’t want to experience increased concentration, stronger relationships, enhanced decision-making abilities, and a more positive work environment?
One way to bring mindfulness to the office environment is take a few moments each day and focus inward. Begin by sitting comfortably and focus on your breath. Breath in for a count three and out for a count of five. Chances are your mind will immediately rebel and start throwing around any thoughts it can to distract you. The mind does not like to be challenged or harnessed, so that is perfectly normal. Simply acknowledge the thoughts as they appear, then let them float away. Do not focus on them, but at the same time, don’t try to pretend that they don’t exist. Continually let your focus come back to your breath, breathing in for three and out for five. Continue the practice for five minutes in the beginning, or even three minutes. Meditation is not as easy as it sounds, but you will be able to extend your practice as you become more comfortable with it. If you feel that it sounds like a waste of time, just remember that Apple, Inc. allows each employee thirty minutes a day for meditation, with on-site classes offered as well. I think we can all agree that Apple doesn’t appear to be suffering from a decreased level of productivity.
The goal is to be present in each moment throughout the day. To be aware of what you are doing at the time you are doing it. It sounds so simple, but keep in mind that we lose focus about 49% of the time. That is when mistakes and faulty decisions are more likely to be made. There are physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits to mindfulness practices in addition to improved best-business practices. As companies become more concerned with the overall well-being of their employees, it seems only natural that mindfulness practices will become accepted as the norm if an organization truly wants to flourish.
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