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Slow down, get better: how to be mindful in the workplace

Lydia Smith
Writer, Yahoo Finance UK
Take some time to appreciate the 'now'. Getty Images.

For many of us, the working day goes by in a blur.

We have conversations with colleagues we can’t recall five minutes later, eat lunch at our desks without tasting the food and work through tasks without thinking.

In our current economic climate, we’re always being asked to do more — workloads are piling up and our hours are growing ever longer.

We shift from task to task without thinking in the belief that we’re being productive and efficient. Essentially, we’re spending at least nine hours a day on autopilot - until it’s time to shut down our computers and head home.

But in reality, we’re more likely to get things done, and decrease our stress levels, if we slow down.

Mindfulness, put simply, is paying more attention to the present moment and to your thoughts and feelings, as well as things around you. It is aimed at improving mental wellbeing and pretty much everyone is engaging in it —from Google to the NHS.

READ MORE: Five ways to beat burnout before it kicks in

What are the benefits of being mindful at work?

The human mind isn't really equipped to multitask properly. Photo: Getty Images

“I spend a lot of time in different workplaces and I have never seen people more distracted,” says Suki Bassi from the organisation Happy Maven, which promotes health and wellbeing at work.

“Whether it is from the associated noises of open-plan offices, constant notifications from technology or the fear and insecurity triggered by an ‘always-on’ culture, human beings are now constantly in a state of overstimulation.”

The problem stems from the fact that human brains just aren’t equipped to handle this level of constant stimulation, Bassi explains.

“The consequence for many of us is a retreat into survival mode with a negative impact on creativity, productivity and decision making. For some of us it also leads to an increase in levels of anxiety – translating directing to compromised mental health, absenteeism and presenteeism.”

READ MORE: Why we always say 'yes' at work when we should be saying 'no'

Mindfulness doesn’t just benefit health either, Bassi adds.

“Bringing mindfulness into the workplace not only supports an individual’s wellbeing, it can lead to improved empathy and collaboration within teams and subsequently improve company morale, productivity, performance and even inform strategic direction.”

On a personal level, we can all be more mindful by improving the way we sit, paying attention to what we eat while at our desks and fully engaging when making decisions - made easier by focusing on one task at a time.

“The more that you are able to incorporate it into your regular routine and activities the more sustainable and impactful it will be but we can all start with as little as three minutes a day,” Bassi says.

Start your day right

A brisk walk is a great way to prepare for work. Image: Getty Images

Walking to work - or at least walking part of the way - is a good way to beat stress before it arrives, as physical activity releases brain chemicals such as endorphins, which help boost our mood.

“Make a clear decision at the start of your working day to be present as best as you can,” Bassi says. “So pause for a few moments when you arrive to set this intention in your mind.”

READ MORE: What people love about work

Part of being mindful is giving your full focus to the task in hand - something we often fail to do when we’re busy.

“Be a single tasker and focus on thing at a time. Nobody can actually multi-task, in reality it is our brain constantly switching focus from one task to the next and essentially ineffective,” Bassi says.

“Switch off or silence all of the notifications on your devices as a matter of course.”

Lunch isn’t for wimps

Businesswoman having lunch break in office sitting at desk. Image: Getty Images

More often than not, our lunch breaks consist of a quick sandwich eaten over a keyboard while replying to emails, but it’s important to take time to enjoy your lunch and take a proper break.

According to a survey of 1,000 workers by the recruiter Reed, 68% of people don’t take the full amount of time they are allocated at lunch – and two in three admitted not eating lunch at all.

“Step away from your desk, leave the smartphone behind, find a welcoming space and take the time to taste the flavours and explore the aromas and textures of your meal,” Bassi says.

“Breathing and mindfulness are closely linked and being mindful in nature is especially rewarding,” she adds. “Find a green space close to your workplace and take time to walk mindfully.”

Recognising when you need a break - and taking some time out - is also important when it comes to being mindful.

“Living on adrenaline depletes us of energy and ultimately impacts our decision making, resilience and productivity so taking the time to reflect and recharge is the most productive and healthy use of your time and energy.”