Our jobs often make multiple demands on our time and attention, and in a busy office there is always another interruption around the corner. This can make it difficult to get into the deeper state of mental flow and concentration that is needed for us to produce our best work.
The ability to focus and concentrate for long periods of time is an essential skill for many workers, yet the constant influx of emails, phone calls, meetings and deadlines can pile on the pressure and make you feel as though you are wading through treacle.
We all develop our strategies to help us get through the day, but sometimes these can be unhelpful in the long run, such as overdosing on caffeine or working longer hours. The feeling of being constantly overstretched can affect our performance at work, making us less productive and worse at collaboration and communication.
One technique that can be helpful and effective at improving concentration and focus in the workplace is mindfulness. It’s also a good way to manage the stress and anxiety that can build up if you feel overwhelmed by all the demands being made on you by your job.
The basic aim of mindfulness is quite straightforward: it’s about training your mind to focus on the present moment rather than stray from thought to thought as it tends to do naturally. Psychologists refer to a wandering mind as ‘monkey brain’, because it’s a bit like a monkey constantly swinging between tree branches.
When our head is busy with competing thoughts, we can become trapped in a cycle of ruminating over a past event and worrying about an upcoming meeting or work deadline. This can eat into our productivity, because we are not fully present in the moment or focused on the task at hand.
Start with a simple meditation
Although the goal of mindfulness is simple, it does take some effort to master the technique and reach a stage where you notice the benefits in your everyday life. However, it doesn’t need to be time consuming. Starting the day with 10 minutes of meditation is a good way to introduce mindfulness into your routine.
Simply find somewhere quiet and comfortable to sit where you will not be interrupted. Close your eyes and concentrate on the rhythm of your breathing. If you feel anxious, breathe more deeply from your diaphragm and slowly exhale. Allow your thoughts to come and go without any judgement of fear.
Introduce mindfulness to your working routine
To introduce mindfulness into your working day, start by prioritising your tasks in order of urgency before you begin. This will help you accomplish the things that really matter, and you can put less demanding work on hold, or save it for when you are feeling more tired towards the end of the day.
Ensure that you take regular breaks, no matter how busy you are. Forcing yourself to work continuously is counterproductive, because the mind is just not capable of focusing for hours at a time. During your breaks, try a few minutes of meditation to help centre your mind and free it from unhelpful thought patterns.
If it is possible, get outside for a walk in the fresh air at lunch time. Being outdoors and the rhythm of walking helps to clear the mind and often helps us to see a problem in a new light, or access the more creative part of our brain so we can come up with solutions or fresh ideas for a work project.
Practice mindfulness when in meetings
In meetings or one to one discussions with colleagues or clients, use your skills to listen mindfully. This means giving your full attention to what the other person is saying, and taking the time to fully comprehend their meaning.
Reflect on what they say, and if there are any points that you don’t fully understand or would like to have more clarification of, ask them to elaborate. Take a few moments to consider your response instead of jumping in with voicing the first thought that springs to mind.
Show the other person that you are listening with appropriate eye contact, nodding, and facial expressions. Let them finish their sentences before stating your own point of view, even if you disagree with what they are saying.
Use mindfulness to manage your emotions
If you have had a particularly difficult conversation with a client or a manager at work, it is natural for you to feel angry or upset, and this makes it harder to regain your emotional balance and focus on the task at hand. Workplaces can sometimes be toxic environments where certain individuals can make working life stressful and unpleasant.
This can lead to a feeling of powerlessness and frustration. However, it is important to avoid developing a negative attitude which will eat away at your morale and make you feel more isolated. Once we are locked into this unhelpful mindset, we can fail to spot the positive in any situation, and miss out on opportunities to progress and improve.
For most of us, our jobs are more than just a nine to five; they are the source of our financial independence and a large part of our identity and social status. This means that when we feel pressured or demoralised at work, our emotional response can be very powerful.
Mindfulness can help you to recognise your emotions and take a step back from them, rather than being driven and controlled by them. This is not to say you should try to suppress or ignore your emotions, but that you can learn how to manage them in a more intelligent way.
Learning how to manage your emotions effectively can lead to better working relationships with colleagues, and you will also see the benefits in other areas of your life. Setbacks and daily irritations will seem more manageable, and you will learn how to redirect negative emotions such as anger and anxiety into more positive behaviours.
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