Just Breathe: 5 Simple Strategies for Creating a More Mindful Work Environment

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IMAGE CREDIT: Lesly Juarez

By Arvin Patel, EVP and Chief Intellectual Property Officer, TiVo

It’s easy to think of mindfulness as something that happens only in ideal surroundings — meditating on a peaceful mountaintop, doing yoga on the beach at sunrise, being “in the moment” with an Instagram-ready backdrop. But what if mindfulness could be more of an everyday way of life? What if we could bring mindfulness into the workplace?

One of the emerging trends in management in recent years has been the rise of mindfulness in the workplace. Many CEOs and executives are exploring meditation and yoga as a way to center their minds; feel more present in the moment, and make better decisions based on deep reflection and more relaxed thinking.

I have a meditation practice of my own, and I find it to be a wonderful way to help reset myself and rest my mind after a busy day at the office. But meditation and mindfulness have benefits beyond the individual practitioner. Mindfulness is not just about meditation; it’s a movement to adopt a more human-centric philosophy on how to manage people. Mindfulness at work is a way of recognizing and supporting people’s emotional needs and different types of intelligence — and if handled correctly — can foster a more stress-free, productive, and innovative workforce.

There are many strategies that management can employ to help foster mindfulness at work and promote mindfulness practices throughout the work day. Here are five that have worked for me:

Reduce Interruptions

It’s difficult to feel fully “present” and in the moment when you’re being interrupted all day by email, chat notifications, and meetings. Research has shown that a typical office worker gets only 11 minutes between interruptions and needs an average of 25 minutes to be able to fully refocus on work after each interruption. Too many interruptions can cause stress and make it hard for people to enter a “deep work” mode, where they can be the most creative and truly laser focused on solving problems.

Managers can help reduce interruptions by giving workers permission to block out their time and protect themselves from distractions. Allow team members to put their phones on Airplane Mode and also log out of email for a few hours during the day. If employees see their managers setting the tone at the top, they will be more likely to adopt these mindful practices for themselves. Make it clear to your team that you want them to be able to focus and really dig deep into their work. Help them to protect their work time and to prevent it from getting chopped up into useless pieces by distractions and interruptions.

Have Fewer, Shorter Meetings

Do you ever feel like your entire workday is a series of never-ending back-to-back meetings? What if you could reduce or eliminate some of this meeting time? Managers should start to implement 45-minute (or shorter) meetings, so that people have extra time built into their day and do not end up running from meeting to meeting all day long.

Better yet, re-evaluate which meetings are really necessary and which ones could be canceled. We’ve all experienced those dreaded situations where we’re required to sit through a meeting that could have been an email. Why not be more proactive in weeding out the non-essential meetings? Free up more of your team’s time; this will increase their productivity.

Get Up From The Desk and Out of the Office

Mindfulness is often associated with yoga, and it’s true that yoga practice can be a great way to align the mind and body but it’s not the only way. Employees can also benefit significantly from mindful stretching exercises — just a few minutes of stretching can help reduce job stress and on-the-job injuries. Or try hosting your next team meeting outdoors at a nearby park or hiking trail. Studies have shown that spending even a few minutes in natureeach day can boost productivity, reduce stress, and result in other positive health benefits.

In addition to health benefits, mindful stretching and daily nature walks can help people be more innovative. Just like the joke, “all my best ideas happen in the shower” — sometimes our best creative breakthroughs happen during moments of mental rest and reflection, when we actually have a moment to let our minds wander. Stanford research has found that creative thinking is significantly improved simply by going for a short walk, whether it’s indoors or outdoors. The more mindful your organization is, the more innovative many of your employees will be.

Introduce Your Team to Mindfulness Apps

The idea of “mindfulness” might sound strange or intimidating to some. Not everyone will want to attend a company yoga class or meditate side-by-side with their co-workers. That’s why the new generation of meditation and mindfulness apps can be so helpful. You can share these apps with your team as a way to introduce mindfulness on a small scale. Let people experiment individually with them to see what they like the most. Many people may benefit from using apps for a guided meditation during the work day which may help them learn how to calm themselves, focus their minds, and reduce stress at work.

Be a Mindfulness Role Model

Ideally, mindfulness practices will help create a more peaceful, calm, and people-centered work environment. But for a mindful workplace to become a reality, organization leaders need to become more mindful managers. Mindfulness can help managers work on their self-awareness, patience, and empathy. Is your management style still based on traditional hierarchies and command-and-control, or are you truly embracing the potential of a flat and Agile organization where everyone can freely contribute their creative thinking? Are you leading with fear, or inspiring your people with authentic emotional connection? Are you exhibiting impatient, angry, exasperated behavior, or are you creating a calm, collaborative, reflective work environment where people can relax and feel empowered enough to share their best ideas?

In this economy companies need to work harder than ever to compete for talent, retain talent, and be known as an employer of choice. Managers need to use supportive soft skills to maximize the talents of everyone on their team and connect with employees from diverse cultural and generational backgrounds. Mindfulness is an ideal tool that can really help today’s managers. Researchers are still learning more about the impacts of mindfulness at work. But I believe that in the future, as demands continue to increase while the number of hours in the day remains constant, more managers are going to need to embrace creative strategies to help their teams be healthier, calmer, more productive, and more fully present in every moment.

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