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HBR: How to Practice Mindfulness Throughout Your Work Day

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A Harvard Business Review article by Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter, dated March 4, 2016

Some practical and mindful tips for gaining focus and awareness throughout the day–Key Points:

  • Research shows that people operate on autopilot half the time, rather than paying attention to what they are doing.
  • We have entered what many people are calling the “attention economy.” In the attention economy, the ability to maintain focus and concentration is every bit as important as technical or management skills.
  • You can train your brain to focus better by incorporating mindfulness exercises throughout your day.
  • First,… When you wake up, spend two minutes in your bed simply noticing your breath. As thoughts about the day pop into your mind, let them go and return to your breath.
  • Next, when you get to the office, take 10 minutes at your desk or in your car to boost your brain with a short mindfulness practice before you dive into activity. Close your eyes, relax, and sit upright. Place your full focus on your breath. Simply maintain an ongoing flow of attention on the experience of your breathing: inhale, exhale; inhale; exhale. To help your focus stay on your breathing, count silently at each exhalation. Any time you find your mind distracted, simply release the distraction by returning your focus to your breath.
  • Two skills define a mindful mind: focus and awareness. More explicitly, focus is the ability to concentrate on what you’re doing in the moment, while awareness is the ability to recognize and release unnecessary distractions as they arise.
  • Mindfulness in action is a great alternative to the illusory practice of multitasking. Mindful working means applying focus and awareness to everything you do from the moment you enter the office. Focus on the task at hand and recognize and release internal and external distractions as they arise. In this way, mindfulness helps increase effectiveness, decrease mistakes, and even enhance creativity.
  • Emails have a way of seducing our attention and redirecting it to lower-priority tasks because completing small, quickly accomplished tasks releases dopamine, a pleasurable hormone, in our brains. This release makes us addicted to email and compromises our concentration.
  • Apply mindfulness when opening your inbox. Focus on what is important and maintain awareness of what is merely noise. To get a better start to your day, avoid checking your email first thing in the morning. Doing so will help you sidestep an onslaught of distractions and short-term problems during a period of exceptional focus and creativity.
  • After lunch, set a timer on your phone to ring every hour. When the timer rings, cease your current activity and do one minute of mindfulness practice.
  • Finally, as the day comes to an end and you start your commute home, apply mindfulness. For at least 10 minutes of the commute, turn off your phone, shut off the radio, and simply be. Let go of any thoughts that arise. Attend to your breath. Doing so will allow you to let go of the stresses of the day so you can return home and be fully present with your family.
  • Mindfulness is not about living life in slow motion. It’s about enhancing focus and awareness both in work and in life. It’s about stripping away distractions and staying on track with individual, as well as organizational, goals. Take control of your own mindfulness: test these tips for 14 days and see what they do for you.

I would add, turn off that email attention-getter that announces itself every time you get an email.

Lastly, I’ve always had an innate aversion to “multitasking”; now I see it as counter-productive to full awareness and productivity.

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Stamps

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We were on our way to Napa when my 18 year-old son called…”Hi Dad, what are you guys doing?”  I replied, “On our to Napa for the weekend,” upon which we heard a big sigh.  “Why, what’s the problem?”, I ask.  In a serious tone he says, ” I need a stamp.”

In the entirety of my son’s life, stamps came from Dad!

I am proud of both of my sons, as they have become terrific responsible young men.  However, I will never forget that brief conversation as a measure of how dependency often leads to helplessness for even the most trivial of things.

While humorous in retrospect, it’s also a cautionary tale–and metaphorical in a political perspective.

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