It’s a fact. No human mind can absorb the limitless output of today’s digitized content. In our work lives, while instant access to information is a requirement of business, it comes with a dark side: constant distraction. Hundreds of unread emails, incessant text messages, Twitter and Facebook alerts – not to mention the addiction of online rabbit holes – can lead to feelings of stress and guilt over not being able to keep up or stay focused. We call it “Cluttered Head Syndrome.”
So how does a company help its employees de-clutter and still move forward? More and more are looking back – way, way back to the timeless practice of meditation and mindfulness. Not surprisingly, innovative tech companies like Apple and Google are enthusiastic advocates of it in the workplace. But so are more traditional companies like McKinsey & Company, Deutsche Bank, Proctor & Gamble and General Mills. All have instituted programs to help their employees learn how to quiet their brains and focus on the here and now in order to encourage more spacious, productive thinking. Along the way, they’ve also discovered that mindfulness is good for the bottom line. No wonder these ancient practices are close to taking on cult status in the business world.
William George, former chief executive of Medtronic, said in an article in FT Magazine, “The main business case for mindfulness is that if you’re fully present on the job, you will be a more effective leader, you will make better decisions, and you will work better with other people.” (Of course, mindfulness training in the office also has its detractors who chalk it up to yet another corporate fad, like sensitivity-training, that’s really just a Trojan Horse employed to pacify employees.)
That said, how might a company become more mindful? Here are a few tips to get started. No yoga mat or lotus pose required.
• Encourage a 15-minute focused start to each work day. With a little guidance, we can bring our mind to a state that’s calm and clear. Think of it as mental fitness.
• Get up and move. Five to ten minutes per hour has been proven to improve mental acuity.
• Listen up. No looking at watches or mobile phones. And no agenda. Good listening is a gift that keeps giving.
• Do one thing at a time. No one – not even a 15-year old – can actually multi-task or multi-screen.
• Remember that anger is always a secondary emotion triggered by a different primary one. Think about what might be under the anger the next time a co-worker lights a fuse.
• There’s a reason we’re told to “take a deep breath” when we need to calm down. Three deep breaths seem to be the magic number.
• While mindfulness helps us cope with stress, we have to remember that sometimes stress is there for a good reason. It can be a signal that we need to do something or make a change. Mindfulness shouldn’t be an excuse for inertia.