When most people think about how to be a better employee, increase earnings, and get ahead professionally – rarely do they think about slowing down. The narrative has always been the exact opposite – that the most ambitious and driven employees never stop – they push through exhaustion to get the job done at any cost.
Recently, however, the thinking on this approach has started to shift. Even in the most competitive industries, there has been a new focus on slowing down – using mindfulness and meditation as drivers of employee productivity and focus. This approach has gained traction with both management and personnel – as a mutually beneficial workplace success strategy.
Now, in many ways, this tactic seems counter-intuitive. As an employee, how is a 5 minute meditation in the middle of my day going to improve my ability to do my job? I could spend those 5 minutes returning an email or getting a cup of coffee! Well, studies say that, in fact, just 5 minutes of meditation and breathing each day can provide countless personal and professional benefits. Benefits include, but are not limited to, increased energy, enhanced problem solving and decision making abilities, better impulse control, increased ability to multi-task, improved memory, increased concentration and focus, enhanced creativity and innovation, and decreased stress levels – all of which are proven to lead to increased productivity and job performance.
So, what exactly is meditation? Well, it’s not just one thing but, generally, meditation is a regular (daily) practice in which one works to calm and clear the mind through breathing and mindfulness techniques. While it takes a little while to get the hang of it, an experienced meditator will leave his/her practice feeling refreshed, energized, and better able to be in the present moment.
So – how does meditation help us increase productivity at work? Why not just spend that 5 minutes zoning out on social media? Doesn’t that give the brain a break too? Well, not really. When someone’s looking at his/her phone – the brain is still going a million miles a minute. He/she may be on Instagram – but is probably still thinking about picking up groceries after work or returning an important email to a client. Meditation, on the other hand, is meant to recharge the brain – allowing it to turn off for a moment. In the same way that a deep sleep allows one to wake up rejuvenated, a quick mediation can replicate a version of that effect.
There are many ways to spend your 5 minutes. For beginners, start slow. Find a guided meditation online (there are a ton on YouTube) – or get an app. Headspace and Calm are both great apps, each with tons of guided meditations – sorted by both length and subject (for those who want to focus on something specific – like overcoming anxiety or being more confident). Both apps also offer guided morning meditations (for a great start to the day!) – and meditations designed for before you go to sleep. Both have some free content, but a monthly subscription ($10-15/month) will allow access to their entire libraries.
Once a guided meditation has been selected – and some time has been allocated (even 5 -10 minutes can make a big difference!) – find a place to sit. Find somewhere that isn’t prone to interruptions. Sit up straight in the chair chair, lengthen the neck, and plant both feet on the floor. Hands should be on the lap, in whatever way is most comfortable. Now, begin the mindfulness and breathing exercise offered by the guide.
Things to remember, during any meditation:
- Sit up straight and focus on posture. This will allow for long, deep breaths.
- Breathe deeply and slowly. Focus on every breath. Sometimes counting breaths can be helpful – count up to 10 (in and out) and then repeat. This will help stop the mind from wandering!
- Thoughts will come – but don’t dwell on them. This is a time to try to calm and clear the brain. It is sometimes helpful to think of these thoughts as passing cars. See them pass, acknowledge them, but let them move on – don’t give them any focus or judgment.
- It’s ok to be bored or frustrated. Meditation is a practice. No one becomes an expert in transcendental meditation – finding nirvana on the mountaintop – on day one. Stick with it – by the end of the first week, things will start to sink in.
Remember, the goal is to train one’s brain, over time, to be able to avoid the wandering that our brains do constantly. Human beings are the only species who can think about something in the past or future, while living in the present. It’s a blessing and a curse. While this skill allows us to plan our lives and consciously learn from our past mistakes, it also means that it’s very hard to be present and focus on what’s in front of us – which can make us less effective employees. Practicing meditation allows us to better direct and redirect our attention and focus – even outside of our meditation practice, as employees. The brain is a muscle that can be trained – and mediation is a great “workout.” Clearly, this ancient technique is a simple and effective tool to change the brain – for almost zero cost in both time and money. Just 5-10 minutes a day can make you a better, more productive, employee – not to mention the benefits related to happiness and mental health, more broadly. So, don’t just power through that next break – returning calls and chugging coffee – instead, try meditation and let inner peace lead to workplace productivity.