Google, eBay, Intel and General Mills offer classes on it. So do Harvard Business School, Ross School of Business and Claremont Graduate University, among other campuses. Mindfulness is not just a corporate trend, but a proven method for success.
Mindfulness—being focused and fully present in the here and now—is good for individuals and good for business.
Even if an organization doesn’t make it part of the culture, employees and managers can substitute their multitasking habits with mindfulness in order to reduce stress and increase productivity. The result that you and your colleagues will notice is that you’re sharper, more efficient and more creative.
The physiological benefits of clearing away distractions and living in the moment have been documented in many scientific and medical studies.
Practicing mindfulness, whether it’s simply taking deep breaths, or actually meditating or doing yoga, has been shown to alter the structure and function of the brain, which is what allows us to learn, acquire new abilities, and improve memory. Advances in neuroimaging techniques have taught us how these mindfulness-based techniques affect neuroplasticity.
Multitasking, on the other hand, depresses the brain’s memory and analytical functions, and it reduces blood flow to the part of the right temporal lobe, which contributes to our creative thinking. In today’s marketplace, creativity is key for innovation, sustainability and leadership.
Here are some tips for practicing mindfulness in a multitasking business:
1. Focus on a single task for an allotted amount of time. You might say, “For 15 minutes, I’m going to read through my emails, and then for one hour, I’m going to make my phone calls.” If your job comes with constant interruptions that demand your attention, take several deep breaths and then prioritize them. Resist the urge to answer the phone every time it rings—unless it’s your boss. If someone asks you to drop what you’re doing to help with a problem, it’s OK to tell them, “I’ll be finished with what I’m doing in 10 minutes, then I’m all yours.”
2. When you get stuck in a task, change your physical environment to stimulate your senses. Sometimes we bounce from one task to another because we just don’t have the words to begin writing that strategic plan, or we’re staring at a problem and have no ideas for solutions. That’s the time to get up, take a walk outside and look at the flowers and the birds—change what you’re seeing. Or turn on some relaxing music that makes you feel happy. Offering your senses pleasant and different stimulation rewires your brain for relaxation and reduces the effects of stress hormones, which helps to unfreeze your creativity center.
3. Delegate. We often have little control over the external stresses in our life, particularly on the job. How can you not multitask when five people want five different things from you at the same time? Have compassion for yourself, and reach out for help. If you can assign a task to somebody else who’s capable of handling it, do so. If you need to ask a colleague to help you out, ask. This will not only allow you to focus on the tasks that most need your attention, it also will reduce your stress. And who knows? The colleague you’re asking for help may want to feel appreciated and part of your team.
While it is possible to practice mindfulness in a hectic workplace, leaders should make it part of the organization’s culture. Stress-related illnesses are the No. 1 cause of missed employee workdays.
Offering mindfulness training and yoga classes or giving people time and a place to meditate is an excellent investment. It will improve an organization’s performance, reduce stress-related illnesses and help employees be more successful.
Dr. Romie Mushtaq is a neurologist specializing in mind-body medicine and a professional health and wellness coach at the Center for Natural and Integrative Medicine in Orlando, Florida.