The essence of spiritual teachings is to live in the present moment, to be in the ‘now’. But how can we apply that to the office, you may ask? Read on.
The concept of mindfulness, usually described as a state of being conscious and aware of one’s environment, thoughts, actions and emotions, has been extensively studied in recent years, for its application in the workplace and in management theory. Ellen Langer, Harvard University professor and long-time researcher in the field, has shown, for example, that more mindfulness makes for more attentive, more creative, less judgmental and even more attractive people.
The concept of mindfulness can sometimes be confusing and misunderstood and be taken to mistakenly refer to a state of effortful awareness. It can be said then that mindfulness is misleading either in the term or the practice and should be replaced with mind-less-ness. Setting aside that debate, it is true that by paying attention to a few things we often unknowingly or compulsively do at work , we can indeed improve the quality of our work life:
1. Too eager on the email: I vividly recall, in my days as a starry-eyed graduate recruit, the unstoppable urge to answer emails as soon as they arrived, no matter the day or time. While that enthusiasm gradually faded over the years (thankfully for my mental health!) the urge to check emails as soon as they arrive still exists even though it is not necessary most of the time. Email should be something you check and not something that checks you in your flow of action. So even if you need to check email frequently, at least do it in a way that involves you choosing to look at your emails rather than letting an incoming email interrupt whatever it is you happen to be doing at that time.
2. Uni-tasking is the new multi-tasking: Remember when we were being preached the importance of multi-tasking as being the next must-have upgrade for the human mind? The idea basically sprang up when our homes were suddenly flooded with all kinds of technology, allowing us to do our laundry, order pizza, write an email and watch a movie all at the same time. But what we didn’t realise was that while multi-tasking is a great idea if we are delegating those tasks to machines (for example multiple appliances running simultaneously in your home or a computer running many programmes at once), when we try to extrapolate the ability and expect it from the human mind, it is a disaster. Research at Stanford University has shown that multitasking may damage your IQ and productivity and thereby both your brain and your career. So the next time you compulsively check a news website or open up messenger on your work laptop, remember the heavy price of giving in to that brief moment of mindlessness.
3. Unchecked use of checklists: As Ellen Langer explains, “the first time you go through a checklist, it’s fine. But after that, most people tend to do it mindlessly. So in aviation, you have flaps up, throttle open, anti-ice off. But if snow is coming and the anti-ice is off, the plane crashes.” Checklists are fine when they’re in the form of questions that can be used to collect information. Otherwise, checklists can suppress alertness and encourage mindlessness. This also applies to any repetitive work we have to do during the day – instead of giving in to the predictability, it is better to pretend that you are doing the task for the first time. This trick will help you notice things you didn’t before, reducing errors and increasing creativity, and also making the task more enjoyable for you.
4. Martyrs to information bombardment: While we are all victims of information bombardment in this day and age, we can still choose whether we fight back or whether we martyr ourselves at the feet of the unending onslaught of tweets, app notifications, messages and what-have-you. The mere act of opening a news app serves up an avalanche of information and data to be digested in one glance. The only way to save your mindfulness is by consciously taking some space in your relationship with your phone and carving out some ‘me’ time.
5. Office gossip and politics: It is the social nature of workplaces to slot people into personality categories and ideally label them so as to aid gossiping and politics. Every office has its ‘rockstar manager’, ‘annoying [insert choice curse word] and ‘part-time Joe’. If your office is MBA-heavy, you will hear the less imaginative labels of ‘INTJ’ and ‘ENTP’ thrown around to describe people. While this may all be harmless at a superficial level, we should be mindful of the more concrete prejudices this behaviour creates in our minds. When it reaches a point where you refuse to fairly consider an idea from a colleague you hold a pre-formed opinion of, you have a mindfulness problem. Rather than labeling people or holding pe-formed opinions, it is better to have an open and non-judgmental mind so that you are able to respond to the situation and not the person.
Remember that being more conscious is not just restricted to the time you spend on meditation or yoga, but is a full-time practice that has to be ingrained into your lifestyle both personal and work. And as with anything else, the more you practice, the better you get.Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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