Commentary: The importance of mindfulness at work

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Elise Redziniak
  • First Sergeant, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center

“Meditation in the ultimate mobile device; you can use it anywhere, anytime, unobtrusively.” -Sharon Salzberg

If you are like me, you go into work with a prioritized to-do list and the belief that we are going to knock it out that day.

Well, as our work day unfolds, it can take a different turn with just one or a few curveballs thrown your way and at times, all at once. A recent study highlighted that almost 47% of people spend their waking hours thinking about something other than what they are doing.

Dr. Janelle MacAulay virtually visited Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, in January and she called the phenomenon "mind wandering." It robs us of the ability to focus on our tasks or being present in the moment. It is an unintentional loss of concentration on tasks, time, place, and goals.

Let’s face it, we are inundated with information, changes, emails, and meetings that all demand our focus and time so we can make good decisions as leaders. There is a new term that I learned called the "attention economy." This is the ability to maintain focus and concentration at all times and is viewed to be just as important as management qualities.

So how do we get through our day and potentially deal with anxious thoughts or feeling overwhelmed while leading our teams and making decisions?

Mindfulness is the ability to train our minds throughout the day and being present in everything we are doing. To me, mindfulness and mental health are directly related. Mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment on purpose without judgement while being aware of your current thoughts and how you are physically feeling. Mindfulness allows us to pull out of an auto-pilot state of mind wandering and check-in on how we are doing throughout the day.

There are many opportunities to do these quick workouts for our brains. For example, when we wake up, we can start our days off with a mind exercise for two minutes and allow thoughts or to-do lists to come and go. Another great time to do this is on your way to work. Do a guided breathing series or listen to a positive message to continue to build your mental framework for the day.

As we continue the day, we are able to be more effective with two skills of focus and awareness. Focus is having the ability to concentrate on what you are doing in the moment and awareness is the ability to recognize and release distractions as they come up. Deliberate action towards adopting mindful behavior generates a clear mind by applying focus and awareness to everything we do throughout our lives. Having awareness of excess noise is key to executing our individual and organizational priorities.

Perhaps your schedule is full of back-to-back meetings. In that case, try to incorporate a 5-10 minute buffer between meetings to allow for a mindful moment. This can be walking to the next meeting or just taking a quiet 5 minutes before logging on to the next.

For me, I listen to focus music at my desk or while I’m working at home to allow my brain to stay engaged with my work. I try to limit my distractions while doing administrative work as it is so easy to open an email as I see it pop up on the bottom right of my screen while I’m in the middle of answering three other emails but I really try to stick to my plan for the day and stay focused on the tasks.

As the day ends, our minds can be tired from the overstimulation so driving home and allowing your mind to decompress is ideal. This can look like silencing your phone, turning off the radio, and just being present in your own thoughts. Perhaps this is a time you do a breathing exercise where you inhale and count to four, hold for four seconds, exhale for four seconds. Ideally, this allows you to shift into your evening and to be present with family or your own downtime to recharge.

As leaders, we set the tone for the organization and incorporating or encouraging these techniques into your teams daily schedules will prove effective in enhancing focus, task completion, creativity, and relationships.