Mindfulness in the workplace and going offline [Long Form]

How do you avoid burnout in a flexi-time world, where it’s easy to be constantly ‘on’? One way to do this is to practice mindfulness in the workplace.

Estimated reading time: 13 minutes, 3 seconds

Keyboards and screens: the experience of many people in the workplace.

Whether it’s a smart watch alerting you to tweets and emails, or working on your desktop, many people find that working in the online space is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing: the entire workplace structure is moving away from a rigid 9 - 5, bums-in-seats mentality, to one that is more fluid with remote working policies and flexible hours. The curse: the loss of this rigidity also means that it’s far easier to take your work home, and the lines are far more blurred than they used to be. When are you ‘on’, and when are you ‘off’?

Negotiating boundaries in the workplace is a relatively new challenge faced by both employees and employers. Employees love the benefits of a remote working and flexi-time office policies, but these muddy the strict online and offline working boundaries. Coming to a remote employee agreement with your company is challenging: both to avoid employee burnout by being constantly available, to realising that blurred boundaries do indeed go both ways. If you have time to do personal tasks during the day, it means that work might very well bleed over into what would traditionally be considered ‘personal time’.

All of this can lead to a feeling of being constantly ‘on’, especially with work Whatsapp groups, and email, constantly chipping away at peace of mind, and all of this can contribute to burnout.

One way we try to negotiate this better at Spitfire, where we have a robust and well-practised remote working and flexi-time policy, is by practicing mindfulness in the workplace. Our Senior Inbound Marketing Strategist & Analyst, Jennifer Vieira, writes about what she does to stay mindful.

Mindfulness in the workplace

Focus… a mantra here at Spitfire and one that I even struggled to do while writing this post; procrastinating with the constant emails I need to desperately attend to, the project scheduling, and data analysing; all while thoughts of lunch float into my mind. While thriving on pressure and timelines (and the inherent focus of the day), the need to be busy and constantly achieving my goals and deadlines is one that I am sure most people can relate to. Mindfulness, even though viewed as woo-hoo fad, is a research backed method that has the ability to improve focus and improve stress management.

Even though I do fall for the procrastination, anxiety-driven future outlook of life, I aim to be mindful (fully focus on a talk, to listen attentively and to stop the inner noise) all without judging those moments. I strive to allow myself the vulnerability of being me in the office, to let go of my expectations and to ground my mind and work into my values. Learning to switch off of my autopilot mode and to inherently live for the moment.

Cultivating a stillness and letting go of stress as a lifestyle is not often associated with the workplace, but I am here to challenge your thinking by highlighting the science backed benefits of mindfulness in the workspace as well as providing easy (with practice) techniques that can be implemented.

Mindfulness is defined by the oxford dictionary as, “a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.”

Mindfulness is an ongoing attempt to live each moment fully and to build your self awareness and enhance your present-centered attention. Organisations such as Google, Raizcorp and Jack Hammer use mindfulness training to enhance the workplace by cultivating awareness and influencing health through stress reduction.

People don’t realise that now is all there ever is; there is no past or future except as memory or anticipation in your mind.” ~ Eckhart Tolle

The benefits and impacts of mindfulness are:

  • Positive effects on overall functioning: mindfulness improves attention, behaviour, emotions, cognition and physiology.
  • It improves emotional intelligence and the ability to handle and understand emotions
  • It improves stability, control and efficiency of attention by stabilising focus in the present. This improves productivity as well as enhances creativity.
  • It indirectly affects interpersonal behaviour and team relationships. It enhances empathy and compassion which may lead to improved leadership and teamwork.

Before going into the practical tips and methods, here are the foundations which will help you maintain daily focus, starting with adding the ‘why’ into the practice and understanding the benefits.

  1. Focus on your values and passions (not just the end goal)
  2. Being vs doing
  3. Self awareness and
  4. Embracing vulnerability

Focus on your values/passions (not just end goal)

When we focus solely on an end goal and milestones, we identify with the pressure to achieve instead of the growth associated with the milestone.

Once a goal is achieved, we create a new more challenging goal which requires more growth, an even quicker turnaround, more intellect, and so on. We achieve a goal to build new ones in our path, and even though this is essential for growth, we often don’t ever achieve the happiness we thought we would because the horizon of goals never ends. We compare ourselves with others, didn’t receive the praise expected or encountered moments of “weakness” along the way. We find it hard to let go of responsibilities and expect the worst, we aim to be too “perfect”. As Brene Brown said:

Perfectionism is a self destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.”

And, to put it more directly,

Perfection is about the furthest thing in the world from badassery.”

Instead of being purely driven by the result of a end goal, create focus on your daily learnings, passion and your reason for doing what you do. Align your values to the goals and achieving the goal will be a natural outcome - it is a byproduct of your mindful frequency and attention. It is building an intention and purpose instead of pure desire of goals, it is letting go of the expectations you have on yourself as well as the outcome.

Your values will route your present moment awareness into your actions. To not allow challenges or obstacles to consume and dissipate the quality of your attention in the present, but rather to accept it, see it as a lesson and further learn from your own actions within it. To accept the present as it is and almost manifest the future through your intentions and values. Because a good future is created by building a good present, the future is a construct because we only ever experience the present moment.

Wherever you are, be there totally. If you find your here and now intolerable and it makes you unhappy, you have three options: remove yourself from the situation, change it, or accept it totally. If you want to take responsibility for your life, you must choose one of those three options, and you must choose now. Then accept the consequences.” ~ Eckhart Tolle

In order to discover your values, here are some questions you can ask yourself:

What are the kind of experiences I want to have daily and what would I have to believe or be in order to achieve those experiences?

  • What is my driving values in life, my growth points and how can it be aligned with my work?
  • What can I trust to be true about myself?
  • What do I love to do and what makes me happy?
  • What is the change I wish to see in the world? (knowing that to see a change, we need to be the change we wish to see is a powerful way I have grounded myself)

Explore your reason for being and the values that you deeply care about, align it into your work (through leadership, and so on ) and this will allow you to stay true to yourself and focused on persisting through difficult times. This will ground you and never underestimate the impact your work can make on your goals and drivers.

A list of my values include:

  • To learn and explore often! Seeing the lessons in others and seeing every experience as a mentor towards being my best self
  • Learning and constantly exploring my inner drivers behind my actions.
    Self compassion, learning from my mistakes by seeing it for what it is and not dwelling in my own judgement. Knowing my own limits and extending that compassion to others around me.
    Working well with people, staying true to who I am and allowing people the space to do the same with me.
  • Being open, true and honest. With my team and with myself, to allow myself moments of “weakness” and to trust the values in others.
  • Not taking anything personally
  • Staying true to my word
  • Always do my best
  • Never making assumptions- Brene Brown states as well that it is brave to assume that everyone is thinking the best of you
  • Encourage and inspire growth in others
  • Gratitude: and a mantra I remind myself- knowing that each experience is one I need to further evolve my understanding of myself and those around me

All of these values are grounded into my goals and into my daily life, I find that by “shining my light” through my values, I am able to be happy in each moment, instead of chasing a temporary high of a pat on the back or outcome achieved.

In any moment I may feel stressed, I evaluate it on my values and allow myself to grow even more form the experience.

Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. ” ~ Eckhart Tolle

Detaching from any expectation of what might be and trusting in your journey. Even if you are in the wrong environment, staying true to your values will eventually drive you to the right path because you focused on living your authentic self now instead of waiting for a job to bring it out of you. We are our own best leader, we have a inner knowing we need to embrace.

Alison, our strategic head, has helped us put down our goals for each quarter and we are required to ground it in a mantra; a mantra we can hold ourselves and our colleagues accountable for. One of the best mantras from the meeting was, “always start with the positive”, and this can be grounded in anything you do. Setting a tone for what you know has been achieved and the solutions that can further drive it instead of seeing only the challenges.

Being vs doing

Doing is focusing on outwards and being is inwards. Achieving a balance between our doing mode of meeting deadlines, strategising and finding trends with the doing mode which is directing attention inwards to allow ourselves to fully engage in an experience, to allow to feel the emotions (excitement and drive, maybe even anxiety) and not to just switch off into the escape of more “busyness”.

Self awareness

When you are more self aware, you become able to notice and neutralise a conditioned impulse before you act on it and thus conduct and improve the way you run your life. In order to become unstuck into the mechanical pattern of thoughts, emotions and behaviour; an understanding of what has driven you conditioned thinking and its route will provide the space you need to improve. It allows you to evaluate and better understand successes and failures which is essential in building good leadership qualities. I believe that in order to understand people, it is important to understand yourself.

Here are some ways to become more self aware in your day to day life:

  1. Self reflection - I personally journal on a daily basis and aim to dig in deeper into the reactive behaviours I may sometimes have. I approach my weak attributes non-judgmentally and make plans to overcome them.
  2. Understanding the story and “narrative” you hold unto in your life and break down those down barriers that exist in the mind. “Defining yourself through thought is limiting yourself.” - Eckhart Tolle
  3. Seeking feedback from managers and friends

Embracing vulnerability

As a lover of Dr. Brene Brown, I could not resist dedicating a whole section to her work because I feel it relates to mindfulness. Vulnerability as described by Brene Brown, relates to “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure”.

Subconsciously we numb ourselves from negative emotion and mask it with distraction, projection unto others and addictions. Being vulnerable is the courage to be in touch with your own emotions and thus gain the ability to perceive the actions and projections of others.

Vulnerability is routed in deep fears and in order to overcome it, mindful awareness in these moments will open up a practice to recognise your own thoughts, triggers and feelings. Vulnerability will open up the courage to be mindful and to become and aware and certain of the changes you would like to see in your life. Brene Brown advises us to "pay attention to the space between where we're actually standing and where we want to be."

Here are some of the key take outs from the copious amounts of tips Brene provides:

  • Letting go of the constant worry of what others may think of you. Each are within their own mind and battling internal struggles.
  • Let go of the perfect
  • Be proud of your moments of vulnerability because it takes courage
  • Forgive yourself for all the failures you feel you have had and embrace the opportunity to grow and learn from it

There is a fine balance between honoring the past and losing yourself in it. For example, you can acknowledge and learn from mistakes you made, and then move on and refocus on the now. It is called forgiving yourself.”

Practical tips

There are endless resources online when it comes to mindfulness techniques and practices. I think finding what works for you and your personality type is important as not one approach fits all. This is rooted in the self-awareness mentioned above as well as self care.

How to start:

  • Throughout the day or when you are feeling overwhelmed, shift your focus on your breathing and the sensations of your body, evaluate and let go of thoughts before shifting focus unto the task at hand. This includes the five senses techniques.
  • Be consciously present and create clear intentions in the beginning of your day or before a task.
  • When you get lost in trains of thought, connect with your senses within a task (drinking tea, walking to a meeting) or give yourself a moment to shift your focus.
  • Throughout the day, pause to be fully present in the moment before undertaking the next critical task.
  • Engage in daily moving through exercise or stretching, yoga always helps me reconnect to my mind, body and soul and I feel has impacted my life at work as well.
  • Self care techniques.
  • I usually start my day with a few minutes of silent meditation (in the car before I start work).

My journey into mindfulness started with reading a book called “Power Of Now” by Eckhart Tolle. The book opened me up to the understanding of being truly present and how to do so with no judgement and criticism. I have learnt to understand myself and my emotions and strive to do so in a loving compassionate way. I have also learnt that I alone am responsible for the energy and life I have which has set a foundation into my everyday life. I am happy in my workplace and believe everyone should embark on a journey within in order to work better with others, to project your happiness and goals instead of desperation into the need of acceptance in the workplace. It has helped me to not take anything or criticism personally.

I believe my success till now is how I have let go the need to be perfect and that I continue to seek to find peace within.

Knowing yourself deeply has nothing to do with whatever ideas are floating around in your mind. Knowing yourself is to be rooted in Being, instead of lost in your mind.” - Eckhart Tolle: A New Earth

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Feature image by Samantha Steele

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