How do you find the space to remember to be more mindful at work?

Reflections from an IBM mindfulness leader

picture of a work diary

I once asked an employee who joined a mindfulness workshop I led how it was going for her. Was she using the simple mindfulness exercises from the workshop?  She told me, “you know, I didn’t even have time to notice one breath!”

Although of course we always have time for a mindful breath, it’s so easy to get caught up in emails, meetings, and instant messages.  With so much going on, we can forget to take a few moments to breathe, go for a mindful walk, or try out any other of the nurturing and supportive ways we’ve learnt to be more present.

One thing I’ve learnt from my own explorations teaching and practising mindfulness, is that small changes in our environment can help us be much more present.

How does this work?

Creating a “mindful” work space

You know that feeling when you are out in nature, or in a museum, or even a well designed hotel lobby or spa, where the environment is beautiful, spacious, and well cared for? You feel a kind of internal “aaahhhh” and an instant relaxation!

Right there, in that ‘aah’ moment, we feel the aliveness and focus of attention to detail.

I often work from home. There, I enjoy having a few simple objects on my desk – a plant, a photo, a sculpture or object from travel abroad.  I carefully pick items that calm me or remind me of the value of being present.  And so, whenever I sit down to work I’m automatically reminded – “ah, take a breath!”

You probably know that there’s research linking procrastination to having a messy desk. Conversely, a clean and well looked-after desk is shown to help us better focus on a task.  So, if we want better concentration, it may be that we have to look no further than our desks!

Recently many office locations in my company created a mindfulness room – this is fantastic! Making use of these is an excellent way to take a pause and recover balance, creativity, focus and empathy. See if you can find or create a space where you work that inspires mindfulness and calm.

Finding supportive routines

Another great tool I’ve found helped is setting up some consciously chosen structures and routines in my day, whether for mindfulness practice or simply to allow pauses during the day.

These can just be triggers or reminders and don’t need to take any extra time.

Two Simple Mindfulness Exercises:

  • For example, what about establishing the routine that whenever you go through a door, you take a moment to notice your body and breath? Easy, takes you no time at all.
  • Or a simple routine of taking a breath before answering the phone?

These are small but powerful rituals that help us be more present and mindful at work.

We can also be creative about incorporating a regular daily mindfulness practice into our day. One participant on an 8-week mindfulness program I led in Brazil came up with a really inventive solution for this.

Create your own mindfulness practice or meditation routine

His mornings were totally full, getting ready for work, dropping off the kids, etc., and once he walked in the office he was equally busy. But just in between those two parts of his day he found a space, in the car park before entering the office. So, each day he would quietly sit in his car and spend 10 or 15 minutes simply breathing, or doing a mindfulness body scan or a loving kindness meditation. Way to find a solution!

Eating well and mindfully

Another simple structure and routine to help us be more present is also just paying attention to how and when we eat. Personally, I’ve enjoyed working in different international company offices because I get to see different culture’s approaches to lunch. In London, for example, it was typical to have a sandwich at our desks. In Brazil, lunch time was sacrosanct – you would go down to the company cafe or local buffet restaurant to eat, followed by an espresso.

Used well, then, meals can also be a great opportunity to restore ourselves and nurture our mindfulness.  This is a big topic – a good friend of mine recently wrote a lovely (Clear Sky) blog on this you can find here if interested.

Mindfulness at work – what works for you?

I’ve put down some of my own experiences and explorations here, around how small yet thoughtful changes in our environment can make a big difference in supporting us to be more mindful. It’s an area I enjoy studying, and I’d love to hear any ideas you try out and what works for you!

This blog by Duncan Cryle appears here in an edited form and was originally written for IBM’s staff blog. Edited by Andew Rogers.

Duncan is also one of the teachers on our online course, Ignite Your Spiritual Life.