Mindfulness in the Workplace — When was the Last Time You Weren’t Multi-tasking?

August 27, 2019
According to mindful.org, “Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”

That may seem nearly impossible at the moment, but why not give it a try? There’s no better time to practice mindfulness than right now. Focus your whole self on reading this article. It’s only 677 words. Try to eliminate all distractions, put aside that pressing thing at work, give yourself some mental – hang on, the phone is ringing; be right back…

The research is blindingly clear: “Just 2.5% of people are able to multitask effectively.” The rest of us are just kidding ourselves into believing we can do two complex activities at the same time.

What we commonly call “multi-tasking” is actually your brain “task-switching”. Each time you move from answering an email to checking social media to texting or having a conversation, there is a stop/start process in your brain. According to Psychology Today®, “That start/stop/start process is rough on us: rather than saving time, it costs time (even very small micro seconds.)” In fact, recent research estimates you can lose up to 40% of your productivity when you multi-task.

A BuzzFeed® writer summarizes: “Let me boil down the worst effects of multitasking for ya to a short snippet: Studies have shown that multitasking lowers people’s job satisfaction, damages personal relationships, adversely affects memory, negatively impacts health, and hinders creativity.” We’ve bought into the myth of multitasking when it’s actually one of the worst ways we can work, and bad for our health to boot.

Enter the idea of mindfulness. Developed from a foundation in meditation, mindfulness is a lighter, non-spiritual practice of paying intentional attention to your time and focus.

If you’re ready to be more productive and attentive, and less stressed, you can get your mindfulness practice started right now with these four simple exercises:

Do one thing at a time. Don’t switch from one thing to the next and then back again. Instead, give yourself blocks of time during which you only work on one task.

Lump similar tasks together. Decrease the impact of unavoidable switches by planning to tackle overlapping tasks in a window of time. Because they are similar, it won’t require as much mental strain to go back and forth between them.

Cut distractions that encourage multi-tasking. Don’t open your email application until you’re ready to check and answer email, close your door or put up a sign so your coworkers know you’re not free to chat, and leverage the do-not-disturb modes on your computer and phone.

Take a break. Most adult attention spans start to slip after about 18 minutes, so pay attention. If yours starts slipping, get up and walk around, or take a 30-second mental break. Take a few deep breaths, be honest about whether you’re focused on the task or are thinking or doing other things. Reset your brain and refocus.

Implementing these mindfulness tips will save time, decrease errors, and cut the overall fatigue, exhaustion, and anxiety many of us feel from the constant deluge of things to do and process.

You don’t really have to do it all at once, and your brain probably doesn’t even want you to. Instead practice mindfulness – simply coming back to the present moment – to become more focused and optimize your day.

“Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”

Sources: “What Is Mindfulness?” Mindful; “Why Multitasking Is Bad for You,” Time; “The Myth of Multitasking,” Psychology Today; “Multitasking Damages Your Brain and Career, New Studies Suggest,” Forbes; “Multitasking Is Bad, and You Really Shouldn’t Do It,” BuzzFeed; “How to Practice Mindfulness at Work,” Forbes; “Multitasking: Switching Costs,” American Psychological Association; “The True Cost of Multi-tasking,” Psychology Today; “19 Tips to Help You Focus When You’re Just Like “AHHHHHH!!!!!!!!” BuzzFeed; “Be More Mindful at Work,” New York Times; “What Are the Benefits of Mindfulness?” American Psychological Association. “10 Surprising Health Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation,” Psych Central.

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