If you want a great career, and a great life, get ‘mindful’
– it will unlock the door to everything.
You’re already breathless at the thought of pumping out your work today. Your palms are clammy, there’s a tightness in your jaws, your brain is starting to spin. How to get everything done?
For many of us, that’s the state that we’ve become accustomed to being in. We even get high on it.
But then there’s the inevitable slump – waking up the following morning feeling that it’s all been a brain-drain, that surely there’s more to life than pumping out volumes of work, whatever it is that we do. The brain and the adrenals get tired and life loses its joy.
Work is so intricately woven into our lives that we often don’t see it as being part of life’s adventure. It can be many things, from fun, creative, awful, a drudge, just a way to make a living, a status symbol, a way to fill in the empty hours, and so on.
We don’t often stop, look at our attitudes towards work and tweak them. It’s either too confronting, too depressing or too boring.
While we live and breathe, we work. Action is with us from conception right through to our last breath – there’s no escaping it. Even if we’re slobbing on the sofa eating junk food all day and watching TV, there is action going on (just not a lot of it!)
How do you want to feel at the end of a work day? Happy, balanced? Full of energy?
The missing ingredient in our working day is presence of mind – or mindfulness. You may argue that – who wants to be mindful when the work is awful and you just want to get it done and go home, where you can enjoy yourself? I get it – I’ve been there. But most of the time, it’s the head-space that’s actually awful, not the work. You can break out of it.
Mindfulness means different things to different people, but for me it simply means ‘presence’ or ‘focus.’ In my life, I aim to convert chaos to clarity (on every level) so it’s vital to stay focused.
Fast-track ‘mindfulness’ and reap the benefits
STEP 1 – Daily structure in a nutshell
MORNING: Focused ‘chunky’ work-time.
MIDDAY: Lunch, then walk (or some sort of physical exercise).
AFTERNOON: Creative (light) work.
‘To do’ lists don’t work for everyone, in fact, they don’t work well for me unless the tasks are random actions that I’m likely to forget, a bit like a shopping list. I’ve tried sticking to a work ‘to do’ list but to be honest, a long list of tasks that never seems to end just makes me feel stressed or dissipated.
The best way that I’ve found to structure my day in a mindful way is to work in focused chunks: e.g. morning chunk = big jobs like client work. If I can’t complete a chunk of work I don’t worry about it. However, if there’s a tight deadline then I might do another session in the afternoon or evening to get it done (but only if necessary).
After your morning session, do a ‘Jane Austen.’ Take a good break at lunch time and a long walk (or another form of exercise). In the afternoon you can do some creative ‘non-mentally taxing’ work.
STEP 2 – Use the Pomodoro technique
If you can work to 25 minute focus periods (including a session for planning your day) – you will automatically become more mindful, less stressed and more productive. I use this nearly every day (especially if I’ve got a difficult mental task or something I’ve been putting off) and it works. I use an app timer on my phone, which has a pleasant dong at the end of the session.
You MUST take at least 5 minutes break after each Pomodoro session, especially as a beginner. If you’re working in chunks, then you might do 3 or 4 sessions of Pomodoro to equal 1 chunk. You’ll be amazed at your output, and your mind will be much more relaxed than if you had just worked without a timing technique.
STEP 3 – Manage distractions mindfully
Distractions can destroy work focus and create negative working environments and stress. Try the following:
- Mute your phone during a work session,
- Plan a single Pomodoro session for email management (many people suggest email management twice daily),
- Make your work time boundaries clear to others (not always easy, especially when working from home, but with a little reinforcement people will get the message.)
I was having a problem with home distractions and a friend offered me her lovely house to work in during the day. My productivity has quadrupled. You could also consider the library or even a café corner as an alternative working space.
If you can get even this far, with the above 3 steps, you’ll notice a huge difference in your productivity and quality of mind. Give yourself a week to settle into this routine. Let me know how you go!