Earlier this month, I received an interesting email from my HR. She had scheduled two hours of yoga session for everyone on the evening of the forthcoming Wednesday with a local yoga expert. The session was being led by a guru I had never heard of but he was someone renowned in the corporate circle for conducting “mindfulness-classes”.
The word has a nice ring to it. And frankly, there is an absorbing quality about it which made me want to explore about mindfulness a little bit more. Resolute, I spent the next ten minutes, following the receipt of that particular email, on Google looking for things around and about mindfulness.
3.6 million Search results came up on my screen. The top ten results included a Wiki page, a psychology website, book listings on Amazon, link to a Buddhist meditation center, three mindfulness-promoting .org websites, and a course page listed on Berkeley. Clearly, the world is fascinated with mindfulness to a point that there are dedicated .org websites each telling you, in their own way, what it means to be mindful and how one can inculcate it.
Mindfulness has much to do with attention and awareness, and every book and website on this topic will say the same. The practice, then, of being mindful grooms you into becoming sharp, staying sharp, and helping you make thoughtful decisions in your work day. Broadly speaking, you stand to increase your effectiveness, avoid careless mistakes, and even enhance creative output when you start working mindfully.
Now, the concept of mindfulness used to be something monks from the far-away eastern mountains would preach about. But lately, you read and hear more about it in the western world, more commonly across professional domains.
As for the reason why we are grasping to understand mindfulness, it isn’t that difficult to pin.
We live (and work) in an attention-deficit economy. The ability to focus and be attentive to a task is as highly prized as any technical or managerial skill today because these things do not come easy any more. Technology has us baited like a moth to a flame. The amount of information around us is vast, free floating and curiosity-arising. It does not take more than a flash of a blue light on our smartphones to distract us. We have action-addiction. Our hands get instantly itchy to answer an email the moment we see one pop up in our inbox. And its seductive power takes over us if the email title reads ‘urgent’, god forbid.
Today, it doesn’t take much to move our attention and redirect it to something else, even some low-priority task. Perhaps, we enjoy the thrill of doing these small, non-time consuming things. Perhaps, we like the idea of clean inboxes. It is not difficult to get addicted to this pseudo feeling of accomplishment, even if it is meaningless.
It’s unfortunate how much our lives are being led under a lot of technology-induced stress. So much so that even just a moment of real connection to anything in this world, to our work life or social life, is difficult, even though highly desirable.
By being mindful of our actions — being fully aware of what we are doing and focusing on that and that alone — is the only way one can connect to the real world anymore. Also, everybody needs meaning and purpose, and mindfulness gets you to a state where you realize these.
In the initial few days of practicing mindfulness, I felt like I wasn’t doing a lot of things. Because the whole idea was to be in the ‘present’ and focus on what was in front of me. The temptation of answering emails and text messages kept me twitching a lot and, yes, I caved after a few hours into mindful working.
But I quickly realized a sense of having done real work; the operative word here being ‘real’. I was content with the work I did. Even if it was far less than what I would do on most days, I realized that by being fully attentive to what I was doing, I did justice to the task. And I did not have to work on these tasks again later that week because I was thorough right from the start. That’s what mindfulness does to you.
It puts you in the ‘present’ of things, both in work and in life.
It may seem like mindfulness is an antithesis to multitasking; after all, you are using your attention to work on just one thing alone. However, the former talks about the quality of work while the other touches upon the amount of work you do. Both, in effect, when employed together, result in fantastic work realization. In fact, this is the truth that lies at the heart of good project management tools and task management systems today — to equip you with the ability to do more and do it well. And perhaps that’s why employing these tools is a great way to ensure that you function at your optimum level, without compromising on the quality of work.
Two skills are essential for mindful working: being aware of your responsibilities at all times and staying focused on them. But to help push you in that direction, start stripping away distractions that come your way.
I have stopped checking my phone the moment I wake up. Every few hours, I step away from my desk, pour myself tea and just be. Even as I write this post, I am sitting by myself, watching the sun go down through the window right across me and that’s it. Because this is the only way I can write with full focus and clarity of thought. Throughout the rest of the day, while a lot of competing urgencies come my way, these few moments of solitude and thoughtful working help me stay contented, to say the least.
[Photo by Tran Mau Tri Tam]