10 ways to be mindful at work

illustration of person trying to be mindful at work

If you find yourself slipping into autopilot or emergency mode at work, you may benefit from incorporating mindfulness techniques. Stop for a few moments and take a breath. Ask yourself how you are feeling and what you are feeling. You may find you’re able to improve your performance and your focus by being more present in the moment.

Shawanna Grant, manager for organizational development for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, spoke to WellTuned about how to practice mindfulness on the job.

Understanding mindfulness

Shawanna Grant: Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present. It’s to be aware of where we are and what we are doing right now, and not being overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. Rather than operating unconsciously, we are making a deliberate effort to be conscious.

Practicing mindfulness has a long list of benefits. It can help us achieve better clarity—and even peace. Research has shown that mindfulness can reduce your stress levels, anxiety, depression, blood pressure, and insomnia. Mindfulness can also help you improve your attention levels and improve your sleep. And it’s been shown to decrease feelings of job-related burnout.

However, it can be challenging to be mindful. The most common obstacles to mindfulness aren’t your coworkers (or your family members or your pets, if you work from home). Research shows that the most common obstacles are internal. Being mindful means that you must make a deliberate decision to selectively focus in the here and now. Focus is like a muscle. If you practice regularly, your mindfulness will get stronger.

How to be more mindful on the job

Shawanna: When it comes to self-care in general and mindfulness in particular, it’s most effective to start small and practice often. Find things that you can regularly incorporate into your day, every day. It doesn’t have to take long, but it will be more effective than a “one-and-done” approach. And feel free to experiment, to try and see which practices work best for you. You will benefit from any effort that you make.

Here are 10 ways to help you be mindful at work:

  1. Resolve each day to be more present. At the beginning of each workday, choose to be present as best you can. You might even pause before you start working to think about your intention. According to Mindful.org, this can help you start the day out on the right foot.
  2. Don’t let your devices distract you. Turn off notifications for your personal devices while you’re working. This dramatically reduces the temptation to pick it up every time it makes a noise while you’re in your workspace. Responding to those constant notifications actually trains your brain to be distracted during work hours, making it even harder to focus and be mindful.
  3. Watch out for email. Email is the great distractor. We open our inbox, see a few unread messages, and we immediately check them, even if we know we should be working on something else. Consider setting aside specific times for checking your email so you don’t let it become a constant distraction.
  4. Practice breathing exercises. If you’re feeling stressed, stop to breathe. Take 10 deep breaths, inhaling through your nose, holding it for several counts, and then exhaling slowly. Pay attention to how the air feels and sounds as it enters and exits your body.
  5. Use your senses. The short 5-senses exercise can help you regain focus and feel calmer. There are different variations of this exercise, but all entail listing at least one thing that you notice with each sense. Silently name something that you can see, hear, touch, smell and taste.
  6. Try “single-tasking.” Many of us are champion multi-taskers—or so we think. Meanwhile, while your brain is frantically switching back and forth between activities, you’re not actually giving your best to anything. Instead of multi-tasking, focus on one single task at a time.
  7. Try a “focus sprint.” Give yourself 20 minutes to focus on a single activity without checking a device or reacting to other distractions. If your role requires constant email access, check with your manager in advance about scheduling this “no interruptions” time. You may surprise yourself how much you can get done in just 20 minutes!
  8. Start meetings out right. If you’re a leader in your workplace, consider starting every meeting with a minute or two of silence. Take some deep breaths, focusing on how you feel. This also gives everyone else a chance to quiet down and regain some focus.
  9. Use mindfulness reminders. If you’re worried that you might get off task or start to lose sight of your focus, a reminder can help. You can set an alarm on your computer or phone, or you can write notes to yourself.
  10. Wrap up your day with mindfulness. At the end of your day, take some time to breathe and reflect. You can do this at your desk before you leave, or you can do it on the way home—whatever works best for you.

Keep practicing, and over time, you may find it’s easier to stay focused and be mindful. And if you make mistakes or lose focus, be kind to yourself. Give yourself the space and grace to make mistakes and learn as you go.

Always make time for self-care

Shawanna: Mindfulness can certainly help you on the job, as well as in your personal life. But it’s just one part of self-care. You may want to figure out what other kinds of self-care you need. Make regular appointments with yourself for self-care—and keep them! This will improve your resilience and your overall enjoyment in all areas of life, including work.

Jennifer Larson

Jennifer Larson is Nashville-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years of experience. She specializes in health care and family issues.

More Posts

Get more information about specific health terms, topics and conditions to better manage your health on bcbst.com. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also find tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the Managing Your Health tab.