I just got back from the annual CHADD conference, where the therapeutic benefits of mindfulness and/or meditation was a huge topic. Mindfulness is helpful not just for reducing unwanted aspects of ADHD, but for improving mental and physical health in all sorts of ways. If you’re skeptical, check out these websites from Harvard, the American Psychological Association and UC Berkeley.
So what does mindfulness have to do with productivity? Actually, quite a lot. In general, the capacity to work productively has much more to do with how people are thinking and feeling than any tools or systems they may be using. Mindfulness improves our ability to monitor and re-direct our thinking, so it makes sense that our productivity can be improved when we practice mindfulness.
Perhaps you’re not skeptical of the benefits of mindfulness, but you are skeptical about your ability to practice it?
Let’s start by clarifying the difference between mindfulness and meditation. I’ll confess that I have used these terms interchangeably, but they are not always the same. Meditation is a mindfulness activity, but not all mindfulness is meditation.
Meditation is time set aside to deliberately do nothing else except meditate. It may involve breathing exercises or guided imagery, with the desired outcome being an “empty” or “clear” mind or even a zen-like, transcendental state. Sometimes, we are asked to just let our minds wander while we observe from a non-judgmental perspective. For many people, achieving these thinking states while sitting quietly for more than a few minutes is not inviting or even possible.
Mindfulness can be practiced during meditation, but it can also be practiced as we go about our daily lives. We don’t need to deliberately set aside time to be mindful. We just need to deliberately focus our attention on the actions and sensations associated with whatever activity we may be doing. When we get distracted by other thoughts and ideas, we take note of the distractions, accept them without judgment, and then re-direct our focus back to our current activity.
The activity can be anything we choose. It may be sitting still and meditating, but it can also be listening to music, riding in an elevator, taking a walk or brushing our teeth. We can practice for long or short periods of time. It can be an hour spent in mindful meditation, or just 30 seconds of paying attention to how the soap and warm water feels as we wash our hands.
I like to emphasize the word “practice,” because mindfulness is a practice that takes practice! Regardless of how well we actually achieve a true state of mindfulness, we benefit from practicing, even for just a few minutes. If you’re interested in building your own mindful practices, here are a few resources that might help, MindfullyADD (this is a subscription based site, but it has free resources), PsychCentral, Headspace.com or just do a search. There is a ton of stuff out there–find whatever resonates for you.
Learning to recognize what is happening with our thoughts and how to direct our attention can have a profound impact on our productivity. Some of the benefits I notice are that I procrastinate less on activities I don’t enjoy (somehow, they are more enjoyable when I do them mindfully), I don’t get discouraged as easily when I’m struggling and I can adapt my work activities to my energy levels more effectively.
I’d love to hear about your experiences practicing mindfulness!