Feel Happier and More Focused at Work

Today I have a guest post from Charlotte about mindfulness and staying calm at work. She has been working with Sharon Salzberg on her new book that is all about making happiness possible in the workplace. Ya’ll already know that this is something I have been working on, so I was more than excited to have someone guest post on this topic. 

Feel Happier and More Focused at Work

Sharon Salzberg’s new book Real Happiness at Work is a boon to anyone who has ever felt stress on the job (or anywhere else). As technology continues to evolve and change the fabric of our everyday lives, we have come to place increasing value on being “plugged in.”  The consequence is that most of us are typically on information overload, reading sound-bytes of news on Twitter as we simultaneously respond to texts, sift through emails, refresh Facebook – oh, and finish that memo due this afternoon. As Salzberg aptly puts it in Real Happiness at Work, we have become a society “addicted to distraction.”

As a so-called “millennial” who grew up “plugged in,” I’m admittedly addicted to information overload. I work from home as a freelance writer for four different employers; in my minimal free-time, I’m writing a book. I spend my days alone with my computer and phone beside me, confronted each morning with a laundry list of things to do –coming at me from four different directions. Though I’m never literally “at work,” the amorphous structure of my life means that I’m always kind of “on the job.” It is up to me and me alone to stay disciplined about my schedule, and also to maintain a sense of balance. Real Happiness at Work has been a godsend, a treasure trove of tools to help me incorporate mindfulness in my life as a means to gain greater clarity and tranquility in the midst of a scattered work environment.

I want to share a few exercises from Real Happiness at Work on the subject of concentration. These exercises deal with what Salzberg calls the “misnomer” of multitasking, and are immensely helpful for anyone aiming to be more productive at work and feel both calmer and more energized in the process. What could be happier than that?

Walking

Many of us have heard of the phrase “walking meditation.” The practice speaks for itself: it is literally a step-by-step method of bringing a mindfulness into an everyday action.

  1. Find twenty minutes during the day when you can take a short walk (a path of at least twenty steps, inside or out).
  2. Bring your attention to the sensation of your feet and legs as you walk. Notice how your feet feel as they make contact with your shoes, both when your shoes touch the ground, and when they lift off.
  3. Shift your weight onto your left foot, observing whether your muscles stretch, strain and/or relax in the weight-bearing leg. Move back to center and try with your right leg.
  4. Return to center, noting the sights, sounds and other sensations around as you stand again on two feet. If you become distracted, don’t judge yourself! The moment you notice distraction is when you can feel mindfulness shining through. Simply begin again to regain awareness.
  5. After twenty minutes, stop and take a moment to observe the sensations you experience while standing. Gently conclude the practice.

You can do this exercise even if walking is a problem for you. Instead, sit (or lie down) and focus your attention on one part of your body (e.g. your hand or arm),. When any of the above steps indicate practicing a slow, deliberate movement of the legs and/or feet, simply do the same with the body-part you have chosen.

Resisting the Temptation to Multitask

“Multitasking” is something that we think makes us more productive, but actually makes us disperse our attention rather than focus it.

  1. Choose one task on which to focus at a particular time (even if you worry that your to-do-list is growing by the second!)
  2. If you’re on a call, resolve not to check your email at the same time.
  3. If you find yourself tuning out in a meeting, begin to listen fully and deeply to each person. If you practice mindfulness, rather than daydream or think about what’s for dinner, you’ll feel more present and most likely find the meeting more engaging.

Breathing

This meditation helps us concentrate by teaching us to focus on the sensation of breathing. What I love about this exercise is that you can do it anywhere – at your desk, or even on the subway as you ride to work.

  1. Sit in a chair with your back straight but not strained.
  2. Close your eyes or gaze gently ahead.
  3. Rest your attention on the feeling of the normal, natural breath.
  4. Focus on the interplay between tranquility and energy as you breathe in and out. Let the breath come to you.
  5. Cherish the balance between letting go and becoming more alert, one breath at a time.

I will end by saying that I hope you feel these attention-building exercises show you that focus need not always be associated with self-punishment. By practicing mindfulness, we can actually gain clarity, self-awareness and freedom. Ah, to feel focused and free.

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Charlotte Lieberman is a New York based writer and editor who thinks and writes mostly about millennials, feminism, the digital economy, poetry, food, and wellness. Through her writing, she hopes to help people do things that will make them happier and healthier. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

What do you do to de-stress at work? Have you every tried breathing exercises before?What does mindfulness mean to you?

8 Comments

  1. I just stumbled upon your blog and I already love this post! I was such a big fan of Sharon Salzberg’s Love Your Enemies book and I’m waiting to get my hands on Happiness at Work… I’m forcing myself to wait because I’ve got a whole bunch of other books on my to-be-read list to cover first so this post really served to whet my appetite! 🙂 P.S. totally agree with the walking meditation – sometimes I’d rather stay in the office and multitask while I’m on my break but when I force myself to go outside and get some fresh air, I actually do feel so much better when I come back in! It really works!

    3.29.14 ·
    • I’ve started to make myself get up and walk when I feel anxious at work and it is so helpful! Quick, easy… and more importantly, it works! Thanks for visiting!

      4.1.14 ·
  2. What a great guest post! Avoiding multi-tasking is so difficult and something I constantly have to work on.

    3.27.14 ·
    • Same here! I am the multitasking queen… always having a million things going on at the same time.

      3.27.14 ·
  3. These are all awesome tips! I especially love the walking meditation. I try to walk everyday when it is warm out. I need to work on this in the winter since it is winter most of the time but it really does help!

    3.26.14 ·
    • I agree… I was a bit less stressed when I allowed myself to walk those 24 blocks to/from the train. But now it is waaaaay too cold. I really appreciated that time to reflect and be present. Thank goodness spring should be here soon.

      3.27.14 ·
  4. I agree with the multitasking! 1. you get nothing done, 2. it is overwhelming! Focusing on one thing has helped me to de-stress and stay focused

    3.26.14 ·

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