Mindfulness and Productivity

How often do you think about the past or worry about the future? And while it’s counterproductive not to live in the present, that’s a tall order. Perhaps the French philosopher Michel de Montaigne said it best 500 years ago by declaring, “My life has been filled with terrible misfortune, most of which never happened.”

The practice of mindfulness is healthy for your business and personal lives in two ways. First, when we live in the present, our productivity can be optimized. Second, when we are mindful, we are in touch with our emotions and can more effectively manage our relationships— business or otherwise.

Here are some more words of wisdom about living in the present from the iconic TV producer Norman Lear, which he has stated in different ways over the years:

“What occurred to me first is two simple words…maybe as simple as any two words in the English language: “over” and “next”. And we don’t pay enough attention to them. When something is over, it is over, and we are on to next. And if there were to be a hammock in the middle, between over and next, that would be what is meant by living in the moment.”

Quite an outlook on living, no? Now come back from the relaxation of the hammock and consider with me how to transform this wisdom into workplace productivity. To be ultimately productive you need to engage your prefrontal cortex, which is at the mercy of countless distractions, both external and self-imposed. Let’s investigate those self-imposed distractions.

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No Peeking!

What? You don’t distract yourself? I beg to differ! As a matter of fact, on average, we distract ourselves as often as we are distracted by others. For example, during your work day, how often do you just “peek” at your inbox? These seemingly quick and innocent check-ins amount to a giant self-imposed distraction when you add them up. On average, we do a quick check of our email 11 times per hour. And because each of these peeks amount to a distraction, it takes up to 23 minutes per incident to refocus on your work at hand. Translated into real-world terms, you may be spending a majority of each workday distracted….up to 6 hours every day! Distracted means not living in the present, which in turn equals an unproductive YOU. This begs for a solution, which can be achieved in a few simple steps.

Getting to Know Yourself

Once you acknowledge that your change of habit is going to be a process, rolling those 6 hours of daily distraction back to 3 hours makes a good baseline. Next, be aware of how often you are distracted, and when you’re most likely to be sidetracked. In this way, you can become aware of your mind’s trajectory for the week ahead. Check in a few times a day and ask yourself where your mind stands. If you think you’ll forget, set an alarm for a couple of times during the afternoon that you’ve dedicated to working on some pre-frontal exercise. When the alarm rings, notate what you’re in the middle of. Are you engrossed in your work project, or did you catch yourself knee-deep in social media or email? Are you most distracted shortly before you need to leave for a meeting, or are you hyper-focused during those moments? All of this input will give you a valuable reading on your tendencies, and prepare you for the final step.

Crossing The Finish Line

Once you’ve gained a personal baseline, it’s time to start being intentional about your focus. For example, try pausing for 5 seconds before you dive into a project, actively acknowledging that you are going to be fully focused on it for the next 15 minutes. That’s it….15 minutes to begin. After all, building mindfulness equals whipping a flabby mental muscle into shape. Set that alarm once more after you’ve committed to the 15 minutes and dig in! If your mind wanders, don’t be hard on yourself. Remember: We are programmed to be distracted; all effort in this department is progress toward success.!


Deborah Goldstein is the founder of the Driven Professionals, a community driven to support the health, well-being & success potential of NYC professionals. Deborah is also the founder of Goldie’s Table Matters, providing education and entertainment to both corporate and private clients nationwide.

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