Slow down, to speed up
I want to ask you if you breathe and if you have a minute?
Likelihood is you breathe and even though I know you are very busy, you may reluctantly give me some of your time. What if I told you that taking a only a minute to breathe consciously will help you be far more effective at work? Yes, small tools like a minute of breathing can have big impact. The challenge we have is that you have been chemically conditioned (by dopamine release) to be “busy” and that “multitasking” is a perceived to be an office strength. None of it makes you effective or help you perform at the level you may wish.
Photo: Slow down, to Speed up!
“Busyness” does not mean productivity
There is a stereotype, especially in the workspace, that you must be or at least appear to be busy all the time. You are putting in the hours and you are working hard. 7 days a week, late at night. Work is nonstop and the one that handles most work is the best, the strongest or “the alpha dog.” Based on my own experience, anecdotal evidence from 20 years working as an investor, and now increasingly from “mental health” and mindfulness research – it is not the way. This kind of stress may not only kill you but is also distracting you from concentrating and being focused.
Multitasking on different apps, email, phone and multiple platforms is a “new” skillset. Responding quickly to messages, while on conference calls, makes you both look busy and releases dopamine in our brain. Dopamine is the “pleasure hormone” that makes you feel good, happy and satisfied – if only for a few seconds or minutes. We want more, we move on to the next message or a new post. “Boom: email answered! Dopamine released; it makes me feel fine.” The effect of the constant chase of dopamine is to deceive your brain’s ability to concentrate on important matters and may lower your awareness of higher priority tasks. You may want to break out of this pattern.
Becoming mindful, and more effective
I will share with you my daily routine, so that you may find some inspiration and develop what works for you.
I do admit to charging my phone by my bed. I have no problems falling asleep at night, and I listen to podcasts and music to fall back to sleep sometimes. I do not check messages at night, but the phone is a little entertainment centre of its own. I like that and I like it near to me. However, and here is the important part, when I wake up, I do not grab the phone and go through email and WhatsApp messages right away. Leave it. Take a minute or two to feel your body, listen to your breath. Try to feel either what is good or what hurts, set your intention for the day and put a smile on your face. This will allow you to start your day on “better terms,” prioritising what is important for you today.
If you let messages “hijack” you right away, not only may you lose this opportunity to set priorities and appreciate just being alive, but research shows going through messages in the morning will release cortisol, the stress hormone, into your blood at a heightened rate. Going through your messages triggers your “fight or flight” instincts that automatically stresses you. Why would you want that? Put the phone away for a little while.
Photo: Yeah baby, stretch it out!
Second, when coming to work, maybe like me you sit down at a desk. Similarly to waking up, do not go straight to opening your email inbox and start responding frantically. Take one minute to breathe: Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale. Six deep inhales should bring you to a minute and after this you write down on a piece of paper what it is you want to achieve today. Most importantly, you let this take top priority as it will increase your awareness, focus and concentration on the most important matters for you or your company. It should help you push away the many distractions that will come at you throughout your day.
Mindfulness is not a spiritual, “woo-wooish” state that only “yogis” and some gurus have coined. Being mindful in the workspace is the state of having a sharp and clear mind, a mind that is not multitasking, but being effective, creative and productive. Athletes need to stop multitasking and push away “audience” and all distractions that exists when they compete at their best. The ability to recognise what is merely noise in your email inbox and what are critical matters right now, is something that comes easy to a high performing athlete. You can also train yourself to be effective by following my small tools, with big impact.
Photo: Zero noise, 100% focus
Third, I have started some of my company meetings of late with a routine. I am still “shaping it up”, but it seems to work: First, have a clear agenda for the meeting. Figure out what you want to achieve by the end of the meeting. However, start the meeting by asking everyone to put away phones, and then you take one minute to breathe together. With this you will clear your minds together, lower the stress symptoms in your brain. If there is a bit of time, go around the room to listen to what people are “thankful for” or what is “awesome” in their lives. I am always surprised at how much I learn from my colleagues, that I did not know about even yesterday. It is a wonderful way of connecting and to remind yourself what is positive, what is good in your life or at your company.
In combination, this exercise combined with a clear agenda should help you have shorter, more effective meetings. If you feel like it and have time (you do!) finish the meeting with a minute of silence. You will literally see that people respond positively and are excited about executing on what has been agreed in the meeting. You will see that slowing down, is making your team speed up on the execution. Running around being busy is not helping.
As the workday fades, and your brain become more tired, take a minute now and then to just close your eyes and breathe. Inhale deeply six times, exhale and sit in silence for 20 seconds. You will find it calms you and increases your effectiveness. Leave work on time or early if you can, like I do. The saying “I am always the last to arrive in the office, but I make up for it by being the first one to leave, always make me laugh. But there is some truth in it and we need to focus on productivity, not “busyness.” Leave on time to exercise and maybe you should always stop on the way home for 2-3 minutes on a bench or in your car to just sit in silence for 2 minutes to breathe and collect your thoughts, ideally before you walk in the door at home. Just take time to be you.
Photo: This walk looks like more than a minute to be honest, but just find a little time...!
Just to be clear: I am not telling you to slow down. I am merely asking you to be more effective, by slowing down to concentrate and speed up execution of the most important things. I find that these exercises help you recognise the noise, the distractions in my life. It helps me prioritise what and who to eliminate in my life and work life. The purpose is to be less busy, but more productive, and then mindfulness is the key.
Why don’t you try it, and let me know what works for you?
Notes  J.C. Preussner et al: «Free cortisol levels after awakening: A reliable biological marker for the assessment of Adrenocortical activity,” Life Sciences 61, no. 26 (November 1997).