Employers such as Google, eBay, Intel and General Mills offer classes on it. So do Harvard Business School, Ross School of Business and Claremont Graduate University, among other campuses. Mindfulness is not just a social media buzzword or a corporate trend, but a proven method for success, according to neurologist Dr. Romie Mushtaq.
Mindfulness – being focused and fully present in the here and now – is good for individuals and good for a business’s bottom line, according to her.
How can people practice it in a workplace where multitasking is the norm, and concerns for future profits can add to workplace stress? (More than 80 percent of employees report being stressed at work.)
“Even if a company doesn’t make it part of the culture, employees and managers can substitute their multitasking habits with mindfulness in order to reduce stress and increase productivity,” says Mushtaq. “The result that you and your colleagues will notice is that you’re sharper, more efficient and more creative.”
Mushtaq, who is a mind-body medicine physician and neurologist at the Center for Natural and Integrative Medicine in Orlando, Fla., did her medical education and training at the Medical University of South Carolina, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and University of Michigan, where she won numerous teaching and research awards. She says the physiological benefits of clearing away distractions and living in the moment have been documented in many scientific and medical studies.
“Practicing mindfulness, whether it’s simply taking deep breaths, or actually meditating or doing yoga, has been shown to alter the structure and function of the brain, which is what allows us to learn, acquire new abilities, and improve memory,” she says. “Advances in neuroimaging techniques have taught us how these mindfulness-based techniques affect neuroplasticity.”
Multitasking, on the other hand, depresses the brain’s memory and analytical functions, says Mushtaq, and it reduces blood flow to the part of the right temporal lobe, which contributes to creative thinking. In today’s marketplace, she adds, creativity is key for innovation, sustainability and leadership.
Mushtaq offers these tips for practicing mindfulness in a multitasking business:
Focus on a single task for an allotted amount of time. You might say, “For 15 minutes, I’m going to read through my emails, and then for one hour, I’m going to make my phone calls,” suggests Mushtaq.
If your job comes with constant interruptions that demand your attention, take several deep breaths and then prioritize them. Resist the urge to answer the phone every time it rings (unless it’s your boss). If someone asks you to drop what you’re doing to help with a problem, it’s OK to tell them, “I’ll be finished with what I’m doing in 10 minutes, then I’m all yours.”
When you get “stuck” in a task, change your physical environment to stimulate your senses. Sometimes we bounce from one task to another because we just don’t have the words to begin writing that strategic plan, or we’re staring at a problem and have no ideas for solutions.
“That’s the time to get up, take a walk outside and look at the flowers and the birds – change what you’re seeing,” Mushtaq says. “Or turn on some relaxing music that makes you feel happy.”
Offering your senses pleasant and different stimulation rewires your brain for relaxation, and reduces the effects of stress hormones, which helps to unfreeze your creativity center.
Delegate! We often have little control over the external stresses in our lives, particularly on the job. How can you not multitask when five people want five different things from you at the same time?
“Have compassion for yourself, and reach out for help,” advises Mushtaq. “If you can assign a task to somebody else who’s capable of handling it, do so. If you need to ask a colleague to help you out, ask!”
This will not only allow you to focus on the tasks that most need your attention, it will reduce your stress, she says. “And who knows? The colleague you’re asking for help may want to feel appreciated and part of your team!"
While it is possible to practice mindfulness in a hectic workplace, Mushtaq says she encourages business leaders to make it part of the company culture. Stress-related illnesses are the No. 1 cause of missed employee workdays.
“Offering mindfulness training and yoga classes or giving people time and a place to meditate is an excellent investment,” she says. “Your company’s performance will improve, you’ll see a reduction in stress-related illnesses and you’ll be a more successful businessperson.”