Several week ago, I received a comment on this post asking me to share how I practice mindfulness at work. Writing last week’s review of the MBSR manual both sparked my interest and made me think. I discussed how talking about mindfulness isn’t as useful as getting down to it and practicing. I’d like to think of this post as less of an advertisement for mindfulness and more of a sharing of my personal routines and how I cope with stress in the day-to-day at work.
I’ve mentioned my job on here a number of times, but never in much detail. Here’s the important factor that makes my work day much different than most: I work outside 50-75% of the time. Also, I work a flex schedule, my hours vary day to day, and what I’m doing can be drastically different. Some days I’m out with my crew digging holes, carrying around and applying 50 lb bags of product, or walking up to eight miles (in one day!). Some days I’m representing our department at recreational functions like concerts, tournaments, and races. And other days I’m in the office all day at my desk, filing reports, scheduling staff, and monitoring budgets. All this to say I never really know what to expect, so my “routine” is often thrown off. No matter how busy I am, I try to always make time for myself, even if it means a simple forward bend stretch.
So here are my tips, habits, and routines. I hope you find some of them helpful! And of course, I would love to hear tips others have to offer!
- First thing in the morning, I review my tasks for the day and look at my calendar. I make sure there are no conflicts and I have plenty of time to complete all the work I have planned.
- After my first hour of work, I try to sneak in a quick meditation. Sometimes I just close my door for five minutes, or if I am in the field, I find somewhere to sit down and recoup. Meditating early in the day helps me to remain focused and calm throughout the rest of the work day.
- As good ole’ govt employees, we get two paid 15 minute breaks per day. Of course, some days its way too busy for these breaks. I *try* to use my first break for stretching or yoga. This is great if I’m in the field and even better if I’m at my desk. At first, my crew gave me strange looks when I broke out in yoga while they were eating or scrolling through their phones. But now they know it’s just crazy ole’ Steen.
- If I am working out in the field, I try my best to quiet my mind. It’s like a moving meditation. I focus on whatever physical activity we are doing – how it feels in my body, checking in with my posture, making sure I am practicing good form so I don’t get hurt. And as always, I try to anchor with my breath. Staying focused like this actually makes me a better supervisor for my crew, because I am more aware of what’s going on around me. It’s easy to get caught up performing menial manual labor, and be completely swept away in your thoughts. Honestly on my job this can be negligent and dangerous. I try not to allow a running mental commentary of what we are doing, either. I just let it happen and let my breath move me through my work (easier said than done!).
- If I take a lunch break, I usually exercise. Running, yoga, or even just walking. While I am exercising, I do my best not to think about work AT ALL. I’ve been in mental ruts where all I can do is rehash and rehearse conversations with coworkers. It gets me nowhere. I feel much better prepared for the afternoon if I just leave work at work and concentrate my energy on exercising.
- I eat lunch on my second break. If I told you I ate mindfully I would be lying. At this point in the day, I am usually back in my office/ at a satellite office catching up on emails I missed while in the field, shoveling food into my mouth haphazardly. When I do get the rare opportunity for mindful eating, I try to cherish it.
- I spend a lot of time in my truck, driving between locations. I used to blare the radio, and I didn’t even realize this was giving me awful headaches! Now I always drive in silence and do my best to pay attention. Driving is dangerous, and the more attentive you are the better. I try to focus on my breathing, loop my shoulders, and roll my neck every time I come to a red light. Even if you don’t drive at work, this would be great to practice on your commute.
- I have found that keeping my office de-cluttered helps me focus, yet constantly moving things around to keep them organized is distracting. I try to keep my desk clear of papers and keep only one running task list/ scratch paper with reminders. Keeping everything electronic is the way to go. It’s a lot quicker than organizing paper, and better for the environment. I streamline everything through Google Docs and Google Calendar. Google Calendar has literally changed my life, I love it so much.
- I look away from the screen every time I become cognizant I’ve been looking at it uninterrupted for a while. I just take a few seconds to look around my office, drop into my breath, and then resume working.
- I love doing quick yoga at my desk. Here is a great video from Adriene.
- When I am walking from point A to point B, even my desk to the bathroom, I love focusing on my body sensation – particularly my feet hitting the ground. That’s very powerful for me.
I know some people will think, yeah you work for the government, I could never get away with that in the private sector, and sure, maybe not the yoga and exercising, but I think EVERYONE has the right to short breaks at work. Even as short as ten seconds to breathe and focus. Giving yourself breaks makes you more productive. Taking time for yourself at work is a wonderful practice of self-love.
Kabat-Zinn actually gives a list of tips for reducing work stress, which I found enormously helpful. I will close this post by recounting my favorite ideas from his list:
- When you wake up, take a few quiet moments to affirm that you are choosing to go to work today. If you can, briefly review what you think you will be doing and remind yourself that it may or may not happen that way.
- Don’t say goodbye mechanically to people. Make eye contact with them, touch them, really be “in” those moments, slow them down just a bit.
- At work, take a moment from time to time to monitor your bodily sensations. Is there tension in your shoulders, face, hands, or back? How are you sitting or standing in this moment? Consciously let go of any tension as best you can as you exhale and shift your posture to one that expresses balance, dignity, and alertness.
- Try to stop for one minute every hour and become aware of your breathing. We waste far more time than this daydreaming at work. Use these mini-meditations to tune into the present and just be. All it takes is remembering to do it. [I think I will set alarms on my computer every hour on the hour to try and remind myself of this when I am working at my desk].
- At the end of the day, review what you have accomplished and make a list of what needs to be done tomorrow. Prioritize the items on your list so that you know is most important.
- As you are leaving, bring awareness to walking and breathing. Be aware of the transition we call “leaving work.” [Same goes for when you get home] When you walk in the door, be aware of the transition we call “coming home.”
- As soon as you can, take your shoes off and get out of your work clothes [I love doing this!]. Changing to other clothes can complete the transition from work to home and allow you to integrate more quickly and consciously into your non-work roles.