#3: Have a mindful meal.
It takes time and practice for your mind to get into the habit of staying focused. When you've gained some experience with the breathing exercise, try practicing mindfulness during lunchtime (or during another meal that you eat alone). This is a great next step: it is slightly more complex than breathing, but it is still simple enough that you can successfully remain mindful.
Rather than just stuffing down food while you watch television, read, or answer emails, take the time to actually experience your meal. Sit in a quiet area with minimal distractions, and focus on each flavor of the food and each movement that you make while you eat. If your mind wanders to what you need to do after lunch or to other things that you need to do, just bring your attention back to your meal. Eating slowly is the key to this exercise; it is much more difficult to be mentally present when you feel rushed. This activity will help to train your brain, and it will also give you a stress-free break from your workday.
#4: Live deliberately.
It's easy to fall into the pattern of being pulled in a new direction by every random thought or interruption, but having your focus constantly disrupted and redirected makes it extremely difficult to be mindful. To fully focus on the present, you have to be in control. If you are working hard on a project and your mind wanders to your grocery list, you are no longer in control of the situation, because you're no longer focused on the task you have chosen. Try to engage in activities more fully by deliberately choosing when to start them and when to stop them. If you find yourself suddenly preoccupied with something else, ask yourself, “Did I choose to do this?” Most likely, the answer will be no. Without realizing it, you've been pulled in another direction by a new thought. When this happens, just refocus on your chosen activity.
If you find it hard to make deliberate choices throughout the day, you may need to slow yourself down. It is especially challenging to be in control and focused if you are going a hundred miles an hour. Be sure to leave yourself enough time to think so that you can make conscious decisions about how to spend your time. If you rush through your entire day, you will find yourself jumping from one activity to the next. This will lead you to do whatever is put in front of you rather than to accomplish what truly needs to be done.
#5: Be realistic.
Having an unreasonable number of things to do over the course of a day makes it impossible to focus on each task fully. Having a realistic plan for what you can accomplish in a day will set you up to succeed at being mindful while you are working, and you'll get more done. Think about which tasks are really important, how long it's truly going to take to complete each task, and prioritize from there. You can't control your attention when everything feels like it's “do or die.” Removing the less urgent and less important items from your to-do list allows you to relax and focus.
It is vital to be realistic about what you can accomplish. Give yourself a little wiggle room between tasks, and budget your time generously. You are not perfect, and it's unrealistic to expect that the entire day will proceed according to plan. Giving yourself a little extra time will prevent you from becoming distracted by unnecessary pressure. May 2012
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Nicole Wolfe, B.S.
Nicole Wolfe is a professional services consultant at TalentSmart. She received a distinction in psychology for her Bachelor of Science from Yale University where she developed an interest in Emotional Intelligence. Nicole's thesis research covered prosocial emotions in relationships, including gratitude and altruism. TalentSmart customers call on Nicole when they need help with an 360 degree feedback test, or DISC personality profile.