We’ve all been there- set off for the office with a clear plan for the day ahead, a list of things to accomplish, only to arrive back home 9-10 hours later with only a few ticked off. Half the day we can’t even recall what we did the other half we spent zoning out in meetings and firefighting the onslaught of e-mails, WhatsApp notifications and Insta likes pinging into our consciousness.
Most of this is attributed to working on Autopilot and getting ourselves into productivity-sucking habits. Ive pulled together a few handy tips, tricks and mindful methods that can be used to help yourself towards a work life that is a little easier and far more productive.
1. Start your Day Right
When we wake up our levels of stress hormone and fight or flight immediately spike as we ruminate on the day ahead and begin creating the task list in our heads. Morning is the perfect time to set your attitude for the day and Meditation provides a great container for this. Find what works best for you- it may be rising 10 minutes earlier to settle in a cosy corner for a guided meditation using the HeadSpace or Calm App. Or simply remaining in bed a few minutes more to notice your breathing as the breath rolls in and out.
2. Make a Minus into a Plus
When we apply mindfulness to the tasks that even we may not particularly enjoy we become far more open to the experience and it becomes less monumental in our day. For example when stuck in traffic on the commute you may wish to begin taking this time for yourself, to become present in the moment. Perhaps listening mindfully to music, not just in the background but really listening. I love Spotify Daily Mixes created for me or listening to new releases recommended for me.
Or perhaps you may perform a visual meditation; paying attention to your surroundings becoming aware of the landscape, nature, tarmac, buildings, cars, the other people stuck in traffic- just like you.
Or if you fancy, why not look at mixing things up- In London I would sometimes wake up early in order to catch the boat(!!) into the city. Yes, it may have taken 30 minutes longer- but in that 30 minutes I had fully un-divided me-time, surrounded by the beautiful views of Morning-time London along the Thames. This provided a time for gratitude and was such a positive start rather than cramming onto a busy train platform (which I once even fell off onto the tracks due to the amount of people pushing forward! – #badstarttotheday)
3.Get Things Done Technique (GTD)
Pioneered by David Allen the GTD technique is a 5 step way to organise our thoughts without the stress and just, funnily enough, get things done! I used this when managing a busy production schedule to see what lay ahead and to work through the priorities to manage my precious time more efficiently.
Step 1. Get everything down – Ideas, tasks, meetings, due dates. Pop it in an app, a notepad, a spreadsheet- whatever floats your boat but just get it out and down and watch your sanity come flowing back.
Step 2. Get Specific – Clarify exactly what getting these things done means and involves. Break any tasks down into small manageable actions (think of the age-old SMART goals ). If when looking at tasks theres anything that can be done NOW and it will take 5 minutes- do it. Just get it done. If it can be delegated- delegate.
Step 3. Prioritise– Organise tasks by category e.g. home, work or by project etc and set their priority. Place a due date on each and set reminders for when you need to work on them- this ensures you are allocating enough future-time to each activity.
Step 4. Reflect– Look at your list and see what you have the time and energy to do right away. If nothing pops perhaps go back to Step 2 and breakdown tasks further. Continually review your list to see where progress is being made and if any priorities need tweaking.
Step 5. Get to work– Choose your first action and get to it!
4. Get Up Stand Up – The Pomodoro Technique
Breaks enable us to stay fresh and think more creatively. Theres plenty of research out there showing that those who take breaks from their desks during the day are more productive than those who are glued to the screen. The best way to ensure there are real breaks in your schedule is to tap them in- the Pomodoro technique provides steps to do just this and reap the rewards of focused working and regular breaks.
1. Remove all tempting distractions- If writing a blog post Ill use Zen Pen to provide the de-cluttered writing space necessary for focus
2. Choose a task (perhaps off your GTD plan above)
3. Set a timer for 25 minutes – If you’ve hidden your phone, use a desktop App like Be Focused for Windows and Mac
4. Work only on your one task
5. When the timer sounds, get up and take a 5 minute break – Go and make a hot drink, take a mindful walk, perform some standing yoga stretches- feel free to get creative!
7. Every 4 sessions take a 15-20 minute break
5. Micro Meditate
Instead of adding something to your daily routine instead just tweak the way you experience it. Pay attention to your day for seconds at a time. Ive mentioned before the 3 step breathing space- an effective way to register thoughts, feelings, emotions and notice the breath and your presence in the here and now. By taking a few moments to put the brakes on and check in with yourself you can ensure you’re switched-on the the present moment and are ready to make creative and informed decisions driven by full awareness.
A 3 step breathing space can also be extended to a 4th step by asking yourself at the end – what can I do to best help my experience right now.
It may be that you notice you haven’t had some water in a few hours, or have forgotten to stop for lunch or that simply going to grab a notepad and pen to map out an idea would be better than trying to type it right up there and then.
Oh I can’t even begin to tell you the number of meetings Ive simply zoned out in. In one meeting room I had a view of the London Eye in its full glory- The funny thing about the London Eye is it has 1 red carriage on it, 1 red carriage that takes 1 hour to complete a full cycle of the wheel. Many meetings were spent watching that red carriage complete its hourly round… you can imagine my thoughts on the productivity of the meeting.
Unfortunately not being present leads to misunderstandings, missed opportunities for creative genius and pure wasted time. But if we just stopped to listen. Really listen to each other our meetings could be shorter, more effective and lead to far more productive outcomes.
Next time you’re in a meeting do nothing- nothing but listen. Listen for seconds at a time, each time you notice your mind has wandered off , gently and kindly bring it back to listening- you may have to do this many times over(!) This simple exercise is so much harder than you think but with training we can begin to re-wire our brains to become better at concentrating which in turn improves our clarity of thought and will enhance our thinking in a group environment- enhancing idea generation and creative problem-solving. Tip- this works just as well in personal relationships too- give it a try, really listening to what our partners, friends and children are saying.
7. Switch from coffee to decaf herbal tea!
I know…this is tough. Some offices have lovely little coffee machines that with the press of a button you have a warm, frothy cup of goodness ready in just moments. Its quicker to make than tea, perks you up and just has a general stigma attached to it. Coffee= hardworking, cosmopolitan, social and if its from that trendy little roasters down the road can be achingly cool and pretty to-boot. I just don’t know what it is but I think these are things associated with coffee- or maybe its just me! But with each cup of coffee we are actually putting stress on our bodys stress response mechanisms, which on top of an already mega day can definitely be detrimental.
Tulsi (Holy basil) is a member of the adaptogens family which may help reduce production of stress hormones, chamomile can also have a relaxing, soothing effect. Also good news and fear now- I met lovely Lucy from the London School of Tea who is working with tea companies to re-think tea-shops and is creating absolutely beautiful and intricate tea lattes that are just as alluring, and dare I say it, even more delicious than the dark stuff!
8. Surround Yourself with Plants
According to the American Society for Horticultural Studies it has been proven that indoor plants can improve air quality. and help boost creativity. Best plants are aloe vera, bamboo palms, peace lilies, spider plants, succulents. Not only do they look super trendy but you can also take a short break and do a visual meditation focusing solely on the colours, light, shadow, textures etc. so head down to the nearest garden centre and get potting!
9. Use the Broken Record Technique
Its 7pm, I know in myself that enough has been done today and I need to go home. It has been a week of 10pm (or later) finishes and my colleague has just come back from their meetings and walked over to go through the days edits. This was a familiar story in my work week. Once or twice, O.K. stuff just needed to get done. But EVERY DAY-I was at the end of my tether; knackered, hungry from improper eating and just a bit of a scattered mess trying to juggle boyfriend, friend, housemates and life admin. It can be really challenging (understatement) when others try put their schedule on to you and try persuade you to do more than you feel able to. Try this broken record technique to help make it clear its time to call an end to your days work:
1. Sitting or standing in mountain pose, feel you feet firmly on the floor and breathe mindfully , grounding and centering yourself
2. Calmly offer a reply that is meaningful and unwavering. A simple I think I will be able to focus better tomorrow should do it
3. Repeat the same answer like a broken record for as long as it takes your workmate to understand and accept your decision
10. Write it Down
Jotting down our thoughts at the end of the day helps us to revisit the last few hours, see what we’ve accomplished, learn from the day and help us hush chatter from the mind as we go home into the evening. Just a short EGS list will enable a positive closure to the end of each working day. Write down 3 things-
1. One thing you enjoyed from the day
2. One thing that you are grateful for
3. One thing that you are satisfied with
And there we have it 10 top tips to hack your work life! I hope these 10 hacks have given you some tools to make your working day more mindful, more productive and importantly a whole lot calmer!
If you have any tips to share I would love to hear about them in the comments below or send me a note to firstname.lastname@example.org