One of my favorite stories on the power of mindful pause was shared by a friend and coach, Jason. He read about an elite tennis coach working with top players, those who were winning Wimbledon and the US Open. The coach was focused on helping a group of players that were one level down, trying to determine how to help them to the top. He watched hours of videos of the champions and compared their games with those of his B team. He struggled to find any difference in their athletic abilities on the court and then it hit him. He began to watch what was going on with each player between sets. That was the difference.
The top players were using those brief moments as they sat on the sideline chair with hundreds or thousands of people watching. They had discovered a way to be calm, to come back to their center no matter what had just happened in the last set, and to begin their next play at their best.
This is the power of pause. Mindfulness is about being aware of self and of what we are doing moment to moment. It is the ability to create space in the most pressured situations. Taking a short pause can be very challenging in our fast-paced world. Yet these pauses are absolutely needed to get back in touch with ourselves, to think, and to make our next decision.
We are programmed as “doers” continuously searching for new ways to get more done in less time. The problem with continuous doing is the quality of our work begins to suffer and we get stuck in patterns of reacting. Pausing between emails, calls, or projects can lead to higher consciousness of our actions and our work. We have the unique ability as humans, due to neuroplasticity, to rewire our brains and move from reacting to responding.
One of the exercises we use to build awareness in my resiliency sessions is taking time to look for the spaces in your day. Those moments when you are moving from one thing to the next. Start there.
For the next week, try to notice all of your stops and starts during the day. Use a piece of paper and simply put a checkmark down each time you move from one thing to the next.
If you do this each day you will see patterns. Stop and notice where those spaces exist and begin using those moments for a deep breath between tasks, to relax your eyes and reflect before you send an email, or to stand and stretch before you start the next conference call. These small steps can help you rewire daily work habits into practices that serve your wellbeing and work more effectively.
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Pausing for reflection and thinking – to be better at your work – is not personal time.
In a recent workshop with a client who bills most of their work by the hour, we were discussing how to weave short mindful practices into their various workflows. As I explained the value of resilience practices for creative problem-solving the CEO offered this, “Let’s add a few more minutes for personal time each day.”
While I love time for personal reflection, this was an aha moment for me.
Time to think improves the work we are producing. Mistakes happen when we are on auto-pilot and when we work long hours without breaks.
In many open work environments taking time to think can look an awful lot like being unproductive. I’ve had team members come to me worried about another teammate who didn’t appear to be “working.” How have we come to a place where we believe doing requires constant action or reaction?
We are a knowledge working society which is true also when you are running a machine. “Google” the value of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) in an AI world. Self-awareness and the ability to pause, think, and respond are critical skills for every employee.
Our clients would likely be horrified to learn if our employees felt guilty taking time for reflection on a problem they were paying us to solve.
Communication and permission are important if we are to change these perceptions and judgments. Leaders play a key role and you can begin with 3 simple steps:
- Communicate that you value time for thinking at your company and within your teams. Talk about the importance of reflection and the positive impact on your work. You may first have to address device addiction since that’s what most people turn to the minute they look away from work, but let’s start with creating space to think.
- Practice Pause Before Send. Before you send a proposal, client response, or an internal email on an important topic, write the email and step away from your desk to breathe, stretch, take a bio break, or say hello to a coworker. Then come back and read what you wrote. Ninety percent of the time you will find something you can improve, then press send.
- Start meetings and 1:1 conversations unplugged. I’ve heard it referred to as One Minute to Arrive which is perfect. Give time for everyone to let go of what they raced to your meeting worrying about and to be fully present to talk about the agenda at hand.
Finally, go ahead and bill for time to think and reflect. Your clients will thank you.
From their first step onto the soccer field or up to the plate with a T-ball bat at age 5, most of the millennial generation grew up being coached.
And from the time they left college and walked into your office chances are coaching is not part of their daily experience. They also struggle to describe the game plan – the connection between the work they are doing with the mission of their employer. According to Gallup, 60% of employees do not know their company’s mission.
When these young professionals left school and entered work, a coach was exchanged for their manger. A manager with a full plate of her own responsibilities. Someone with a checklist for onboarding, familiarity with people management software, and knowledge of the annual review process. Generally, not a manager or supervisor trained in the art of coaching and building teams.
This is where a lot of companies are missing the mark. They are limiting leadership training to young and promising executive programs or emerging leaders – if they have leadership training at all.
It is time to rethink that strategy.
Because our current managing tools and processes are not effective in a knowledge work environment.
Handing someone a job description and assigning them a manager that is already busy with their own demanding workload is not fostering growth. It is crushing spirits and I am not being melodramatic. Look around most offices at the stress levels in play.
The good news is that our younger generations expect to be coached, they want to understand how their work affects the bigger picture and greater good. Who doesn’t want that at any age?
I hear many negative comments about “millennials” not wanting to work, or always looking for approval. What if they were actually looking for their work to make sense and for their leadership to be able to help them chart a course to success?
This new generation is great for business if we pay attention and support their growth in the way they are accustomed – with vision and coaching. Work is the new playing field and it is up to us to be ready.
Focusing our attention on developing Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and strengths-based leadership development is good for individuals and crucial for a thriving business.
Are you with me?
Here are a few steps to get you started:
Look closely at your onboarding process, team building, and coaching programs in place today. How are you welcoming your new hires and how are you setting them up to win
What are you offering employees besides a paycheck and benefits? How can they use their talents to help you and your mission? You need to be able to explain why their work matters in simple compelling language. They need to be able to describe their job to their friends and family.
Get to know your people. Schedule time in your day away from your computer, phone, and meetings to walk around the office or building. You can’t get where you want to be from the inside of a box or tethered to your computer.
If you want to learn more, the articles below speak to the importance of EQ and feedback to build engaged and high-impact workforces.
Many business leaders and scholars now believe that Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is more important than IQ. My training programs and activities teach people at all levels how to weave pause for reflection and resilience into their workflows and quickly build the foundation of emotional intelligence: Self-awareness, Self-regulation, Empathy, Motivation, and People Skills.
We are still using archaic industrial work management practices in a knowledge work society and it isn’t working well. Regular, 2-way feedback processes are rapidly replacing annual performance reviews, which managers and employees no longer find valuable. Weaving feedback into daily and ongoing routines is much better for relationship building and performance outcomes. My unplugged 2 to 10-minute activities naturally build these skill sets within teams.
For the past three years, I have helped companies implement mindful work practices. Our process and lessons may be helpful to your business.
As of 2018, nearly 70% of Fortune 500 companies are offering some type of mindfulness programming. The businesses I have worked with include call centers, sales development teams, marketing and ad agencies, system programmers, industrial site workers, and caregivers.
What is clear to me is that creating a mindful workplace is relatively simple and highly effective in connecting people with themselves, each other, and their companies.
At one company, a supervisor received thank you notes from her team for the first time, after just one week of starting her one-on-one meetings with mindful questions and unplugged time. They thanked her for caring about them as human beings. She had always cared and had never been given the tools to practice engaging leadership.
Most business owners and managers tell me they are interested in creating positive work experiences, yet concerned about how much time it will take.
Working mindfully does not take additional time. While there is a commitment to communicate and make changes, rather than adding time to your day, we repurpose time. Workshops and introductory sessions were scheduled within meetings that were already on the calendar.
For more information on the research that has influenced my work, click HERE.
If you are interested in learning more about the steps that are working for us, see below.
Steps to Creating a Mindful Workplace
- Leadership Engagement
The most important step. Whether you are leading yourself, a team or a company, compassionate and visible leadership each day is the key to short and long-term success.
- Vision, Communications, and Engaging Others
Create and communicate your vision, and bring others along in their own way. Be authentic and begin with your story. How did you hear about mindfulness or resiliency practices? Why do you think it could apply to your team or company? Share an article or stories that have inspired you. Get the conversation started. People have been amazed at the level of energy these conversations stimulate. Some employees felt they were being noticed and listened to for the first time.
- Identify Natural Pauses in Your Work
The biggest challenge to trying something new is where to fit it in. Two minutes is all it takes to begin. Look at natural places in your work day, where you start and stop and begin there. Between emails, driving to an appointment, before a meeting begins, on the way to a bio break, after a phone call, etc; all are great places to start. Most people can see themselves trying something for 2 minutes.
- Select Tools for Practice
There are many tools available to support your practice as an individual, team, or company. Your health plan or Employee Assistance Program at work have videos on their webpage. You can Google 2 to 5-minute meditations, stretches, or deep breathing exercises and there are dozens of videos or audios to choose from. I partner with Radiant Beginnings for beautiful video content which is a Press Play curriculum with 1 to 5-minute modules.
There are also excellent apps to support your practice. Some are geared to individuals (Headspace, Omvana, Stop, Breathe, and Think) and others designed for employers who want to track activity and measure results (Whil).
- Appoint/Hire Ambassadors for Rollout
If you are an individual, find another person or two to check in with on daily or weekly basis; inspire each other to keep practicing.
For a team or a company, using wellness ambassadors is an excellent way to encourage and model new practices. Engage them from the beginning as part of your communication strategy. You can also hire professionals short term to help you with all of these steps. If you avoid a single turnover or reduce unplanned absences (which is likely in just a few weeks), you will have more than paid for the investment.
- Determine Metrics for Success – What Matters to You?
What are you tracking today? Employee satisfaction or engagement, turnover rates, unplanned absences, healthcare costs, work quality metrics? All of these are measurable, what matters is what’s important to you. Mindful work leads to improvement in each of these metrics and more.
Make sure your communication is consistent. Develop a schedule and plan for the month, each quarter, and the year. There are many tools available to support automation.
- Practice, Check-In, Celebrate Success
Develop ways to practice together based on your environment. Begin the day with deep breathing, then mid-morning stretches, or after-lunch games. You can also kick off your meetings with an unplugged activity. The possibilities are endless.
Check in with your teams to gain feedback on what is working and what isn’t and adjust your plan. You can use Survey Monkey or built-in tools through automated email software.
Celebrate your success together as you achieve milestones such as completing the first week, 10 activities in a row to start meetings, first employee breakthrough (improved work). In my last job, two people from separate teams went for a 15-minute walking meeting and happened to solve a system issue we had been working on for weeks via conference calls with a dozen people. Celebrate those moments!
- Measure and Communicate Improvement
This is important for motivation at all levels. Make sure to communicate when you achieve progress on the things you choose to measure in #6. This will keep both leadership and everyone else engaged and excited to continue.
Mindful pauses in the workday addresses rising workload stress levels and overuse of technology in the workplace. The World Health Organization calls stress the #1 Health Epidemic of the 21st Ccentury.
We have the tools to be better, together.
In 2025 nearly 75% of our workforce will be comprised of Millennials and 25% will be Baby Boomers.
Why does this matter? Primarily because the two groups come from very different spectrums in their approach to work. It’s a unique opportunity to strengthen culture and improve performance.
Bringing these two generations together might feel like combining oil and water, as Nathanial Koloc mentioned in his excellent article, but if you dig deeper this approach solves challenges for each demographic.
One of the most important things for Millennials in the workplace, after compensation, is training and development. They want to understand how their work relates to the bigger picture and why it matters. I have often heard millennials described as entitled, or not ready for work. That is not true in my experience.
Baby Boomers certainly have experience and may seem more responsible if you are looking for butts in seats during traditional work hours, yet they are prone to conformity. See my interview with Francesca Gino, Professor at Harvard Business School.
“Somehow from very early on in our careers we are taught to conform to the status quo, to the opinions and behaviors of others, and this pressure only becomes bigger and grows as we climb the organization ladder” …
“I think the step that often leaders don’t take is stepping back and thinking all this conformity at work might actually hurt us in terms of allowing people to be creative, think innovatively about problems, solve problems that are close to them, and just being more engaged in the work that they do.” … Francesca Gino
Think about that. We have a group of employees that are highly knowledgeable, yet prone to conformity, and a group of people entering the workforce with energy; eager for stimulation and challenge. This is an opportunity.
The challenge for most of us is time. With our already over-booked schedules, who has time to train? I have found a simple path using the time we already have in our work day.
One of the places where employees come together regularly is through daily or weekly meetings. Why not make a simple change in the way most meetings happen? For one-on-one interactions and small groups, get out of the office, away from your desks, away from your computers and phones, and take a walk. Movement stimulates thinking and listening. It strengthens attention because you eliminate common interruptions such as incoming email, instant messages, and text notifications.
In my observation leaders spend too much time inside their offices or tethered to their devices. It feels terrible as an enthusiastic newcomer to sit in your manager’s office trying to grow a connection and learn something, only to be interrupted countless times as emails and texts come in from “more important” people. Walking solves for that and it’s great for your health.
You can go a step further and create regular walking discussion opportunities with seasoned leaders and newer associates. Call it “Walk with a leader today”. Ask your senior leaders to schedule two or three 30-minute time slots each week to take newer associates for a walk and use that time as an opportunity to talk about company vision, history, future products, etc. Leave a few minutes for questions and observations from these associates, you may be surprised at what you learn.
All generations want to be listened to and better understood. Take time to build a bridge of opportunity and possibly improve your business in the process.
What are you doing to bridge your work generations? I would love to hear from you. firstname.lastname@example.org