This article is the fourth in a series on mindful leadership from expert and consultant Puja Madan. To understand what “mindful leadership” is and why it’s critical for your organization, read this article. To find out how to increase your productivity, keep reading.
Samantha was in the midst of writing an email to a client when her phone buzzed. It was a vendor her company was interested in working with. She talked to him for twenty minutes. As she was hanging up, her assistant walked in, asking if she was going to attend a company event later that week. They talked for a few minutes, ironing out some details.
Finally, almost thirty minutes later, Samantha returned to her computer — and the unfinished email. She’d left off mid-sentence and now she struggled to complete it. What had she intended to convey thirty minutes ago?
She began writing a new sentence but couldn’t get into the flow of it. A pop-up appeared with several new email notifications, including one she had been expecting from her boss. She clicked out of the half-composed email and started checking her other emails. Soon, it was lunch time and as she left, she promised herself she would finish the email when she returned.
When Samatha arrived at home that evening, she reflected on her day. She’d had two meetings after lunch and conducted an interview for a new hire.
It had been a full day.
But she didn’t feel very accomplished.
Samantha isn’t alone. Many of us excitedly move into leadership positions expecting to do good things and lead with excellence. However, before we know it, our time and our days get hijacked from right under us.
The Cost of Our Wandering Minds
Americans work longer hours on average than any other industrialized country. And all global economic indicators suggest that despite the additional hours outcomes remain low. Everyone is busy — but that isn’t necessarily translating into productivity.
According to Harvard University researchers, our attention wanders away from what we’re doing 46.9% of the time. For both leaders and employees, that’s half the work day.
Half a day of not being fully present with tasks and people.
This lack of presence costs companies. When leaders overwork (and under-produce) the affects trickle into the organization. 58% of employees say poor management is the biggest thing getting in the way of productivity. Actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. $450 to $550 billion per year in lost productivity.
There are other costs, too: workplace stress and healthcare costs from work pressure, as well as all the time, resources, and energy spent on clarifying communication.
And, ultimately, unproductive leaders are unable to create time to mentor and coach their teams. Ambitious team members want to know their work is valuable and impactful. They want to see the connection between their contributions and the company’s business outcomes. They want feedback and opportunities to improve. They crave good mentorship that cultivates their full potential.
When leaders are unproductive, they become frazzled and unable to provide proper direction or create an environment of growth.
How Mindfulness Creates Productive Leaders
Mindful leaders understand the value of self-management and mastering their time. This enables them to lead by example and inspire their teams to work with clarity, purpose, and higher engagement.
This mastery of their time comes through the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness — the practice of attending fully to the present moment — has a profound impact on leaders’ productivity:
Improved Focus and Attention
Unlike Samantha, stepping away from distractions and consciously choosing one activity at a time immediately improves focus and attention. We’re able to get more done in less time and feel more fulfilled with our work as a result
Better Working Memory
Even short bouts of mindfulness-based practices improve deep cognitive processing efficiency. The central aspects of fluid intelligence, such as working memory and sustained attention, are positively impacted by mindfulness. Long-term memory is a beneficiary, too.
Better Decision Making
How can leaders make the best decisions for their teams and organizations with certainty and clarity? Mindfulness practices have proven to remove past conditioning, emotions, and biases that can result in poor decisions.
Studies have shown that mindful leaders cultivate higher-quality relationships and happier employees because of their capacity to be present. A frazzled, distracted leader isn’t likely to motivate and engage a team in the same way a present, conscious, mindful leader will.
So, how can you as a leader improve your productivity through the practice of mindfulness? I’m going to outline two simple methods: The Mindful Why and The Power of Presence.
Mindfulness Method #1: The Mindful Why
“Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have 24-hour days.” — Zig Ziglar
Mindful leaders understand that alignment between their own personal purpose and the company’s mission and vision is important on an ongoing basis to be productive. This mindful focus on what’s important (and, therefore, also what’s not) helps leaders make decisions faster, thus saving precious time and resources.
Leaders who take a mindful moment each day to connect with their deeper “why” find themselves more energized as well as able to engage and energize their teams. This also prevents leaders from mindlessly filling each moment with activities and tasks. Instead, they can take meaningful pauses throughout the day to reconnect and realign with their North Star and feel anchored, clear, and focused as a result.
- This coming week, take two minutes each morning to practice any of the mindfulness practices we’ve discussed in article two or article three of this series.
- After completing the mindfulness practice, take a few moments to reflect on the purpose, the why, of your work.
- Let this intention anchor and energize you to pursue meaningful, purposeful activities that day.
Mindfulness Method #2: The Power of Presence
Present-moment awareness, cultivated through mindfulness practices, has a deeply profound impact on our productivity and feeling of satisfaction with our work. People can sense presence. When leaders aren’t fully present in conversations and with tasks, team members can detect that.
Conversely, being mindful of where we are, what we’re doing, and what we’re thinking and feeling at any given time can shift our focus from the periphery to the center. This simple exercise of removing all distractions and staying with one task at a time will produce better quality work and generate feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction.
- Think of the next challenging, self-managed task on your to-do list. Maybe it’s a report, proposal, or article you need to write.
- Decide how much time you need to get all or part of the task done. Pick a time when you won’t be disturbed and schedule it.
- When that time arrives, install an app like Self Control (other suggestions below) that blocks off distracting websites.
- Set your intention for this time, focusing especially on how you will feel after completing it.
- Depending on the depth of your chosen task, set a timer for either 25 or 55 minutes.
- When the timer goes off, take a 5-minute mindful break: try another short mindfulness practice or some gentle stretches.
- Get back to the task at hand. Repeat steps 5 and 6 until you’re done
What other aspects of leadership does mindfulness super-charge? Next week, we’ll dive into a very crucial one — relationships. We discuss how leaders can use mindful communications to build trust and create win-win outcomes with their teams. And if you missed last week’s article on how meditation can make you a more powerful leader, click through to read here.
Apps, extensions, and software to block distracting websites: