3 Ways to Practice Mindfulness at Work

Our Zen meditation practice isn’t about escaping life to go and sit on the meditation cushion. Rather, our time practicing is about learning how we want to live in the world. 

Training our mind to be focused and fully present in the moment is easiest when we dim the lights, set a timer and practice counting our breath. However, there are lots of opportunities to practice throughout our day and an office job provides a slew of great chances to be mindful. 

Three Ways to Practice at Work: 

Simple Tasks: I had a fundraising role for a few years where I signed about a hundred form letters every day, stuffed envelopes or left voicemails on people’s phones with reminders about a pledge. I struggled with these tedious tasks until I realized these were perfect mindful moments. Clearing off my desk, taking a deep centering breath, I placed my attention fully on the pen, envelop or phone. When a distracting thought came in, I let it go and returned to the task at hand. 

Just like in our formal seated meditation, I made an agreement with myself. For this short period of time I would be still and let go of distracting thoughts. Instead of using my breath as my anchor to the present moment, the simple work task was the object of concentration. 

Almost like magic, being mindful of these simple tasks made even the most mundane activity interesting. I find short and repetitive tasks that don’t require a lot of cognitive processing to be best suited for an “at work mindfulness” practice. 

Long Meetings: Some work meetings are engaging and productive. The other 99% are mind numbingly boring and test our ability to stay awake in public. When I am in a tedious meeting I treat it as meditation period. I look right at the speaker, sit up right, bring my focus to my breath and count inhale one, exhale two, inhale three… to ten. When my mind starts to wander, I let go of the thought mid-sentence and return my attention to the breath. Seemingly disinteresting meetings suddenly become a refreshing respite in the middle of my day. 

Office Gossip: The Sixth Zen Precept is “see the perfection, do not speak of others' errors and faults.” In short: don’t gossip. Engaging in work place gossip is like eating potato chips. It is easy, hard to resist and addictive. Setting an intention every morning when I start my day to use my language to create compassion and a better world helps me be more mindful of the things I’m saying. 

At first when I tried to break my habit of gossiping at the office I gave a self-righteous speech to my coworkers. “I try not to say anything that I wouldn’t say if the person was in the room.” Eventually, I realized this tact made me feel superior and my coworkers feel criticized. When I find myself caught in a conversation that is turning towards gossip or negativity I strive to find gentle ways to introduce understanding and compassion.

Bonus Tip: Mindful Lunch – When I have time to do more than eat at my desk I love to get out of the office for a bit. I meditate for 5 or 10 minutes and then try to eat my lunch mindfully. A mindful meal is a great way to enhance our spirits by helping us slow down, nourish ourselves and get in touch with the gratitude for having a job and food in front of us. 

What are some ways that you can imagine being mindful at work? Please email me and let me know! 

May your practice go well. 

Anthony A. Cernera, M.Ed. 

P.S. My friend Sofia and I will be running a free workshop on Sunday, October 18th at 8pm EDT called, “Mindful Stress Reduction.” Sign up here