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Want to Be More Productive at Work? Stop and Smell the Coffee!

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By Vijay Khatnani, Managing Partner, J2 Solutions

 As we move through the winter months, many of us are still in the throes of working to maintain our New Year’s resolutions. This time of year represents a new beginning for most of us—a fresh start. It’s a time to ask the question: what can I do better this year to achieve greater levels of success—even at work?

The answer: practice mindfulness.

As a project manager, you know that maintaining focus to achieve intended results can oftentimes be a challenge. That’s where the art of mindfulness comes into play. A mindful project manager is a successful project manager.

In fact, mindfulness is a hot topic these days—and for good reason. In our anxiety-riddled society, people are discovering that being in a state of mindfulness can produce positive results that ripple into all facets of life. Being mindful on the job can mean the difference between a satisfying work experience and one filled with stress. Being a mindful project manager can mean the difference between driving results and running to stand still.

But why is that? It’s a simple concept, really. Mindfulness can help improve your mood, increase cognitive function and reduce stress. Research shows that if you take a step back and stop thinking about what’s to come or what was—or anything else that’s on the outside looking for a way in—you’ll have a clearer head. Without the biases, emotions and preconceived notions associated with those distractions, you will create an internal environment that makes for better decision-making, enhanced creativity, sharper focus and a settled mind. That calmer mindset will give way to improved communication with colleagues and better negotiating skills.

Think about it: how often do you have conversations you can barely recall because you were too busy thinking about your 4 p.m. meeting, or what might be awaiting you at your desk or inbox? And how did that serve you? Not well, I’d imagine.

Practicing mindfulness at work means dedicating all of your focus to the task at hand. It’s about giving your full attention to what’s in front of you at that moment. But with the constant barrage of communications and interruptions actively calling you away from your current priority, maintaining that focus isn’t always easy.

When it comes to project management, mindfulness is an important, but often overlooked, concept—and it can be achieved with a few simple strategies.

Tips For A Mindful Project Manager:

How do you begin practicing mindfulness? Here are some tactics that work for me:

  • Before you start your workday, pause and observe. Notice the small things: the smell of your coffee brewing, the face of your child or pet before you say goodbye or the lyrics of the music on your way into work. Though it may seem like this has nothing to do with your project at hand, it does. What you’re actually doing is retraining your brain to break out of autopilot and focus on what’s in front of you in that moment. This is a small but important first step.
  • Be in that meeting. When you’re meeting with key stakeholders or team members, be in that meeting with those people, and nowhere else. Sounds obvious, but it’s harder than it sounds to not let your mind drift. Do this by paying careful attention to what others are saying, who’s saying it and how they’re saying it. Then notice the difference in the interaction when the person who’s talking sees you’re giving him or her 100% of your attention.
  • Dedicate blocks of time. Tell yourself that for a certain period of time you’ll focus on just one particular priority. Set an alarm if you have to. During that time, make an active attempt to not think of the To-Do list, answer that email or jump onto another task that just popped into your head. When you succumb to those interruptions, you’re actually switching from a state of focus to a state of distraction. By maintaining the focus, you’ll eliminate unnecessary stress, increase throughput and maximize your most precious commodity—time.
  • Take breaks. Science says that taking regular breaks to center yourself and tune in can increase productivity. Next time you find yourself overwhelmed, walk away for a few minutes. What you’ll notice when you return is a renewed sense of focus and an uptick in your energy level.
  • Be aware of your emotions. The uncertainty that inevitability comes with all projects can result in a trickle-down stress reaction. While you don’t have control over every event that impacts your project, you do have control over your reaction to it. As the project manager, you set the tone for your team. Be aware of your emotions and how you convey those emotions to those around you. When you proceed in a calm, thoughtful manner, your team will likely follow suit.
  • Breathe. That said, controlling those emotions may not always be easy. A simple trick: use your breath. When you feel yourself getting overwhelmed, frustrated or exasperated, stop and take 10 deep breaths. If you’re among colleagues, walk away for a brief time. Your breath grounds you and returns you to the present moment. Think of it as a one-minute reset, if you will.
  • Set boundaries. When you leave the office, leave your work there. When you’re home, be home—physically and mentally. Unplug and decompress. Put your laptop away and silence the emails on your phone. The time you spend away from your work should be used to restore and reset so that when you show up for work the following day, your mind will be crisp and clear.
  • Practice. Practice. Keep going. You are never finished practicing mindfulness. Once it becomes a way of life for you, you’ll notice your thought patterns begin to change.

A state of mindfulness impacts the decisions we make. By bringing in the past or the future, we in essence, alter our view of the reality of what currently is. The decisions we make based on that altered view can put our projects, and our wellbeing, in jeopardy. By simply noticing the way things are, we can keep our emotions from clouding our judgment—and we keep our projects on that positive, forward-moving trajectory.

The tips above are meant to serve as a guide to get you started. While mindfulness isn’t necessarily an easy place to get to, with consistent practice, it can be achieved.