Beat stress: Put your mind to one task, not many

Time, or lack of it, has become one of the biggest stressors regardless of where you sit in the organisational hierarchy. Speak to almost any colleague, customer or supplier and most people will tell you there aren’t enough hours in the day to do what needs to be done.

It may sound crazy, but I’m going to suggest the antidote to time stress is intentional non-doing. I believe freeing yourself from the tyranny of time and purposely doing less will allow you to achieve more and lead happier lives … and world peace, of course.

Another common stressor is incessant thinking, which gets in the way of living a peaceful existence and being effective at work. This type of ruminating over issues and decisions is typically driven by our obsession with the past and future: thoughts like “everything will be OK when I get that promotion”, or “why didn’t I ask for the promotion sooner?”

Mindfulness is about stilling your mind and understanding that, fundamentally, the present moment is all we really have – but how often are you mentally somewhere else? It’s about being awake and aware – living in the present – rather than being stuck dwelling on the past or anticipating the future. It is about making what you are doing right now the most important thing in the world, even if it is boring and mundane.

Mindfulness is achieved by purposely paying attention in a non-judgemental way to what is going on in your body, in your mind and in the world around you.

It is no longer just the new-age gurus who proclaim “living in the now” is the answer to all our problems — that being present equals being happy. Even scientists have got in on the act with psychologists at Harvard University discovering people are happiest when focusing on the present (along with another love-fuelled activity if you can think of it, but that probably didn’t require much research!)

The challenge lies in stopping the automatic pilot that we have come to operate so well on and instead focus on the present moment. Our busy lives mean we often fear what might happen if we were to turn off the autopilot. Multi-tasking, although proven to be an ineffective technique, seems critical to fit it all in.

The extra demand on the brain of constantly switching tasks may actually make us less effective and even be damaging to our health as the various systems of the body become stressed and overworked (eg sore neck) and manifest as strong emotional reactions (eg lack of self control).

Let’s look at a practical example of mindfulness at work.

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