Mindful or mind full?

Posted on September 11, 2020

Dr Daphne Pillay, lecturer in the Department of Human Resource Management and a registered industrial psychologist, offers tips on how to work mindfully from home and increase your productivity.

Last week I found myself standing in the grocery aisle of my local supermarket. Surprisingly, this turned out to be an enriching experience for me, not because I couldn’t for the life of me figure out which brand of pasta to cook for dinner, but because I witnessed an incident that got me thinking about the importance of mindfulness.

Let me start of by saying that I wasn’t eavesdropping; the lady was standing right next to me and she didn’t seem to care about being discreet. She received a phone call while shopping, which from the looks of it seemed to be one of her employees. “Oh yes! I completely forgot about that. I’ll approve the purchase and send the document to you ASAP,” she said. A few seconds after hanging up she was approached by someone who seemed to be an old acquaintance of hers. She began to chat with her acquaintance while typing on her phone.

Now I’m not a communication expert, but from observing her behaviour, she didn’t seem to show much interest in the conversation because she was busy typing away on her phone. The phone rings again. “I just sent the email a second ago,” she said. “What? There’s no attachment? Oh no, I’ll send it again.”

While this might seem like an everyday experience, as a researcher in psychological resources and female leaders, I couldn’t help but see the link between the incident in the grocery store and the importance of mindfulness. Like the lady in the grocery store, most female leaders believe that the only way to successfully manage workforces and households simultaneously is to multitask and increase the speed at which tasks are performed. These two strategies are expected to increase productivity and assist the female leader with getting through the day. But is this the most effective way to deal with work and home responsibilities especially during COVID-19 when some female leaders are still working from home?

Research has indicated that mindful female leaders tend to be more productive in the long run. Multitasking and rushing through tasks might seem like the way to go; however, these strategies could result in scattered attention, which negatively affects productivity and accuracy, and leads to weakened memory and cognitive loading. Additionally, multitasking and rushing through tasks result in women who are in positions of leadership entering autopilot mode, which increases the possibility of them losing touch not only with the present moment but with the people around them.

On the other hand, focused attention and being mindful results in increased productivity and allows one to achieve more every day without working longer hours. This is because when practising mindfulness, we are able to remind our minds to get back to the present moment and focus on the task at hand. The increased focus helps minimise mistakes, and not only increases productivity, but also saves more time in the long run.

Let’s take the lady in the grocery store as an example. If she was fully present and aware of what was taking place in the present, it’s highly likely that she would have correctly sent the email with the attachment the first time, thus preventing her from having to resend it. It is also likely that being fully present would have increased meaningful engagement with her acquaintance, which indicates that while multitasking might sound like a good idea, being mindful increases the quality of interactions both with work and everyday tasks.

So what does this mean for the female leader working at home during COVID-19? With COVID-19 and the current work-from-home situation, she is under more pressure than ever before to successfully juggle multiple roles, what many researchers term “double-burden syndrome”. Women in leadership positions are expected to double-up on household chores, caregiving responsibilities and manage workforces, all within the confines of their home and with limited time. Adopting a mindful approach to these everyday tasks will assist the female leader in finding balance between work and home roles, and increase work and family engagement.

Here are five tips to mindfully work from home and increase productivity:

  1. Meditate, meditate, meditate…

Even if you’re not into deep meditation, taking a few minutes every day to breathe, listen and become aware of the sensations of your body and mind can help create a calmer mind space and assist with focus. Simple acts like listening to relaxing music as you prepare to start your day and closing your eyes for a few minutes while directing your attention to the physical sensation of four or five deep breaths as they go in and out of your body can go a long way.

  1. My space, my mind

Although researchers advocate for the importance of designated workspaces to decrease work-home conflict, confining your workspace to a specific area in your home can facilitate the ability to remain mindful. Set up a workstation and train yourself to complete all work-related tasks such as checking emails, texting work colleagues and listening to voice messages at that station. Soon enough, you’ll become so accustomed to working there that trying to accomplish these tasks while you are out or in front of the TV will become a thing of the past. This will also decrease the urge to multitask.

  1. You might be superwoman, but slow it down!

Yes, there are only 24 hours in the day and yes, you want to do it all, but evidence-based research suggests that leaders who take the time to pace themselves with regard to daily activities are significantly more productive. This doesn’t mean you should work at a snail’s pace. Make a mindful effort to work in the present moment as much as you can. Take in every sensation of the current experience: this could mean reading, drinking a cup of coffee and driving a little slower than usual. By doing this, you are able to be fully present and pay attention to what you are doing.

  1. Your task, my task – let’s NOT multitask

As a female leader you become overwhelmed with doing as much as you can in a limited amount of time. This might lead you to multitask. Authors in mindfulness argue that multitasking is actually a farce – this is because you aren’t really concentrating on many things at once; instead, you’re simply moving between tasks in rapid succession. Task-switching can actually be more time-consuming and compromise the quality of the work you put out. Instead, focus on one task at a time and devote your full attention to that task.

  1. Transition time… yep, I’m ready

Working from home means moving between work and home responsibilities. In order to be fully immersed in your activities, be present for transitions in your work-from-home day. Whether it’s making the transition from a meeting to eating lunch, or from completing your last report to picking up groceries, these transitions can increase your thoughts and feelings, and cause you to enter a new task without fully disengaging from the one before. By preparing yourself to transition from one task to another, you allow yourself to check in and check out of each experience, which can increase your level of engagement.

- Author Dr Daphne Pillay

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