When was the last time you stopped and took a breather? Go ahead. Stop reading for a second, close your eyes, and just take 10 seconds to breathe. Back? Great. Do you do that on a regular basis? Chances are you don't, and it's really something we should all be doing.
Why? Even as technology has advanced, the workforce today is still largely human. Our bot overlords haven't taken over, and even as the world keeps moving more quickly and with greater goals in mind, we can't live in a constant excited state. At some point, we have to take a break and rest. The practice of mindfulness can help.
While the term "mindfulness" seems like it may have originated from the so-called "New Age" practice of yoga, it's actually from the millennia-old religion of Buddhism. The psychological definition is "a technique in which one focuses one's full attention only on the present, experiencing thoughts, feelings, and sensations but not judging them." Perhaps the most important parts of the practice are the time period (the present) and the state of mind (nonjudgmental).
Practicing mindfulness in your personal life may seem like a no-brainer, but often, we act a certain way at home and then another way once we're in the workplace. Compartmentalizing the two often means we create two sides to ourselves and react to situations differently. The idea of work as "the daily grind" — going to work, doing your job, and then going home and only then being able to relax after a long, hard day — has been widely accepted as the way things have to be. This kind of daily struggle, which places little importance on how the work gets done, only that it does get done, is a real detriment to employees' productivity. Workplaces need to move away from the constant deadline-focused, always-looking-to-the-future mindset and instead focus on the here and now.
If you're part of the project management office (PMO), you get to help set the standard for how the organization works. And as our favorite uncle, Uncle Ben, always said, "With great power comes great responsibility." So, instead of perpetuating the goals-driven approach to work, here are five common situations and ways to practice mindfulness in your workplace.
How to practice mindfulness
1. Enable everyone to work in their own way
One constant in life is your colleagues will always have different personality characteristics. Sometimes they'll fall into certain tropes, but the important thing to remember here is that everyone works differently. For instance, some people swear white noise or music helps them concentrate, and others are convinced noise is only a distraction. So among your team members and your organization at large, it's important to not only recognize what personality types you work with, but also understand there are many different — and equally viable — paths to the same end.
To allow your colleagues to work how they need to get their respective jobs done, set up a central location to house work, and then let them customize that tool to display their tasks how is most beneficial for them. There are different styles of workstreams for a reason (Scrum, Agile, Kanban, etc.). But beyond development styles, simply having the ability to choose the view in which team members see their upcoming tasks (table, Gantt chart, card view, etc.) and then also filter that view to exactly what they need to see at any given time, can dramatically help increase their efficiency.
2. Practice positivity
Quick, is it care-ah-mell or car-mell? Perhaps not the most hotly debated English pronunciation on the internet (I'm looking at you, gif), it is one of those things people love to have meaningless arguments over. While the opinions you have about things in the workplace are vastly different then to-may-to vs. to-mah-to, it is important to be mindful of other opinions. Instead of simply dismissing your co-worker's ideas, try responding with "yes, and" instead of "no, but." (Also, leave sarcasm out of the equation; it won't help here.) Remember, however strongly you feel about a topic doesn't mean your opinion is right and anything else is wrong. Spoiler alert: The opposing side of the argument probably feels just as strongly as you.
When it comes to workplace disagreements, it's of paramount importance that you create a collaborative environment where all opinions can be voiced in order to find common ground and then a solution. Remember, what's happening in the PMO often seeps out into the rest of your organization. If there's dissonance in your PMO, oftentimes there will be repercussions elsewhere in the company.
One way to help prevent conflict is to create a single source of truth for the history of a project. If the history of a project is in one place, any confusion about what has or hasn't been explored can be eliminated. Any newcomer to the project can also see how the conversation has evolved, and then is able to add more focused and valuable contributions.
3. Be flexible
Change is a necessary part of how we work. Things happen unexpectedly, and there's nothing you can do personally to prevent that. You’ll also run into the inevitable fire drill where a flood of emails or a flurry of Slack messages arrives detailing the latest crisis and how "this is now Priority #1." Luckily, we're not stonemasons, and while it may not seem like it sometimes, it is possible to switch gears and accommodate sudden changes.
If you're lucky enough to be part of an organization that utilizes a collaborative workflow management tool, your deadlines should be automatically altered to reflect the change in a project’s priority. Sometimes it's as simple as moving the end of a bar in a Gantt chart, but the gist is the changes you experience can be easily handled.
4. Focus on what's in front of you
One big part about practicing mindfulness is being "mindful." (Shocker!) What this basically means is that instead of going to your next meeting and reading your email or thinking about your latest project, you actually listen to what's being said in the meeting. In every conversation you have with your co-workers, actively participate and act compassionate towards them. This is a foundational point of mindfulness.
While software probably can't help you put down the phone or close the laptop during your next conference (or, in the case of telecommunication, close other apps), it can help you focus on your workload. As we discussed earlier, being able to create customized dashboards in whatever program you use to collaborate with your colleagues can help you see your tasks for today or this week. Additionally, when your entire team's projects are in the same tool, you can eliminate the pesky meetings that only serve to update one another on what's going on.
5. Allow time for decompression
Remember that breathing exercise we did at the start of this post? Time to do it again. Taking a breather every so often should be a regular part of your workday. How? Start scheduling 45-minute meetings instead of an hour. Or 20 minutes instead of 30. Just those small, extra 10- to 15-minute breaks can do wonders for eliminating the feeling of being the white rabbit from “Alice in Wonderland” — always late, bustling from meeting to meeting, never having a second to breathe. Maybe start extending a bathroom break into a short walk outside once per day. There will always be priority projects and deadline rushes, so baking in time to not only allow for those, but also to give your constituents a breather every now and then can help to keep everyone happy and on schedule.
Another important part of this is making sure your employees aren't overworked. While a little stress is actually good — it helps you focus and overcome challenges — chronic stress reduces work quality and can even lead to massive health problems (loss of sleep, panic, depression, heart attacks — the list goes on). Proper resource management ensures your employees stay at their "peak performance" stress level without tipping over into detrimental levels.
In your project management software, whenever you build a project plan, create deadlines that allow for this "breather time," create the necessary dependencies for each of the project's tasks and subtasks, and assign tasks based on not only who's best suited for them, but also who has the time. This way, your employees can collaborate efficiently with enough resources to do what they need to do, and they're also able to handle any changes that come their way.
Achieving PMO peace
Practicing these ways to bring a sense of "Namaste" to your PMO is sure to help your team be even more productive, and set the stage for a mindful and collaborative work environment, enabling everyone to feel like they are doing meaningful work. (Did you know the happiest employees are those that rank "doing meaningful work" as the #1 factor to their happiness? Even over compensation? You can read more about what makes a happy employee in our report.)
So while you don't have to break out the yoga mat to practice mindfulness in your workplace, a collaborative workflow management tool (like Wrike!) can help you create the best environment for your employees.