11 October 2019 - 9 min read
By Erika Hoopes
The other day, a friend of mine said she was having the Sunday Scaries.
“Tomorrow is Monday. Back to work for a whole week...”
How is it that so many of us spend our weeks waiting for Friday, and our Sundays dreading tomorrow?
Most of us are at work for (at best) one-third of our waking hours. And when we’re not physically at work, we might be there mentally. When we wake up in the morning, is our mind already in the office? When we walk out the door after a long day, can we leave work behind and enjoy our evening?
When work is busy and stressful, it can start to consume us. The impact can sneak up over time, so that it’s hard to pinpoint how it happened, leaving us at a loss for how to find balance. At times when work is boring or uninspiring, it’s easy to slip into autopilot mode and spend that one-third of our lives going through the motions, checking off boxes until we go home. Either way, we seem to end up living for weekends and holidays.
Those lucky few might have landed that dream job where they actually look forward to going to work, truly love their job, and wouldn’t prefer to spend their time in another way. But not all of us make a living doing what we love.
Maybe we can’t always love the work we do, but what if we could learn to love the time we spend at work? What if by changing our mindset and our habits, we could bring joy into our jobs?
How? Try integrating these eight practices into your workday.
1. Mindful Mornings
Research says that we release the highest levels of cortisol―our body’s stress hormone―within the first two minutes of our day. So upon opening our eyes, we are already in fight-or-flight mode just anticipating the day ahead.
Luckily, we can use our breath to reverse this process and start the day at ease. Deep breathing with long exhalations activates the parasympathetic nervous system, bringing us back to rest-and-digest mode. Invite some peace into your morning by waking up just five minutes earlier to pause, breathe, and stretch your body. Continue your morning routine and commute with the same level of awareness, paying attention to physical sensations as you brush your teeth, tie your shoes, and step out the door free of stress hormones and ready for the day.
2. Arrival Meditation
A study from Harvard shows that 47% of the time we are “mind wandering.” The study also discovered that we are much happier when we focus on the present moment, whether our present experience is pleasant, neutral, or even unpleasant. So even if we don’t love what we are doing in the moment, turns out we’re better off being present with that experience rather than daydreaming about something else!
Try doing a brief arrival meditation to help you start your workday with presence. When you arrive at your desk, take a few breaths to settle in. Look around, take in your surroundings, and see the people who share this space with you. Take a moment to notice your thoughts and feel your body. You can consider doing these one minute practices every hour where you just pause, breathe, and remind yourself to be present
3. Perform Each Task with your Full Attention
Multi-tasking is a myth. According to neuroscience, it’s impossible for our brain to focus on two things at once. So when we think we are focusing on various tasks, we are really just switching back and forth, and doing a lot of “mind wandering” in the process.
The most efficient way to tackle that to-do list is by focusing on one item at a time. When we “multi-task,” we lose up to 40 percent productivity, and we’re prone to making far more errors. If you commit to giving all of your attention to one task at a time, you can do a better, more reliable job. And by being present in this way as you work, you can also be happier. Win-win.
4. Be an Observer
How many times do you get up to refill your coffee or water glass? You can use moments like this to practice being aware! Pay attention to your feet on the floor as you walk. Listen to the sounds of the coffee machine or the water tap, and the office chatter around you. Notice any smells as you breathe. Observe the space around you with a sense of curiosity about the culture and atmosphere in which you work. Just brief moments where you pause and observe can help you shift back into work mode feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.
5. Connect with Colleagues
Remember that your colleagues, however composed and level-headed or stressed and under pressure they appear, are human beings in need of connection and support. You can transform your life at work by transforming the way you interact with colleagues. Not all of them will be your best friend outside the office, but they are the most important people in your life at work, so treat them accordingly. If you find them disagreeable, practice loving-kindness meditation by sending them the mental wish “may you be happy.” It can make all the difference for your ability to keep a happy work environment even in difficult situations.
6. Mindful Meetings
When you first sit down at the conference table, take a deep breath. Look around the room and, if possible, make eye contact with everyone. Check in with yourself and notice how you feel. Become aware of your intention for the meeting. Practice truly listening to what others have to say before jumping in and trying to be heard. Your attentive and genuine presence can impact the energy in the room and help the meeting run smoothly and efficiently.
7. Take a Real Lunch Break
Do you make it a habit to shovel down a sandwich at your desk while responding to all those unread emails, thinking you’re buying some extra time?
Taking breaks to clear your mind and move your body are essential to your ability to focus, relieve stress, and prevent fatigue at work. So regardless of the amount of work you have to finish, commit to taking a true lunch break, quality being more important than quantity. If possible, leave the office for some fresh air, or find a space inside where you can mentally disconnect. Leave your phone behind so you can actually unplug. If you have lunch with colleagues, find a way to connect in conversation about something other than work. Consider a short walk, a physical workout, or some stretching and meditation. A midday reset will help you have a much more productive and enjoyable afternoon.
8. Leave your Work in the Office
When work is such a big part of our lives, it can become a large part of our mental attention as well. So it often happens that when we leave work, we bring it with us in our minds. Unfinished assignments can cloud our evening with stressful thoughts, and long, busy work days can leave us uninspired to make the most of our evenings. Here’s where an afterwork meditation can be valuable. Starting with your commute home you can already check in with yourself, notice your breath and your body, and observe what’s around you. Bring yourself into the present and make the most of the rest of your evening, inviting joy into each moment just by being aware.
Try these practices for a week―at least one per day―and maybe you won’t have to face those Sunday Scaries next time around. After all, life is short, and in the end we’re each responsible for our own ability to enjoy work!
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