Tips on how to practice mindfulness at work

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For too long, employees have seized on multi-tasking as a way to be more efficient and effective at work. Attempting to do several things at once “fractures your attention, stresses you out, or just burns your mental energy,” Lee says. “It also kills your creativity and leads you to make more mistakes.” Follow these tips on how to practice mindfulness at work!

The real way to enhance effectiveness, he advises, is being “mindful”: “If you try to do one thing at a time, you’re going to be way ahead of the game.” Lee should know: As Aetna’s chief mindfulness officer, it’s his job to promote mindfulness programs for Aetna employees and members. But what is mindfulness, exactly?

“Mindfulness is about paying attention to the present moment with an attitude of openness and curiosity,” Lee explains. “We go through the day with a lot of expectations, judgments, preferences and biases that we bring to situations before we’re even in them. Mindfulness is about noticing what’s actually going on before we start making up our minds.”

Lee, as you might expect, practices mindfulness. But you’ll find executives at other businesses who are dedicated to it, too. Here’s what Lee and three other company leaders — Hannah Grove, of financial services giant State Street Corporation; Jay Shapiro, of the do-it-yourself app firm AppMakr; and Katharine Zaleski, of PowerToFly, a recruiting platform that matches employers with highly skilled women — had to say about why mindfulness is important to them.

Andy Lee, chief mindfulness officer, Aetna

What first interested you in mindfulness?
About 20 years ago, an executive coach asked me if I ever thought of meditating. I think what he saw in me was someone who was kind of stressed out, going too fast, and impatient. I started to do it and I saw the benefits. It’s really been helpful for me throughout the ups and downs of my professional and private life. Now I feel like I know what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. The big things don’t stress me out as much as they used to.

How do you practice mindfulness apart from meditation?
In my work group, we usually start every meeting with a minute of mindfulness practice: sitting quietly and paying attention to the breath. We also promote this practice across the company — taking a mindful minute. It’s amazing how just 60 seconds of silence can calm and refresh the mind.

When I’m at my desk, I also make sure to get up at least every 90 minutes and walk around. Stretching and engaging your body can help switch the channel in your brain. And I pay attention to the stories I tell myself — I try not to get caught in mental loops, like going over a past situation again and again.

Basically, the more often I can check in with myself during the day about what I’m doing and why, the better my days go.

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