4 Ways Mindfulness Improves Your Productivity

04/20/2016 06:33 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

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When you hear the word "mindfulness," the word "productivity" isn't likely the first association that comes up for you is it?

The most common conceptions of mindfulness include ideas like "slowing down," or "being in the moment," and some people think that mindfulness practice means sitting still and doing nothing but watching the breath go in and out.

But being mindful simply means shifting from being caught up in our thinking to be aware of our thinking. While there is great value to taking a few moments to be still each day, we can make the shift to mindfulness during any moment of the day. We can, and should, practice mindfulness throughout our daily activities.

Ironically, making the effort to let go of our identification with thinking during daily activities, and taking 10 minutes or so each day to practice while sitting still, can actually improve our productivity significantly.

For instance, the insurance giant Aetna measured the results of offering mindfulness-based training to team members and found that team members who participated in the training added roughly 60 minutes of productivity per week, which they calculated was worth about $3,000 per year per team member.

Following are four ways that mindfulness helps us to boost productivity.

Producing Better Work

Perhaps the most obvious way mindfulness improves our productivity is by helping us produce better work. The foundation of mindfulness training is attention training. We make the effort over and over again to let go of our attachment to thinking and keep our awareness open to what we're doing now.

There is a large body of research showing that mindfulness training improves our ability to orient attention and be less distracted, including this study that showed measurable improvements in attention control after only 5 days of mindfulness training.

The ability to orient our attention and avoid being distracted allows us to finish a task more quickly and more accurately.

Keeping Us In The Game

Clearly, we'll be more productive if we're not sick or burned out.

Research conducted by University of Wisconsin neuroscientist Richard Davidson showed that mindfulness training can improve immune system function in as little as 8 weeks of training.

The practice is also highly effective at increasing our resilience to stressful situations - as evidenced by this study showing increased stress resilience for US Marines trained in mindfulness - which helps us to avoid getting burned out.

Making Better Decisions

An essential element of our productivity is our ability to make good decisions that are not overly biased by our conditioning or emotional state. We could be very talented and smart, but a few poor decisions could severely undermine any good work we have done.

Mindfulness training helps us to be free from the conditioning and biases that result in poor decisions, as evidenced by this study showing improved performance in a decision-making test in the field of behavioral economics.

Actually Moving the Needle

There are many people who get a lot of things done each and every day. They're always busy and they appear to be very productive. However, getting a lot of stuff done doesn't mean we're productive if the stuff we're doing doesn't matter.

Mindfulness training helps us get clarity on what really matters. The more clear we are on what will really move the needle, the more likely we are to actually do so. Mindfulness also helps us to avoid the temptation to get pulled into tasks that seem urgent, but aren't important, and avoid other distractions from working on what really matters.

Spending a couple focused hours each day working on the most important tasks we can identify results in significantly greater productivity than spending all day in "react mode."

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