You are here:

Sustainable Leadership Series

Posted Apr 30, 2013 03:20 PM
Statewide Nonprofit Resource Directory consultant Amy Erickson wraps up her series on sustainable leadership with some tips on how to structure your day to incorporate time for mindfulness and increase your productivity and self-awareness.

Leading with Mindfulness Part III

Amy Erickson, coach, consultant, and Resource Directory member, concludes her series of guest blog posts on sustainable leadership.

In a recent New York Times article Relax! You’ll be more Productive, author Tony Schwartz, CEO of the nonprofit The Energy Project wrote that frequent breaks–every 90 minutes–will improve your productivity.

“During the day we move from a state of alertness progressively into physiological fatigue approximately every 90 minutes,” writes Schwartz. “Our bodies regularly tell us to take a break, but we often override these signals, stoke ourselves up with caffeine and sugar, and rev up our own emergency reserves: our stress hormones adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol.”

Schwartz points to studies of elite athletes and performers and how they avoid exhaustion but push hard toward excellence. He says it’s not how long you renew on your breaks, but how well.

Sometimes, the emotional exhaustion of our day is the most damaging to our productivity and leadership capacity, as Schwartz shares in his TED Talk: How We’re Working Isn’t Working

Renewing well – mindful leaders

Around the world, major corporations and business schools are adding mindfulness to their workshops and courses to help create mindful leaders: someone who is focused, clear, creative and compassionate, even in the midst of the complexities of today.  Phillipe Goldin explains how improved attention is the way to achieve these, and it can be developed with mindfulness -- paying attention is a particular way.

While the idea of mindfulness originates in the practice of meditation, it has “many applications for executives who aren't looking for a spiritual fix but simply want to clear their heads and become aware of reflexive, emotional reactions that can lead to bad decisions,” according to the Huffington Post.

Mindful people make much better leaders than frenetic, aggressive ones, said Bill George. “They understand their reactions to stress and crises, and understand their impact on others. They are far better at inspiring people to take on greater responsibilities and at aligning them around common missions and values.”

Time for nothing except this present moment

What should you do on your 90-minute break? Incorporate a few, simple, mindful practices in your work day. In an eight-hour day, you’ll have time for four-10 minute breaks (including mindful eating at lunch.)

If taking breaks every 90-minutes feels like wasting time, try to remember that you’re renewing yourself in preparation for the next energy expenditure in front of you.  But before that, learn about mindfulness from Andy Puddicombe. Sit back. Breathe deeply. Watch or listen (you don’t need to sit in the lotus position or a meditation cushion).

Mindfulness exercises that will strengthen your focus and attention, help you manage stress and regulate your emotions include:

#1 Mindfulness at work. This chart offers specific mindfulness techniques for the challenges that affect you at work. Jeremy Hunter, PhD, who created the chart and is featured in the Working With Mindfulness video offers simple tips on how to use mindfulness at work – how to “return to focusing on your breathing” and “paying attention in difficult moments” that can help you reframe what you view as a problem.

#2 Mindful walking meditation. Walking is something we “do on autopilot,” according to Bob Stahl and Elisha Goldstein in “A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook.” The object of this exercise is to bring your awareness to the experience of your feet as you are taking each step.

#3 Mindfulness apps are increasingly popular because they help guide you when you feel exhausted and don’t want to think about how to do something.

As you develop mindfulness practices that suit your circumstances, you will increase your emotional intelligence, especially self-awareness, self-regulation and empathy.  Mindfulness exercises are a way to “intentionally practice the habits and rituals that give life to your vital self, and keep you engaged with your enduring leadership vision.” Learn more about this in Leading with a Wise Mind.