As an entrepreneur, you have a million things to think about. Customers, employees, bills, products and deliverables… your day is filled with things that take up space in your mind. But there is a reason why mindfulness for entrepreneurs — paying close attention to the many thoughts racing through your mind — might be a great business strategy.
Mindfulness is key for unlocking big potential in both you and your business.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is described in many ways. You’ve probably heard descriptions by yogis and gurus as well as health professionals and social media influencers. But what is it really?
Ryan M. Niemiec, Psy.D., education director at the VIA Institute on Character, describes mindfulness in three ways.
Not taking things for granted
Returning to the present moment
The self-regulation of attention with an attitude of curiosity, openness and acceptance
While Niemiec says the third description is closest to the true scientific definition of mindfulness, many people consider mindfulness to be a combination of these three ideas.
“Mindfulness for entrepreneurs, as with any type, involves the process of being in tune with your thoughts and body, regularly checking in, and making adjustments based on what you notice.”
It’s the opposite of mindlessly doing things without intention, strategy or consideration.
Mindfulness is often associated with meditation. But it’s important to note that mindfulness isn’t exclusive to meditation. While meditation can help you become more mindful, mindfulness isn’t something that happens only while meditating.
Mindfulness at work and elsewhere isn’t a temporary state.
Mindfulness is a habit that can be practiced all day.
It’s a way of living that allows people to check their thoughts and emotions and re-situate how they respond to them.
So, what does this have to do with entrepreneurship?
Why is mindfulness for entrepreneurs important?
Entrepreneurship is tough. Whether starting a business or running an existing enterprise, entrepreneurs are often faced with uncertainty, stress and loads of responsibility.
Keeping the lights on, employees paid, and investors happy requires a lot of mental and emotional energy.
Mindfulness at work is important because it helps entrepreneurs manage these challenges.
Mindfulness has many benefits that serve entrepreneurs.
It improves health
Entrepreneurs rarely can take sick days. They need to be on and at their best almost every day. Mindfulness for entrepreneurs helps maintain their health. It has been shown to:
Lower blood pressure
Lower heart rate
Reduce chronic pain
Boost immune system
It fights anxiety and depression
The difficulties of entrepreneurship can cause many founders and CEOs to struggle with mental health issues.
A study by Dr. Micheal Freeman, a clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco, found that one in three entrepreneurs experience depression.
Mindfulness for entrepreneurs helps treat and reduce anxiety, stress and depression.
It improves cognitive abilities
Entrepreneurs are constantly problem-solving and using analytical thinking to improve and innovate.
They need to have their full brain capacity to think long and hard about difficult problems.
Mindfulness gives entrepreneurs the mental clarity and increased brain capacity they need to perform these complex tasks.
As one study found, “Even a brief, 10-minute daily practice can result in more efficient cognition.”
It battles burnout
Working long hours on draining projects can take its toll on entrepreneurs. Mindfulness at work helps them fight the mental exhaustion that comes with that tough work. It has been shown to lower the incident of burnout and turnover at work.
Entrepreneurship is tough work.
Mindfulness for entrepreneurs helps make that tough work manageable. It makes entrepreneurs more productive, more effective, healthier and even happier.
All of these things can create a big boost in you and your business.
So, how can you embrace mindfulness for entrepreneurs?
How to embrace mindfulness at work
Being mindful at work means taking the core elements of mindfulness and infusing it into your daily work habits. It means putting intention into your scheduling, tasks and processes.
Here are a few ways you can use mindfulness at work.
Schedule your day mindfully
Being mindful means being intentional about your thoughts and your actions. To practice mindfulness for entrepreneurs, carefully think about how you spend your time and schedule your day.
Embrace routine. It’s easier to relax and remain in touch with your thoughts when you know what is coming ahead of you. So infusing your day-to-day with even a tiny bit of structure can help you be more mindful.
You don’t have to become a full creature of habit, but building a loose, adaptable schedule with regular tasks and activities will make it easier to keep you focused.
Plan your day. To create routine and structure in your days, start by identifying everything you want your typical day to include. Take out a piece of paper, write down your core daily elements, and schedule them in.
Your list might include both work and personal items such as:
Working (on what projects and/or type of work )
Preparing and eating meals
Reading or doing other hobbies
Caring for your kids
Spending time with your partner
Avoid meetings early in the day. As you plan out your day, try to avoid scheduling meetings first thing or early in the morning. People tend to be more productive and primed to do more thoughtful work in the mornings.
Meetings can derail that and pull your energy out early in the day.
And keep in mind that mindfulness and productivity work differently for everyone. If you’re restless and energized in the morning, schedule meetings then. Knowing and doing what’s best for you is what being mindful is all about.
Start your workday by doing the most difficult task first. Because most people are more productive, attentive and thoughtful in the morning, use that time to dive into your most difficult work of the day.
Not only will you have the mental energy to drive you forward, but you will also knock out the toughest thing on your to-do list. Nothing else you need to do will feel quite as stressful, which allows you to have a more relaxing rest of the day.
Take (and schedule) short breaks throughout the day. As you create your daily schedule, don’t fill it with non-stop activity. Leave gaps in your schedule for breaks. In fact, schedule them in.
Plan time to leave your desk or office and use that break to get away from your work, go for a walk, or practice mindfulness exercises.
Know when it’s time to stop. The opposite of working mindfully is continuing to work to just pass time or fill a slot in your calendar. Stay in touch with your energy levels and productivity.
If you feel yourself starting to slip and just wasting time, stop working.
Even if it throws off your calendar, take a break to re-energize so you can return and do more efficient and effective work. And when it’s the end of the day: stop.
Work more mindfully
Mindfully planning your day makes it easier to stay focused and intentional during the day. There are also mindfulness strategies you can use while working on individual tasks and projects.
The following strategies make you more productive, help you avoid distractions, and stop you from mindlessly (and poorly) executing.
Use a simple checklist. Using checklists to carry out complex tasks with many elements or steps to ensure consistency and efficiency. This strategy was outlined to near-perfection in Atul Gawande’s book “The Checklist Manifesto.“ In it, he argues that by rigidly following a simple checklist, your processes are less error-prone, meaning you can reap the benefits of a significant reduction in “human error” mistakes. Implementing this method is simple.
The next time you carry out a task — any task — document the exact steps, including login details, email addresses and anything else that’s pertinent. Then simply follow the checklist to the letter, and add in any elements you missed.
Over time, you’ll improve your ability to create comprehensive checklists and build up a handy set of resources for recurring tasks.
Bolster your sense of achievement with an “anti to-do” list. Of course, how to use a basic to-do list is common knowledge when it comes to productivity methods. However, this strategy is inherently negative. At the end of the day, all your list shows is what you failed to achieve.
Anti to-do lists are a smart solution to that problem. They begin empty, and by the end of the day, are filled with the tasks you’ve completed.
This self-motivational tool can work wonders for your productivity and sense of self-achievement.
To implement this technique, take items from your regular to-do list and complete them, but note what they are. Look at the list the next morning, and then rinse and repeat.
From here, you can take things further, such as using a dedicated Trello board to keep track of your daily lists. Eventually, you might not even need your original to-do list.
Iterate your tasks using the Autofocus method. The next mindful work method takes a holistic approach to your to-do list and works with (rather than against) you.
Using Autofocus keeps boredom at bay by giving you different tasks to complete, chips away at your current list of tasks, and keeps organization requirements to a minimum. It’s this last point that makes Autofocus so intriguing.
As it’s foundation, the method works by making use of three lists:
You’ll go down your current to-do list, completing any task you can, and repeating it until you get to the end. If you don’t finish an item that day, place it on the unfinished list. Once you have no new tasks, you begin working on your other lists.
This is a smart way to cycle through and tick off everything you have to complete — moving you closer to mindfulness.
Break apart mammoth tasks with the Flowtime Technique. The last of our mindfulness at work methods owes a lot to the Pomodoro Technique, which breaks tasks down into strict, timed divisions, punctuated by regular breaks.
The hope of the Pomodoro Technique is that you won’t get bored or burnt out on one particular, “must-complete” task.
However, its almost robotic workflow doesn’t take complexity into account.
The Flowtime Technique relaxes time constraints and lets you decide how long a task will take.
Essentially, you pick a task, record your start time, and then note whenever you take a break. You should keep these breaks clearly scheduled, but work based on your own stamina and the demands of the task in question.
You might even discover more about your working patterns in the process, enabling you to become more efficient in the future.
Check-in throughout the day
Mindfulness for entrepreneurs isn’t something that you can just plan for and hope it happens on its own. It takes intentional effort to remember to check-in and return back to reviewing your thoughts.
Here are a few practices that can bring you back to more mindful moments during the workday.
Make time for mindfulness exercises.Throughout the day, perform mindfulness exercises. These practices don’t have to take much time. Spending even just a few minutes every hour can make a big difference.
Perform a body scan. Start at the top of your head and think about everything you feel moving all the way down to the tip of your toes.
Release tension. Stop and feel where you might be unintentionally holding tension in your body. Release tightness in your jaw, shoulders or hands.
Stretch. Stand up and put your arms over your head and release the stress that might be building in your body.
Review all of your senses. What do you smell, see and hear? What can you touch and taste?
Breathe. Take a few deep inhalations. Hold your breath at the top of an inhale and after you exhale all of the air.
Observe your emotions and act accordingly. It’s very difficult to be mindful and thoughtful when your emotions are running wild.
So practice paying attention to when you feel stressed, frustrated, tired, agitated or hungry. Identify where you feel the emotion in your body, and question what event caused you to feel that way and why.
When you feel yourself slipping into any of these negative emotions, perform a mindfulness exercise and recalibrate your emotional state before making any big decisions, having difficult conversations, or engaging in challenging tasks.
Be grateful. One of the best ways to reset your mindset is by spending a few moments in gratitude.
Acknowledge where you are in your entrepreneurial journey, be grateful for what you have already accomplished, and show appreciation for your coworkers, employees and partners.
Gratitude helps foster a positive mindset and also comes with its own set of health benefit. It improves psychological health, increases mental strength, reduces aggression, and enhances empathy.
Avoid habits that reduce mindfulness
Even if you commit to mindfulness at work with the best of intentions, if you’re tired, hungry or scattered, it’s nearly impossible to make it work.
Taking care of yourself physically and mentally and creating a workspace that’s conducive to workday productivity can make it easier to return to more mindful work.
Here are five bad habits that can make it more difficult for you to be mindful at work.
Not getting enough sleep
According to a study from the RAND Corporation, insufficient sleep is costing the United States $411 billion dollars a year in lost workday productivity.
When you’re running on fumes you’re less focused and more likely to make errors that you’ll have to go back and correct later on.
You should be aiming for at least seven hours of sleep per night to be your best, most-effective self at work.
The ability to multitask is something a lot of entrepreneurs and professionals wear as a badge of honor. But as Travis Bradberry notes in Forbes, numerous studies have shown that multitasking actually reduces workday productivity.
Ironically, the participants in the study who declared themselves effective multitaskers were actually the ones most likely to be slowest at switching from one task to another.
A paper in the British Journal of Health Psychology who ate the most fruits and veggies throughout the day reported higher levels of creativity, engagement and focus.
Make it easy to find healthy food at work. Meal prep on Sunday night so you can bring lunch for the week and have granola bars and apples on hand rather than relying on the vending machine.
A messy workspace
There’s a line of thinking that creativity comes from chaos. You might think your messy desk is a sign of genius, but in reality, the clutter is slowing you down.
In a study reported in Harvard Business Review, people seated at messy desks took longer to answer word and color matching questions than those at a tidy workspace.
When you’re surrounded by a mess, your sense of personal control is lessened, which makes it more difficult to self-regulate and complete your tasks.
Lack of preparation
Maintaining workday productivity means making sure that you have the tools to accomplish your task.
Put together a list of all the things you’ll need to complete your project ahead of time.
Be sure that you have all of your ducks in a row in advance so that you’re not discouraged and defeated before you even begin your work.
Use mindfulness to improve your business. Entrepreneurship is hard. You need every tool available to you to make it easier. So remember, business tools aren’t always directly tied to running everyday operations — sometimes they are tools tied to helping you run your mind.
Use these mindfulness tips to put you in a mindset that will help you work more effectively and efficiently and lead to higher productivity, better results, and more satisfaction with your workdays.