Midlevel managers are among the busiest people in the business world. Not only are they managing teams and overseeing projects, but they’re also answering to the bosses above them.
The more successful they are, the more responsibilities they have — and the more demands are placed on their time. When you’re juggling so many tasks and expectations, you become reactive and productivity drops. You’re so busy putting out fires that nothing meaningful gets done.
One reason for this state of chaos is that midlevel managers suffer from an overwhelming quantity of thoughts about all their looming priorities. The mental cacophony makes it impossible for them to be fully present, which makes them ill-equipped to process important information and make smart decisions. But there is a way to reduce the noise and become a better leader, and that is through mindfulness.
The mindfulness solution
Mindfulness helps leaders devise innovative ideas, improve employee interactions and facilitate better team communication. Fortunately, becoming mindful doesn’t require you to go on a meditation retreat or take a vow of silence. You can begin cultivating mindfulness today by pausing to observe the chatter in your mind and re-grounding yourself in the present moment.
I find that defining my core objectives helps with this. If I know why I’m pursuing particular outcomes, it becomes easier to stay present when I’m discussing those aims or the relevant strategies. It’s also easier to tune out what’s unimportant. I simply remind myself of my purpose and bring my attention there.
Here’s how you can develop mindfulness and bring focus and clarity to your day:
1. Begin from a place of stillness
I start every workday with a few moments of mindfulness. Whether I’m on a flight or in my car, I breathe mindfully and note the quality of my thoughts. By the time I get to my desk, I’m centered and ready for whatever comes up.
Try incorporating this habit into your own day. Start by sitting quietly for two minutes. Don’t check your phone or look at your computer. Just find a quiet place where you can focus on your breathing and connect with your body. Over time, you’ll become more adept at coming back to that quiet mental place even when you’re dealing with crises.
2. Set your intentions
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos starts every meeting with a period of silence, during which everyone present reads printed copies of the meeting agenda. I have a meeting ritual, as well, that’s designed to serve the same purpose. At the outset, I ask everyone to articulate their intentions for being in the room and the objectives they hope to achieve. Both tactics help everyone stay present and focused on the tasks at hand. In my experience, this has led to significant increases in meeting productivity.
3. Focus on the impact
Worry is the antithesis to mindfulness. When you fixate on potential outcomes, you waste valuable time and mental energy. The only thing you can control is your effort, so making careful, deliberate decisions and working diligently is the only thing worth spending time on. Be mindful of where your thoughts go. If they spin off and create disaster scenarios, gently bring them back to the next task at hand.
4. Take time to reflect
Part of being mindful is noticing what happens throughout the day rather than letting the weeks and months bleed together. Before heading home or going to sleep each night, consider the challenges that went unsolved.
Ask yourself, “What am I not hearing?” or “What am I not paying attention to?” Reflecting on these questions quietly and mindfully will help you become a more well-rounded leader because you’ll be able to identify and break unproductive cycles.
Listening to your thoughts can be an illuminating practice. You’d be surprised to hear the way you talk to yourself, and you may find that harsh self-criticism is bleeding over into how you treat your employees. When you learn to observe your thoughts, you hone your ability to address problems and opportunities, connect with your team members more meaningfully, and become a thoughtful and effective leader.
Sona Jepsen is responsible for the in-house to outsource sales program at Fidelity National Information Services. Her team empowers FIS clients with the knowledge, expertise and results of moving their technology needs to FIS so her clients can enjoy higher security and greater business efficiency.