Without hard-working colleagues clicking away on their keyboards next to you or your boss dropping by your desk, you might be struggling to stay productive with your new (or not-so-new) WFH life. And with domestic projects like organizing that messy part of your room or cleaning out the expired condiments in the fridge clamoring for your attention, staying on task and focused can feel like an uphill battle some days. But research suggests starting a mindfulness practice could help.
What Is Mindfulness
If meditation is the workout, mindfulness is the result. Practicing meditation can help you live a more mindful life. Jon Kabat-Zinn, professor and founder of the well-known Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, defines mindfulness as:
“The awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally (2).”
For example, if you’re meditating with your attention on your breath and your mind begins to wander off, mindfulness is the skill that helps you notice your mind got distracted and helps you bring your attention back to your breath. Though it can be challenging to practice, the concept itself is quite simple. And it’s due to this simplicity, as well as its secular nature and proven efficacy, that so many have adopted it. Today, you’ll find mindfulness in venues ranging from HR departments and college wellness centers to grade school classrooms and athletic practice fields. The U.S. Army even adopted mindfulness recently to “improve military resilience (2).”
All day long, in all aspects of our lives, we have the opportunity to practice mindfulness. We can practice staying in the present moment when we’re chatting with a friend, cooking a meal with our partner, participating in an online class, or working on a presentation for work. Mindfulness teaches us to become aware, make conscious choices about where our thoughts and attention go, and then bring ourselves back to the moment.
Not only does mindfulness have the potential to help us connect better and learn more, studies show that when we’re not mindful and out of the present moment, but our happiness also suffers. One study found that 47% of the time our minds are wandering. And when they’re wandering—thinking about something other than what we’re doing at the moment—we tend to be unhappy (8).
So how can mindfulness help us stay in the present moment, keep us away from the busy trap, and be more productive at home?
How Mindfulness Can Help Boost Your WFH Productivity
There is no shortage of research around mindfulness and its applications, especially when it comes to work and productivity. With pings, dings, and rings increasingly hijacking our daytime attention, there have been an abundance of studies over the last decade focusing on how the practice can help our work lives. Here are five science-backed ways the practice can help you stay productive and do your best work from home.
Regardless of the type of work you do, you likely need some degree of focus to do it well. One study found that after two weeks of mindfulness training, participants saw a boost in their working memory and fewer distracting thoughts. The study suggests that cultivating a mindfulness practice is an effective way to boost your brainpower and ability to focus (3).
2) Stress and Anxiety Relief
You know how hard it is to be productive when you’re feeling stressed, anxious, or worried about something. And for some of us, these feelings can seem all-consuming, even debilitating. Because mindfulness aims to bring you into the present moment and away from your worries about the past or anxieties about the future, it can help reduce these feelings. One study suggests that mindfulness can be an effective therapy for treating a variety of mental health concerns (4).
How many times have you made a decision to do something because you had already invested time or energy into it? For example, let’s say you paid $250 to take an online 6-week class. You started into the class but realized it wasn’t what you expected and you weren’t interested. But since you already paid the $250, you told yourself to stick it out, lest you waste the money you spent.
This scenario represents the sunk cost bias and it can affect our ability to make good decisions. One study suggests that mindfulness can reduce the influence of the sunk cost bias on our decisions (5). This can help us make better choices in the moment based on the facts at hand.
4) Creative Thinking
Divergent thinking means thinking outside the box. It can include everything from coming up with new ideas to making unexpected connections to seeing things from different perspectives. Studies suggest that mindfulness can improve divergent thinking (6). So whether you’re trying to reimagine your WFH setup, think of creative ways to take work breaks, or have a more productive brainstorm session, mindfulness can help.
Studies suggest that a regular mindfulness practice can help you snooze better. How? When your head isn’t spinning with thoughts and worries from the day, it can be easier to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. Studies also suggest that practicing mindfulness can help remedy sleep problems (7). A good night’s sleep can help improve brain function as well as everything from your mood to your immune health.
Whether you’re accustomed to a WFH life or not, adding mindfulness to your routine could make your days more productive. By helping you hone your attention and awareness, the practice could help support a better work-life balance at a time when boundaries between two might feel blurred.
- Booth, Robert. 2017, October 22. Master of mindfulness, Jon Kabat-Zinn: ‘People are losing their minds. That is what we need to wake up to. The Guardian. https://bit.ly/39IYJay
- Mineo, Liz. 2018, April 17. With mindfulness, life’s in the moment. Harvard Gazette. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2018/04/less-stress-clearer-thoughts-with-mindfulness-meditation/
- Mrazek, Michael D; Franklin, Michael S; Phillips, Dawa Tarchin; Baird, Benjamin; and Schooler, Jonathan W. 2013, March 28. Mindfulness Training Improves Working Memory Capacity and GRE Performance While Reducing Mind Wandering. Sage Journals. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0956797612459659
- Khourya, Bassam; Lecomte, Tania; Fortin, Guillaume; Masse, Marjolaine; Therien, Phillip; Bouchard, Vanessa; Chapleau, Marie-Andree; Paquin, Karine; and Hofmann, Stefan G. 2013, August. Mindfulness-based therapy: A comprehensive meta-analysis.
- Hafenbrack, Andrew C; Kinias, Zoe; and Barsade, Sigal G. 2014, February. Debiasing the mind through meditation: mindfulness and the sunk-cost bias. National Institute of Health. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24317419/
- Lebuda, Izabela; Zabelina, Darya L; and Karwowski, Maciej. 2016, April. Mind full of ideas: A meta-analysis of the mindfulness-creativity link. Science Direct. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0191886915006133
- Black, David S, PhD, MPH; O’Reilly, Gilian A; Olmstead, Richard, Phd; Breen, Elizabeth C, PhD; and Irwin, Michael R, PhD. 2015, April. Mindfulness Meditation and Improvement in Sleep Quality and Daytime Impairment Among Older Adults With Sleep Disturbances. JAMA. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2110998
- Killingsworth, Matt. 2013, July 16. Does Mind-Wandering Make You Unhappy? Greater Good Science Center. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/does_mind_wandering_make_you_unhappy