One night, I was struggling to get to sleep. It was a weeknight, and too late for me to bother my friends—until I remembered that the time difference with Australia made it the perfect time to hassle my friends on the other side of the world. The unlucky candidate responded cheerfully to my desperate and delirious messages, and sent me a link to a mindfulness podcast. I was asleep in minutes. I woke up the next day fully believing that mindfulness could change my world.
Mindfulness is kind of like kale—it's so ubiquitous that it's hard to hear about it without extensive eye-rolling. But Design*Sponge's Grace Bonney is all about it as well. Grace records After the Jump! at the restaurant Roberta's in Brooklyn,which, interesting fact, is right near my house. Another interesting fact: Grace is coming at this from the perspective of someone who's health has taken a beating from work-related stress and anxiety. So basically, listen to her advice, which comes via poet Mark Nepo.
Grace thinks being present is an antidote to feeling overwhelmed at work, "a feeling that's sort of akin to your wheels just spinning." Her workload had increased and she'd gotten to a point of "replacing sleep, water, and healthy food, with coffee, sugar, and more coffee." This sounds very, very familiar to me—feeling overwhelmed has nothing to do with your workload, I know from experience, but everything to do with how you handle it. "That dissociation with myself and my own health directly correlated to my lack of focus on what was really in front to me and important at the time," says Grace.
She's worked out techniques to avoid this kind of distracted burnout. The key thing is to "keep the future out": plan your tasks ahead so you know nothing will fall through the gaps—and then forget about them. She also recommends getting back "to that feeling of being new in your company." Be curious about what everyone is doing, who they are, and think about who inspires you and why. It reminds you why you do what you do—and that you get paid for it.
When you get feelings of panic and anxiety, Grace says to listen to Mark's advice. It's actually "your body's way of telling you to slow down, to drop things, and focus on what's important—and to take care of yourself." It's not, as I have so often thought, a sign we need to speed up. Do one thing at a time: feeling good about finishing one thing gives you energy to tackle the next, and sparks creative and problem-solving instincts that can be suffocated by a long to-do list.
Make a schedule, and let your team know. It's key to manage expectations of colleagues, so they know if they're interrupting you—especially in open-plan offices. "I find that most people who work any sort of job are fine to adjust to a schedule, as long as they know what it is," Grace says. People expect a bit of negotiating on times. If you're in the middle of something, give them another time and tell them to come back.
Then, work out the ways you recharge. Grace recommends starting and ending the day with quiet time—easier said than done if you have a family/hyperactive social schedule—but an unbeatable way to recalibrate.
And lastly, keep your process going. Finish work when you say you will. If a task can't be finished in an hour of "homework", Grace says to reschedule. "Unless Oprah Winfrey herself is waiting on the other end of my deadline, I'm pretty sure it can wait."
Now, focus. It'll make things way more fun.