As I’m writing this, I notice I’m struggling to stop thinking about the tabs open on my computer, the Tetris-shaped meeting schedule for the following days, and the post-it on the wall reminding me about the financial report that needs my approval, all at the same time that  my phone keeps on beeping with different notifications. This situation probably sounds familiar to you especially, if you grew up, like me, believing the myth of multitasking as the Mecca of productivity.

However, scientific research shows that doing more than one task at the same time might accelerate the burnout process, due to the fact that our brain isn’t wired to work that way,  and has to put in extra effort, particularly with complex tasks. According to the research The Illusion of Multitasking and Its Positive Effect on Performance made by Gal Zuberman, a professor of Marketing at Yale, multitasking has shown damaging effects on the quality and speed of our outcomes because “we are switching our attention back and forth between different tasks”.[1]

After a peculiar year where the home office became the everyday reality for 22% of businesses in Latin America, and the balance between work and leisure got compromised, it is important to consider that experts such as  Margaret M. Luciano and Joan F. Brett, academics from the University of Arizona,  are warning us to recognize burnout on an early stage, and work on our capacity to retrain a multitasking mindset by being more mindful[2]. 

What Exactly Is Mindfulness and Why could it Become Your Secret Weapon for Improving Your Leadership Skills?  

According to  Greater Good Magazine, a publication from the University of Berkley, mindfulness means “maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens”. The hardest part could be that it involves acceptance, and paying attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them.

For the last decade there has been a transformation on how we approach leadership roles, and soft skills have reclaimed a relevant spot in the efficiency of the management team. When we think about creative industries, soft skills become facilitators for innovation, new ideas, and new solutions since they flourish in an environment where the team feels confident to be vulnerable, and try new things.  

Harvard research from 2016 shows that when leaders engage in mindfulness practice the “psychological capital” of an organization rises, which translates into hope; as a positive motivational state based on a goal-directed energy, optimism, and self-efficacy.  

It’s important to notice that mindfulness is not something you acquire by downloading a meditation app or completing a flash course, it’s a process that requires discipline and daily work.   

Where to Start?

There are a lot of practices to build up your mindfulness capabilities, as a leader you might want to excel on all of them from day 1, but you must start small and grow organically until you incorporate these habits to your mindset instead of worrying about mastering the method:

  1. Focus on your breathing: This might be  pretty obvious, however, when we are stressed our body gets into survival mode and we start breathing fast. Deep breathing is an easy tool to help your mind become more present. It encourages full oxygen exchange, helps lower or stabilize blood pressure, and slows down your heartbeat. Breath focus is the easiest practice you can incorporate into your everyday routine, either by dedicating 5-10 minutes daily, or by using it as an “emergency” resource when you recognize a stressful response.
  1. The 80/20 rule has to  become the key element of your planning:  Only 20% of what you do produces 80% of your results, identify what these tasks are in your field, and place them as your top priority for the day. Delegate other tasks where your results are not as meaningful and start your day by working on a list of the important things you will be engaging in.
  1. Schedule downtime to recharge energy: One of the complaints I’ve been constantly reading about in this “new normal” is the lack of boundaries between productive hours and “free” hours. Our brain needs rest to be productive, and our team needs our leading example to generate a healthy working environment. At first, you might need to create a calendar alert to set that free time, that’s ok, mindfulness is a journey, not a destination.

There is no shortcut to develop mindfulness skills, it depends on the time each leader dedicates to rewire their habits, thoughts, and schedule. Even though progress is not linear, the effects on both your personal and professional life will be worth the time.  

[1]   Srna, S., Schrift, R. Y., & Zauberman, G. (2018). The Illusion of Multitasking and Its Positive Effect on Performance. Psychological Science, 29(12), 1942–1955.