3 Mindful ways to improve productivity and reduce anxiety at work

Aixa Lopez with her daughter Andrea

Aixa Lopez with her daughter Andrea

The word mindfulness reflects the state of mind of being conscious or aware of something. In the past years, we have heard how this word has been used to describe the importance of being in the present moment and not worrying about the past or the future.

In the late 90s, I started reading about mindfulness looking for tools to manage my stress and anxiety. I was working in the manufacturing industry and in charge of a production area. Not only this area worked 24/7, but we were measured by production output, cycle time, shipments, material shortages, and quality complaints. Our year-end bonus was tied to these metrics. I felt responsible for the performance of each one of my employees, for the performance of the engineers supporting my area and releasing new products, for validation processes and for ongoing investigations to release units on-hold. I felt responsible for the equipment that broke down and how fast it was put back into service.

When you work in this industry, you learn how to multi-task and how to deal with stress in a very peculiar fashion. For instance, I remember changing my shoes at the beginning of the shift and wearing nursing shoes to walk faster around the manufacturing facility.

I learned how to focus on the end-result. That helped me later in life when I had to manage 200 construction employees and a very demanding city Mayor. I easily communicated with the Mayor to send asphalt crews to fix potholes at 6:30 am while preparing my daughter and dropping her off at pre-school. Yes, I was very “productive”; however, I paid a high price for it.

At age 32, while I was running from one meeting to another and being late for the second meeting, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I thought it was the result of my hurry. I started feeling chest pains and all of the sudden I felt dizzy. I was taken to the hospital. My blood pressure was almost 200/100. After several days of physical exams, I ended up getting a catheterization. My doctor instructed me to slow down and live a mindful life. I had read about it but never paid too much attention. At the end of the day, my life had always been measured by accomplishing tasks, and that’s what I knew better.

After that incident, I decided to start being more mindful, sometimes succeeding and sometimes failing miserably. You know, women, we put tremendous pressure on fulfilling all of our roles “perfectly”. I started reading more and more about awareness, being present, working smartly, but for some reason the implementation was not as easy as it seemed on the books.

mindfulness garden seeds

Several years later, I was falling again into the old pattern. I decided to put a stop to it and make a change in my life. The decision I made has paid off tremendously and has allowed me to identify three mindful ways to work and improve my productivity without losing myself in the process. Honestly, it’s a daily effort. There are days in which I still feel overwhelmed, a sign that I have to stop and take some time off for myself to recalibrate. Here are the three mindfulness principles I practice:

  1. Identify what is important to you.  I was asked once who was the most important person in my life. Guess what I said? My daughter! Wrong answer. It should have been “ME”. Without a sane mom, there is no happy daughter. Now, I make sure I have a physical exam every year, I take time to meditate, exercise, eat healthy, read every night, go on road trips, volunteer at church, and do other activities that make me happy. All this keeps me sane and nurtures my body and my spirit. It makes me a better wife, daughter, mom and professional.
  2. Instead of trying to control the future, think about the worst thing that could happen, embrace it as a possibility and let it go.  This is a challenge for me. I always try to plan things ahead of time. Trying to control now what could happen in the future is a lost cause. It’s futile, and it creates a lot of anxiety. One of my supervisors said to me once that I had the “worry gene“, and added that most of the things we worry about never happen. If one or two of those things do happen, then we shouldn’t feel like it is only OUR responsibility to fix it.  Worrying is the most difficult thing for me to work on. I am an engineer, so my brain is set to fix things. Whenever I can’t fix something, I feel defeated. The book Dale Carnegie’s Stop Worrying and Start Living  has helped at improving this issue. What’s the worst that could happen if something doesn’t go the way I want it to? What would I do if that happened? Only then I get mentally prepared for that outcome. Believe it or not, that takes a lot of stress out from my mind, and it allows me to shift my focus into the present. When you switch your focus to the present moment, ideas start flowing easily, and you start getting the results you wanted. I can guarantee you that most of the times, the “worst” never happens, and if it does, then you already know what to do.
  3. Celebrate every accomplishment.  It is easy for me to celebrate everything. That’s part of my Hispanic culture. However, celebrating does not come easily to everyone. In the past, I would share with someone some good news; perhaps a nice small accomplishment, and I would get an “Oh, okay,” plunging me into such a bad mood.  Getting upset about it was a huge mistake on my part. We let our surroundings dictate so much of how we feel. In the past, one negative word could make my day miserable. Now, I force myself not to fall into that trap. I celebrate everything. I pat myself on the back. I value my efforts. If I receive a negative feedback, I meditate on the merits of it.  If it has merits, I put it in my toolbox for the next task, if it has no merits, I just let it go. Celebrating small accomplishments will motivate you and will allow you to produce more and better results.

Celebrate your accomplishments

As we become more mindful, we declutter our brains and souls from the burden and anxiety that everyday life brings. That allows us to connect with ourselves and with others. When you connect, you listen, you become aware of the alternatives you may have and how to make things work in a leaner and productive way.

When you are mindful, things flow and results are accomplished.  Have you wonder why sometimes you have outdoor plans and all of the sudden it starts raining and you don’t know what to do. Then, you suddenly decide to try something else and the day turns out better than you ever imagined. Why? Because you just surrendered and allowed new ideas to flow. That’s the concept behind all this.

I urge you to try any of these mindful ways. You’ll see the difference. Go for it!