5 Tips to Cultivate an Intentional Mindset
Our collective emphasis on productivity and efficiency in the workplace has a dark side. It shows up in part as “time pressure,” or the sense of feeling ever more rushed to complete tasks. When we experience time pressure as stressful, over an extended period of time, it can actually become harmful to our physical and psychological health. Moreover, our ability to focus and do our best work diminishes significantly when our minds are constantly operating at full speed.
What can we do to combat this sense of time pressure? It can help to take a step back and remember that how we spend our time is a choice. Of course, we all have projects to complete, deadlines to meet, work relationships to sustain. But when we make intentional choices about how to spend our time, we can improve our productivity, health and happiness. We are more productive and less vulnerable to burnout when we recognize our need to “press pause” and make sure that our time is spent on activities aligned with our priorities.
Read on for 5 tips to help you make the most of your time by cultivating an intentional mindset:
1) Commit to a Mindfulness Practice
One of the most effective ways to reduce the stress of time pressure is to invest time every day in a mindfulness routine. Mindfulness refers to a state of active, open attention on the present moment. It involves observing what is happening around us (e.g. sights, sounds, thoughts, feelings) and what we are doing (e.g. attending a meeting, listening to a colleague) — without judging our observations as good or bad. When practiced regularly, mindfulness can reduce stress, increase cognitive functions (focus, concentration, memory, learning ability) and improve creativity, collaboration, resilience and productivity. Building a sustained practice is key to achieving meaningful results.
Mindfulness practices can take many forms. Many people have rituals that they engage in every morning or as part of their bedtime routine, e.g. taking 10 minutes for meditation or writing in a gratitude journal. You can also integrate “mindful moments” throughout your work day, participate in physical activities that encourage mindfulness (e.g. yoga, tai chi), or listen to guided meditations. Mindfulness is an attitude that can be applied to all aspects of your life – walking, eating, listening, even showering! Any routine that builds a discipline of open, focused attention on the present moment can be considered a mindfulness practice.
As you build your own mindfulness discipline, you’ll find a sense of clarity and awareness of your own priorities, which can help you make more intentional choices about how you choose to spend your time.
2) Schedule Self-Care, First
Maintaining your health and wellness is essential for sustainable performance at work and a satisfying personal life. Investing in your self-care is time well spent! Figure out what you need to be your best and schedule time for those things each week, first — before your other commitments.
As you identify what self-care looks like for you, keep in mind that it’s not just about the physical, e.g. eating well and getting enough exercise and rest. Spiritual activities such as spending time in nature or attending religious services can help connect you with your values. For many people, self-care has a social component – meeting a friend for lunch, attending interest groups (book clubs, language meetups). For others, it’s more about the senses (listening to music, getting a massage, or burning a scented candle) or intellectual pursuits (crossword puzzles, new hobbies or museum exhibits).
Whatever self-care means for you, make sure to block out time for it on your calendar. Proactively communicate to your colleagues that it’s a priority for you. Self-care doesn’t have to take a lot of time, but it can fall through the cracks without intentional and public commitment.
3) Fight the “Future Time Slack” Mindset
Have you been putting off a new project until you have more time? Holding off on planning a vacation until things calm down a bit at work? The idea that you’ll have more time in the future than you do in the present is called “future time slack” – and it’s an incredibly seductive illusion. As Harvard Business School assistant professor Ashley Whillans describes the problem: “we decide to make some sacrifices now with the promise of enjoying more time later. Of course, when the future comes, we don’t have more time. We just repeat the same mistake.”
“Future time slack” can lull us into a false sense that our busyness is temporary. It’s not, of course; there will always be more to do. But the awareness that you will be just as busy in the future can help you make more intentional choices about how you spend your time now. Take a few minutes to reflect on the past week. How much time did you spend on activities aligned with your deepest values and passions? How will you plan your time differently next week?
4) Feed Your Passion ; Starve Your Should-Do
What brings you joy “just because”? Is it volunteering your time with an organization whose mission you are passionate about, losing yourself in watching a performance, playing a sport you love, gazing out at an panoramic view? Whatever it is for you, invest time in enjoying your passion. Time spent on activities that bring us joy or a sense of awe tends to make us feel more fulfilled and less rushed. In particular, active personal pursuits like volunteering, socializing and exercising can help people feel less worried about time.
The problem with “should-do’s” is twofold. First, the list is endless and usually comprised of activities other people think are how we should be spending our time. Second, our satisfaction in completing should-dos tends to be very short lived and does not energize us the way feeding our passion does. Starving your should-do’s doesn’t mean ignoring them completely; just make sure they aren’t the only things driving how you spend your time.
5) Calculate the Value of Your Time
Have you ever calculated how much your time is worth? If not, try it – you may be surprised at how your thinking shifts when faced with common decisions. Should you buy the nonstop flight or the cheaper flight with a one hour layover? Should you pay someone to mow your lawn so you have an extra hour to spend with family on the weekend?
You can do a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation or take a more detailed approach — but don’t get too bogged down by the number (research shows focusing solely on the dollar value of time can negatively impact how much you enjoy your leisure time).
It’s also important to consider how much your time means to you. New research from Harvard Business School attempts to factor happiness into the equation, by estimating a “dollar equivalent of happiness” for some time-value calculations. For example, outsourcing disliked chores (e.g. having groceries delivered instead of shopping at your local supermarket) is equivalent to an $18,000 “annual income boost” in terms of happiness!
The Bottom Line
The effort to get more done, faster, can make us feel rushed and stressed — which can be detrimental to our productivity, health and happiness. The strategies above will help you fight this sense of pressure and reflect on your priorities, so you can plan your time accordingly – with intention.