Before we tell you once again that there’s a science-backed reason (or 10) to slow down and increase mindfulness in your day-to-day life, let us take a guess at what your excuse is going to be. We’re going to go with: “I’m too busy” followed swiftly by “I don’t know where to start.”
First of all, new research shows that quick meditation breaks throughout the day can actually make you more productive and help you feel in better control of your time. And if you think you don’t have time to try it out, consider this: You have time to read this article and check your email 35 times a day. You also have time for Top Chef marathons, late-night snacks, and chatting with your sister-in-law. In short, you make time for the things you think matter.
When you aren’t living mindfully, what “really matters” can get a little murky. “What mindfulness gives you is a form of mental clarity,” says Danny Penman, PhD, an award-winning journalist and coauthor of Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World. “It can give you the ability to realize what’s important for this moment and what you can leave for tomorrow.”
And he’s not talking about spending hours trying to reach nirvana here. Rather, think quick pauses during your day to check in with yourself and how you’re doing.
Now, for those of you who don’t know where to start, we’ve got you covered. Here’s how to not let busyness rule your day:
Take a hard look at your schedule. List out everything you do on a typical day. Then note which of these tasks give you nourishment and energy, and which deplete energy, says Penman’s coauthor Mark Williams, PhD, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Oxford. Seeing the reality on paper can help you come to your own conclusions about what your life needs—and what it doesn’t.
Stop fussing with things that don’t matter. Most of us get caught up by tasks we hadn’t intended to do—returning emails, running unexpected errands—and suddenly we’ve lost a hefty chunk of the day. The solution? Rank the items on your daily to-do list (and limit that list to 10 or 12 items) to keep more minor things from distracting you, says Penman.
Use the pauses in your day. Instead of hurtling yourself from task to task, take a quick pause in between each one to clue into your surroundings, says Williams. When you get up from your desk to get a glass of water, sip slowly and savor each sensation. Instead of channel surfing at night, turn off your set between shows and use those minutes to take mental stock of how you’re feeling.
Hit the brakes. When you feel like your day is running away from you, a quick breathing exercise can help you calm down and carry on. Find a free three-minute exercise on the authors’ website Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World.
Or try this quick five-minute meditation from Jim Malloy, a meditation instructor from St. Petersburg, Florida: Sit in a quiet spot with your back straight, eyes cast comfortably downward, and let your breathing become deep and rhythmic. Don’t worry about doing it right—you simply want to clear your head, and relax.
Finally, just dive in. Research shows stressed-out people tend to feel more motivated to finish a task after they’ve started. So take a deep breath and get cracking on your to-dos—mindfully, of course!