Mindful Time Management – Some Reflections

You can't stop the first dagger

  Ongoing research suggest that mindfulness practices can bring real benefits when applied in work situations. A review of research into mindfulness in work concluded: 

mindfulness influences attention, with downstream effects on functional domains of cognition, emotion, behaviour, and physiology. Ultimately, these domains impact key workplace outcomes, including performance, relationships, and well-being’ 

(Good et al. 2015: 118 – 115)   

So, in the second half of last year we started to deliver mindfulness courses specifically aimed at aiding people take a more mindful approach in their work and business lives.  

The basis of this was the idea that we can both bring mindfulness into work and enhance how we work, and also utilise our work situations to practice and develop our mindfulness, by working in more mindful ways. 
Whilst the benefits are both clear and wide ranging, the application of mindfulness into work is not always a natural transition for all, even sometimes for those who have practiced mindfulness some time. As one student pointed out: 

‘I wanted to consider mindfulness in the context of my work because, while I had been able to apply what I’d learned on the original mindfulness course to my home life quite easily, it had been more challenging to do this at work’. 

Course student

For our first work focused event we decided to start with the area of personal performance, given mindfulness is a very personal experience, and to built an event based on personal time management. In some ways his may not seem a natural fit, time management often being seen as about meeting future deadlines, planning, striving to achieve objects and get things done etc; areas not usually associated with being mindful. 
However, what we find is that doing these without being mindful, doing them mindlessly to quote professor Ellen Langer, is not productive or good for personal wellbeing. In addition as we look into time management approaches in the business world we come to realise that actually there is also a clear need to be focused in the present, be with what is happening here and now, dealing with distractions, getting on with life without being judgemental, generally clearing the mind so that it can attend to the task in hand, and to not procrastinate.  

In considering business approaches we did find parallels, such as from renowned business author and long-time teacher on time management David Allen, who talks about having a mind like water, which is: 

‘a condition of working, doing and being in which the mind is clear and constructive things are happening’ 

(Allen 2001: 10)  

Further in considering the idea of deep, focused work, Cal Newport talks about achieving:

 ‘activities performed in a state of distraction free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate’. 

(Newport 2016: 2) 

Or as one of our students put it: 

‘It was interesting how mindfulness and planning complement each other – to keep you focused in the moment and to the task at hand’

(Course student)  

We therefore designed a programme bringing together tried and tested techniques from the world of personal effectiveness training, combined with, and approached from, the perspective of mindfulness. This produced an series of sessions which covered three major stages, all of which integrated and overlapped. The event started with an introduction to, or development of, mindfulness, and context setting for the course. This was followed by tools and techniques of time management, approached from a mindful perspective, providing a mindful time management system.  

Finally, we covered an exploration of how to integrate these into the individual environments, external and internal, of work and considered ways to implement an individual approach and application into daily working life. 
As the sessions developed, four core approaches or ways of practicing emerged. Whilst all four applied to all those on the courses, different individuals found different approaches worked for them more than others, and had different relevance in different work contexts.  

The first approach was that of the introduction of ideas and discussion, an opportunity to explore various ideas and gain a level of understanding to take into a more experiential approach in the other stages. This opportunity to discuss specifically worked well for some as: 

‘To be with a group of like-minded individuals without having first to apologise for talking about ‘mindfulness’ – that was wonderful.’ 

(Course student)  

However, we were very much aware that experience is key, so as ascribed to the buddha: 

‘The Buddha always insisted that his disciples test everything he taught them against their own experience and take nothing on hearsay’ 

(Armstrong 2002: 92)  

And so it was also with our courses. 
So we come to the three experiential approaches. The first of these was ‘formal’ sitting (or maybe moving) meditation practice as a way of understanding yourself and how you worked, whilst at the same time developing the mind. This we saw as a sort of gym for the mind, where you can exercise, stretch and strengthen. For many, as well as learning meditations practices, this also provided an important opportunity to come together with others and meditate, enabling them:  

‘to remain focused on meditation and mindfulness and reap the benefits better … to attend a weekly meditation class with others, as much as I can practise at home and work I like the sessions with others and feel I gain so much more from it’. 

(Course student) 

Or as another explained when discussing home practice: ‘I never really did 10 min sessions’

Having given some attention to the development of the mind in mindfulness, we looked for ways to explore how to apply mindfulness to how we go about daily work life. This brought in the third approach of the programme, a set of mindful attitudes that could be adopted, or even just considered in daily life. These were not seen as all the attitudes, or even the ’right’ attitudes to have, but just a selection to start with. Some mindfulness exponents see such attitudes as a useful base on which to build, being: 

a rich soil in which the seeds of mindfulness can flourish’, 

(Kabat-Zinn 1994: loc 628) 

For some students they become a powerful way to develop a more mindful approach: 

I think the attitudes section [was] really thought provoking and I keep returning to how can I keep using it to help develop a more mindful approach to my work’ 

(Course student)  

One aim of the course was a concept we ended up referring to as ‘applied mindfulness’. At the end of the day we were seeking a way in which being more mindful became a way of being and working, not just an idea, with direct impacts on working practices. So, our final approach was focused on integrated practices. This could also be seen as ‘informal’ practice; practice based in how you go about daily life. To quote Jon Kabat-Zinn again: 

If mindfulness is deeply important to you, then every moment is an opportunity to practice’. 

(Kabat-Zinn 1994:Loc 934-935)  

For a large part this was based around implementing the time management system, a mindful way of working. However, as a group going through the course, we also come up with small practical ways of being more mindful, such as pausing when faced with a difficult situation. Again, here we found, for some, this was a highly beneficial side of the course: 

‘The systems – OneNote – organising, not procrastinating then taking a task and doing it – such a time saver!’ 

‘I have definitely adopted the personal workflow system in the workplace and am still improving that system as I go along’ 

(Course students)  

As we head into 2019 we have reviewed our approach and followed up with students. This has set the course into a six session model. It can now be run over three full days, useful for example in an organisation specific programme, or as the original set of six sessions of two and a half hours, or a series of twelve, online, sessions. Each variant we will aim to run over the coming year.  

We are aware that not all people can make it to a face to face event in Leicestershire or will have an organisation specific programme to attend. We are therefore excited to be launching a live, interactive online course in the new year. This is a way to engage with those who are busy (so maybe really need better time management!) or just not local enough to an event. This means we can also reach across Europe or even further afield dependent upon time zones. These will utilise live video conferencing, as well as an online classroom, as a way to gain the interactive element of a class, enabling real time discussion and practice and ongoing interaction with other students. In addition, this approach enables students to come back later to review information, practices and even a recording of online sessions if they missed the session. 

In 2019 we will also launch new work-based events such as a mindful leadership retreat, a mindful approach to change management and a mindfulness at work online community – again with live sessions and other interactions and support. 
Check out the website here to see current courses, and to keep an eye out for new ones as they are launched.  

We are developing ways to bring mindfulness into everyday life, which it is where it should be experienced, and to provide a potentially new way to live a more mindful life with all the benefits that brings to each of us. In doing so we are also seeking to find a range of ways for people to experience and develop. As one student highlighted: 

‘I found the range of mindfulness practices useful and the constant message of finding ones that you like and connect with the most useful’. 

(Course student) 

It appears this has started well and works as an approach for a number of people, with typical comments such as: 

‘the overall content of the programme was excellent and exceeded my expectations’. 

(Course student) 

In the end it is all about your practice. We look forward to seeing and practising with more of you in the coming year. 


Allen, D. (2001) Getting Things Done. London: Piatkus 
Armstrong, K. (2002) Buddha. London: Phoenix 
Good, D.J., Lyddy, C.J., Glomb, T.M., Bono, J.E., Brown, K.W., Duffy, M.K., Baer, R. a, Brewer, J. a, and Lazar, S.W. (2016) Contemplating Mindfulness at Work: An Integrative Review. Journal of Management [online] 
Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994) Wherever You Go, There You Are. Kindle. London: Piatkus  
Newport, C. (2016) Deep Work. Kindle edition. London: Piatkus 

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Journal of Management: Contemplating Mindfulness at Work: An Integrative Review (January 2016).

Full report here

This research is aimed at adding to, and stimulating further, what it describes as the small but growing body of research in the management arena linking mindfulness to better workplace functioning. Much of the current evidence indicating positive impacts on attention, cognition, emotions, behaviour, and physiology, it highlights, comes from research in the fields of psychology, neuroscience, and medicine.

It examines this broader literature with the aim of raising insights applicable in the management context, which can also drive future research.

 Through examining research and evidence, the report builds a model (see image) showing how mindful practice, traits and states initially have an impact upon attention. This impact comes from being able to select where to place our attention, keeping it there and preventing it wandering off, whilst applying an economical use of attentional resources. This controlled of attention in turn impacts the functional areas of cognition, emotion, behaviour, and physiology, which then influence a wide variety of workplace outcomes. In considering these workplace outcomes, it suggests there are three categories of impact; performancerelationships and well-being.

As a meta-review it aims to sift the balance of evidence. So whilst it suggests there is current evidence for some impacts, it also describes some areas as being open questions, still to be fully researched (see lower part of the model). The report goes into more detail on each area impacted.

Overall its conclusion is that the meta-analytic evidence suggests mindfulness practices can have a strong impact on a range of outcomes. However, it also highlights that there is much research needed in the future in the area of application, and even suggests that the analysis of current research raises some challenges to key assumptions of general management theory as well. In conducting this early meta-analysis the report also shows how new this area of mindfulness as a workplace intervention is, and how there is a need for much more research into its effectiveness in this context.

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Good Luck

A large number of years ago a director of a change programme commented that she would “rather have a lucky project manager than a good one any day”. To date I still can’t make up my mind whether this was an insult or complement, but it did leave me thinking about the nature of luck. I came to the conclusion that actually we could all use some luck, and also that you can do something about creating your own

Luck is an interesting concept, and one which seems to arouse strong feeling when I have talked about it with groups of business people. A number of times people have become quite agitated at the idea that I might suggest that ‘luck’ could play a part in their hard working life and business. This is understandable if you think of luck in terms of random action over which you have no sway. But I think of luck as being:

the propensity for things to work out in a way that you can regard as beneficial to you.

There was a recent Derren Brown programme on luck in his The Experiments series (here for a link). In this he created a lucky statue and also sought to explain why some people were luckier than others. What came out of the programme was two interesting points; that luck, in terms of the statue or a lucky charm, is about your own state of mind and belief, which in turn leads you to behave in a certain way, and also that lucky people seek out and make the most of opportunities.

This was in line with the finding of a book call The Luck Factor, by Richard Wiseman in which he researched what made people who regarded themselves as lucky, lucky. His conclusion was that there were four principles that lucky people applies
1. Maximise your chance opportunities (the major message from Derren Brown)
2. Listen to your lucky hunches
3. Expect good fortune
4. Turn your bad luck into good.
Again a combination of attitudes and behaviour.

All of these elements can be developed in individuals, so you should be able to increase your good fortune. So how can you increase your luck. Here are some area which you may want to consider, in terms of both attitude and behaviour. Try to be more of the following :

Fully engaged in life: This is about trying new things, making the most of opportunities, aiming to say yes to things rather than no, as the default option.

Positive in outlook: expect things to go well, and when they don’t brush yourself off and carry on, concentrate on success, think long term and be persistent, and regard bad luck as a learning opportunity. Interestingly this is an area in which lucky charms can have a play as they help you get into the right state of mind.

Outcome oriented: know your values, vision and goals, have passions, know what you want as it helps you spot opportunities to get it, let others know – a lot of your luck is about other people.

Active in pursuing outcomes: go for it or carpe diem – seize the day. Even if you do not achieve all you want, pursuing it will take you forward to somewhere. If you expect nothing and so do nothing you are more likely to get nothing. Be persistent, like Edison’s light bulbs each failure taking him closer to success, providing you learn from it – back to finding something ‘good’ in ‘bad’ luck. Monitor your progress and adjust your path.

Alert to opportunities: research shows that ‘lucky’ people are more observant and see more opportunities. Physically they even look around more, expecting to find something helpful, or using what they do find. You also need to be prepared to act when opportunities arise.

A respecter of intuition: there is usually a good reason for your ‘gut feel’. It is worth checking it out. Also if you intuitively feel a certain way about something, then it probably fits your perception of the world and you are more likely to make it work for you. It is worth developing your intuition and increasing your sensitivity to environment and circumstances. Try being more mindful.

People oriented: we all need people; to help us, support us, put things in perspective give us new ideas etc etc. Lucky people are gregarious; you need to learn to be, if you are not. Find your own way, we do not all have to be the life and soul of the party.

None of this is a guarantee of a charmed life. But it is likely to make things work out more often for you, to hedge your bets in life. Pick out an area at a time and develop the habits that go with it. A lucky life is a practice and a way of living.

Good luck.

Wiseman, R. The Luck Factor 2003.
Derren Brown. The Experiments, The Secret of Luck 2011.

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Here and now

I was reading a blog recently on how we are losing our ‘downtime’ . The article by Scott Belscky on the Fast Company site highlighted the ‘ the value of the “creative pause“–a state described as “the shift from being fully engaged in a creative activity to being passively engaged, or the shift to being disengaged altogether.” This phenomenon is the seed of the break-through “a-ha!” moments’. You can read the full entry What Happened To Downtime? here .

The article was highlighting how with our fast paced world and the ability to continue to do things all the time – send that late night e-mail, just do a quick text, access all your office online from home, – we are losing the time to stop and let the dust settle. If we are not careful we can end up constantly in a doing state without taking the time to get a real perspective on the actual world we live in.

You can see this in teenager’s lives big time. With all the modern communication media, social networking, texting and so on, they are constantly in touch with each other. This has some real benefits and keeps people connected, when in my youth you would have lost touch and drifted apart. But it does mean they do not have time to let the dust settle, to get a sense of perspective on what is going on; arguments can continue when a with a bit of time, space and perspective they might well have just died naturally , things can get out of proportion and misunderstood.

Another aspect of not taking time out to be aware of what is really around us, is that we live more in the version of the world in our minds then in existence around us. Constantly planning, running scenarios, playing out possible conversations, living in a memory world of the past and possible world of the future, rather than experiencing and revelling in the actually here and now.

There is a critical need for leaders to be able to really connect with the here and now world, as well as being able to create their thought world.  Even more so now than ever with the amount of change constantly happening. Not that the planning and thinking that goes on is not important, just that is needs to be balanced with an ability to ‘be’ truly where you are. What Willams and Penman describe as balancing a doing mode and an awareness mode of thinking.

This becomes important on both a personal level – such as maintaining health and creativity, and also on an interpersonal level – being able to fully empathise and connect with people around you.

Stephen Covey said ‘seek first to understand’. In order to do this you need to get out of all the noise and traffic that is going on in your own head, put it into the background a  little, and listen, see and touch what is actually happening around you. As he further points out: ‘As you learn to listen deeply to other people, you will discover tremendous differences in perception’

People have various ways to do this. Changing your environment can be a great help, possibly why we notice things that we have missed that are right in front of us when we go on holiday. This can be as simple as getting out from your office, or even out of your chair! Going for a walk or a run can be a powerful to do this, and it also gets your system oxygenated and your endorphins flowing a bit more. You could also learn some meditation and mindfulness techniques, which will help you learn how to connect with where you are and let your thoughts tick on like background noise.

So see if you can become more really aware of what you are doing now; become aware of the shape colour and texture of your desk, pen , office; notice the sounds that are around you and the multiple layers of them; be aware of your own body are you read this; what thoughts are going on in your head right now?

Often we get so wrapped up with achieving things that we forget how to stop and be aware. It can take practice, but in the long run can save you time and improve the way you work and interact.

Covey. S the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People 1989.
Williams M., Penman D. Mindfulness 2011.

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Don’t wobble – be mindful

I have for a number of years been interested in aspects of Zen practice and meditation. Recently I have realised that the aspect that interested me most related to the concept, as I now understand it is called, of mindfulness. This is describes by the author and Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, in his book The Miracle of Mindfulness as keeping one’s consciousness alive to the present reality‘.

In practice (and mindfulness is a practice or way) this means really being engaged in what you are doing and removing or getting past some of the filters we put around our lives, which then shape our perception of what is happening. There is a Zen saying which sums up this way of living:

‘When you are walking, walk. And when sitting, sit. But don’t wobble’

However I was still struggling to get a real grip of how to develop this approach to life. I then came across this book :

This is a well structured approach, setting out various meditations and other practices over an eight week period. In addition it gives a good context for the practice, is based on clinical work in the area of depression across a number of institutions, and has an underpinning academic rigour.  It is also easy to read and understand. Check out the web site for more details and some exercises: www.franticworld.com

There appears to be a growing interest in the this way of dealing with the world. I think there is a real benefit to leaders and other in an ever increasingly complex business world, both at personal and organisational levels.

I will be returning to the theme and its link to personal and leadership performance . Please let me know if you have any good references, recommendation or web sites in this area worth looking into, as I am interested in the idea of putting together a paper on this.

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