What do you think of when you think of “mindfulness“? It’s kind of a millennial buzzword nowadays. I’m guessing you’re picturing something along the lines of relaxing by the pool, sipping a glass of wine after a long work day, or doing yoga while watching the sun rise.

But what about mindfulness at work? You might be thinking what I thought when I first heard this phrase: “I’m pretty sure work, by definition, is not about maxing and relaxing.”

And this thought is precisely the problem – when we think of mindfulness, we often think of relaxing, letting loose, or being lazy in some capacity. The dictionary definition of mindfulness is “the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.” So you can see it’s not really about being lazy, or even relaxed. Mindfulness is paying attention to our routine cognitive needs as human beings.

Now, I am not going to go full psychologist on you (I only took Psych 101 in college, OK), but this idea of mindfulness has driven me to think about my habits during the work week, especially during the 40 hours I’m in the office. I’ve found that being mindful at work is quite easy, takes little time, and improves my productivity. And science actually backs me up!

I recently read an article on LinkedIn that triggered my interest in blogging about this topic. BBC published an article about workers eating lunch at their desks, and questioned whether this was a good idea or not. Somewhat surprisingly, while employees often eat lunch at their desk to avoid losing valuable work time, the act had a negative effect on their productivity.

David D’Souza, member director at the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, explained why he encourages his employees to eat away from their desks.

“The driver is…about staff wellbeing. It’s hugely important for people and therefore an organization’s productivity to have a chance to reset mentally; to make sure you’re thinking clearly and not making decisions while tired.”

For me, this was validating. I’ve always made an effort to take a lunch break during the work day. Whether it’s 10 minutes or 45, I see a positive difference in my drive to accomplish when I get up from my desk, walk down the street, or just sit in the lobby and have a quick bite while listening to a podcast.

Of course, some days are just too swamped, and that’s okay. Some other easy, quick, and productive ways to improve your mindfulness at work if lunch breaks aren’t your thing:

  • Walk down the block and back. Treat yourself to a smoothie or coffee if it’s a hard day.
  • Chat in the break room with a coworker you haven’t seen in awhile. Human interaction can be energizing even if you’re an introvert, like me!
  • Listen to a new podcast when your mind hits that afternoon static. Just sitting and listening to something that stimulates your mind for 10 minutes helps.
  • Go for a 30 minute coffee date with another professional whose career is interesting to you. This one takes more time, but doing one short informational coffee meeting every few weeks isn’t a big time commitment and can be energizing. Networking, learning, and mindfulness – all in one!
  • Focus your breathing for a few moments. If your day is jam-packed and you can’t get away, take two minutes to center yourself, close your eyes, and breathe in and out for eight seconds each. It may not make a big impact, but, hey, you will feel slightly more zen.

It’s about time for me to wrap up my Marianne Williamson-esque advice column here, but I truly do believe that mindfulness in the workplace is important for us to pursue. Don’t feel too rushed to take a 10 minute walk in the sunshine or talk with a coworker beyond the usual pleasantries of “how’s it going” and “good, thanks.”

Things that are good for the soul don’t need to be relegated to the hours after 5 p.m.