Work life balance

Can mindfulness fix Britain’s productivity crisis?

By Andy Puddicombe 25 April 2015

One of the UK’s leading voices on mindfulness describes how the meditation phenomenon is a game-changer for businesses.

None of us are getting any less busy. We’re working more hours than ever, yet our productivity has hit an all time low. The average worker productivity in the UK was nearly 2% below the average for the rest for the G7 in 2013.

Now Brits are turning to the ancient art of mindfulness—a form of meditation derived from Buddhist roots—to conquer distraction and focus their mind. Championed by the likes of Google, Transport for London and the NHS, mindfulness is now practiced by millions worldwide. Business leaders including The Huffington Post co-founder and editor-in-chief Arianna Huffington and Twitter co-founder Evan Williams are both fans, calling it: “a proven competitive advantage for any business that wants one”.

In the first of a series shining light on modern working, Headspace Co-Founder Andy Puddicombe explains why every business should be putting mindfulness first.

Often the people who could gain the most from meditation are the last to think to try it. Business people, by-and-large, fall into this category.

Maybe it’s the old, hippy associations of meditation, or maybe it’s the fact that—from the outside anyway—meditation looks like inactivity. You’re just sitting there, how is that going to increase your productivity or improve your bottom line?

A decision-making game-changer

But I think there’s a strong case for business people being really good candidates for meditation and mindfulness practice. That racing mind that often goes with a Blackberry and a full inbox might not be your friend.

If you’re caught up in stress and overwhelmed by your task list, you miss opportunities. Your relationships may also suffer and in fact your productivity may actually go down.

Meditation also helps you develop focus. It makes sense, when you think about it, that if you can focus on a subtle object like your breath, then spreadsheets will be a walk in the park.

Meditation can also fundamentally change the way you regard your emotional responses. Early on in the Headspace journey, I encourage people to try the practice of noting: that is, observing a thought or a feeling, and just gently noting it as such, without needing to pursue it.

With a bit of practice you begin to develop enough perspective on the thoughts and feelings passing through your mind that acting on them becomes less of an imperative and more like a choice.

For people in decision-making roles, this can be a real game-changer.

Staying in the moment

And perhaps there’s even a deeper reason why business people really need meditation. In this particular world being goal-oriented is generally regarded as a good thing.

To work determinedly, through setbacks and challenges, to arrive at success seems to be what defines the biographies of many successful business figures. To spend your life living in the fantasy of a perfect future might drive you along, but what about everything that you’ll miss along the way?

Meditation teaches us to be in the moment, so that we can relax and enjoy the journey rather than just the destination.

After all, what good is success, if you can’t be there to enjoy it? Or even goals, if they’re merely a stepping stone to newer, harder goals?

When we founded Headspace, we wanted to make sure that it was fully-compatible with the busiest modern lives. So our beginner’s programme Take10, is just 10 minutes a day, for the course of 10 days.

That’s plenty of time to see how it works for you, and maybe even experience some of the benefits I mentioned above. Best of all, it’s completely free. You can’t get better value than that.

By taking some time out each day to observe the mind’s behaviour you learn to keep those urgent thoughts in proportion. A calm mind also helps you to approach your colleagues more gently. And scientific studies have even shown meditation helps to generate divergent thinking—that is, thinking connected to problem solving, by bringing together ideas to create new solutions—so it could help generate that precious insight that makes all the difference to how you work.