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How to be more present in the moment at work

January 17, 2024

Are you content to live in the here and now, or are you more future focused, always planning the next week, next month, next year even?

Staying focused on what’s going on around you in the present moment is often cited as a route to better concentration, self-awareness, creativity and relationships, and a way to combat stress and anxiety, because you’re not ruminating on possible future outcomes.

However, we’re surrounded by messages encouraging the very opposite, many from advertisers who seek to maximise discontent with the now and tempt us with promises of a brighter future.

With Christmas Day done, Boxing Day bombards us with ads to book next summer’s holiday; a week later, social media groans with questions about your resolutions for the New Year; January 5th, an email arrives from a well-known craft store urging me to Get ahead on Easter🐰!! Give me a break guys, five days into January I’m still surrounded by tinsel and baubles!

Clearly, the future is more profitable than the present.🤨

Will the world end if I stop thinking about tomorrow for a minute?

I’ve been a planner most of my life, driven I suspect by fear that something will go wrong if I’m not on top of every last detail.

January has usually found me mapping out goals and dates for the year ahead but some recent experiences (like covid – there was little point planning ahead in the lockdown and I found I was no worse off for it) and a growing trust in my ability to respond to whatever comes my way, have given me a new found pleasure in a little less of all that.

However, it’s pretty hard at work to stay focused on the present when many jobs involve a constant cycle of forward planning: I’ve already got a placeholder for a workshop in March 2025!

The necessity to always be anticipating ‘what’s happening next’ can dull our enjoyment of ‘what’s happening now’.

Which got me wondering, what can you do to be more present at work? Even when your job is scheduling appointments for spring, predicting fashion trends for summer or planning a General Election for autumn (I’d be very surprised if the Prime Minister was reading this 😆).

So I gave it 20 minutes of focused, in-the-moment thinking, and here’s what came to mind:

7 ideas to stay present in the moment at work
  1. Pay attention to the senses you’re using for that particular task. Typing this, I’m aware of the sound of the keyboard, and a gentle whirr from my laptop. I can feel the carpet under my feet, and the birds flying around outside catch my eye from time to time. None of this is in a distracting way. I still feel focused on my writing task but I’m grounded in my surroundings too.
  2. Give full attention to the people you’re with. Look at the person talking, notice their posture, read their body language, listen for clues to the intention behind their words, and take note of your inner responses to these things.
  3. Focus on one task at a time, and try when possible to finish it.
  4. Switch mindfully between tasks. With the pressure of work, it’s tempting to fly from one thing to the next. Pausing between tasks to acknowledge what you’ve accomplished helps you register progress so when you get to the end of the day, you know what you did with your time, rather than it feeling a whirl of fire-fighting and intentions to ‘work better’ tomorrow.
  5. All the above are easier to do if you limit distractions. Take 10 minutes to review your notifications: do you need them all pinging at you or popping up in the corner of the screen? If they’re not essential, take action RIGHT NOW and turn them off. You can always turn ones that were genuinely useful back on again.
  6. Use your diary to schedule reminders of things you need to do, but not now. Then they are out of your mind, but you have the reassurance you won’t forget them.
  7. Use reflection-in-action. This is a term coined by Donald Schön which involves being aware of your thoughts and actions as they occur. Asking yourself questions as you work (as if you had me as your coach sitting on your shoulder 😉) like ‘how effective is this?’, ‘what’s working’, ‘what if I do X…’ helps deepen your understanding of what you’re doing as well as allowing you to make changes and improvements in the moment.

Let me know your tips for working more in the present, and whether you’ve plans or not, I hope 2024 rewards you with some mindful moments.

Cat and butterfly photo by Karina Vorozheeva on Unsplash

About me

I’m Celia Clark. I’m a career development coach based in the dreaming spires of Oxford. I help you think clearly about your job, in all its ups and downs, so you can be happy and successful in your work.

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