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For 2018, how about committing to spending more time in the present?

Naomi Titleman Colla is the founder of Collaborativity Leadership Advisory and the former chief human resources officer of American Express Canada.

January is a typical time for reflecting on the past year and setting goals while planning for the next one. For 2018, how about committing to spending more time in the present?

The practice of focusing on the present, or "mindfulness," has been around since the dawn of time. However, it has recently become popular not just with yogis but also within corporations. Many successful leaders (including Rupert Murdoch and Oprah Winfrey) swear by their transcendental meditation practice in which one focuses on a mantra for 15-20 minutes a day. It is said to help with stress management and better and quicker decision-making. By focusing on the present, we eliminate noise or "busy brain," which causes unproductive and often irrational and negative thoughts about what we "should have done" or things that "may happen." That's not to say that we shouldn't learn from the past and plan for the future. However, by taking time to focus on the present, we prepare our brains as a clean slate to better process past learnings and handle future events.

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Here are some additional benefits for leaders, workers and organizations:

  • Mindful leaders are able to listen to their inner voice to find their unique strengths and purpose: contributing to increased confidence and engagement, more deliberate communication and overall better leadership.
  • Mindful workers are able to work smarter instead of harder: They are self-aware about when they are most productive and prioritize accordingly.
  • Mindful organizations create an environment in which workers at all levels can create and innovate: Instilling growth mindset as a cultural attribute and mindfulness as an organizational practice leads to better collaboration and directly affects business results.

The irony is that I hear all too often from people, "I don't have time for meditation, yoga, [insert other mindfulness practices]" but taking time out to reset and recharge our brains actually gives us more productive time in our day.

Don't know where to start? There's an app for that

Never considered integrating mindfulness into your routine? Don't be intimidated. Start small with a meditation app (such as Headspace or Calm) that guides you through mindful exercises. Or try a meditation class or a yoga class.

Try a tech detox

Find yourself compulsively refreshing your social media pages and checking e-mail? Commit to some time away from technology with a few simple tactics.

At work:

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  • Try setting an “away from my technology” auto response on your e-mail (even just for an hour!).
  • Instill a “no laptop/smartphone” rule in meetings.

In your personal life:

  • Implement a “no smartphones in the bedroom” rule.
  • Take a real camera on your next vacation so you’re not tempted to check your e-mails when you take out your phone to capture that precious memory, or don’t take photos at all and just focus on the present moment.

Schedule the time and share with others

Just like any new habit, when you first start a mindfulness practice, it is easy to push it to the side and make excuses for why you can't do it. Scheduling reminders in your calendar to breathe can be a great way to hold yourself accountable.

Use a journal

Note changes in your productivity – start with listing three things you want to accomplish personally and professionally each quarter/month/week, and eventually each day, and monitor your progress. This will help you adapt and grow your practice to be most effective and empowering.

In this new world of work, where productivity is not keeping up with technology advances, workers are more overburdened and stressed than ever.

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Can encouraging mindfulness in our organizations be a catalyst to solving the productivity equation? Imagine if before reacting, we all paused, breathed, took a few moments to plan how we want to react, prioritized our actions and then proceeded. The workplace would be a happier and perhaps a more productive place.

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