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Simple strategies for becoming more mindful, boosting creativity and getting more done

With its tangle of to-do lists, meetings and smartphone alerts, the modern workday can feel like an unrelenting whirlwind of activity.

Only the savviest of managers and the wisest of workers know how to tune out the noise and focus on what’s really important (hint – it’s probably not the email flashing insistently in your inbox).

Sometimes slowing down is the best way to become more productive. Here are three simple strategies for doing just that:

Take 10 minutes to develop your mindfulness.

In his book One Second Ahead, mindfulness expert Rasmus Hougaard suggests everyone take 10 minutes a day to practice relaxation and coping with distractions. Hougaard espouses the ABCD approach. The A is for anatomy – start by sitting up straight with both feet planted on the floor. Close your eyes, breathe through your nose and gradually relax. The B is for breath – observe your breathing as you expand and contract your stomach. The C is for counting – count a set of 10 breaths, then count backwards from 10 for another seat of breaths. And the D is for distractions – don’t lock yourself in a sensory-deprivation chamber. Instead, stay at your desk and train yourself to manage your response to your phone and your email. When a distraction makes you tense, release the tension and return your focus to your breathing.

“Mindfulness is not just a theory. Mindfulness is training. And as with any training, you won’t achieve results without effort.”

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Go for a walk.

A walk isn’t just a healthy break – it’s an act that can spur creativity and  boost brainstorming. In her TED talk on the topic, behavioral scientist Marily Oppezzo notes that one study found people came up with nearly twice as many creative ideas as people who were sitting. To make the most of a walk, Oppezzo says, you should have a plan. First, decide on a topic that will be the focus of your brainstorming. Next, be sure to walk at a comfortable pace. During your stroll, generate as many ideas as possible – and be sure to capture your brainstorms by speaking them into your phone’s voice recorder. If the ideas aren’t flowing, don’t worry – try again tomorrow.

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Try the Pomodoro technique.

For workers and managers juggling meetings, emails and constant phone calls, finding time can be a challenge. Jill Konrath, author of More Sales, Less Time, offers a simple strategy for carving time out of an overscheduled day. It’s called the Pomodoro approach, and it has six steps: 1) Choose a project or task, 2) note the task in a log, 3) set your timer for 25 minutes, 4) devote an uninterrupted 25 minutes to that project or task, 5) stop after exactly 25 minutes, and 6) take a break for five minutes. Repeat three more times. This strategy trains you to focus for 25-minute segments.

“Working nonstop does not help us get our work done sooner. It slows us down. In reality, breaks are not a luxury; they’re a necessity.”

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