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10 ways of being present at work

Ever get the impression you’re talking and people aren’t listening?

Ever realised someone asked you a question and you’ve not heard a word of it because you weren’t paying attention?

Ever eaten lunch at your desk then realised it’s gone and you can’t recall what it tasted like?

When your colleagues talk to you, do they look at you or continue staring at their screen and only partially engage with you? Are you even looking at them?

That all feels highly dysfunctional.

In ‘The Butterfly‘ I touched upon the notion of being present at work. This is also referred to as mindfulness. It’s a way of being that is less distracted and distant, and more attentive and aware.

This is not just some hippy sh*t that I’ve made up, mindfulness is a scientifically proven way to reduce stress, increase productivity and improve your physical and mental health.

I’ve been playing with this for 6 months now so I want to share what helps me to be more present at work.

1. Close outlook.

I know the mere thought of this will give some of you palpitations, but trust me there is life beyond email.

It causes a constant distraction, an excuse for not focusing on a task. Rather – try scheduling a few set times in each day where you allow 30 minutes to get your fix, check your inbox and reply / take action where necessary. Then shut it down again. It’s truly liberating.

2. Build connections with people.

Spot opportunities to find out what makes your colleagues tick.

What do they like to do outside work? Look at their body language. Some people blush when they are embarrassed, others blush when they are angry. Some people talk quickly when they are passionate about something, others when they are trying to hide a lack of knowledge.

What are the body language nuances of your colleagues in different situations?

3. Take breaks often.

In order to maintain focus and productivity you need to allow yourself some space to pause and reflect.

The most intensive football match still has a break after 45 minutes to give the players bodies a chance to recuperate before going back into action, so why should we not apply a similar principle to our brains?

Practising being present at work is tiring, especially at first, and there are lots of other benefits to taking breaks too.

4. Speak what’s on your mind.

Say what you see. If there is tension in a meeting, call it. Straight away, before the moment passes. Not in a finger pointing ‘oi – John – get out of the wrong side of the bed this morning?’ way, but an ‘I’m sensing some tension, how can we resolve it’ way.

5. Know your own body.

What does it feel like when you are stressed / tense? What are you own physical early warning signals of fatigue? What non-verbal signals are you giving to those around you?

What is your breathing like right now? Fast / shallow / deep / slow – what does that say about how you feel?

6. Listen to your gut.

Run with your primal instincts.

We have evolved like all other animals to sense danger. To have anticipation. If you have a gut feeling about something you are probably right. Notice that inner sense, trust it and take the appropriate action.

7. Create information radiators.

Put information on the whiteboards around you. If you don’t have any use walls or windows. Who is working on what? What are your team goals? What milestones are coming up? If there is a visual representation of this somewhere where people can see it, then you (and others) are likely to notice changes.

8. Welcome interruptions.

Don’t get me wrong – I fully appreciate the benefits and beauty of a decent state of flow, but for those of us who work in teams it’s important to be available and open for each other.

Are you open to interruptions? Use your self-awareness to notice if you are making colleagues at ease and happy to interrupt you, or if they seem nervous about it.

9. Look for opportunities to make a joke.


Adults laugh around 15 times a day. Wow. What a horrible statistic.

If you are actively looking for opportunities to make a joke then not only are you improving your own and other people’s health, but it means you are paying attention to what’s going on around you. I love hearing laughter in an office – don’t you?

10. Take your shoes off.

Feel the vibrations of people moving in your desk area. We wrap ourselves in our ‘uniforms’ each day when we go to work, but the more layers we have the more it dilutes our physical senses. None more so than the feet. The simple act of removing our shoes relaxes us and gives us another opportunity to engage with the present moment (time to sort out the sock draw?)

Sock hole

After 6 months doing some of these things each day is the difference between seeing the world in black and white and seeing it in colour. It’s that powerful.

Got other things that you practise to help you be present at work? I’d love to hear about them either personally or through the comments.

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