For over 15 years, I’ve been leading various companies, from the fast-paced world of the agencies to the ever-demanding tech startup scene. And from that experience, one thing, among many others, became clear: being the big Kahuna creates a lot of stress. More than words can describe.
In recent years, I have found some very helpful techniques and practices around the concept of mindfulness that have sustained me in the most trying times. These habits have made all the difference, and I’d like to share them with you.
1. State of Mind: What Matters Most
This is the easiest concept to grasp, but it's also the hardest to execute. It’s the simple reminder that your state of mind and how you feel is more important than how much you get done. One more task, 200 more emails or one more meeting pales in comparison to having a positive, energy-filled presence that continually allows you to think clearly, make decisions thoughtfully and communicate with your team in a way that inspires and builds trusting relationship.
The rest of your task list can wait. Basically, this is the "why" behind some of the next six techniques.
Related Article: Open Letter on Mindful Leadership
2. Plan Around Energy: Building a Schedule to Use High-Energy Time
There are certain tasks that need you at your best: planning and strategy sessions, important meetings and creative functions like writing. It's best to do these when your energy is highest and your mind is sharp.
For me that’s early morning, so I block out those times for nothing but such tasks. Do NOT reply to emails; review a contract or other tasks that need your full attention.
3. Mindful Start to Meetings: 2 Minutes of Mindful Silence
This is one of my favorites. For any meeting of three or more people, start the meeting with two minutes of mindful silence. You don’t need to get foofy about it and call it meditation or anything else. Just put your phone timer to two mins and tell everyone to close their eyes and not make a sound.
The results are INCREDIBLE. Nearly everyone opens their eyes when the alarm goes off with a smile and a nice subtle warmth. It also provides that much needed gap to gather thoughts, as we tend to rush from one meeting to the next.
4. Energize for Round 2: Nap for 20 Minutes Mid-Day
Yes, I know, it sounds crazy. Unfeasible. I can see you saying “I don’t have 20 minutes in my day."
I too have said (and still struggle) that too. But it’s NOT TRUE.
You have as many minutes in the day you need. For heavens sake, you are the boss. Moreover, in that siesta time of the day (usually around 2-3pm), our body and minds crave a restful break.
And let me assure you, once you take it, your ability to be more productive, more thoughtful and simply happier being will unfold naturally. Even when you travel, you can do this. On the plane, in the cab ride—even at an event, just find a quiet corner.
To capitalize on the #1's State of Mind, it’s critical to do this, whether you like it or not.
5. Tap Into the Subconscious: Read on Bigger Life Topics
Either right before bed or first thing in the morning (both is best), read a book that focuses on anything but work. Your brain needs the mental release. And if possible, read on bigger life topics.
Spiritual books, self-help actualization, world-changing areas or, I’ve found, even good history books, are perfect way to let your subconscious plant the seeds of the important thoughts to continue in the background of your thinking.
It is also very helpful because it pulls you out of the little “I” in self-absorbed drama or worries and reminds you just how insignificant these daily items are.
6. Take Breaks: Take 15-Minute Walks Are Good
Much like a nap, you need breaks. If for nothing else, to allow you to settle your mind on a topic that’s bothering you and to move forward with minimal carry over. For example, many times meetings with colleagues can turn into energy-draining conversations that cause bad feelings to crop up. When this happens, I highly suggest going for a walk, even if that means telling your next meeting you’ll be 15 mins late.
By taking the walk, you’ll allow your mind to sort through the negative thoughts and get some distance from the immediacy of emotion. It gives you a chance to let the high-stress chemicals pulsing through your body settle down. And most importantly, you won’t let that carry over and effect the next meeting or task.
Related Article: Get Up and Get Out: Walking Meetings Are Your New Creativity Booster
7. Near Zero Consequence: Ain’t That Important—Period.
The concept of Big "I", Little "i," or the Ego, is common refrain in the mindful practitioners world, and it’s a pretty simple idea. Basically, most of our time and mental energy is focused in the self-created (ego) drama of little “i."
Meaning, we are so unequivocally wrapped up in our world of building and growing our companies, we simply forget that what happens on a daily basis in this process is of minor to near zero consequence. This manifests in two ways.
It’s of near zero consequence to the outcome of the company—all of it. A key employee leaves, you’ll find another. Platform bug, it will get fixed. Scathing feedback from peer, employee or Board—learn from it and move on. Your company will survive, so don’t over-react to small waves.
It’s of near zero consequence overall. Your company is not you. Just the most current focus and the role you decided to play as its leader. Its success or failure is not a reflection on you. So, be sure to maintain a life otherwise your perspective.
The thoughts and practices here in go much deeper, and it takes courage and strength to even attempt breaking your current routine. So I commend you for even caring enough to read this. After all, it’s your own peace of mind that’s at stake here—and what matters more than that?