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8 min read

How to incorporate mindfulness into your small business

By Janet Semenova · March 3, 2021
A hero image of a woman meditating at her desk

The concept of mindfulness has been making headlines for years, with respected medical professionals touting the benefits and the world's most successful entrepreneurs jumping on the bandwagon. And I'm on that bandwagon too. While working in the medical field, I witnessed the power of reframing negative beliefs, cognitive behavior modification, and mindset on patients experiencing severe pain or trauma and facing life-limiting illnesses. 

If mindfulness practice can create feelings of hope and optimism in the direst situations, it can also influence the things we do every day—both at home and at work.

Why mindfulness matters at work

Mindfulness generally means being fully present and engaged in the moment. It requires two specific skill sets: 

  1. Focus (the ability to concentrate on what you are doing)

  2. Awareness (the capacity to dismiss distractions as they arise)

Those are both things that people can be trained on, and mindfulness training is a big part of  the equation when figuring out how to bring it into your business. It's a process, for sure, but it's worth it. 

For starters, mindfulness makes people happy, and happiness makes people productive. (Zapier dives a bit more into that research in their article on mindfulness and productivity.) Happiness is contagious, which means that using mindfulness techniques to create a positive company culture can spread happiness among employees pretty significantly. It might even spread to customers and clients. 

Mindfulness can also strengthen emotional intelligence (EQ), which basically means being in tune with your own and other people's emotions. As humans, our nature is to allow our past experiences to affect how we process information, handle conflict, and overcome disagreements. Emotionally intelligent people understand how their and other people's feelings—excitement, anxiety, stress, and so on—affect a situation. Improving EQ helps us consciously respond to particular situations rather than impulsively react. At work, that can lead to better decision-making and productive conflict resolution. Plus, people who demonstrate a high EQ are more likely to be "transformational leaders," helping them build trusting relationships, have positive dynamics with their employees, and create high-performing teams. 

An infographic that shows how mindfulness affects the brain

Small business owners can incorporate mindfulness training programs into their culture by offering to bring in a mindfulness expert for a weekend seminar or providing an online mindfulness workshop. If seminars or workshops are cost-prohibitive, employers can provide a subscription to a mindfulness app like Headspace or Calm. Both apps offer business subscriptions for teams and provide access to hundreds of meditations to help lower stress and anxiety and improve sleep and focus. They also offer analytics so employers can track engagement. Having used the Calm app myself for the past six months, I can personally attest to the benefits.

Building a mindful business

When you create a business that has a clear purpose, it will help you maintain focus and awareness throughout all of the ups and downs that you will inevitably encounter. Your mission statement is a constant driving force that should impact all of the decisions you make for your business. 

I have two businesses, and each one started with a clearly defined "why." 

  • The purpose of my travel business, Boutique Travel Advisors, is to bring people together and create transformational experiences for individuals, families, and teams. We believe that travel allows us to connect and develop a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world. 

  • Centered CEOs focuses on creating a platform for small business owners to learn, grow, and scale, without losing sight of their greater purpose or sacrificing happiness and balance in their lives. By offering group coaching programs and retreats, we bring like-minded people together and form a community of purpose-driven leaders. 

As your business grows, technology changes, and your client needs evolve, it can be difficult to remain committed to your "why." To maintain focus and alignment with our businesses, we developed a unique framework called MAPS: it stands for mindful, assertive, profitable, and sustainable. We believe that all of those components must work in tandem to create lasting success.

Infuse core values

In 1994, James Collins and Jerry Porras published a book that would take the corporate world by storm and forever change the way companies and CEOs present their businesses to the world. Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies purported that the world's best organizations strictly followed a set of guiding principles they called the "core ideology," which consists of two parts: core values and core purpose. 

The core purpose is the rudimentary reason that the business exists (which maps to the mission), while the core values represent the "guiding principles" by which a company operates. For example, Disney's core values of "imagination and wholesomeness" are well aligned with their aim of "making people happy." Hence all the quirky characters and princesses with happy endings.

Not wanting to be left out, the corporate world set off on a core value stampede.

The issue was that, while the concept is invaluable, the implementation at many companies was insincere and, therefore, inauthentic. Ultimately, their employees didn't buy in, and their clients didn't care. Buzzwords like respect, trust, and integrity are powerful when applied in the right context to the right audience. But they're entirely meaningless when they're slogans on a billboard. Thoughtfully articulated core values reflect who you are and what you stand for, and businesses that incorporate authentic core values are more likely to have dedicated employees (and happy customers).

So once you have a mission, it's time to establish core values. We recommend sitting down with your team and creating them together so that everyone's invested in them—that makes employees more likely to develop innovative and creative ideas, work more diligently to meet deadlines, and comply with cost-cutting measures in challenging times.  

Together, brainstorm 10-15 value statements. If you can make physical health and mental well-being part of your company's core values, it will help your team be mindful of their self-care and might inspire them to embrace healthy habits at home and at work. Just don't forget to back those values up with actions (e.g., if you value happiness, provide that annual subscription to a mindfulness app).  

Then have your designer create an "official" company manifesto. Proudly display it around your workplace, and create branded company gear used for employee and customer giveaways. Here's what that looks like at Centered CEOs.

Values written out on a professionally designed poster

As your business grows and you bring in new talent, the core values should serve as a bridge, uniting your team members, leadership, and clients. 

Limit distractions

Although our access to technology creates efficiencies and conveniences that would have been unimaginable even recently, it also means constant distractions. And multitasking takes a toll on mental health, not to mention productivity. Mindfulness practice helps cultivate attention and dismiss distractions as they arise—but even the most advanced mindfulness practitioner would find it difficult to maintain focus when faced with constant interruptions.

When studying for exams in college, we'd hole up in a quiet corner of the library. So why is it that when we want our team members or ourselves to work on an important presentation, write a grant proposal, or solve complex equations, we don't send them off to a proverbial library? Instead, we bombard them with distractions such as phone calls, text messages, and emails.

In both of my businesses, we create protected time each day to work on specific projects, develop new ideas, or focus on self-care. Our "do not disturb" time is listed in our calendars as unavailable, preventing our team or clients from scheduling appointments during those periods, and we turn off our phones and notifications. We use the principles of mindfulness to help foster creativity and attention to detail.

Getting into a flow state isn't easy, so you need to go out of your way to remove the distractions that get in your way. Of course, not everyone can carve out several hours a day. Do what you can. Try it in small doses first: create hard times (e.g., 2-4 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays), during which meetings, phone calls, checking and sending emails, and the like are all highly discouraged. At the end of that period, assess the results and survey the team. You might also encourage your team to try the Pomodoro technique or another similar strategy called Flowtime. The goal is simply to carve out more focus time for your team.

There are lots of apps made specifically to block distractions. The team at Zapier tested them, and here are the best apps for focusing and blocking distractions. Offering your employees subscriptions to these kinds of apps can be invaluable.

Create connection and community

Hiring employees and training them is costly and time-consuming, so you want to be sure people stick around. Plus, engaged employees are generally good for business. Everyone needs to feel like they're contributing to innovation and having a positive influence while also learning and growing alongside the company. You also want to be sure your business fosters healthy working relationships with clearly defined boundaries to create a feeling of mutual trust and connection. Mindfulness trains you to pay attention to external and internal stimuli in an accepting and open manner, which improves empathy and social relationships. 

As the world of remote work becomes increasingly prevalent and central daily meeting spaces (e.g., around the coffee machine) become more and more elusive, you'll need to create innovative ways to build trust and foster authentic connections within your team. 

While our team members at Boutique Travel Advisors are spread out around the United States, we work diligently to maintain close relationships. We pair up our team members to encourage open communication and provide support. Each team member also dictates the degree of oversight they want, so we don't over- or under-manage any one person. And when there's not a global pandemic, we prioritize meeting up in person and providing ample time for fun and connection. 

If you're no longer investing in office space for your employees, consider setting aside a portion of that budget for empowerment and team-building retreats with a mindfulness component attached. Even a long weekend can help create more meaningful relationships than endless hours spent together on Zoom calls. During the retreat, encourage your team to put away their cell phones, turn off their notifications, and be fully present and engaged. 

Encourage healthy boundaries

Mindfulness can help lower employee stress, which is becoming an increasingly difficult issue to address. But simply lowering stress in the workplace is not enough—employers must provide outlets for employees to recharge their batteries outside of work.

Vacation time is one thing, but companies need to encourage their employees to actually utilize that time off—especially as people become less likely to take their vacation days. Business owners should also encourage employees to unplug and lead by example

If you find it hard to practice self-care, automation can give you the nudge you need. Here are 4 self-care workflows to get you started.

You might go so far as forwarding all communications to other team members during scheduled time off. This removes the temptation of "checking in" or sending a "quick response" and lets your team know that you prioritize their well-being and respect their time off. This might not be possible if your team is small, so instead, focus on having team members create processes that will help.

By starting our businesses together, my partner and I were able to establish a routine of cross-covering for each other from day one. Taking time off to be fully present with our families is a priority that we both mutually respect. We also establish clear boundaries with our clients and let them know in advance when we'll be unavailable. 

If you're a solopreneur, you'll need to be transparent with clients from the beginning, letting them know your standard and holiday work hours and average response time to emails and phone calls. 

Part of the reason people are reluctant to take time off is because of what awaits them when they get back. Here are 5 ways to catch up on work after a vacation that will decrease the stress around being away.

Entrepreneurs who recognize that running a business is a marathon, not a sprint, will view every obstacle as a stepping stone for success.

This was a guest post from Janet Semenova, co-founder of Centered CEOs and Boutique Travel Advisors. Want to see your work on the Zapier blog? Read our guidelines, and get in touch.

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