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One Second Ahead: Enhance Your Performance at Work with Mindfulness

November 02, 2015

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Rasmus Hougaard teached us to speed up by slowing down, to be more effective by being more mindful.

Something has happened in our lives and work. We've become scatterbrained and distracted—probably too distracted to even notice the change in our attention, let alone do anything about it.

Work life has always been filled with certain background noise—both literal and figurative—but it has grown to a cacophony today. Tethered to our devices, which are constantly pinging us, buzzing in with the latest news story, work message, status update, and whatever else we allow in (or are too busy to find the time to turn off), it seems that the tools that were supposed to make us more productive are, in fact, taking our full focus and energy away from the work in front of us, or whatever else happens to be in front of us, splitting our attention, tripping up our productivity, and making us less efficient in everything we do. And, on top of all that, it is all but forcing us to take our work home with us, if only in the (often unspoken) expectation that we be available to more messages from work while at home, just because the technology to receive them is always at our fingertips.

But, rather than increasing the effectiveness of communication, there are now simply more channels and more time for messages to get lost in, and it seems that the old distractions—like face-to-face meetings, phone calls, and deadlines—are now doubly necessary just to reconnect in real time, find common ground on projects, make sure nothing was missed, and get us back on track.

Rasmus Hougaard pinpoints the problem in the introduction to his new book, One Second Ahead:


Work life has changed radically over the past few decades. People used to be able to focus their full attention on each and every task. Now they attempt to concentrate on work while dealing with a constant stream of text messages, emails, phone calls, meetings, and deadlines. Faced with a relentless flood of information and distractions, our brains try to process everything at once. In other words, we try to multitask.

But researchers have shown that multitasking is the worst possible reaction to information overload. According to a McKinsey & Company report, multitasking actually "makes human beings less productive, less creative, and less able to make good decisions." In fact, numerous studies have found that modern office life is transforming competent professionals into frenzied underachievers.

Rasmus Hougaard started The Potential Project to help. It is his attempt to infuse the work world of today with an ancient tradition and set of practices that has come to be called, in common parlance, "mindfulness." I'm sure you've heard the term. It is all the rage in Silicon Valley, and Anderson Cooper even did a report on mindfulness for 60 Minutes late last year. Hougaard has been at the forefront of bringing this training to the business world. And it's not just hippy-dippy tech utopians taking it up. It is increasingly widespread throughout the corporate world.


In building [The Potential Project] program, I brought together business leaders, researchers, and mindfulness masters to help develop a way to bridge mindfulness and work. After years of development, this program has been implemented by companies like Microsoft, Accenture, Roche, Nike, American Express, General Electric, Citrix, Google, Sony, Societe Generale, KLM, IKEA, Royal Bank of Canada, Ogilvy, Carlsberg and many more. Evaluated by third-party researches, the quantitative results of this training include increased focus and effectiveness, as well as enhanced quality of life, reduced stress and better well-being.

But why mindfulness? Hougaard teaches it as an antidote to distraction, and as a way to increase our freedom and effectiveness at work—and at home. And he does so in quick, bite-sized lessons for almost everything in your work-life, from handling your emails and meetings to your daily commute. Some of the suggestions, such as shutting down your email in between your scheduled email sessions (or at least turning your email notifications off), and never checking email first thing in the morning when your brain is most alert, focused, and creative, seem like modern workplace heresy, but he has the data to back it up, and maybe a heretic is what we all need to shake us out of our distraction. Taking the time to be on our own time instead of feeling the need to be constantly in response to others', and taking the time to focus on one thing at a time and do it deliberately rather than distractedly may be our best advantage, and make us happier and healthier, to boot.

So, paradoxically, slowing down helps us go faster, and be better. Taking the time to choose our distractions helps us "stay one second ahead of the demands and responsibilities of our information-laden existence." That one second to ourselves, to make mindful decisions about where we focus our attention and energy, makes all the difference. It keeps us One Second Ahead.

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