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Mind how you go

27th May 2014
Head of Insight AccountingWEB
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John Stokdyk shares some ideas on mindfulness from a moment of calm insight at the recent Accountex event.

Amid the hubbub of the recent Accountex exhibition in London, 40 accountants sat quietly in a lecture room breathing deeply, contemplating the potential for mindful attention to improve their working practices.

The meditative interlude came at the end of my talk on Zen and the art of practice development and was designed to give participants a glimpse into the Buddhist concept of mindfulness by focusing on the simple act of breathing in and out.

Mindfulness is about being alert to the present moment, observing and experiencing everything as it is then rather than allowing thoughts to distract you. Mindfulness is a superb way to reduce stress and practising the technique in the longer term will help you identify and let go of habits that may have grown up around the way you react to external stimulii.

Coach Carol’s tips

1. Sit in front of a clock and watch the passing of one minute. Focus your entire attention on your breathing, and nothing else, for the full minute. Practise daily to build your mindful muscles.

2. Discover flow, the mental state in which you are fully immersed in what you are doing, and energised by that focus.

3. Deal with similar tasks in fixed slots of time.

4. Set yourself clear objectives and timescales (say 30-60 minutes) that stretch but do not strain your capabilities; employ a high degree of mindful concentration and limit your field of attention.

5. Interruption is flow’s greatest foe - switch off electronic devices so they don’t disrupt your concentration on other tasks.

6. ‘I‘m all yours’ - when dealing with other people, give them your full attention. Whether at home or work, you will be rewarded.

Source: Carol McLachlan, Your attention please!

You can practice mindfulness when preparing a meal, taking a walk or doing a tax return, and as you become more fully aware of your actions, it should help you pay more attention to everything you do.

As Carol McLachlan explained it when setting out her prescription for mindfulness in the workplace, “Multi-tasking is so last century; improve your game by nurturing intelligent, focused attention rather than task switching.” See the box on the right for more of her tips.

Trainer Mark Walsh also included mindfulness as one of his top anti-stress techniques and advocating using it during tax season in the way that some people take cigarette breaks. His instructions show how simple it is to apply, even in three minute bursts within the workplace:

“To experience mindfulness and reduce your stress, simply bring your attention to your senses. Notice your breathing. Whatever it's doing is fine: watch it go in and out. Feel the sensations of your body - yourself on your chair, the feeling of your clothes, your feet on the floor. If your mind wanders (this is what minds do) simply come back to the present moment. Repeat for three minutes.”

Other ideas to extend your mindfulness practice include:

Centring - Sit in an upright yet relaxed position with your feet flat on the floor. Expand your awareness above and below, left and right, and front and back, balancing your posture. Put your hand on your stomach just below your belly button and breathe slowly and deeply so your hand moves out as you breathe in. Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. Put your concentration in the point just below your navel as you breathe. Repeat.

Tense and relax - Tense your stomach muscles, shoulders, fists, eyes, jaw, and all the other muscles of your body while holding your breath. Release and relax.
As you get more adept at being in the moment, you can then apply the principles of mindfulness to your daily work activities. Walsh advocates cutting out interruptions wherever  possible - for example by only checking your email twice a day - and argues that learning to do one thing at a time with complete focus make you more efficient.

Replies (5)

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By carnmores
27th May 2014 15:23

heres a tip , it sounds bizare but it works for me

sit quietly and calmy and think that you are breathing thru your closed eyes. i think its a Buddhist practice. i was reminded of this yestrday when i watched countdown and one contestant started off with 9,9 &8 lettered words , he looked as if he was in a zen like trance

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By Cardigan
27th May 2014 23:12

Headspace app
If you want to be guided through the mindfulness journey, try the Headpace app or headspace.com. I've finished the Take 10 course although it took me longer than 10 days as I sometimes forgot to do it or just couldn't fit it in.

Even after just 10 days, I am calmer and less stressed. On one of those days, it felt like time had slowed down. I got so much more work done.

Highly recommend it.

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By Paul Scholes
28th May 2014 01:59

My first steps

For a funny and thought provoking intro to this and how it pulled her away from bizarre "auto-pilot" behaviour have a read of Ruby Wax's latest "Sane New World".  This and other resources are referenced on this website.

Whilst this topic is at risk of becoming, or being seen as, the next fashion, lifestyle self-help thing, there is good medical support for it and it's reinforced suspicions and thoughts I've had for years over how I react before (or without) conscious thought, allowing sometimes extremely stressful situations to arise automatically that, with a split second of hesitation, might have been so easily avoided.  

In my world, the best examples I see of people being the opposite of mindful is when they travel, walk, or even talk, wearing headphones or glued to their phones/tablets (obviously they may be listening to or watching tutorials on mindfulness, but I somehow doubt it in most cases).

If you are in a train, walking to work, or stuck in traffic, every few minutes look up from your paper, book or phone, take the earphones out or switch off the radio and pay attention, really concentrate, on what's going on around you, what others look like, what they are doing, the scenery, just experience where you are.

Personally, it always hits home when I'm walking the dog, striding through the woods and getting 10 minutes in before I stop and realise there are trees, birds and hundreds of noises around me that have been & gone without me noticing because I was on auto-pilot thinking about work or anything other than where I was.

Whilst I've used meditation and yoga for years to bring me to "the moment" I find the sensation of the breath is best experienced in quiet and so I need other distractions when out and about to remind me where I am, this will be different for everyone but I find sight & sound can bring me back, as can the feel of a familiar object (I always carry a large chinese coin).

Given how much I found Accountex a waste of molecules & time, I'm really sorry I missed John's session.


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By Gimlet2008
30th May 2014 12:10


Very nice posts. I shall try to implement. I missed Accountex. Was it not very good? 

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By Jimess
30th May 2014 13:36

Thanks John - absolutely spot on advice

It is so easy to forget to breathe properly and take time out to allow our minds to absorb and sort the events of the day. It is so easy to just do things on autopilot because your body and mind have learned the routine and it becomes a habit.  Being mindful about what you do helps you realise just how much energy is wasted on things that really don't matter that much and how much tension you carry in your body.  I began meditation in the 1990's and at the time people thought it was weird, cultish or only for the religious.  Not so - being able to calm the mind is so good for you.  Just imagine how good it feels to soak in a nice warm bath and soothe away the tension - for me meditation feels ten time better than that and it helps me refocus on what is really important.  I also use a visualisation at the end of every day that helps the mind to let go of all the little niggly worries, thoughts and baggage that you pick up during the day, it is surprising what you store up and carry about with you without realising it.  If you find it hard to relax and let go, find some peaceful music to lead you in, or think of a time when you felt really good and relaxed and draw on the feelings you had then.  It is so important to let the mind take a rest from the everyday stress and worry. You would not leave your car running all night - it would be a shameful waste of fuel, so why let your mind run on and on wasting energy that could be put to much better use. Getting away from your desk for 10 minutes and resting your mind really does give you a boost to see you through a busy day. 

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