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  • Writer's pictureHarry

Mindless: 5 Mindfulness Tips for the Overthinking Professional

As an overthinker, every morning my mind tries to skip gears 1 to 3, trying to redline it on 5. Actual car engines can get messed up like that, just like overthinking in people tends to paralyse, waste valuable energy and start depressive states.

I'll be talking about mindfulness for professionals from my professional experience. In marketing, attention to detail is one of the main mantras and overthinking may be a symptom of a long professional life of focusing on the endless details in marketing campaigns. I'm sure that all professions are susceptible to the constant thinking about the smallest of details at the lower hierarchy levels (while higher ups tend to focus on the big picture), not only marketing. This may lead to some degree of success which rewards your brain for pushing yourself to the limit from the moment you wake up until you're completely drained.

You'll reap rewards for thinking and pay a price for overthinking. The difference being unnecessary steps in the process of thinking, which drains your energy while not bringing any value to your routine.


Your mind may become numb to nuance, you'll lose the big picture, wasting too much energy on things that require a light-touch approach... and in worst cases, you have burnout, panic attacks, stress that is physically felt; turning all of your plans, ambitions and personal performance into a disarray. All of this can be voided with a few adjustments in thinking.


The following 5 tips will suggest solutions on how to manage your mind to harness explosive creativity and cognitive performance as a marketer or any professional. I've collected these from all the sessions I've had with my psychologists and other specialists in cognitive performance - things that have been refreshingly effective.


01. The Minutes Rule


Even the greatest professionals, creatives, scientists and composers have a limited gas tank when it comes to their creative output. On average, high performers have 3 hours of genuine productivity daily. What about the 8 hours we're sitting in the office? The truth is, that was made for factory workers in the industrial revolution - it is just a managerial cage for any creative or marketing professional.

When compelled to sit at an office, almost all salaried professionals will waste most of the office time talking, procrastinating, being slow and not as productive as they can be. Always work your way up to about 3 effective hours spent in deep-thought.


Check out Andrew Huberman's podcast on deep thinking. A collection of science-based tactics and concepts to maximise your work performance:

If you're interested in the logic behind the 3-hours of effective work, Jordan Peterson brings up the value of a routine in this episode of his podcast, and he is met with a brilliant response from a high performing creative (timestamp at 23:58):

The Minutes Rule forces you to categorise your time into increments of 5, 30, 60, 90, 120, 150 and 180 minutes. You can imagine your productive time window being filled with these categories, just like Lego's, with the larger chunks overflowing and the lesser one's drowning.


This does a few things for your psychology:

  • Categorising your workload in bite-sized chunks is proven to increase the rate of dopamine rewards during the day. This is a great way to boost your motivation and productivity.

  • Visualising the task structure and assessing the time required to complete each task allows you to have a clearer vision of your day.

  • The overflowing larger chunks will remind you that you can't do everything in one day and works towards fixing a common productivity thought loop. 'I'm not showing sufficient progress, I didn't complete this task in a day, this will take a long time, I'm not productive' is replaced by 'I completed many tasks and chipped away at the big picture with the remaining time, my rate of progression is justified and due to less distraction from lesser tasks I am able to proceed faster with the big tasks'.

  • Imposing a deadline on your productivity increases the likelihood that you will engage with the tasks without distraction during your chosen time window.

  • This is a form of writing which imposes a time restriction on your routine. Marketers can't do without notes, lists, calendar dates and voice notes. If you're similar to me, this will prove to be the most effective way to engage with your note-taking for better productivity.



When you're just starting with this, I recommend turning this into the 5-minute rule to target the complexity of your routine through the simplest tasks. In due time, you'll get the hang of assigning time to any task with better accuracy, managing your overall outlook on what to expect from yourself every day.



02. Check Comms Early


This is my top habit for introverts! In psychology, it is accepted that procrastination, crippling avoidance and boredom in the workplace may come from anxiety. With introverts in the workplace, one of the primary sources of this anxiety comes from the interaction with people. The most common barrier to deal with this is to check all communications and confirm the expectations that other people have from you as a professional.

Checking comms early in the day is a great habit to have for marketers, as we are specialists in communication. I found this one to be easy to train and maintain, even with the 11+ platforms to check every day!

If you don't check comms early, the maximalist high performer marketer in you will create potential negative scenarios and high expectations of yourself; your mind will treat it as a real threat, inducing anxiety and locking up your potential productivity. In reality, serious challenges and workplace issues are rare (unless you work in a warzone, behind enemy lines), so by checking all comms early you will break out of that negative thought loop that naturally assesses your social threats.

It may require you to force yourself in the beginning - just like going to the gym, the hardest step is putting on your sneakers. Put your mental sneakers on by checking email, text and what your colleagues, clients and bosses are up to - as early in the day as possible.



03. Reward Yourself


Ask yourself 'How can I make my work more rewarding?'. All of your motivation psychology is based on your cognitive reward system. You can make better use of it by consciously deciding what rewards you will be getting in advance.



Take the Minutes Rule and assign a reward to each time increment. It's as simple as 'Once I complete one of the 5-minute tasks, I will take a sip of that delicious iced latte'. You can have weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual rewards in place for almost all of the tasks which you find challenging. It takes the edge off, turns it into a fun game and enables you to interrupt a constant flurry of tasks with moments of joy, small or big. The best part is - you know yourself better than anyone else, which is why your rewards will be fully tailored and perfect for you. The only downside of rewarding yourself with diamond jewellery every other week may cause you to work overtime - think small or your bank balance will get too small for comfort.



This works to eliminate the dullness of a work routine, as well as the stress of overthinking by introducing energy and happiness from small rewards. It is a more general tip, which works for non-overthinkers too!



04. Unthink Words


This one may come in as a bit vague, but the fact that you're reading this is a sign that you may be overthinking in words. It's a habit that is hard to break out of because it requires a bit of a leap of faith towards mindfulness and some knowledge of psychology.

Language and its words are a limited form of communication, but it is one of the best we have (sounds and visual signage being the better ones in marketing). It is limited, because it takes time to process, closes the door for other natural cognition and engages with the language processing bit in your mind exclusively. In Zen practices, the state of no-mind is practised. The word water is not a word, it's sploosh. It is and it isn't, all at the same time and no time at all. You don't need to call it 'water' if you already understand what it is. Simply calling it is a form of overthinking it - it's unnecessary.


When I say 'water', you're envisioning a clear liquid or a blue sea - whatever comes first, and attaching a word to it just means taking an extra step in your cognition. This floods your thinking with useless labelling and takes a lot of energy. If you're an overthinker, you're already wasting too much energy and this may be the primary mechanism behind it.


'Stop thinking' the Zen master tells you. Difficult to pull off for the overthinking office professional, lost in e-mails, brands, texts and data. For the overthinker, I have 3 exercises that should work the overthinking mind to realise the futility of thinking too much. Here are two examples of how you can approach unthinking words:

  • Look at your hand. Now focus on what it physically feels like to hold that hand in the air and reach for an object, say a glass of water. Label it all, as much as you can. Reach for it, grab it, bring it closer - notice that grabbing it consists of infinite motions: your fingers, arm, shoulder moving, the motion shifting air in the atmosphere, the blood flowing into your contracting muscle fibres. Notice that labelling this complexity fully is impossible, yet you comprehend it perfectly by feeling it. And then drop the labels as if you were dropping unnecessary weight off your thinking. Unthink words.

  • Notice the duality of everything. The glass of water you're holding - is it half-full or half-empty? Is it full of water or empty with air? By attaching a label to it, you're declaring a past state of the object, with a guarantee that it will change in the future. Keep following this train of thought - what else can or can't the glass be? Can you notice it being or not being in the present as is demanded from the labels you gave it in the present time?

  • This one is trippy - focus on the object and imagine it disappearing from view. Imagine it not being there - ignore it, but also look at it. Look through it and notice it being and not being, all at the same time. Now label it all - your attempt to ignore it, the foreground, background, the space between you and the object - label it all in one word. I label it floof - what a useless label! Now repeat this new process of labelling the complexity in your environment - floof, poof, mngmnkgn, asdasdasd, heyho - all useless labels replacing the 'proper' labels which you've always used to overthink. Now words serve no utility - so unthink them

Don't worry if you attain enlightenment or meet god during this process. If you're confused, check with the brain meme above again.



05. 'Waste' Time


This tip is related to self-applied cognitive behavioural therapy. Whenever I meditate, exercise, read, walk or do nothing - I call it wasting time. It's sarcasm, but the label of 'waste' has a specific function for the overthinker - it's the opposite of what your professional conditioning tells you to do.


In CBT you collect data to establish what your current routine is, develop methods of intervention, intervene and observe new data. Here, the initial data is you overthinking and wasting energy - it is the thought process itself that we are targeting. Any CBT course will give you lots of homework - it's hard work, and here's an example of how you do it as an overthinker.


The intervention here is to participate in activities that will leave your mind no space to overthink. A few ways to achieve this would be gassing out due to exercise, going to a new environment, buy a new game for your console. In other words - exercise, try new things and have fun to condition your mind to expect exploration, use its intuition and connect your cognitive process to your physicality. What a f*cking waste of time!



'Wasting' time is not actually wasting any time at all. It's understanding that you need to take care of yourself and that you shouldn't see the activities are not related to your work as villains. There is a time for work, and a time for play: work during the 3-hour window, be ruthless with it, so that your playtime can be extended. The play (or 'waste') time should be your palette cleanse from all the overthinking and not thinking. Let your mind loose, lose your breath, ignore your notes, emails, calls and change your environment to embody your natural self. This is a time for experimentation, visiting a family member, a new cafe, brand new slippers - merge it with tip #3, but don't label it as a reward - it's just a random thing that your beautiful mind overthought.



The Bottom Line on Overthinking


So you've read a lot of words right now, making you think about how not to overthink. These tips won't change your life, but they may assist you in your search for tools to manage stress and anxiety. Try them, see what works and don't sweat if it doesn't.



In all honesty, the perfect formula to solve overthinking probably doesn't exist, and if it does, it balances somewhere between f*ck it and hyperventilating to a blackout before sending out that mass email. Hit send.


Let's misbehave,

Harry


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