Training a group of brilliant executive vice presidents last week on the insight and mindset for great leadership, I had an epiphany. We started day two with a three minute meditation. I started the timer and we had no conversation, no reading, no phones and no input from the teacher. The first minute was great, the second minute started to generate the kind of squirming you’d expect from a kindergartener sitting in church, and the third minute was absolutely excruciating for some.

When the three-minute timer sounded I asked, “How long do you think that was?”

“Five minutes.” I heard. “Ten minutes!” “Forever!!!”

Some were convinced the group would be reported to HR for napping in the conference room. Thankfully, HR was in the room with us. That granted all of us a bit of permission to soak it up. The impact was significant.

In the middle of all this fascinating scholarly research on the attributes of a leader, what seemed to make the most impact was three minutes of absolute quiet.

In fact, I’d come with the intention of dropping in a sample mindful meditation and we ended up adding more of them. The fundamental premise of coaching is that my clients already know the answers they seek; it’s my job to ask the smart questions that point them to that knowledge. The premise is the same in teaching coaching skills to leaders in an organization — they already know how to pull the best out of their teams, they just need the operating margin to tap into their built-in creativity. It worked. We ended up blasting through some of the content to spend more time planning ways to increase efficiency and productivity in the workplace, to create interdependencies across teams and greater self-awareness within teams so people could tap into their best inner super hero. We came up with things like

  • team agreements not to multitask in meetings — that means no phones, computers, barking dogs or other distractions
  • a commitment to cap meetings at 20 or 50 minutes (as opposed to a half or full hour) to create margin —  so we can begin to do the work that we decided in the meeting needs to be done
  • fundamental rules of engagements for scheduling meetings — making sure we invite only those who need to be there and that on the receiving end we delegate if someone else is a better fit for that decision

Three minutes of mindfulness taught us to slow down and make sure the agreements we’re making are necessary. Three minutes is all it takes to restore the oxygen the brain needs to take an objective 360º inventory of a situation before we vomit our opinions all over the room. It also teaches us that 30 seconds is not too long to pause before we respond so we can send our words through what Sherlock Holmes calls his “mind palace” — to edit our instincts and craft a much more thoughtful response.

Three ways you can blend three minutes of mindfulness into your life:

  1. At the water cooler while you are filling the 32 ounce cup that you refill three times a day, instead of grumbling that the water doesn’t come out faster, take three deep cleansing breaths.
  2. When you are waiting for the coffee maker or stirring your French Press, instead of multi-tasking, take three deep cleansing breaths.
  3. When you are waiting for a train or sitting at a red light, instead of looking at your phone, take three deep cleansing breaths.

This is part of a series of articles on The Impact of Wellbeing on Productivity. Set the timer on your watch and take a three minute break to breath and stare at a leaf, or a plant on your desk, or the wall…come back and let us know how that’s going for you.