A former McKinsey partner says a 2-minute exercise can get you back to productivity when you've hit a wall at work

Caroline webbCourtesy of Caroline WebbSevenshift CEO and McKinsey adviser Caroline Webb.

There are times when you’re simply overwhelmed at work. You’ve got so much on your plate that none of it seems like it can be finished, and so none of it gets finished as you sit there panicking.

Whether it’s the end of the day and you’re struggling with decision fatigue or fear of failure has your heart racing, there’s a quick way to collect yourself so that you can resume being productive, says Sevenshift CEO, McKinsey senior adviser, and former McKinsey partner Caroline Webb.

Her new book, “How to Have a Good Day,” is a collection of best practices she’s learned in her 16 years as a consultant.

It includes a simple mindfulness technique that you can do in as little as a couple minutes or stretch out, if you’d prefer. Here’s how to do it:

  • Sit or stand as comfortably as you can, moving to a quiet place, if necessary. Place your feet squarely on the floor and either close your eyes or look down.
  • Focus your thoughts with one or all of the following: Slowly take a deep breath in and then exhale deeply several times, focusing on the way your stomach rises; do a mental scan of your body, from your toes to the top of your head, noting without thinking how each part feels; count down from 100 to 0.
  • Pay attention to your thoughts, and if your mind wanders, don’t become anxious. Recognise that it’s normal behaviour and refocus your attention.

Webb writes that if your panic hits you in the middle of a meeting, you can try an amended version of the technique, taking just one or two deep breaths or counting down from 10.

She interviewed a digital marketing startup founder she refers to only as Anthony who told her he uses a version of this exercise any time his mind starts feeling overloaded and he runs the risk of making decisions that will harm his business. When his stress becomes unmanageable, he’ll ask himself “Do I want to feel like this?” (no, he doesn’t) and will do the breathing exercise.

“It starts to reengage rational thought, without fail,” Anthony told Webb. “It’s like pinching myself in a dream.”

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