If there is a tech founder more qualified than Andy Puddicombe to help those of us who might be struggling to hold it all together over the last six months, I’m not sure who it is. Puddicombe is a former Buddhist monk who started Headspace, a meditation and mindfulness app, with co-founder Rich Pierson 10 years ago.
We’ll get to that in a minute, but let’s be honest, the last six months have been rough. It’s been rough for people trying to figure out how to balance working from home with all the other things that happen at home. Right now, in many cases, that includes things we’ve never experienced before, like running a virtual school.
If you haven’t tried to work while making sure four different elementary-age students make it on the right Zoom class, I promise you, it’s rough. I don’t want to speak for anyone else, but I’ll just say that we can use all the help finding some tranquility that we can get.
I had a chance to talk with Puddicombe for my podcast (you can listen to the full interview on Apple Podcasts or Spotify), and it was easily one of my favorite conversations so far. We spoke about his company’s partnership with Microsoft that allows users of Microsoft Teams to access Headspace meditations during a new feature known as the virtual commute.
“It’s great to see meditation and mindfulness reach more people,” says Puddicombe, “but it’s also a reflection that people are really struggling.” The key to changing that, he suggests, might just be to do nothing more often.
Well, to be fair, meditation isn’t doing nothing. It’s about being mindful, which means setting aside all the things on our to-do list for a few minutes to take a deep breath, and spend some time gathering and organizing our thoughts. Of course, for most of us, that won’t happen if we aren’t intentional about setting aside the time to, well, do nothing.
“We stop at 10 a.m., every morning. We stop at 3 p.m. every afternoon for 10 to 15 minutes,” Puddicombe told me about how Headspace makes an intentional effort to practice what it preaches. “They don’t have to meditate,” he says of his team. “They can do some other kind of form of relaxation of mindfulness.”
This is even more important with people working from home, where they’re more dependent on creating their own boundaries, habits, and schedule. Puddicombe puts it this way:
“I think, there always has been a bit of delusion, in the sense that we separate our work life and our home life. As though our mind from home, we just leave it at home. And then we go to work, and we pick up our working mind, and at the end of the day, we can just leave our mind at work and then go home. These two things are not separate. And I think what’s happening now [is] we are seeing that more than ever. We’re seeing kind of how our work life bleeds into our home life and how our personal life kind of bleeds into our work life.”
That’s why it’s important to create boundaries and separation between work and everything else. It’s one of the things that impressed me the most with Microsoft’s initiative to develop a virtual commute, because it gives people permission to say, “Okay, I’m done working now, so I’m taking some time to collect and organize my thoughts before I leave my desk.” The result of that is that you can go on with the rest of your life without the sense that it all just blurs together.
As for that partnership with Microsoft, Puddicombe told me: “I’m really excited always to find new ways to integrate these tools into people’s workflow into their working day. And whether it’s during the day finding kind of moments of natural pause throughout the working day or more at the end of the day trying to help people kind of refresh, rewind, relax, so that they can actually go home and be more present with their family, with their friends, or on their own.”
Headspace says the company has over 70 clinical trials in the pipeline, with over 20 peer-reviewed studies published. Some of that research shows that just four Headspace sessions resulted in a 14 percent reduction in stress for frontline workers. Even more impressive is that building meditation into your routine for 30 days can reduce the sense of burnout by as much as 32 percent.
In some cases, it can be as simple as giving yourself (or your team) permission to turn off your devices, turn off notifications, and disconnect. Even if it’s only for 15 minutes, that can be enough time to relax and refresh, allowing everyone to focus on what they have to get done. Who knew the solution might be as simple as doing nothing, and doing it more often, on purpose.