How to practice mindfulness even if you don’t have time for it

Mindful moment

In the last blog, I talked about practicing mindfulness as one of the ways to understand yourself better. You may have also heard about the other proven benefits of mindfulness – reduce stress, increase productivity, improve health, and so on.

But you may have this question in the back of your head: How can I practice mindfulness if I don’t have much time?

Not surprisingly, in today’s busy world, this is one of the most common challenges people face when starting or trying to maintain mindfulness practices. This is also something I struggled with when I first started practicing. It almost felt like meditating is another item I need to tick off on my to-do list!

And then I read this: If you have time to breathe, you have time to meditate.

It made me realise practicing mindfulness doesn’t have to involve sitting cross-legged in a lotus position for hours.  There are simple and small things you can do to be more mindful and more present in your life.

Jon Kabat-Zin, the psychologist who initiated the research work on the benefits of mindfulness in the western world, defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non judgmentally”.  At the core of the practice, it is the quality of the attention that matters – the attention you bring to whatever you do, and whoever you are interact with.

Before we dive into the practical tips on practicing mindfulness on the go, I’d like to share this quote by the Indian philosopher J Krishnamurti:

“Meditation is not something that you do. Meditation is a movement into the whole question of our living: how we live, how we behave, whether we have fears, anxieties, sorrows; whether we are everlastingly pursuing pleasure’ and whether we have built images about ourselves and others.”

This to me sums up the essence of the practice. Mindfulness is a way of being. It is not about emptying the mind, or suppressing your thoughts. It is about letting your thoughts, assumptions and emotions surface, so that you can see them, stay with them for a moment, get curious about them, and then let them go, just like seeing clouds passing the sky. You will probably not find all the answers to your questions or challenges through mindfulness practice,  but at least it can help bring a different level of awareness to your inquiry into whatever is emerging in your life.

Now let’s get to the practical side and look at how you can bring more awareness and calmness into your life by practicing mindfulness on the go.

1. Blend mindfulness into your morning ritual

The first hour upon your waking up is the time for you to connect to your feelings and get ready for the day ahead. The first things you do in the morning set the tone for the rest of your day.

You may want to start your day with a simple five-minute meditation . You can do it before breakfast, or simply in bed after waking up. As part of my own ritual, I often set up my intention for the day before I jump out of bed. Sometimes it is a simple word like “patience”, “service”, or “love”, and in other days it may be an important task I need to finish on the day.

Start small and make one tiny change each time. When forming new habits, it’s important to reduce the activation energy, which is the amount of energy it takes to start a new task. One way to reduce the activation energy is by introducing small changes to your existing routine. For example, when brushing your teeth, instead of doing it mindlessly, you can pay full attention to the taste of the toothpaste and the sensation of the brush touching your teeth. When you have your breakfast, instead of checking out your emails or news, you can practice mindfulness by savouring the colour, smell and taste of the food.

2. Practice mindful commuting  

Commuting is one of those things we don’t normally enjoy. The busy traffic, crowded public transport and long waiting time can make it a headache for us. However, it is also a great opportunity for us to practice patience and attentiveness to our surroundings.

One of my favourite meditations is to practice love and kindness meditation on the tube. Love and kindness meditation has been shown to increase our positive emotion, which in turn helps us feel energised and productive in the day.

All you need to do is to simply pick up someone around you, look at them (try not to do it in a creep way), hold them in your thoughts and wish them well and happy. Recognise that even if you don’t know each other, you are connected as human beings sharing the same space, and you’re likely to share similar desires and struggles in life. Research shows that we feel happier when we feel compassionate towards others. So send your compassion to your fellow travellers and you will make your commuting more enjoyable too.

3. Interact with others with presence

When you’re talking to your colleagues at work, or interacting with your partner and kids after work, give them your full attention. As Steven Convey once said, the problem of communication is that people listen to talk, rather than listen to understand. Next time you are in a conversation with someone, practice active listening by noticing their verbal and non-verbal languages, as well as their emotions.

Try listening to others without your own agenda in mind. You may notice that your mind is constantly distracted by other things on your plate. When you notice it, simply acknowledge it and bring yourself back to the person in front of you. Treat him/her as if he/she is the only person that matters at that very moment. You will be surprised how much difference it makes and how much impact it can have on the people you interact with.

4. Take mental timeout at work

When you have busy schedules at work, it’s important to remind yourself to take some breaks. Your brain needs that space to switch between tasks (even just for a few minutes), and these mental time-outs are essential in keeping you energised and productive at work.

If you have a full day’s meetings, try to schedule in some transition time between them, whether it’s a three-minute breathing exercise (as a bonus for my readers, at the end of this post you will find a guided breathing meditation I’ve recorded for you) or a ten-minute walk to get a coffee.

When you do take the break, try not to think about work. And apparently the timing of the break matters too. A recent study shows that people who take breaks in the morning are more likely to feel restored and less exhausted than those take breaks in the afternoon.

You can also put in some sticker dots in your notebook or on the back of your phone. Whenever you see them, they can serve as a reminder for taking some mental time-outs.

5. Focus on breathing while walking

Walking meditation is an easy way to incorporate mindfulness practice in your daily life. Whether you’re taking a break at work, or on your way home, you can always try it out.

The easy way to do it is focusing on your breaths as you walk. As you walk, simply notice your breath, whenever you want to reach out to your phone or find your mind wandering somewhere else, simply bring it back to the breath.

You can also practice walking mindfulness by noticing your surroundings, including what you see, hear and smell. Even if it’s a route you walk every day, try walking it as if it’s the first time. You might be surprised to see beautiful and interesting things you haven’t noticed before.

6. Use meditation apps

If you have a hard time practicing meditation on the go or are relatively new to meditation, a meditation app can be a great help. Apps like Calm, Buddify and Headspace offer guided meditation at different lengths that can easily fit in your days. Most of them offers a free trial so that you can see which one suits your preference and style best. For example, Calm offers a seven-day free trial programme in which you can enjoy guided meditation as an introduction to mindfulness. Buddify offers a variety of guided meditation for different settings (e.g travelling, work break, walking, etc).

I hope today’s post gives you some useful ideas that you can implement straightaway to weave mindfulness into your everyday life. As a special gift for you,  I’ve recorded a four-minute breathing meditation for you to try out. It’s a simple breathing meditation with counting techniques to help you feel re-energised and calm. You can do it during a work break, before going to an important meeting, or anytime when you need to bring more space and calmness in your life.  Give it a go and let me know how you find it!

A 4-minute breathing meditation:

Now I’d love to hear from you. What challenges have you faced as you start or maintain your mindfulness practice? What have you done to overcome them? What one thing you can do today to be more mindful and more present in your life? Leave a comment below and join the discussion!

Stay calm and until next time,



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