In 1930, John Maynard Keynes, the man regarded as the founder of macroeconomics, from whom Keynesian economics takes its name, predicted that in one hundred years time the average human workweek would clock in at fifteen hours [1]. We’re still seven years away from that hundred year milestone but barring a remarkable turnaround it seems Keynes’ prediction will be proved wrong, and drastically.

Not only are people generally working between 35 and 50 hours a week – depending on country, role etc. – but many are engaged in the uniquely 21st century phenomenon of the side-hustle. According to research for the Trades Union Congress, one in seven workers in Britain now partake in gig-economy jobs like Uber or Amazon delivery at least once a week, many of them on top of full-time employment [2].

Meanwhile, digital tools have made it possible to work from pretty much anywhere, at pretty much any time. This was supposed to usher in a new age of liberation: the worker, no longer constrained by their office environment or nine-to-five schedule, is now free to live the life they always wanted. In reality, it has just meant the expectation of swift email correspondence has extended its lebensraum to the realms of evenings, weekends and even holidays. That edenic notion of freetime signed off its suicide note with a customary “sent from my iPhone” footer.

The sense of never-ending malaise that occupies the modern employee is perhaps best captured by the TV show Severance. Centering around a fictional procedure that severs the work self from the free-time self, the show darkly and comically skewers the torturous undertakings the zombified worker self is made to endure by the malevolent corporation that employs him in this inescapable labour prison, the ramifications of which naturally spill out from their office containment to bruise each self equally. It’s not hard to see why viewers are able to relate.

Keynes’ prediction was based on the myriad changes imbued upon 20th century work culture by  technological innovations and societal adjustments in the wake of the industrial revolution. In Keynes’ lifetime, the average workday dropped from fourteen hours a day to eight [3]. Understanding that greater advancements were yet to come, Keynes posited that the trend would continue.

He was right that further innovations in tech would make working practices substantially easier, with everything from printers to Excel to Zoom obvious examples. But while those advancements reduced the amount of time it takes workers to complete everyday tasks, that simply meant workers were now expected to undertake more tasks within their allotted nine-to-five (or often longer) shifts.

Keynes’ great contemporary, the philosopher Bertrand Russell, diagnosed many of the issues with modern work culture in his 1932 essay “In Praise of Idleness”. Russell wrote, “A great deal of harm is being done in the modern world by belief in the virtuousness of work, and that the road to happiness and prosperity lies in an organized diminution of work” [4].

Perhaps more prudently, with an evergreen tinge, he wrote:

Modern methods of production have given us the possibility of ease and security for all; we have chosen instead to have overwork for some and starvation for others. Hitherto we have continued to be as energetic as we were before there were machines. [5]

With Keynes’ foreseen fifteen-hour week out the window, then, how much should we work, really? Provided we have tasks to fulfil, a sense of pride in our roles that dictates our output should be of a certain quality, and a life outside of work from which we hope to derive pleasure and meaning, what is the optimum time we should give to our professional endeavours? The answer is dependent on our role, abilities, temperaments and life circumstances, of course. But there are those advocating specific solutions, and it’s worth assessing the merits of each.

What a way to make a living

The nine-to-five is very much the status quo when it comes to our working schedules. It’s become the parlance in and of itself: nine-to-five equals work, even when in many cases employers are dragging the last of those numbers up and up and up.

The nine-to-five got its start in 1926 under Henry Ford at his namesake Ford Motor Company [6]. At the time, it was a reduction in working hours that was celebrated for obvious reasons. Ford workers manned the assembly line. By putting them on eight-hour shifts, they were able to cover the 24-hour day in three shifts without putting undue demands on staff. Once Ford set the ball rolling and the new schedule proved successful, the system was then adopted in many countries around the world and persisted almost unquestioned (in any meaningful sense) until the pandemic in 2020.

Covid disrupted a litany of accepted notions regarding working practices. Once the flexibility of home working was made commonplace (and even governmentally mandated), it was only a matter of time before workers started to question why they couldn’t add a little flexibility to their hours too.

The nine-to-five has some obvious flaws. In 1926, the expectation was that the man of the house would work while his wife stayed home and dealt with domestic and child-rearing duties. Obviously things have progressed since then. Nowadays, most families consist of two workers. Juggling parental obligations around an in-office nine-to-five is extremely difficult and often involves sacrificing either valuable time with one’s child or professional progress.

The most damning argument against the nine-to-five is that studies show it to be inefficient. A 2016 survey of 1,989 UK office workers found that over the course of an eight-hour workday, the average employee works for two hours and 53 minutes [7]. The rest of the time is spent reading the news, browsing social media, eating, socialising, taking cigarette breaks, and searching for new jobs. Essentially, people are dragging out their tasks to fill the time, and are less fulfilled, less productive, less happy and less healthy for it.

In response to the limitations associated with the traditional nine-to-five five-day week, variations on the formula are becoming increasingly prevalent, as well as increasingly in-demand.

The four-day week

Four-day work weeks are becoming more common. Advocates claim that by providing employees with an extra day of rest, the four-day work week reduces employee anxiety and stress while facilitating better sleep and more time to exercise. Those benefits then pay dividends when it comes to the quality of employee output and increased productivity.

The biggest recent study on the subject was a report by the advocacy groups 4 Day Week Global and 4 Day Week Campaign, with the assistance of researchers from Boston College and the University of Cambridge. The report’s findings show that roughly 40% of respondents said they experienced less work-related stress, and 71% reported lower levels of burnout. More than 40% said their mental health had improved, with significant numbers of employees reporting decreases in anxiety and negative emotions [8].

Nearly half of workers involved said they weren’t as tired as they were before the experiment, and 40% said it was easier to get to sleep. In the end, 96% of employees said they preferred four-day schedules. At the same time, company revenue increased by an average of roughly 1% over the six month period, while employee turnover and absenteeism went down. Almost all of the businesses in the program said they planned to continue with a four-day work week once the experiment was over [9].

The data is striking, and backed up in other studies. In 2019, Microsoft Japan introduced a four day working week and reported a 40% boost in productivity [10]. In Sweden, a two-year government study conducted from 2015-17 on retirement-home workers in Gothenburg found that at the end of the study people were happier, less stressed, and enjoyed work more [11].

Another added benefit of the four-day week is environmental. A study by the University of Massachusetts Amherst found that a 10% reduction in working hours cut an individual’s carbon footprint by 8.6% [12]. Minimising the amount of days workers are commuting can have a drastic environmental impact, and should be a further consideration for those thinking of moving away from the five-day nine-to-five.

The 5-hour workday

Some argue that rather than removing a whole day from the week, it is more efficient to reduce the number of hours worked a day.

Alex Pang, founder of Silicon Valley consultancy Strategy and Rest, visiting scholar at Stanford University, and the author of Rest and The Distraction Addiction, notes that “research indicates that five hours is about the maximum that most of us can concentrate hard on something” [13].

The notion of the five-hour workday gained notoriety through Tower Padel Boards, an online, direct-to-consumer company that sells stand-up paddleboards. In 2015, the company’s CEO Stephan Aarstol offered his employees a deal: if they figured out how to do the same work in less time, they could keep the same salary and leave at 1pm. He also implemented a 5% profit sharing plan, increasing hourly pay [14]. On the day the company announced the change on its website, it broke its previous daily sales record, booking $50,000 in sales for the first time. By the end of the month, it had sold $1.4m worth of paddleboards, breaking its previous monthly sales record by $600,000.

Inspired by what he saw, David Rhoads, CEO of Blue Street Capital, a California-based company that arranges financing for enterprise IT systems, decided to try this new work strategy out for himself. Three months after starting Blue Street Capital’s five-hour workday trial, David found that while they had cut the length of the workweek by three-eighths, the number of calls his employees made per person had doubled. David made the five-hour workday a permanent feature after three months. Three years in, revenues had gone up every year – 30% the first year, 30% the second – while the company grew from nine to seventeen employees [15].

The five-hour workday, like all approaches, has its flaws. Research shows that people’s creativity fades after five hours of concentration – but not all jobs are creative. Taking the original Ford model as an example, assembly line workers have no reason (efficiency-wise) to shorten their workdays. The same is true for those in administrative roles, those in call centres, and all sorts of other professions.

Jan-Emmanuel de Neve, associate professor of economics and strategy at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School, is an advocate of the five-hour workday. He says his research reinforces the argument that five-hour working days lead to greater employee wellbeing, which in turn leads to greater productivity. But he also warns that working in these more limited bursts can actually result in greater employee stress [16].

Associate professor in strategic human resource management at the University of Reading’s Henley Business School Rita Fontinha agrees, saying: “While a shorter work day could result in better time management and promote concentration, individuals may feel an added pressure to complete tasks on time” [17].

The death of leisure

In his aforementioned 1932 essay, Russell observed that, “The idea that the poor should have leisure has always been shocking to the rich” [18]. But in 21st century society, we seem to have gone one further: it seems to have become far fetched that anyone at all might have leisure. Free time has been annexxed by 24/7 work schedules and commercialised by social media sites so that even the most lackadaisical of weekend pursuits are increasingly undertaken “for the gram” rather than for the inherent joy in the activity. The self-improvement zeitgeist has similarly snatched away any pastimes that could potentially be filed under ‘trivial’. As Wessie du Toit notes in the New Statesman:

Meditation and exercise look suspiciously like personal optimisation. Artistic vocations centre on tireless self-promotion to a virtual audience. A movement of “homesteaders” churning their own butter and knitting their own jumpers are simply cosplaying older forms of work, and probably posting the results on Instagram. [19]

What to do

Amongst a society that has placed a premium on work and prizes workaholics, Russell’s praise for idleness feels more needed and yet further away than ever. Trends like the Great Resignation and “quiet quitting” demonstrate that worker dissatisfaction is starting to permeate the workforce at large. Shifts to a four-day work week or five-hour workday could be solutions, granting employees autonomy and opportunity for rest at little to no cost to business – potentially even improving productivity and profits.

But given it took a global pandemic to even vaguely move the world away from Henry Ford’s modus operandi first adopted some 97 years ago, it would be optimistic to think such large-scale changes are on their way any time soon.





















Leading by example is a long-standing trope. So far as it concerns setting the tone—it is the foundation for all that follows. However, one cannot expect to manage others effectively if they do not manage themselves well. That means being aware of your emotions and thoughts, processing and regulating them, and effectively dealing with high levels of sustained stress and its ripples.

Not a mantra but a mindset

Mindfulness, or being mindful, is an idea that many of us are familiar with. We hear it used in various contexts and situations, yet, for many, it is as ambiguous as ubiquitous. Although it is slightly more complex than it seems, once we grasp its underlying meaning, the rest quickly falls into place.

Both an act and state of being, mindfulness implies being aware of the present moment and, crucially, understanding its effects and impermanence. It is a concept that has been explored in Buddhist teachings for thousands of years but has reached a critical mass contemporarily because it is really about how we navigate our human experience. Here are some beginning parameters:

In the current era we live in—defined in part by its relentless pace, high visibility, technology-driven communication overreach, and burn-out-oriented lifestyles—mindfulness is a necessity. You may already be practising it without knowing that you are. If that is the case, expand from that base. What is more, the better you become at being mindful, the more likely you are to minimise stress and potentially gain some of these additional mental health benefits:

Not surprisingly, mindfulness-based relaxation techniques also boost overall well-being. In this way, it is a foundation for everything that comes after. Moreover, its evident slant towards processing somatic experiences and managing a range of psychosocial dynamics promotes healthier relationships. Within leadership, your greatest skill is adroitly managing your charges. The second to that is managing yourself. Mindfulness holistically aids both.

It starts within

Self-management is the bedrock of employee management. It requires being and projecting calm, impulse control, applying short, medium, and long-term vision, making hard decisions at difficult moments, reading and responding to subtle or hidden cues, navigating factors outside of one’s control, and overcoming consistent stress. Let us expand on the last since effective stress management buttresses the potentiality to execute most leadership tasks.

Stress is universal, but leaders contend with the highest levels of review and scrutiny because they are ultimately responsible. They face numerous and sometimes-unknowable problems. If the unexpected provides some mitigation for setbacks, it does not shield anyone from the fallouts of unmet objectives. There must always be answers or solutions. For this reason, leaders must be answerable to the present, future, and sometimes even the past. Eliminating stress is, therefore, not a reasonable goal when these are the stakes, and its triggers are particularly multi-layered for those making decisions. Rather than seek the impossible, or hide from the inevitable, stress management is then a twin pillar of performance and leadership.

Under the surface, the amygdala is the area of the brain that processes feelings and memories associated with anger and fear and governs strong or sudden emotions. Duly, it is responsible for the fight-or-flight response. When facing a perceived threat, the amygdala will send information to other parts of the brain to prepare the body to face the situation or flee. While its primary role may relate to survival, it is also essential to daily functioning. Without this, we risk amygdala hijacking, losing control, and generating overemotional or irrational responses to situations that should not elicit them.

Additionally, research indicates that the amygdala influences cognitive functions such as memory formation, decision-making, attention, and social behaviour. Studies suggest that intense or chronic stress is linked to unwanted neuronal activity in the amygdala (Correll et al., 2005). Tangentially, synaptic plasticity, which is the ability for synapses to strengthen or weaken, and is tied to learning, may be impacted by stress (Vouimba et al., 2004). If nothing else, these findings reflect that the brain’s capability to respond optimally to anxiety or tense moments and carry out some basic cognitive tasks can be weakened by prolonged stress. One’s overall psychiatric state can be eroded or made erratic (Radley et al., 2015). These streams of neural activity also steal resources from the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain utilised for effective problem-solving. If stress is unavoidable and destructive, dealing with it, and being able to reset amid tremendous pressure, is of the utmost importance.

Training your mind and body

There is not a more competitive environment than the world of elite sports. Today’s most successful teams hire specialists from inside and outside the game to maximise all aspects of performance. Routinely, mindfulness coaches work with athletes to overcome performance constraints like anxiety, doubt, distraction, and physical and mental fatigue. These problems extend beyond sports; we must also learn to push back these disruptive forces.

On an upcoming episode of the 1% podcast, we sat down with Christian Straka, a former professional tennis player who is now a mindfulness-based mental performance coach for Adidas running. He is a member of the International Mindfulness Teachers association and works closely with the Mindful Awareness Research Centre at the University of California Los Angeles. It is one of many. The fact that these types of organisations and institutions exist reiterates interest in and the value of mindfulness. Christian himself views mindfulness as ‘the next great competitive edge.’ 

If athletes turn to mindfulness for marginal gains, you should too. So how do we train our minds to perform better in comparatively more mundane circumstances? Think of mindfulness as you would fitness. Develop a routine. There are health-based apps for yoga, relaxation and other related practices. For those starting from scratch, there are one-stop mindfulness apps offering everything from instruction, guided meditation, sleep schedules and data sets for mind-body health. Helpful as these are, mindfulness is about more than using technology. Eventually, it has to come from a deeper place. We must be the gadget, as Christian advises. Hence, the change must come from within. That means making mental health more of a priority.

Incorporating mindfulness practices is not always easy for those whose schedules are already overburdening, and we frequently assume we do not have time. That stance may seem practical and inconsequential, but it is an example of the mental training paradox, which has to do with rationalising a lack of personal investment in committing ourselves to mental health. We make excuses for not caring for our minds like we would our bodies. We should be wary of these thoughts. Even minor changes can spark significant transformation down the line. Forbes Health offers these tips for the workday:

Replenishment, rest and recovery, reframing

Emotional intensity wears us down. Focus is lost more easily when fatigued. There is an obvious need to deal with stress when it surfaces, but what about after? How do we stop a cycle of mental and physical erosion, which feed off each other? The most important answer is allowing oneself means of replenishing and modes of relaxation during and after the workday.

Recovery does not pertain to the body alone. It is a means of dealing with and overcoming stress, and its role is paramount relative to performance. Rest matters. Simply put, we cannot reach our peak physical or mental performance levels—and sustain them—without establishing a consistent and healthy sleep routine. The same can be said for de-escalation and relaxation at home. Establish firm boundaries between your work life and personal life.

Reframe your relationship with stress. Many believe overcoming intense periods of pressure created a foundation for later success and shaped who they are. Surveys show that we associate these points in our professional lives with growth. We repackage it as fuel. The suffering is made to appear necessary. It is not. Just because stress is inevitable in the corporate world, we should not celebrate it. Mindfulness teaches us to work well through difficult moments, to minimise the damage, and give us a basis to recover after.

At points of acute stress, be aware that the current moment is temporary, and take concrete steps to reduce your anxiety and tension. This awareness separates the very best performers from everyone else. It is not entirely about skill or talent but about aptitude to deal with the moment.

Stress filters out

Workplaces are social ecosystems. That last word is intentional; it implies a purposeful balance. As discussed in a previous 1% Extra article, leadership, organisational structure, the material office environment, and opportunities for cooperation and promotion contribute toward cultures of meaning. Scientific research and analysis from the Harvard Business Review show that these factors also affect employees’ well-being, happiness, sense of purpose, and performance. Stress, as an element, is a fifth column. It disrupts the balance in the workplace, impedes productivity, and creates low morale.

Thus, try to reduce the impact of the inevitable. Many companies offer training on how to mitigate stress, which sheds light on adverse health effects. Encourage others to take up these types of programmes if available, and implement them if they are not already. Mental health is not and should not feel like a stigma. Do not let people get stressed out about being stressed out.  

Learn to recognise and eliminate stress factors in your control. You may be one of them. Through expectations and demands, managers can escalate a group’s anxiety level. Actively support team members by displaying a level of investment in them. This small act shows that you are aware and supportive. As a leader, this is a skill you should have and rely on to inspire.


The corporate professional landscape often generates stress as a fait accompli. Therefore, navigating obstacles in one’s mind matters as much as navigating everything else. Mindfulness, as a force encompassing reflection, perspective and responsiveness, is not a marginal gain. It is a must. Being mindful throughout the day supports mental and physical health and strengthens your outward demeanour and social relationships.

Use the numerous apps, therapies, activities, and meditative outlets available. Anything that works has merit, at least in the short term. However, by approaching feelings of anxiety, mental and physical exhaustion, or any other manifestation of stress through mindfulness, you may see more significant benefits in the long term. In this regard, it is wide-ranging and far-reaching. It is exponential, so add it to what is already benefitting you. During high-pressure situations, it offers a sense of calm. As concerning matters pile up in your inbox or fester in your head, it brings focus and positivity.

Incorporating mindfulness into your day can be simple, even during the busiest times. Engaging in a few brief positive exercises can have a lasting impact. Every hidden advantage counts even more as the stakes rise. You need to be at your peak when things are on the line. When that is impossible, you need to perform well through adversity. Remember, influential leaders do not ignore stress or suppress emotions; they contend with them like they would any problem or task. That means finding mindful solutions.


Achor, S. (2012, January 1). Positive Intelligence. Harvard Business Review.

 Borst, H. (2021, November 16). How To Practice Mindfulness On The Go. Forbes Health.

Correll, C. M., Rosenkranz, J. A., & Grace, A. A. (2005). Chronic Cold Stress Alters Prefrontal Cortical Modulation of Amygdala Neuronal Activity in Rats. Biological Psychiatry, 58, 382–391.

Dalton, S. (2022, December 16). Creating and fostering cultures of meaning. Steering Point Leadership Advisory Firm.

 Frothingham, M. B. (n.d.). Fight, Flight, Freeze, or Fawn: How We Respond to Threats. Simply Psychology. Retrieved January 27, 2023, from

Guy-Evans, O. (n.d.-a). Amygdala Function and Location. Simply Psychology.

Guy-Evans, O. (n.d.-b). Amygdala Hijack and the Fight or Flight Response. Psychology Today.

McDermott, N. (2022, August 12). What Is Mindfulness—And How Can I Incorporate It Into My Daily Routine? Forbes Health.

Radley, J., Morilak, D., Viau, V., & Campeau, S. (2015). Chronic stress and brain plasticity: mechanisms underlying adaptive and maladaptive changes and implications for stress-related CNS disorders. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 58, 79–91.

Vouimba, R.-M., Yaniv, D., Diamond, D., & Richter-Levin, G. (2004). Effects of inescapable stress on LTP in the amygdala versus the dentate gyrus of freely behaving rats. The European Journal of Neuroscience, 19(7), 1887–1894.

When asked how he went bankrupt, a character in Ernest Hemmingway’s The Sun Also Rises responds, “Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.” This description encapsulates so many of the changes that emerged as a result of the pandemic, most especially within the workplace. Plenty of the shifts we saw to working practices—such as introducing some form of home or hybrid working as standard—have already become accepted1 as part of the much-touted “new normal”. Others are still evolving, not least when it comes to the relationship between businesses and their employees’ health and wellbeing. One practice that has emerged as potentially pivotal in bridging the gap between personal welfare and workplace performance is that of mindfulness.


The Oxford Mindfulness Center2 defines mindfulness as “moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience, without judgment.” Dan Harris, author of 10 Percent Happier3, describes it even more plainly. “I think of mindfulness as the ability not to be yanked around by your own emotions”. Whatever definition you use, the consensus is that mindfulness offers an array of benefits on a personal and professional level. Which is why it’s no wonder business innovators—some before the pandemic, many after— have chosen to bring it into the workplace.

Tipping point

A 2019 survey by LinkedIn4 found that nearly half of workers feel stress in their jobs, with 70% of them feeling it as a result of their workload and their work-life balance. Meanwhile Gallup5 found that 23% of employees feel burnout at work very often or always, and a further 44% reported feeling it sometimes. The fact that these findings are from before the pandemic makes clear that businesses had been dancing on cracks for a long time before the ultimate disaster struck, and that the system (or at least a stark number of the employees within it) were teetering on the brink. To call the pandemic the straw that broke the camel’s back would be to minimize its devastation. But let’s face it, the camel was staggering and stumbling for a long while before whispers started emerging from Wuhan.

Some businesses could see that. It’s why many of the leading corporate innovators had been incrementally introducing mindfulness techniques to their work environment through the late 2000s and 2010s6. Apple, Google, Twitter, and a whole host of other Silicon Valley movers and shakers were championing everything from meditation rooms to in-office yoga and mindfulness classes through mindful lunches. That was Hemmingway’s gradually. Then, in March 2020, came the suddenly. Worker welfare became unignorable. Mindfulness emerged as a clear solution.

Mindfulness productivity gains and profit

Reducing burnout and caring for worker well-being are some of the benefits mindfulness offers businesses. But to put the major tech players’ adoption of such techniques down purely to concern for their personnel may be to give them undeserved credit. While worker welfare likely did factor into their reasoning, they were no doubt also influenced by the numbers surrounding mindfulness’ productivity gains.

Aetna, a US health insurer that trained 13,000 employees in mindfulness practices, estimated an annual productivity improvement of around $3,000 per employee, as well as a reported reduction in stress levels of 28%7. Meanwhile SAP, a leading German software company, saw a 200%8 return on investment, based on data from a survey undertaken with the help of 650 SAP employees who underwent mindfulness training through the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute9 (SIYLI). Awareness around well-being and mental health has increased in prominence across society as a whole and the business world is no different, but it would be naïve to pretend the bottom-line numbers weren’t a major contributory factor—if not the primary one— in mindfulness’ corporate ascendency.


Of course, to give Silicon Valley credit for the benefits of mindfulness would be myopic in the extreme. These ideas are of an Eastern origin and have been around for millennia. Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of MBSR10 (mindfulness-based stress reduction), is often attributed with bringing mindfulness techniques westwards in the 1970s. Though it’s the advent of more modern technology—best exemplified by the then-unimaginable convenience of yoga and meditation apps— that has contributed significantly to the practice’s meteoric rise.

Spirituality integrates with business

While it may be tempting to presume that utilising these grand spiritual ideas for corporate agendas was a result of this move westwards, instigated by the monetise-at-all-costs instincts of Mega Capitalism, that assumption would be wrong. East Asian corporations such as Panasonic and Toyota have long been taking advantage of ancient teachings in a corporate context11. In fact, “zen”, a widely recognised if less widely understood concept relating to (and deriving from the Sanskrit translation of) meditation, is the foundation of the term “kaizen”.

Kaizen12 is a commonplace piece of business terminology in Japan, meaning change for the better or continuous improvement. It involves making the work environment more efficient and effective by creating a team atmosphere, improving everyday procedures, ensuring employee engagement, and making a job more fulfilling, less tiring, and safer. Its prevalence demonstrates that the marriage between mindfulness and corporate practice is no recent (or exclusively western) thing.

The benefits

When looking at the benefits mindfulness offers, it’s easy to see why it’s an appealing prospect to all parties, east and west. Mindfulness has been found to help reduce emotional exhaustion13, to help foster compassion and empathy14, to improve decision making15, to reduce aggression16, to generate greater attention and focus17, to promote divergent thinking18, to reduce stress, and to improve short term memory19. It is a seemingly endless list of benefits, each impacting instrumental parts of our day-to-day life, personal and professional. What’s more, research20 shows that only short mindfulness sessions are necessary to achieve such results, rather than any dramatic lifestyle overhaul. A matter of minutes each day is enough. It’s no wonder businesses see it as an easy win. Even the US army is using mindfulness21 training to help soldiers better prepare for and deal with stress, before and after deployment.

The science

How mindfulness works and how it impacts—and potentially alters—our brain has unsurprisingly been the intrigue of scientists and academics the world over. In their book Altered Traits22, Daniel Goleman, a Harvard psychologist, and Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, found that mindfulness practices such as breathing meditation are associated with decreased gray-matter density in the amygdala, the region of the brain that initiates a response to stress. Researchers at the University of the Sunshine Coast23 in Australia found that mindfulness training increased the efficiency of brain pathways that process information coming in from the senses. In other words, participants in their study were found to literally see information more accurately24. The idea that mindfulness can genuinely re-wire our brains continues to enthral, and the evidence is mounting.

Going forwards

Scott Shute25, former Head of Mindfulness and Compassion at LinkedIn, author of The Full Body Yes: Change Your Work and Your World from the Inside Out, and upcoming guest on The 1% Podcast26, wants to mainstream mindfulness—in the workplace and beyond. Scott says that we should treat mindfulness in the same way we trat our physical health. “Fifty years ago, physical exercise was a strange thing. Now, every company feels good if they can provide gyms at work.”27 His argument is that in the same way we make time to exercise or go out of our way to eat nutritiously, we should also make the effort to strengthen our minds.

Considering the wide-scale proven benefits, the relatively little effort needed to achieve them, and the ubiquity of mindfulness apps28 offering free trials for curious parties, now feels as good a time as ever to start your mindfulness journey. One that will likely provoke change in two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.

More on burnout

More on mindfulness






























What does it mean for a person to function at their peak? Peak performance means that all basic needs are met so the mind and body are nourished, which allows for the highest level of success. It’s about long-term, consistent, and sustainable growth.

Often, peak performance is a term used in the athletics world. Athletes are in a constant cycle of training and recovery, learning their body’s cues in order to perform their best in matches or competitions. But the same mentality and techniques can be applied to entrepreneurship, the business world, or to anyone who is striving to live their best life. Superhuman status is not just for the elite.

“Peak performance in life isn’t about succeeding all the time or even being happy all the time. It’s often about compensating, adjusting, and doing the best you can with what you have right now.” — Ken Ravizza, Sport Psychologist

Ken Ravizza, Sport Psychologist

The power of the to-do list

It may seem simple, but one way to achieve peak function is by writing down goals and to-do lists for accountability. The goals should be SMART goals: specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, and time-bound. But a to-do list can include everything from long-term planning to what to accomplish before breakfast the next day. To-do lists help to organise the mind in a more linear fashion and create space to focus on the present moment rather than stressing about what’s to come.

It is also important to not rigidly adhere to a to-do list. Psychologists have found that a growth mindset is more indicative of long-term success and motivation. Part of being a highly successful person is learning to adapt to the inevitable fluctuations of life.

Mindfulness & mental health

Mindfulness and meditation can help with stress and the ability to remain calm under pressure. Prioritising mental health is equally important as physical health and the items on a to-do list. Goals are important, but they also need to be sustainable.

In fact, in a study in The Journal of Cognitive Enhancement, athletes who performed just twelve minutes of meditation a day showed higher mental resilience than those who didn’t. They also had more improved focus during training. Rest and recovery can often seem counterintuitive when schedules are jam-packed and the lists endless, but ultimately, taking the time to be present and slow down will lead to more effective results.

Diet, nutrition & sleep

A healthy diet, nutrition, and adequate sleep are essential to achieve peak performance. Sleep debt — fewer than seven hours of sleep — may be an ‘unrecognised, but likely critical factor in reaching peak performance’, says Cheri Mah, researcher at the Stanford Sleep Disorder Clinic and Research Laboratory. There is a strong correlation between diet and nutrition and quality of sleep. For example, sugar, caffeine, and alcohol negatively impact sleep, whereas eating a Mediterranean diet, and a diet high in Omega fatty acids, may lead to more restful sleep (Godos et al., 2019).

Many high performers work around their ‘peak performance hours’, which is the time of day when a person is most efficient based on the body’s chronotype and circadian rhythms. In other words, knowing whether one is a night owl, or a morning bird can help determine the day’s structure for optimal success.

The importance of deep work & flow

Lastly, the ability to be in flow is not only a factor in success but also happiness and overall life satisfaction. ‘Flow’, a term first coined by positive psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, refers to being completely immersed in the task at hand. It can be achieved by avoiding multitasking, focusing on quality of the work rather than doing as many things as fast as possible, and by doing a task that is enjoyable.

In the book, The Leading Brain: Powerful Science-Based Strategies for Achieving Peak Performance, the authors explain that optimal focus also requires some level of stress. Too much stress will inhibit focus, and too little leads to a lack of motivation. To achieve deep flow, then, there needs to be some sense of urgency in the work. There needs to be a purpose driving the task.


Peak performance is not achieved overnight. It requires consistent practice, having clear goals, and holding oneself accountable, while also maintaining a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Anyone can achieve peak performance and success by implementing the right habits.

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