The PM Podcast


Project Management for Beginners and Experts

Episode 400: Mindfulness for Project Managers (Free)

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Margaret Meloni
Margaret Meloni, MBA, PMP

Becoming better at project management and by extension also becoming a better project manager does not necessarily mean learning about and then also implementing the latest tools, techniques or methodologies. Instead, it can simply mean that you start paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally. That’s mindfulness.

Mindfulness as a business practice and leadership tool has seen a significant increase in press coverage lately. It originally started out as a means for improving yourself and your interactions with others but you will find that many leadership articles in the large business journals will make reference to it.

And so we are very glad to welcome Margaret Meloni (www.margaretmeloni.com) to look at Mindfulness for Project Managers with us today. We will give you a definition, discuss the benefits, but most importantly we go through a number of familiar project management situations to see how mindfulness will help us improve and become better leaders.

Episode Transcript

Below are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete transcript is available to Premium subscribers only.

Podcast Introduction

Cornelius Fichtner:   In this episode of the Project Management Podcast™, we look at how mindfulness will not only help you to be more in the moment but deliver better projects as a result.  

Hello and welcome to the Project Management Podcast™ at www.pm-podcast.com . This is Episode #400 and I am Cornelius Fichtner. Thank you for joining us. If you listen to the podcast regularly, then you will probably already have noticed that this didn’t sound like it used to and you would be right. We have decided to make a few minor adjustments here and there in the show’s structure. But of course, we are going to continue to bring you expert guests and quality interviews. The topic today is Mindfulness and our guest is Margaret Meloni. Becoming better at Project Management and by extension also becoming a better project manager does not necessarily mean learning about it and also implementing the latest tools, techniques or methodologies. Instead, it can simply mean that you start paying attention in a particular way on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally. That’s mindfulness. Mindfulness as a business practice has seen a significant increase in press coverage lately. It originally started out as a means for improving yourself and your interactions with others but you will find that many leadership articles in the large business journals will make reference to it. And so, we are very glad to welcome Margaret Meloni to look at Mindfulness for project managers with us today. We will give you a definition, discuss the benefits but most importantly we will go through a number of familiar Project Management situations to see how Mindfulness will help us improve.

Podcast Interview

Cornelius Fichtner:   Hello Margaret and welcome to the 400th podcast episode.

Margaret Meloni:   Wow! Cornelius, thank you!

Cornelius Fichtner:   Mindfulness. What exactly is mindfulness? How do you define it?

Margaret:   Simply, and yet it’s not simple. It’s pure awareness. When you first become aware of something, there’s this moment of pure awareness. Before you start hanging all your thoughts and stuff on it, before you start conceptualizing it and framing it. For example, when an idea pops in your head and it feels like it came from nowhere, the moment before you start putting all kinds of mental parameters around it, that’s mindfulness. When out of nowhere you realize why you [audio glitch] the budget presentation, that’s a form of mindfulness. It’s present-time awareness, it’s non-judgmental observation, it’s non-egoistic. So, if you’re aware of something and not putting in the context about how it’s about you and your world and this is an odd one for those of us who are project managers, it’s actually goal-less. It’s actually goal-less but it can actually help us meet our goals and we’ll talk about that later. It’s awareness of change and all of the above is essentially with some form of meditation or practice of quieting the mind. See, it’s simple but not simple.   

Cornelius:   What can our Project Management Podcast™ listeners expect to learn from this discussion here today?

Margaret:   Well, a better understanding of what mindfulness is –why mindfulness can make you a better project manager, why mindfulness is more than just a buzz word, how to practice mindfulness on your own and also with your team.

Cornelius:   And what are some of the specific benefits of being more mindful?  

Margaret:   Mindfulness actually reminds us of what we’re supposed to be doing. When we have these moments of pure awareness, they help to re-focus us. For example, if you became aware that the communication you just sent did not have any intended result, your next thought is about focusing on what to do about it. So it helps with focus and concentration. It’s not concentration, by the way, but it leads to concentration so that a flash of where to place your attention which then helps you develop your concentration skills. Flashes of pure awareness drive creativity and problem solving. It helps you self-regulate and we’ve had conversations in the past about emotional intelligence or self-control or self-regulation as a key part of emotional intelligence. It reduces stress and anxiety. It reduces bias, because remember we said it’s non-judgmental observation so when you can foster this non-judgmental observation, this attitude carries into your everyday thoughts and interactions. And when you have more non-judgmental moments and less bias, you have stronger professional and personal relationships. So while we’re discussing soft skills, [audio glitch] fit to the bottom line. When you have it in place, you’re healthier, form stronger teams and have reduced anxiety, you have a competitive advantage.

Cornelius:    In preparation of this interview, I went ahead and I purchased a magazine –it’s called the Mindfulness Magazine. What I noticed is the fact that the articles in the magazine, they’re all aimed at you and me as individuals, helping us with mindfulness in our private life. But then I saw that all the advertising in the magazine was for Mindfulness Training aimed at businesses. So, bring us in as consultants, we’ll help you become more mindful in your business. How big is mindfulness in corporations for business use?

Margaret:   It’s big and growing. A lot of corporations are eager to find the next tool or technique to help them advance. I’ll say that’s the buzz word aspect of all these. Remember there was a time when authenticity was the buzz word? Authenticity is important but sometimes it’s over-used. Accountability was an over-used buzz word. It’s important to be accountable but –there’s some aspect of mindfulness where it’s becoming this popular buzz word, the next big thing BUT there’s a value here that we want to hang on to. I just want to give you some backgrounds here. In 2015, Harvard Business Review in one of their articles said this: Mindfulness should no longer be considered a “nice-to-have” for executives. It’s a “must-have”, a way to keep our brains healthy to support self-regulative, affective decision-making capabilities and to protect ourselves from toxic stress.

When Harvard Business Review says something is a “nice-to-have”, that’s certainly a call—a call to arms –if I would say that mindfulness is peaceful but that’s the saying that came to mind and to come to this year, 2017 in Inc., mindfulness-based businesses are listed as one of the best industries for starting a business. So you can expect more, and that’s get to some of the meat here. Right now, it’s estimated to be a $1.1B industry in the United States.

Cornelius:   Wow! I’m going to start the Mindfulness podcast pretty soon if you continue to market it to me like this. [laughs]

Margaret:   Yup. And also, there’s a lot of good there and then like anything else where something becomes popular and everyone charges over to it, we want to be mindful in our selections of our sources to help us with these, right? —which we’ll talk a little bit more about that later.  

Cornelius:   Yeah. So, let’s start bringing this all together for project managers. We, project managers, we often lead projects that innovate our business. Maybe we have to define new processes for our organization or develop new products. Is there a link between mindfulness and the innovation-type work that we do?

Margaret:  Absolutely! Now mindfulness helps to quiet the mind. It helps us when we say—we talk how mindfulness leads to focus and concentration. What we mean is because it reduces all that chatter that’s going on, the “Oh my gosh I have to go to the grocery store”, “Oh, by the way, did I close that door and should I close the windows before I go out?” and “Oh, this person needs me to send this budget report”. All of that. Mindfulness helps to quiet that chatter and when our chatter is quiet or—let’s say it another way, when we have silenced the cognitive control network, we are more capable of divergent thinking and why do we care about divergent thinking? So those of you who have studied problem solving—team problem solving or even individual problem solving but I’m thinking of the team problem solving model, we want to lead our team members through divergent thinking. That’s the—pardon the cliché—thinking outside of the box, coming up with all kinds of great creative ideas and so that type of thinking again it requires that silencing of the cognitive control network—that constant chatter that goes on in our minds, and also that voice that judges ideas, so that unfortunately sometimes in a brainstorming or divergent thinking session, somebody will think of something and then they’ll stop themselves, they’ll judge themselves and they won’t let the idea come out. And we want those ideas to come out so we want to silence that chatter so that we can allow those brainstorming ideas to come out.

Cornelius:   Mindfulness is a soft skill but managing the budget, schedule, scope and risks on our projects, they’re more leaning towards the hardest side of the things that we have to do. Can we use mindfulness in those areas and how do we do that?

Margaret:   Sure. You know, again, mindfulness is not concentration but it leads to concentration. When I can spend some time daily just quieting my mind and allowing myself to have some of these flashes of pure awareness, later I am able to have more concentration and letting me know where I should place my attention. So a question for you and everyone listening: “Have you ever messed up a schedule or budget because you’re so overwhelmed by everything else?”  

Cornelius:   Never.

Margaret:   OK, well, you’re perfect. But—I have.

Cornelius: [laughs]

Margaret:   You can’t see me because we’re in a podcast but I’m over here raising my hands. I have. Have you ever made a mistake due to stress?

Cornelius:   Yeah.

Margaret:   Have you ever had to work with a team to come up with a creative response to a risk?

Cornelius:   Almost daily.

Margaret:   And remember mindfulness helps us to be able to have more of that creative thinking. Have you ever realized that your presentation about the facts of a project was falling flat—that you’re losing your audience and your support?

Cornelius: [laughs] Yeah, yeah.

Margaret:   I mean, maybe not you, but certainly—oh my gosh—when I was new, some of my beginning presentations, so many people I should call and apologize to.

Cornelius:   Yeah

Margaret:   As you have more mindful moments, and as your cognition improves, your ability to handle distractions improves and distractions take away from our ability to do a good job with the schedule and the budgets and the risks because if I’m a distracted thinker, then no matter what the task at hand is, I can’t do as good a job. So when we can handle distraction, we can be good at the hard skills.

Cornelius:   Yeah, I agree, yes. Sometimes you’re just in the zone and you just hear and everything seems to click and then you’re just moving forward so much better. Is the zone part of mindfulness?

Above are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete transcript is available to Premium subscribers only. Please subscribe to our Premium Podcast to receive a PDF transcript.

Tags: PDUs: Leadership, Project Manager Soft Skills

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