Quick Mindfulness Skills for Busy Days

“The field of consciousness is tiny. It accepts only one problem at a time.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry 

When you’re immersed in an incredibly busy or hectic day, your mind may be bouncing around between many thoughts and your emotional state may react to stimuli with a heightened sense of anxiety, agitation, or fear. For some people, the idea of practicing mindfulness skills on a busy day sounds like an impossibility or even a luxury that they simply can’t afford. After all, on the busiest of days, it can feel as though each minute is of supreme value and must be allocated in an efficient way to deal with the tasks at hand. There is arguably no better time to pause and refocus your mind, body, and emotions through simple mindfulness exercises.

Stress Threshold

In a rather ironic way, the more that the mind speeds up and kicks into overdrive with a seemingly endless list of tasks and chores, the less efficient the mind tends to become at meeting the necessary demands of the day. In this state of hyperarousal, “everything” can seem of great importance, which can understandably leave one feeling frazzled. It may feel as though your mind experiences a sort of “short circuit” when it’s overloaded with too much. This is natural. Your mind is most efficient when it fully attends to one task at a time.

People vary in how high or low their thresholds are for feeling overwhelmed, but the important thing to remember is that we all have a point at which, once passed, we are no longer effective in meeting our goals. In these moments, it is typically in your best interest to pause, take stock of the current situation, and reengage with it when you are back to your emotional baseline. When you surpass your individual stress threshold, you may feel incredibly anxious, hopeless, or tired. We all have a point at which we must rest. It’s worth noting that having a higher stress threshold does not make one “superior” or “better.” If there is anything that tips the scale toward “better” or “worse,” I contend that it is awareness of one’s personal limits and optimal levels of arousal for peak performance that make one “better.”

If you are experiencing one of those days wherein you feel frazzled, ineffective, or mentally fatigued, the simple act of noticing that you are feeling this way is an act of mindfulness. Turning your attention toward your subjective experience can serve as the impetus by which to draw upon your “mindfulness toolkit” and pull out a brief mindfulness exercise to “reset” and become more present.

When you’re immersed in an incredibly busy or hectic day, your mind may be bouncing around between many thoughts and your emotional state may respond with an inner sense of anxiety or fear. For some people, the idea of practicing mindfulness skills on a busy day sounds like an impossibility or a luxury that they simply don’t have. After all, on the busiest of days, it can feel as though each minute is of supreme value and must be allocated in an efficient way to deal with the tasks at hand.

3 Quick Mindfulness Exercises

These quick mindfulness practices are not only intended for overwhelmingly busy days, but they just so happen to be quick and simple enough that – with practice – you can draw upon them in times of need. Take a moment to read through the following mindfulness exercises (adapted from an article by Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.) and notice what exercise(s) stand out to you as personally appealing or useful.

(1) Appreciation & Gratitude

Remember that no matter how hectic your day, your life, or your “world” might feel, you are still here… breathing in… breathing out. Take a moment to observe how your legs support your body as you move through the day. Direct appreciation and gratitude toward the parts of yourself that are under physical or emotional strain. Notice how your mind and body continue to work tirelessly in an effort to maintain an inner state of balance. No matter how stressed you are, pause to remember that you are graced with a competent physical form, mental acuity, and emotional awareness. Physically, mentally, and emotionally, you are equipped to face challenges with courage and poise.

(2) Grounding

Take a moment to pause and notice the physical sensations of your feet as they touch the ground… or the feeling of your chair supporting your body. Grounding exercises may take the form of walking meditation. As you go about your day, however busy it may be, you can still practice this simple mindfulness exercise. Direct your focus to the sensation of your heels as they touch the ground, the bottoms of your feet as they make contact with the ground, your toes as they begin to propel you forward, and the feeling of your feet lifting off the ground. Dr. Elisha Goldstein suggests a simple mantra to say to yourself through this exercise: “Heel, foot, toes, lift…” This type of mantra is one way to anchor yourself more fully in the present moment as you walk.

(3) Awaken to Your Senses

Slow down and take a deep breath in. Notice the temperature and scents in the air with complete openness, curiosity, and awareness. Blink your eyes a few times and pause to really take a look at your surroundings. How does the air, the rays of the sun, or your clothing feel against your skin? What aspects of your environment had you not actually noticed before you really looked? Notice whatever sounds are nearby or off in the distance. How does your present moment experience change when you make the choice to tune in to your senses in a mindful way? Tuning in to your sensory experience is a simple way to ground yourself more fully in the “now” and to become more sensitively attuned to both the obvious and subtle nuances of your physical environment.

What would it be like to challenge yourself to practice just one of these three quick mindfulness exercises each day for the next week?  None of these mindfulness exercises will take away from your work or play time… if anything, strengthening your mindfulness “muscle” has the potential to enhance the quality of both work and play. Still not convinced? Do a quick cost-benefit analysis in your mind… what are the potential “costs” associated with practicing one of these mindfulness exercises each day this week? On the other hand, what are the potential “benefits” that you might experience as a result of this simple mindfulness practice? If you find yourself struggling to come up with good reasons to take a few minutes – or even moments – out of your day to connect with the present moment, then it seems rather silly not to give it a shot. After all, what do you have to lose?

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Goldstein, E. (2014). The Power of Mindfulness On-the-Go. PsychCentral: Mindfulness and Psychotherapy. Retrieved from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/mindfulness/2014/06/the-power-of-mindfulness-on-the-go/

Featured image: asa_yoga_meditating by Minoru Nitta / CC BY 2.0

About Laura K. Schenck, Ph.D., LPC

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado. Some of my academic interests include: Dialectical Behavior Therapy, mindfulness, stress reduction, work/life balance, mood disorders, identity development, supervision & training, and self-care.


  1. James Francis on November 21, 2014 at 11:29 am

    It strikes me as quite correct that one has nothing to lose by performing these exercises.

    For people who feel as though they are so busy they don’t have the time and are not persuaded that taking time out of their day to perform these exercises will result in a net gain in productivity, I’d suggest that all three exercises can be performed while “multitasking.”

    After all, all three exercises can be easily and safely performed while driving, for example.

    • Laura on November 26, 2014 at 1:27 am

      James – I’m glad to hear that this article resonated with you. It seems to me that above and beyond one’s professional obligations, responsibilities to self and others, or seemingly endless task list, the willingness to be present is of crucial importance.

      It can feel difficult to tap into authentic appreciation and gratitude for many people, especially when faced with challenges. Understandably, this may even seem like “yet another task” to complete.

      In my view, the “task” of choosing to adopt a more appreciative and mindful outlook on one’s life costs quite little when compared to the potential reward(s). I would not deny that many people are indeed “busy,” and the notion of adding something… anything… to their already cumbersome routines sounds unpleasant.

      The trick is to differentiate between new behaviors and ways of thinking that eliminate unnecessary stressors and those that amplify or add to preexisting stressors.

      Mindfulness can be as simple or as complex of a “practice” as the individual chooses… however, focusing on the breath, tuning into one’s sensory experience, and consciously appreciating life – just as it is right now – remains rife with simplicity, accessibility, and benefits… (even while driving!).

      Thanks for your comment!


  2. Eva Tortora on November 22, 2014 at 3:01 pm

    I totally understand! I try to do only one thing at a time. its a new technique i learned in the past three years. sometimes i can be doing too many things at once!!!! eva tortora actress.artist.writer

    • Laura on November 26, 2014 at 1:39 am

      Eva – the concept of doing one thing at a time sounds quite easy to some people, yet the practice of truly being present and focused on ONE thing at any given time takes discipline. It’s easy for our thoughts and emotions to become sidetracked – in positive or negative directions – when our attention is scattered. All that “is” exists in this present moment… the past, a memory; the future, a dream.

      Few people are truly “too busy” to be fully awake and engaged with life right NOW… and who those people are, I don’t know. I do know that however “busy” or “bored” a person’s life feels or appears to others, the choice to notice the sensation of air filling the lungs with a deep exhale and leaving the body through an outward breath is a simple mindfulness exercise for just about anyone to practice. It is perhaps the simplest form of centering oneself in the moment, busy or not. If you’re breathing, you can observe your breath with mindful awareness… even when it seems like you’re “too busy.”

      Thanks for your comment, Eva!


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