Six Tools to Enjoy Your Job Like a Zen Monk

Note: This is a guest post by Karl Staib of Work Happy Now!

Reaching a Zen-like state when working is not about being absolutely blissful. It’s a myth that monks walk around with fixed smiles on their faces.

Some probably do, but most are like you and me. They have their ups and downs while working.

But what they’ve learned to do is focus on the everyday routine and immerse themselves in every task they do.

No matter how they are feeling they are completely in the moment.

1. Stay aware of yourself and your surroundings

When Zen monks cook a meal they notice the smells of the rice and vegetables, the movements of their wrists as they chop the celery and their breath as they move from one task to another. They are aware of all these things because they understand that being lost in thought, whether it be about their friend or what they will read before they go to bed, doesn’t help them enjoy the work that they are doing.

They expand their awareness to soak up everything that they are experiencing. This happens naturally, especially when we are excited about a certain task. Think about something that you love to do. Maybe it’s hanging out with your kids, or a Saturday drive to your favorite store. Everything feels relaxed and wonderful because you’ve cultivated the Zen monk mindset. You don’t want any sensation to pass you by because it’s there to be enjoyed.

2. Work at a Comfortable Pace

You should take your time no matter what you are doing. When you are walking around your favorite store, you probably do it deliberately, making sure you don’t miss a thing.

You have the ability to cultivate this attitude at work. When typing an email you don’t have to type slowly, but you should feel comfortable with the rhythm so you don’t feel rushed.

If you are anything like me you probably don’t work well or happy when you feel hurried. You need to work at the speed with which you feel comfortable, so you can enjoy the process.

3. Take a Few Moments to Transition to a New Task

My father loves Cabella’s (the outdoor store) for hunting, fishing, hiking, and anything to do with fresh air. When he is walking from aisle to aisle he takes a moment to transition from hunting to hiking. He slows down to weigh his options then picks a section that catches his interest.

The brain needs time to adjust from an email to a report. Allow yourself a brief pause between tasks. It will lower your stress and help you work happier.

4. Do What is Necessary First

Zen monks understand that they must maximize their energy by tackling the most important work first. They don’t want to put it off because it only causes more worry. If they don’t get every single task done they are still satisfied because they know they used their time to work on the most important project, not procrastinating on little tasks.

You can learn to come into work and apply your efforts to what needs to be done, so the later part of the day is more relaxed as you do what is most enjoyable.

5. Develop Routines

Zen monks create routines to allow themselves to work more efficiently. They don’t start cleaning the bathroom and stop halfway through. They stay consistent by starting with the tub then moving on to the sink and finishing with the toilet.

You can create routines that help you work more efficiently. Maybe your thoughts are crisper in the morning, so you work on your reports first because it requires the most thinking. Then you move onto email then phone calls and so on. And the last thing you should do is create a list of things you need to do tomorrow so you are all set for the next work day.

6. Forget the Work Day and Enjoy Your Relaxation Time

A Zen monk never lets the work day affect his relaxation time. He releases all thoughts and worries about anything that he was involved in during his work. Through a little practice he encourages his mind to be an ally.

You can train yourself to enjoy the time away from work. So many of us think about projects and ideas when we are with our families and friends, but this is a terrible habit.

The mind needs a break from constant planning, so apply a relaxation technique on your commute home. It’s easy.

Allow yourself to stay with your breath as you head home and anytime a work thought pops into your head then bring your attention back to your breath. If you work at home, then take fifteen minutes before you leave your desk to lean back in your chair and breathe. By doing this over and over, you will strengthen your ability to relax before you spend time with your loved ones.

Karl Staib writes about unlocking and kicking open the door to working happy at his own blog: Work Happy Now! If you enjoyed this article, you may like to subscribe to his feed or read one of his most popular articles, Put People in a Design-Friendly Atmosphere to Inspire Excellent Work and How to Get Your Boss Naked.

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About the Author

Henrik Edberg is the creator of the Positivity Blog and has written weekly articles here since 2006. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Gothenburg and has been featured on Lifehacker, HuffPost and Paulo Coelho’s blog. Click here to learn more…

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Very nice, Karl! I think this is a really well-rounded list. If you can do what’s necessary first and then forget about work, I’d say you’re more than halfway toward an improved work life. I’d also encourage people to enjoy their coworkers. They’re probably not all gems, but some are, and should be valued as such.

  • Some great advice, mate. Maintaining the right attitude and optimizing your workflow are so important to making a terrible job bearable, and even enjoyable, though one must wonder what the guy who cleans public toilets thinks of the idea of enjoying work!

  • Ken

    That was an excellent summary… but I would have put at the top: Work for the benefit of others (all sentient beings). After all, Zen is Mahayana, and dedicating one’s “merit” is a primary Mahayana attitude.

  • What a wonderfully relaxing yet stimulating post to read! I actually felt myself becoming more alert while I slowed my breathing and my reading to more fully enjoy the experience. Thank you for reminding me that life is not about getting the work done so I can do something else; it’s actually about enjoying the work while I work and enjoying the something else when I’m actually doing it. Ah, I feel so much better! : )

  • I’m taking these to heart, but its hard when there are three felt walls.

  • I always love see such thoughtful comments. Henrik, you really have an excellent group of readers. They all made some great points.

    I admire the various religions and dogma that have prospered in this day and age. It goes to show how timeless the Zen way really is. I would suggest that people read Zen Habits because his blog has many great articles.

    It is always a pleasure to be a guest writer here. The energy is so appreciative and fun.

  • I’ve been trying to concentrate on Number 4 these days and getting the important, or not as pleasant, stuff done first. It’s true in that once it’s accomplished the worry goes away with it. My practice these days is to list 2-3 things the night before that I need to get done. Those are the biggies. I email myself that list and when I get into work the next morning I’ll print it out and do them first. Once they are out of the way I can turn my attention to the smaller things.


  • Hi Henrik,

    I really like the suggestions you’ve offered here. What I’d add is along with staying aware of yourself and surroundings, take a break when it’s needed and use it to recharge. It’s also very important to communicate with your boss about his/her expectations for you so that it’s easier to balance your career and personal life.

  • Xander

    I’m so busy yet I would really like to read the story, and than again I have time to write a post. WAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!

  • Kei

    I am so happy that I came across this post. I gathered a lot of helpful tips and advice from you, and it is much appreciated. Work can definitely be stressful on all of us at some point and time, but with the right organization and relaxation, the day could go by a lot smoother. Thanks again for sharing.


  • Karl: Yeah, I totally agree, it’s a real positive and thoughtful crowd of readers. Very cool :). Thanks for all the comments here and in the other posts, guys! And thanks for the post Karl, simple but very helpful stuff that one can use every day. And I second the recommendation for Zen Habits, one of the best blogs out there.

  • Well put karl!
    I love the simplicity and flow of your approach.
    Zen is a wonderful source of wisdom…

  • lxq

    very good tips. i enjoy it