How to be Zen in the Office


Zen monks lead quiet, stress-free, peaceful lives, as they search for oneness with the world. You can’t quite do that while holding down a 9-5 job and earning a stable income, so the next best thing is trying to increase the tranquility and satisfaction in your work life by adopting a few principles from the monk lifestyle.

These bits of Zen wisdom can be applied to the office for a more peaceful, stress-free work life. No mountaintop required.

Be an early riser. One of the main elements of a Zen attitude is appreciating and being at peace with your surroundings, rather than flying past them in a rush. This means in order to be Zen in your work environment, you should arrive early or at least on time, feeling awake and refreshed enough to start the day. It sounds tough, but if you give yourself a couple of relaxing hours each morning to wake up, eat a good breakfast and get some of your daily tasks done, you’ll be better prepared to enter work in a peaceful state of mind. Leo Babauta of Zen Habits highlights the benefits of rising early, including how to get into the practice.

zencentralstation.jpgDo one thing at a time. One of the most important daily tasks done by Zen monks is cleaning. When a monk cleans, he is only thinking about cleaning – not what he is going to do after, or what he was doing the day before. This could be you and spreadsheets. Because as pointed out at Blending Zen, focusing only on the task you are doing allows you to do it more completely and more thoroughly, and even allows you to enjoy it more. It can be harder to do this in an office environment, where the drive to multitask is woven into every surface. But if you effectively organize your time, you can still devote a small part of your day to each individual task, and thus achieve a more Zen work ethic.

Do less. This doesn’t mean “be lazy” – it just means “do only what will achieve the most.” Marketing experts are familiar with the 80/20 rule, which says only about 20% of your everyday activities are responsible for 80% of your productivity. This means for most people, 80% of their time is spent doing activities that don’t, or barely, contribute to their goals. Rather than spending time and effort on things that are redundant, repetitive or inefficient, isolate the activities that accomplish the most, and spend more time on them. This will improve your productivity, while simultaneously freeing you from a load of unnecessary work. Here’s an example using office email.

Engage your right brain. Everyone knows work can be filled with dull, mentally exhausting left-brain activities. However, as people in creative positions can tell you, it’s possible to experience a Zen-like state of productivity wherein the brain is simultaneously creating new ideas and executing them in a smooth, tranquil flow. According to Chris Pearson at Pearsonified, being “in the zone” is the result of a balance between the left and right brain. The key to attaining this Zen level of productivity is to trigger the right brain into paying attention, so its creative ideas can make your work experience easier. Pearson describes a brain exercise that will limber up your right brain so it can get involved more often.

Mind your own business. In the office, staying focused on your work is the key to both productivity and an uncomplicated work existence. In fact, it’s a common rule for students of Zen to avoid places and talk that doesn’t concern them. Unwelcome distractions not only take up your time and energy, but can also add unnecessary stress to your life. Office gossip is one example.

Talk less, listen more. A closed mouth gathers no foot, as they say. More importantly, you can communicate more effectively if you completely understand what someone else is saying to you – and the way to do that is to squash the urge to jump to conclusions, interrupt, make judgments, or react emotionally. In fact, most arguments, and most problems in general, could be avoided if people listened more effectively. Thus, learning to listen more closely in and out of the office is a huge step toward a more Zen lifestyle. Relationship coach Ken Donaldson explains Zen listening a little further.

Help others. One last point that will go a long way toward making you a Zen master at work is supporting, encouraging and helping your coworkers to succeed at their own goals. Just something as simple as opening a door, putting thought into answering a question, or making a small suggestion can help someone else immensely. In turn, they’re encouraged to help others as well, creating a more peaceful, Zen work environment. As Zen Habits explains, the influence of your encouragement can make both you and your coworkers Zen masters.

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