By Leo Babauta
Imagine being on vacation: you can laze around, sipping on margaritas, not worrying about what you have to do today, not worrying about the time, just being without all the anxiety.
Now imagine being busy at work: you are doing one task while worrying about others, worrying that you’re not doing the right task, thinking about all the other things on your schedule and task list, interrupted by others, filled with anxiety.
Vacation mind, work mind.
They are two different things, and yet, what if we could have the vacation mind while working? We’d have to toss out the lazing around and the margaritas, but the mindset could be the same. The result would be a saner way of living, where we aren’t “working for the weekend” or looking forward to the little vacation time we have, but instead are happier throughout the week.
How can this be done? It’s a few small mindset habits, which can be practiced and learned over time.
What Vacation Mind is Like at Work
Work mind is often full of anxiety: anxiety for what we need to do, for deadlines, for irritating or angry co-workers/bosses, for all the information coming in, for whether we’re doing the right thing right now, for whether we’re missing out on something important.
Vacation mind lets that anxiety go, and is just present in the current moment. Time is less important, enjoying yourself is the priority.
So what does it look like when you apply vacation mind to work? You let go of the anxiety. You aren’t worried about getting it all done, or doing the right thing right now, or all the things you have to do later. You are immersed in enjoying whatever you’ve chosen to do right now.
Let’s say you decide to write something right now — you have a long list of things to do, but you decide this is the thing you want to work on at the moment. Could there be other things you should be doing instead? Of course — there always are. There’s no way to know the perfect thing to do — so just pick something, and do it.
You have other things to do, but instead of worrying about those things, you immerse yourself in the current task. You aren’t worried about getting it done quickly, but more focused on enjoying yourself as you do it.
Now and then you mentally step back, take a look at the bigger picture, and then return back to immersion in the task.
And you can do this when you talk with a co-worker or client. You can do this with an important email, or processing paperwork/small tasks, designing something, programming, creating art, helping a patient or student.
Pick something to do, immerse yourself, let go of worrying about other things, and just do. Enjoy yourself. Once in awhile, come up for air and look at the big picture.
The Vacation Mind Practices
You might have noticed the key elements in the description above — they’re the practices to be developed if you want to have vacation mind at work.
Note that you can’t just flip a switch and be good at these things today … they take practice, like any other skill. I can say that they’re worth practicing, even if you never master them, because they can transform your relationship with work.
Here are the practices — I recommend practicing a little each day:
- Pick something, immerse yourself. On vacation, you might decide to go for a swim. So you do, and fully enjoy the feeling of the cool water on your skin, the exertion of the swim, the taste of the water in your mouth. You can do this at work too: pick something to do, forget about whether it’s the right thing to do at the moment (there’s no such thing), and just do it. Be fully in it. Enjoy the experience of doing it. Notice the feeling, the exertion, the taste.
- Let go of anxieties. This takes practice. It’s noticing when anxiety comes up, then noticing the source of the anxiety, which is some kind of outcome you hope will happen (looking good in front of others, being perfectly productive, not messing up, controlling a situation, etc.). Realize that this outcome is only a fantasy, and that other outcomes are OK too. Realize that holding on to this fantasy outcome is hurting you (causing anxiety). Be compassionate with yourself and let go of the unnecessary fantasy that’s hurting you.
- Step back and see the big picture. Immersing yourself is great, but it’s also useful to be able to un-immerse yourself, and take an assessment of what’s going on around you. This might mean what’s going on physically around you — people who are nearby, how you’re sitting (and whether you’re sitting too long), etc. But it could mean taking a look at your work situation, as it is right now (something that’s always changing) — is there an appointment you should get to, another task you should jump into instead, someone who needs your attention, some anxiety that’s come up? See the big picture, then go back into immersion.
- Be less worried about time. There are times when time matters — showing up on time for an appointment to be considerate of the other person/people you’re meeting, meeting a deadline, having to bill for the time you spend. But a lot of the time we worry about time for no real good reason. It’s not healthy. Immerse yourself in the task, step back to see the big picture, and immerse yourself again (in the same task or another). The time of day isn’t relevant to this process.
Is it possible to be on permanent vacation, so that you’re doing your work but also in the relaxed, enjoyable mindset that’s brought on by margaritas on the beach? I think so, but there’s only one way to find out. Practice.
The Zen of Work Course
If you’re interested in a little Zen mind in your work life, I’ve teamed up with San Francisco Zen Center to create the 2nd incarnation of the Zen of Work online course.
The course is taught by me and Zen priest Robert Thomas, with a number of other Zen teachers contributing lessons.
It will run for four weeks, starting May 5, 2013.