Do you believe that professional success needs to go along with extreme struggle, grit, hard work, and an ongoing battle against internal resistance?
That’s certainly the most prevalent idea about these things that gets spread about in entrepreneurial circles – but there is another, much older concept, summed up by the famous Confucius quote “choose a job that you love, and you will never work a day in your life.”
Success in any field will always take effort, time, energy, and all the rest. But there’s a good argument to be made – that’s backed up by a lot of psychological research – that when you’re doing work that you find genuinely meaningful and that puts you in a state of “Flow,” your entire “career” might feel a lot more like playing a game that you really enjoy, than it will feel like doing “work.”
Here are a handful of tips for making your job feel (almost) effortless.
Focus Your Career on What Seems Meaningful to You, and Not Just What Seems Profitable
First and foremost, if you’re doing a job that you find completely unfulfilling and that you hate doing, but that nonetheless pays well, you can expect that every day is going to feel an awful lot like “hard work,” and that your mood, energy levels, and sense of well-being will all inevitably head in a pretty negative direction.
When you focus your career on what seems meaningful to you, however, you will spend a lot more time in the state that the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes as a state of “Flow” – which is the sensation of euphoric absorption in a particular task, that allows for a true virtuosic performance. “Flow” is the state that athletes and musicians enter, for example, when they are really “in the zone.”
A major part of peace and happiness in life, as a whole, seems to have something to do with regularly entering the “Flow” state. And another major component of happiness is doing things on a regular basis that seem to serve a greater purpose and give your life higher meaning than simple material success.
In other words, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to choose – or re-choose – a line of work that seems meaningful to you, and that answers a certain “calling” rather than simply being based on a pragmatic decision one way or the other.
Study and Explore Professional Topics That Excite You
These days, it’s possible to study all sorts of things ranging from a public relations program to a degree in psychology, more or less entirely online.
Whether you choose to study by earning a degree at a traditional university, however, or whether you are earning a degree or certificate online, or are simply reading books that interest you about a particular topic, studying and exploring professional topics that excite you and that inspire interest in the first place, is a great way of making your work feel more “effortless.”
As a general rule, the more you learn about a topic that really interests you, the more wonder, nuance, and “magic” you will tend to find in the subject as a whole – and in the context of a job, the better able you will likely be to perform well at your chosen career.
Find ways to keep yourself engaged with what it is you do, and to reignite your natural desire to learn and try new things. The overall effect is likely to be very positive.
Identify Your Professional Priorities, and Cut out as Much of the Rest as Possible
When all is said and done, we all have to do things from time to time that we don’t actually enjoy, want to do, or find very meaningful. But you should certainly try to limit those kinds of activities in your own personal and professional life as much as possible.
A great exercise for doing this is to take some time to sit down and identify your professional priorities. Use the 80/20 rule to identify which 20% of your professional actions really account for the majority of all the positive results that you experience. Then, practice the art of “saying no” to as much of the other stuff as you possibly can.
It’s possible for anyone, in any profession, to get lost in mundane busywork (like sorting through emails) that ultimately achieves very little, but that can have a very negative impact on an overall sense of motivation.
You need to guard yourself against this kind of busywork as much as possible – because if it gets too carried away it will not only sap away your time and energy, but it will also make your work feel a lot more like work.
Allow Adequate Time for Leisure and Rest
Productivity isn’t the kind of thing that can be drawn out endlessly. According to psychological research, productivity needs to be counterbalanced by regular periods of rest and leisure, otherwise it fizzles away dramatically.
There’s some research that shows, for example, that people who take weekends and regular vacations off work perform significantly better at their jobs than those who work constantly without any rest.
Regular rest and leisure will not only help to recharge your batteries for your job, but it will also keep you fresh and ready to throw yourself into the next task, as well.
Try to Find Regular Professional Opportunities for Creativity and “Play”
The Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman made the case, during his life, that his major breakthroughs were only possible because he was left to his own devices and was allowed to “play” rather than having his employers breathing down his neck constantly with a variety of KPIs and other targets.
In fact, some of his “play” was literally play – such as throwing a ball and catching it again for long periods of time.
Creativity is massively cherished in all sorts of different industries – maybe in all of them. But creativity is only really possible when people are allowed to engage in their work in the spirit of “play.” In other words, to have fun with the process, to try things out in a non-judgemental setting, and to see what ideas crop up.
The more you can find regular opportunities to interject a bit of fun and “play” into your professional life, the less like work your job will feel, and the more creative and pioneering you will tend to be.