Make Work Feel Effortless

Sometimes work feels like a drag. You get caught up in trying to be more productive and suddenly your life turns into a series of to-do lists. You gauge your measure of success by how much you accomplish. You even determine how happy you allow yourself to be by how much you’ve gotten done in the day. When this occurs, work turns into a chore. You don’t enjoy the work, you just to do it so it can be over with. Then you can feel good, right? But wait, there’s that thing you forgot about. You still need to do that. And oh yeah, there’s that other thing you haven’t done yet.

Congratulations, you are a walking to-do list.

But work doesn’t have to be like that. The point of work shouldn’t be just to finish. The point of work should be the work itself. That’s the way it’s supposed to be anyway. We spend a lot of time trying to find ways to be more productive. To do things faster, better, cheaper and spend our time more effectively. But instead of just doing more in less time, maybe we should focus on actually enjoying the work we’re doing instead. Here are some thoughts on how you might turn the to-do list mentality around.


  1. Follow your natural rhythms. A lot of the time you might resent working because you're trying to force yourself to do something you don’t feel like doing. Naturally there will always be some things you’re not crazy about doing (like cleaning the toilet). But how often do you force yourself to work more, when you really want to relax? When you force yourself to work when you’ve promised yourself a break, you’ll likely just end up distracting yourself with other things and put off working. Then you get stressed and end up resenting work. Instead, follow your natural rhythms. When you feel like working, work. When you don’t, don’t. Don’t over complicate things. Also in situations where you are forced to work make sure you set some small reward for yourself on the completion of the work. This will keep our motivation high and also help in keeping you focused.
  2. Do, don’t think. Just do, stop thinking about it. Fail, make corrections later.
  3. Don’t put sugar in your tank. You wouldn’t put sugar in your gas tank right? It doesn’t make much sense to fill your body up with unhealthy fuel either. If you don’t have the energy to get the work you need to do, work will feel forced.
  4. Remove hidden roadblocks. What’s making you avoid working? What’s making your work seem like drudgery rather than joyful? It might have something to do with your beliefs about yourself. Maybe you believe you’re not good enough, smart enough or don’t have enough experience. Question your beliefs about what you can and can’t do.
  5. Only do your best, not the most perfect. Work can easily become a chore when you’re trying to constantly be perfect. The truth is, some of your ideas might not be so great. Others will be mind-blowing. If you can accept that and just do your best, you stop judging yourself. Guess what it feels like when you’re no longer picking over everything you do with a fine-toothed comb? It feels extremely liberating. It feels like you can actually enjoy your experience, rather than worrying about how everything is going to turn out. That is working effortlessly.
  6. Act from your gut. When you think you have a great idea, believe it. Follow it. Chase it until you’re out of breath and can barely hold yourself up. Because if you don’t trust yourself, you’ll regret it later. The best way to live is to follow your intuition and trust life. If nothing else, trust yourself. Because if you can’t trust yourself, how can you trust your mistrust? That’s not very smart, is it?
  7. Focus on what matters. Our minds are constantly pulling us in different directions. We have to wash the cat, buy more apple cinnamon oatmeal, finish writing that resignation letter to your no-longer-boss at your dead-end job, and all sorts of other things. We have a tendency to follow what’s urgent instead of what’s Stop Postponing Important Tasks. In order to get the important things done, we have to be ruthless at removing distractions. If it takes bringing a laptop (or notepad) to a cafe to write your grandiose novel, then do that. Avoid the vacuum of minutiae urgency. Remove all distractions so you can focus on the important things. Better to spend 4 hours working on an important project, than 4 hours spinning your wheels and scratching your head trying to figure out what you did today.
    • Avoid Multi-Tasking
  8. Refuse to do what you don’t want to do. If you often avoid working because you're trying to do things you think you “should do”, then you are being given a big clue. If your mind says: "I think I should read more because it will make me smarter.", or "I think I should buy new clothes because it will make me cooler.", or "I think I should work on this project because it will be good for my resume.", then you're in a trap. Forget what you (or other people) think you should do (except maybe paying your rent). Do what you want to do. Other people will understand. In fact, they’ll probably envy you.


  • You can provide yourself with an extra measure of motivation by using self-hypnosis to pre-experience the rewards of your long-term goal, thereby reducing or eliminating the need for "will power."
  • Look for other people who are particularly good at what you're doing, and find out how they do it easily, particularly the ones who have been doing it for a long time (i.e. 20-30+ years.) They've developed a way that's both effective, and easy. To be a true skill, it has to be both effective and easy for people.

    • Some things to look for to find out how the best (or most experienced) do it easily is to look for ways in which they "tweak" the process and shave corners, etc., to make it easier. They may not be committed to 'the highest ideal', but they usually have found a way to do the job effectively (or well) with a minimum of effort and attention.

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Sources and Citations

  • Original source of article, Jonathan Mead, Zen Habits, How to Make Work Feel Effortless; shared under an uncopyright permission. Thanks Zen Habits for your generosity!