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My 16 Zen Work Habits

Plum Blossoms - Zen Work Habits

“The single most important change you can make in your working habits is to switch to creative work first, reactive work second. This means blocking off a large chunk of time every day for creative work on your own priorities, with the phone and e-mail off.” – Mark McGuinness

Your success or failure in work and life depends upon your daily habits.  It’s that simple!

If you allow bad habits to rule your life, it will be difficult and maybe even impossible to manifest your dreams.

To be honest, I’ve been rather loose when it comes to my work habits.  I tend to be a hard worker and have the capacity to focus for hours at a time.  But, I don’t think those are the optimal habits for my own health and happiness.  It makes sense to me to work smarter not harder.

So I was delighted to find an exercise in an earlier edition of the Create Your Shining Year Biz Planner (there’s a Life Planner, too; partner link) that invites you to itemize your positive habits – the ones you have in place as well as the new ones you would like to embrace.

As you probably know from your own experience, it’s not necessarily a snap to implement new habits.  Writing them down, making a commitment, and reviewing your list regularly can make the difference between floundering and staying on focus.

My 16 Habits for a Productive and Serene Work Day

I took the challenge and created my list of positive work habits.  I selected habits that simplify my attitude, my approach, and my activities, while also nourishing my well being.

Here are my 16 Zen Work Habits:

  1. Create a goal and actions list for each month and refer to it daily.
  2. Start my day by setting an intention:  “May my work and whatever I do today benefit as many people as possible.”
  3. Practice a formal session of mindfulness meditation.
  4. Take 30 breaths to oxygenate my brain and energize my body.
  5. Choose and record my 3 most important priorities at the start of my work day or the night before.
  6. Have my paper priority list beside me at all times while working.
  7. Choose creative work first, reactive work second.
  8. Stay in the present moment as I work.  If my mind wanders, bring it back to here and now.
  9. Say no to requests and commitments that are not in line with my monthly or yearly goals.
  10. Pause when I begin to feel overwhelmed or stressed.  Use a simple stress reduction technique and re-evaluate my priorities as needed.
  11. Spend time in nature everyday.
  12. Take evenings and the better part of the weekend off.
  13. Review my progress at the end of the day.  Celebrate my accomplishments.  Move incomplete priorities or tasks to the next day.
  14. Always be gentle with myself.
  15. Review my goals and action plan once a month.
  16. Practice good posture at the keyboard.

Some of these habits – like daily meditation – have been in place for years.  Others – like creative work first – are challenging for me  They’re not all about work because I believe to work well you must know how to relax and play well too.

16 may be too many!  It might be better to start with 10 or 12.  But, I plan to work with them gradually over the next 12 months and fortunately some are already solidly in place.

Does this mean, for example, that I’ll stick strictly to my 3 priorities each day?  Probably not because, I want to follow my inspiration as well.  If a passionate urge arises, I will most likely follow it and adjust the list accordingly.  But, I like the idea of making space for both structure and spontaneity.

I’m excited to have  a structure of positive habits to comfortably hold me while I work.  I suspect using this habit list  will change the quality of my work experience and make me more effective and productive as well.

Have you made a list of your daily work habits?  Which habits help you work with greater focus and ease?

Check out the 2017 Shining Year Planners here:

Create Your Shining Life 2017 Planners
{Note:  This is a partner link.  If you purchase one of these planners, I’ll receive a small commission, which helps me to keep writing on Always Well Within.  Thank you!}

Thank you for your presence, I know your time is precious!  Don’t forget to sign up for my e-letter and get access to all the free self-development resources (e-books, mini-guides + worksheets) in the Always Well Within Library. May you be happy, well, and safe – always.  With love, Sandra


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  1. Great tips and reminders. Thanks Sandra.

  2. Love your strategies Sandra. I do have something similar in place, tho’ not quite as many as 16. But honestly, without some way to make sure I’m following the route to my desires for the year, I’d probably end up in Maine instead of California. Totally by default!

    As always you remind me of what’s important in life for which I thank you. 🙂

    • I’m not surprised you have something similar in place, Elle! You seem to be very consistent in actualizing your mission. Yes, 16 may be too many! I think you are so right, without a map there’s a good chance we’ll end up in the wrong place.

      Thanks for your appreciative words. They mean so much to me.

  3. These are great, Sandra! Especially like the one you feature about doing the creative stuff first — that seems so true for me…

    • Thank you, Jeffrey! I just had to put that quote at the top as a strong reminder to myself. I know it might not apply to every single person and we might not all have total control over our schedule. But if we do, this I too feel is one of the most powerful habits to develop.

  4. Sandra, you had me right here, with the quote up top: “The single most important change you can make in your working habits is to switch to creative work first, reactive work second. This means blocking off a large chunk of time every day for creative work on your own priorities, with the phone and e-mail off.” – Mark McGuinness

    This is exactly why I changed how I do my mornings. Yes, it means I’m up 2 hours earlier than the morning birds. I do my creative work first.

    1. I practice yoga 30 -45 minutes every single morning. It’s my time with the Divine, in silence, and it’s meditation in motion. I practice not just asanas (poses) but pranyama (breath work) as well.

    2. I read for 15-20 minutes. Right now I’m reading Walden by Thoreau for my morning reading.

    3. I read and say aloud my affirmations/intentions – for the day and for the near future.

    4. I write. First in my journal. I shake out the junk and gunk and other randomness. Then I spend at least 1 hour working on my current writing project.

    Today was day 77…miracles are around every bend 🙂

    • Wow! That’s so impressive, Peggy. You have me super inspired. I’m glad you found such a wonderful morning routine. What we do before work can make such a difference during our work! Thank you SO much for sharing this.

  5. Love the quote and like Peggy the quotes jerked at my heart strings. I still do some reacting that send me off track.
    I do have my morning zen habits
    1. meditation followed by
    2.prayers and affirmations
    3. draw an oracle card
    4. Journaling either morning pages or response to the card for the day
    5. Plan my day
    6. Walk on the beach followed by a swim
    7. Make green smoothie
    Then I get to the creatives for the day, your post has me ready to work on this in my planner

    • Dear Suzie, Another hugely inspiring list of positive habits. I so admire your commitment to morning self-care and self-awareness. It’s amazing to have implemented such a life-giving routine. Thank you SO much for sharing this. I’m sure it will benefit others.

      • My pleasure and I know that my day is off when something happens where I have to be up early and don’t do this- today was one of those days!

  6. Sandra, it is so good to know I have a study buddy with Leonie’s amazing workplan for the year. It’s my first year (although I’ve MEANT to do it in years past!) and I’m a little slow out of the gate but I’m getting my sea legs under me.

    I find that trying to establish too many new habits at once can overwhelm me, so I’m working on two or three each month. January’s new habits are 1) Setting an alarm and getting up earlier, and 2) Focusing on the MITs. Oddly, the MITs feel liberating. Only three important tasks for the day instead of a list three miles long!

    Thanks for championing the Biz Plan cause. I’ll do my best to keep up with you!

    • Hi Beth,

      Yes, it’s so supportive knowing that we are working on the planner simultaneously! I agree with you, it’s hard to establish tons of habits at once. I’ll be working with implementing mine slowly over the year too. I love the two that you have chosen. Three miles long would be just a bit overwhelming. 🙂

  7. Love these – and I’m going to link up to them from my new post just now on developing a spiritual practice. So glad you shared these zen habits with us, Sandra, and so wonderful to see you living such a rich inner life!

  8. Thank you, Farnoosh. I’m always so honored when you like one of my posts as you are such a wonderful writer and I know you have high standards of excellence. Thanks for linking up to the article. Can’t wait to see your post. Yes, life is rich and wonderful outside and inside!

  9. Another wonderful post Sandra. I do appreciate your thoughtful and compassionate writing. Could you clarify what reactive work means to you? Would it be things like answering e-mails and replying to comments?

    • Exactly, Sharon. E-mails, comments, reacting to externally driven work activities. I’ve been experimenting with this and I find it works so much better when I start off with my creative work. It takes less time and flows more easily. I know everyone’s life is different so this might be workable for some and not for others. But whenever we decided the work, I think most of us can try to move away from the distractions.

      Thanks for your kind words!

  10. Great article!
    I love the schedule you have set for yourself everyday! It’s simple and yet very effective if you consistently do it. A thing I’ve been working on too is just staying in touched with the moment rather than thinking about the future or any other random thought that comes across my head.

    • Michael, The key is consistency, isn’t it? I’m glad you underscored that. I’m keeping my list close by as a reminder to be consistent. Consistency is one of my keywords for the year. Staying in the moment is powerful. Good luck with that!

  11. Great article Sandra, Love the list…A LOT
    This a keeper to refer to!


    • Thanks! I’m glad you found it helpful. I’m “keeping” these 16 habits on a piece of paper close by to me so I don’t forget! Right now I’m especially working on creative work first.

  12. Enjoyed reading this article, Sandra. It sounds like a great way to set some boundaries on our work. Otherwise, in this world of work of writing and creating, there’s no end in sight.

    I simply have 2 habits for the day – a word count goal and a mindfulness practice. And my creativity is spurred by a walking practice 🙂 Just getting out of the house for an hour a day helps me come up with all kinds of ideas for work and life.

  13. Your approach is so beautifully simple, Vishnu. I love it! Thanks for this up-close glimpse into your work habits. You are so right, if we don’t pay attention, there’s no end in site!

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