Leah Weiss, Ph.D.

The Whole-Hearted Path

Four Steps to Leveraging Mundane Moments to Find Purpose

Uncover the secret to transforming our work lives with minor shifts.

Posted Jun 20, 2017

For a lot of us, our workdays might leave us feeling like the animated caricature of the Tasmanian Devil. We knock out emails, run from meeting to meeting, accrue hundreds more emails, and barely have time for lunch. 

And while we work ourselves to sheer exhaustion, we battle a pervasive anxiety about our worth because, at the end of the day, we wonder: did I accomplish anything?

To feel inspired, clear, motivated, and productive, we all need to have a sense of purpose when it comes to all aspects of our life, including our work. And it’s easy to assume that an antidote to our madness or a way to find purpose is to get a new job or to make a major lifestyle change.

But the truth is that change will not come from major shifts, but rather from minor tweaks. The secret to transforming our work lives lies in finding purpose within every moment, down to the most menial of our tasks. 

That’s right. By bringing our attention to what we are focusing on, we can remake our experience. This, of course, is not easy to do.  Our minds love to wander.  And this is especially true if we are uncomfortable, bored, or stressed—as we often are when we’re not living our purpose. It’s a vicious cycle. 

The good thing is that you don’t have to take an hour (that you don’t have) every day to meditate in order to train our attention to stay on what is most important. Here are several things you can try, that, with practice, will lead you to more fulfilling days and higher quality work.

Make the purpose connection for yourself 

Start by identifying how your work helps you live your purpose. There’s likely a reason you’re at your particular job. Even if you don’t necessarily derive purpose from your work directly, consider how it allows you to do the things in life that you love—travel, buy a cabin, raise a family, fund philanthropic activities. Perhaps you get to practice and perform interesting skills? Several studies have shown that when we make a connection between our purpose and how we spend our time, we are more productive and healthier. For example, a study of Japanese workers showed that those who made this connection had lower inflammation and higher viral resistance than those who did not have a sense of purpose.

Turn your moments into meaning  

Practice bringing your mind back to the task at hand. Are you writing an email? Put your attention completely on that email. Are you putting together a memo? Put all of your focus on the memo. Are you having a conversation with a colleague? Listen to your colleague’s words, rather than thinking about all of the things you have to get done in the next hour.  This practice, also called meta-cognition, has many benefits.  First of all, it gets us out of the tendency of future projection or making up scenarios that haven’t happened, which tends to cause anxiety. Secondly, by focusing on what were actually doing, we are more in control over applying our time to tasks that actually matter. This is why our work output is often better when we practice meta-cognition.

Make a plan ... and then break it 

Because focusing on our moments, or exercising meta-cognition, gives us more single-mindedness, and thus control over our time, it’s vital to have a sense of what priorities and tasks will lead us to the best outcomes or deliverables. Make a list of what you’d like to accomplish in a month.  And under that, account for all of the tasks you’ll need to finish meet your goals. But the trick here is to feel okay about breaking your plans, too; to take an assessment of a day or an hour, and reroute your time to the activities that will give you a higher return on your time investment. Without a plan in hand, it is easy to get lost in work that makes us feel like we are accomplishing something, even when it doesn’t move us closer to accomplishing our goals.

Create a weekly check-in

If it was as easy as focusing and transforming our lives, we’d all be doing it. But, like I said, it’s not. This is why it is important to create a weekly check in to evaluate how the week went. Did you meet your goals? Were you able to redirect your attention back to your moments?  This checkpoint can also help you set intentions for the week ahead, to improve. You may come to the conclusion that the work you’re doing is not serving your higher purpose. You may decide that it is indeed, time to move on and reprioritize. And that’s fine too. Another outcome of redirecting our attention is helping gain the clarity to make hard decisions. With this knowledge, you can refine your goals and work toward finding a job that makes better use of your talents.