THE BLOG
10/10/2013 11:41 am ET | Updated Dec 10, 2013

Want to Be Happy at Work? Keep It Simple

I drink my coffee black and my bourbon neat. When I first started drinking coffee and bourbon, I doctored both of them. Lots of ice for the bourbon, sometimes with water, sometimes with soda, and the coffee variations ranged from a single espresso to filter coffee with half-and-half to a soy chai latte. Yes, I know, chai is not coffee, but I think you understand where I'm going with this.

And then, I started traveling the world for my job to places where the stuff I added to my coffee and my bourbon were not so easy to get. My host would graciously offer me a coffee, I'd ask for cream and then watch as she poured a big spoonful of powdered milk into my coffee. Yuck. I would choke it down with a smile as I had already learned that behaving like a diva when offered hospitality is very insulting. Yikes.

I quickly learned that if I wanted to enjoy my favorite drinks, which, by the way, are more varied than just coffee and bourbon, I would be happier if I didn't gamble on what the add-ins might be. So I adapted. I now drink black coffee and I do enjoy it. Give me a Single Barrel Jack Daniels and all is right with the world.

So here's my question: are there any parallels to black coffee for being happy at work? I think so. I am happiest at work when the task in front of me is clear, simple and easy to digest. I know both life and work are complicated and comparing them to drinking black coffee is a bit odd. But if you can simplify something, and be happy with the simpler version, then your satisfaction will increase as you pursue the outcome.

I often have extremely complicated projects on my desk: many moving parts, lots of people to be consulted, several interim deadlines before the final deliverable. To be honest, at the start of any such project, I am pretty unhappy. I feel overwhelmed by all that needs to be done and feeling overwhelmed makes me really unhappy at work. So my first step is to divide the project into the simplest steps I need to accomplish in order to complete it on time, on budget and to the right level of quality. Even if I am faced with 100 steps, which a project often can require, I am immediately calmer and happier. For me, simplicity always equals being happy at work.

Now, this may not be true for you and frankly, I wouldn't expect that what makes me happy at work makes everyone happy at work. But, like learning to appreciate coffee and bourbon in their purest forms -- keeping it simple -- I think there's a truth here worth considering. C'mon, let's grab a coffee and talk about it. Make mine black.