12 Changes You Should Make To Be Happier At Work

Is hating your work ruining your life? It seems like there might be an epidemic of people who dread going to work, hate what they do, and are desperate to make a change.

You don’t have to be unhappy at work, even when there are things that are out of your control. It’s those things that are in your control that can make you happier at work.

1. Stop multitasking and focus on one thing at a time.

We think that multitasking is a skill (which is why so many job descriptions and resumes list it as such), but the truth is that it gets in the way of actually being productive. And that leaves you feeling frustrated at work, because you feel incredibly busy and exhausted, but your to-do list doesn’t seem to get smaller.

The truth is, multitasking has a serious negative impact on you. It:

  1. Damages your brain.

  2. Makes you less productive.

  3. Makes you prone to cheating.

  4. Reduces your ability to see what doesn’t work.

  5. Lowers your work quality.

  6. Numbs your brain to seeing important creative connections.

Your brain isn’t actually capable of concentrating on more than one thing at a time. What actually happens during multitasking is that you start and stop in the middle of tasks, switching, and then repeat the process all over again. It might feel like you are doing multiple things at once, but that’s not the case.

Think of your car, and how much starting and stopping wears at the engine and brakes. Similar wear and tear is happening to your brain in terms of ability to concentrate, stay focused as a habit, and manage stress.

Stop multitasking, and make a new habit: finish one thing at a time. Focus on one thing at a time. You’ll feel more productive, you’ll be more productive, and you’ll be much more pleased with the work that you do.

2. Practice thinking and acting positively.

We just said that your brain focuses on only one thing at a time. This is why it’s important to focus on being positive.

This isn’t about being fake happy, or suppressing emotions and difficulties that are real. According to Scott Crabtree, founder of Happy Brain Science, focusing on what is positive, instead of what is negative, feeds happier thoughts and makes them more prevalent over the long term.

Crabtree is quick to point out that he isn’t advocating the idea that ignorance is bliss, but that you have the choice to choose to think positively. While sometimes unpleasant things need attention and need to be dealt with, much of the rest of the time fixating on what is negative only adds stress and worry to things that cannot be changed.

In the same way, feeding positivity to your co-workers instills good feelings in them towards you. So by focusing on what is positive in your own life and surroundings, and helping others focus on the same thing, you’ll create a better atmosphere at work.

Practicing this new positive attitude in what you think and how you act, even if you’re struggling to do it, doesn’t make you a hypocrite. It’s called practicing for a reason; you’ll get better and more natural at it as you go.

3. Ask for more responsibility or more to do.

Sometimes work gets us down because we don’t have enough to do.

Sounds crazy, but it’s true. Passing the time with busy work, finding ways to appear busy, coming up with a system to make what you do appear very complicated and difficult — these are all things we do to eat up time and they are exhausting!

As for more responsibility. Try it on for size. See if you don’t like having the extra expectation, and if it doesn’t make the time fly by each day.

4. Keep an eye out for ways to grow.

When you feel like you’re in a dead-end job, you effectively de-motivate yourself and lose interest in working. Your job quickly becomes drudgery because there is no hope for anything in the future.

While not all jobs have a chance for a promotion or advancement within their defined structure, you always have the opportunity to grow in your skills and prepare for the possibility of a change in career some day.

Take classes. Attend conferences. Learn all that you can. You may find that your employer will help pay part or all of the costs associated with continuing your education.

In a dead-end job, still feeling like you can better yourself makes it feel as the possibilities are endless.

5. Find ways to help others at work.

Helping another person is the best way to get out of a depressing funk or negative attitude. Is there someone at work who is overloaded and could use a bit of help to catch up? Offer to take on some of those projects or duties.

While you don’t want to delve into the personal lives of your coworkers, you are often aware of when someone is having a difficult day. How can you help? What can you do to make their day a bit better?

When helping out your co-workers becomes a top priority, work takes on a whole new appearance. You’re not just pushing papers or developing code. You’re making people’s lives better, and you’re increasing the likelihood that they’ll pay it forward.

And that leads us to the next big change: your calling.

6. See people as relationships, not pawns.

The people at work are not a means to an ends. Even the most annoying person at work is, in some way, forming a relationship with you. It is up to you on whether or not these relationships will be positive or negative.

Now, you can’t change the guy who complains about everything, or who is never happy with your work. But you can change how you think about him and how you react to him. When you start to see people as people, and therefore as having the possibility of a relationship, they are less easily dismissed.

Pawns, on the other hand, serve one purpose: yours. This approach to your co-workers will put you at odds with them sooner or later. No one likes feeling as if they are being used.

7. Start your day in a happy way.

How your morning goes has a big role in how the entire day will go. If your morning gets off to a bad start, the rest of your day will carry those negative overtones.

In a study in the Academy of Management Journal, researchers found that how you start your day matters. They theorized that the start of your day is an “affective prime”, something that orients you and sets your mind to see following events in a certain way.

Did your work day start tired and groggy? With a long and unproductive meeting? With a confrontation with your boss? While some things aren’t always in your control, you can create even small habits to get your day set on a positive note. Perhaps getting a cup of coffee or tea and savoring it for a bit before diving into work, or maybe reviewing what you did the previous day to get a better understanding of the day before logging into email. If you are on customer support for the day, give yourself a few mental moments to clear your head and get something positive under the belt before logging into the help desk and dealing with the sometimes negative messages that await you.

Whatever you do, find a method to start the morning that sets you up relaxed, not stressed, not time pressured, and gives you a day on your own terms.

If you are a manager, reconsider morning meetings. Don’t bring people into your office right away in the morning for a negative confrontation. Give people a chance to start their day positively first.

8. Get some fresh air on a regular basis.

Are you taking enough breaks? Getting away from your desk and moving around are important not only for physical health, but to give you a mental break as well. But why not take it a step further and get some fresh air on a regular basis?

In the book The Happiness Advantage, by Shawn Achor, studies show that getting even just 20 minutes of fresh outside air makes you feel good about yourself physically, clears your head, and puts you on a more even emotional keel.

Get up from your desk, go outside, walk around the block, and breath some fresh air.

9. Avoid decision fatigue.

This might seem counterproductive, after telling you to ask for more responsibility, but consider decision mitigation.

Making decisions takes a toll on you. It’s called decision fatigue. You have a limited amount of energy we can devote to making decisions, and when you burn through it, you become tired, stressed, cranky, and make poor decisions.

Some decisions you cannot get away from, but think of the extra decisions you’re making: what to wear for the day, where to eat lunch, what to eat, what kind of latte to get…

Make some things part of your regular habit. Steve Jobs said he wore the same thing every day so he didn’t have to make that decision. Consider reducing your work wardrobe, or wearing the same thing the same day of the week. Do the same with your lunch, eating at restaurant A on Mondays and bring a sack lunch Tuesdays for example.

It sounds a bit crazy — the same thing every day?! — but it adds up in the long run.

10. See your work as a calling.

If you only imagine yourself as clocking in and clocking out, and shuffling papers in between, you’ll hate your work. But, if you imagine the work you do as an important calling, part of the bigger picture of not only your life but society, your attitude changes.

In his book The Happiness Hypothesis, author Jonathan Haidt suggests you can turn a negative situation at work into something much better simply by seeing it as a calling. According to Haidt, most people see work in three ways: a job, a career, or a calling. When it’s a job, you are only interested in trading time for money. You stare at the clock, dream about the weekend, and wish you were doing something else.

When you see work as a career, you view your work in terms of advancement opportunities with a larger goal in mind. The excitement of the pursuit of that goal keeps you going, and gives you drive to do lots of work. Yet, Haidt says, you’ll have moments where you wonder if it’s worth it and if you’ve missed the boat on what matters.

When work is your calling, though, it is fulfilling. You are not doing the work for money, competition, or to achieve something else. Instead, your work is part of the greater good. This is the kind of work where if you won the lottery, you’d probably still work for free just because you feel the work is important.

Can you see your work as a calling? Perhaps it might help to view it as serving other people, and making their lives better.

11. Track your progress.

If you’re like many people, you remember the negative far more than the positive. That’s how we forget the good things we’ve achieved and the hard work that has paid off. Instead, we remember the details of our failures.

Track the progress you make toward goals. Write it down or acknowledge it in some way so that, when you feel like you aren’t accomplishing anything, you can go back and see that you are. This is particularly important for large projects, which take much time to complete. Without breaking it up into small, achievable parts you can track, it will feel like you’re not making any headway.

It’s one of the reason so many people like to-do lists: Each time you check something off, you can see that you are making progress and that you’ve accomplished something.

12. End your day on a positive note.

Just as you started your day in a positive way, you should end it. Think about what you’ve done. Think and jot down what you will do tomorrow to help start tomorrow on good footing. Find things you are thankful for.

In other words, look back at the way and find a way to see it in a positive light. You’ll feel better about it as you go home from work, and it will help keep you from dreading tomorrow.

Bonus: Quit your job and work for yourself.

I don’t have any specific litmus test for when to quit your job and take the leap to work on your own. There are failure and success stories that mirror each other, a good reminder that each person and each situation is different.

Before you quit, realize:

  1. Quitting a job won’t solve the problems that stem from your own work habits and attitudes

  2. Working on your own requires a particular set of self-driven and self-motivated skills.

There is a strong push towards leaving a job and starting off on your own, but this is not necessarily the answer. Make some of the changes recommended here, and see if you don’t feel differently about your work.

About The Author: Julie R. Neidlinger is a writer, artist, and pilot from North Dakota. She has been blogging since 2002 at her Lone Prairie blog, and works as a freelance writer and visual artist.

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