While in an ideal world, we’d all have our dream jobs at every period in our lives, the reality is that everyone will go through periods of not enjoying their work. Whether it’s right out of college and you just need to pay the bills, or you’re 20 years into a career and finally realizing it’s not for you, it’ll happen to all of us. If you’re unhappy with your current job, you should be making moves that will get you to a place and position you’d rather be. But in the meantime, you don’t have to approach each day as if it were the Bataan Death March. Below, I suggest some tips that will help you cope with a less-than-ideal job. In trying them, you may even find yourself enjoying and engaging more with your work.
First and foremost, you may need an attitude adjustment. Do you feel like you’re doing work that’s “beneath” you? Or perhaps you dislike your boss, so you’re sticking it to him by doing shoddy work. There’s a saying: “How you do anything is how you do everything.” If you’re not doing your best work, for whatever reason, it’s likely that other areas of your life aren’t getting your best work either. Good habits are formed in the things we don’t like to do, but do anyway because that’s how you become a reliable man. When you start trying your hardest to do the best work you can, you may come to enjoy your work more, because it’s almost certain that you’ll feel better about yourself and more fulfilled in what you’re doing.
Negotiate changes. An unhappy employee isn’t good for anyone. Believe it or not, your boss and coworkers don’t want you unhappy, because it affects the bottom line. You may have this sense that your boss is willfully making your life hell, and while that’s certainly possible, it’s not likely. It’s more likely that you have different personalities, or that they simply don’t know your frustrations.
Are you overworked? Underchallenged? Unhappy with the pay? One of your first steps should be to set up a meeting with your boss or supervisor and just be honest about how you feel in a professional and civil manner. Maybe you’re just bored at work because you aren’t being challenged enough, so you play computer games half the day. Ask for some more responsibility. Or maybe you have too much responsibility — while there are times where overtime is a necessary evil, it’s not sustainable. Be honest about the amount of work that you can handle. If you write off the possibility of negotiating changes at work, and just assume that your boss is tyrannical, you’re only adding to your problem.
Other things you can negotiate include working from home one day a week, being more flexible with hours (shifting your work day by an hour or two every once in a while), even requesting to transfer departments if you think your gifts and passions would be better suited elsewhere.
Set small goals for yourself. If you’re bored or not challenged at work, set small “quality” goals for yourself. At the end of each project, ask yourself, “Is the best work I can do?” If it’s not, get back to it. Make it a goal to finish a big project a day early. Or maybe you’ll come in under budget. You will not only attract the positive attention of those around you, but you’ll feel better about the work you’re doing.
Do one small act every day to get you to your dream job. If you’re unhappy at work, you probably have some idea of what you’d rather be doing. If you’re in a situation that can’t be remedied and you know that someday you’ll want to be doing something different, take one small step every day to get yourself to your dream job. Do you need to go back to school for something? Read about what the requirements may be, or even start working on an application for that program. If you dream about starting your own business, get one of the zillion books out there on the topic and read a chapter every day. If nothing else, take 15 minutes to jot down ideas and what next steps may be. Doing this will help you see that your current situation is temporary.
Think about what your current job can lead to. Related to the above is to think about the possibilities that your current job offers. Even if you don’t like it, and plan on moving on, it’s not a waste. No matter what, you’re getting experience doing something. How can that experience be leveraged for further opportunities? Before joining the AoM team last January, I was relatively unhappy with my job. But, I had a great schedule, which left me time to work on my freelance, which led to this job that I now love. So even though my previous job didn’t directly lead to this one, it afforded me the opportunity to get here.
Find something you enjoy at work. Unless you’re a complete Mr. Scrooge, there’s probably something you can find to enjoy about your workday. Cling to that. It gives you something to look forward to. Even if it’s just lunch, you can know that there’s one part of your day that’s enjoyable.
This concept can also apply to the work itself. Now there’s certain jobs where this may not be possible, but if you can, volunteer for a project you’d enjoy. If you’re in marketing, volunteer to do some social media or video projects. If you’re in sales, come up with a list of clients you’d really enjoy pitching to. If you can inject something you’ll enjoy into your work, you’ll find your day much easier (and more pleasant) to get through.
Give yourself something to look forward to at the end of the day or week. Along with giving yourself something to look forward to during work, do the same with the end of your day. Allow yourself some small reward after working. For me at my previous job, it was the chance to have 45 relatively quiet minutes on the bus with a book in hand. I relished that time, because for me, reading let me wind down from the stress of work. Grab a coffee from your favorite shop on your way home (or make a cup when you get home). Go out to eat on Friday night to celebrate making it through another week. Some small reward can make the worst of tasks manageable.
Gravitate to and collaborate with the people you like. Even if you don’t like your job, take the time to cultivate relationships with the people you like at your workplace. You don’t have to be best friends, but having a work buddy is important. If you can shoot the breeze over morning breaks or lunch time or even drinks after work, you’ll be a much happier fellow. Even better is if you can collaborate with them on projects — even if they’re in a different department. Be creative and find ways to make sure you aren’t going through the whole day utterly alone.
Decorate your space. This might sound like a superficial solution, but there’s been plenty of research showing just how much a workspace environment can affect your mood and level of job satisfaction. The first part of this entails being physically comfortable in your space and having the right equipment/materials to do your job. How is your chair? Your desk? Do you have enough room to do what you need to do? Do you have all the right software? If any of these things are an issue, bring it up. Again, it’s likely that your boss just doesn’t know it’s a problem.
The second part of this may be even more important, however, and that entails simply the pleasantness of the space. If you’re in a barren cubicle with gray walls and a gray desk and a gray computer, it can be pretty depressing. Put up a calendar that features your favorite hot rods, get some pictures of your family and friends up on your desk…find a way to make the space really yours. Even something as simple as seeing a smiling face in a photo can motivate you to do your best work and remind you who you’re doing the work for.
Be intentional about refreshing. We tend to think of work as just one aspect of our life. The reality, though, is that everything else we do affects our work. If you aren’t getting enough sleep, you’ll be extra cranky for that morning meeting. If you aren’t eating well and aren’t exercising, you’ll feel sluggish all day, which makes anything worse, let alone a full workday you already don’t enjoy.
Treat your work as holistically as you can. Eating well, exercising, and getting enough sleep will significantly increase your energy, and also your ability to take each new day by the horns.
In addition to that, make sure you get refreshed at work. Take a 15-minute break in the morning and afternoon. Take your full lunch break when you can; sometimes you won’t be able to, but you can even take charge of that every once in a while. Instead of sitting at your desk with your lunch, where you can be asked to work on something, take a walk outside for 30 minutes or bring a book to a coffee shop close by. Physically getting away (and being active) will refresh your brain for another few hours of work.
Have a sounding board/confidant. If you’re frustrated at work, keeping it bottled in will only make things worse. With your boss and coworkers, you need to professional and courteous in bringing up workplace problems. It’s also important, though, to just have someone you can vent to. Whether it’s a spouse, girlfriend, or college buddy, being able to say, “Ya know, today was a crappy day at work,” can ease your burden. This can be a little tricky, as you can’t really be public about it, and you definitely don’t want your sounding board to be a coworker, even if they’re a good friend. Also make sure to balance out work complaints with good things happening in your life. You don’t want your spouse or friends to be on the receiving end of constant negativity. While you certainly want to find the best in everything you do, it’s also okay and important to be honest about how you’re feeling at work.
Keep a gratitude journal. If you’re having a hard time finding those positives to balance out the negative, start keeping a gratitude journal. This can take a couple different forms. You could write out one thing each day that you’re thankful for about your job specifically. It can be something about the work itself, or something that’s a consequence of your work. For example, my being able to read on the bus before and after work each day was a definite point of gratitude. Not every job would have afforded that. I was also grateful for being fairly independent in my work, even if I didn’t love what I was doing. I’ll bet that you can find one thing each day you’re thankful for, even if it’s the same thing most days.
You can also do a gratitude journal that’s just for life in general. If you’re thankful for the truly important things in life — your health, your family, your home, the fact that you have a job at all — you’re more likely to see a crappy workday in a better light. Being more thankful all around will ensure that the things you don’t enjoy don’t take over your life.
While you likely won’t be able to implement all of these, working on a few of them will make your workday more tolerable, and perhaps you’ll come to even enjoy the work you’re doing. If nothing else, you’ll know that you’re doing the best work you can, and your character will thank you.
Please don’t give me your sob story or your complaints in the comments. Instead, tell me what you’re going to do to take charge of your workday and make it better.