When you’re truly miserable at work, you might need to make big changes: a new job, a new boss, maybe even a new career. But between misery and your dream job lies a vast gray area. Most people live and work in that gray area for some of their careers, not hating what they do, but not exactly loving it, either.
That’s fine — despite the hype, you don’t necessarily need to do what you love in order to have a satisfying career and a happy life. But if you’re getting the feeling that you could be happier at work, there are often things you can do to make that a reality. Start with these (no new job required!).
1. Get up earlier — even if it’s just 15 minutes.
“A few years ago, because I wanted a calmer, less hurried morning with my family, I started getting up earlier — and I enjoyed it so much that I’ve started setting my alarm earlier and earlier,” writes Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, at her blog.
Many famously successful people are early risers, but you don’t have to get up at 6 a.m. to reap the benefits of moving your alarm back a few minutes. Getting up and running just a little bit earlier could help fight that harried feeling that plagues many of us in the mornings. Get into the office before anyone’s there to bother you, or linger over a cup of coffee in your own home. Start the day with some peace.
Many successful people are early risers, but you don’t have to get up at 6 a.m. to reap the benefits.
2. Develop an internal locus of control.
Psychologists use the term “locus of control” to describe how people perceive their ability to affect their circumstances. Those with an internal locus of control feel that they can affect what happens to them; those with an external locus of control chalk things up to fate, the boss’s whims, etc. Cultivate the former, and you’ll feel a lot more agency in your life and career — and that will enable you to jump on chances to improve your situation when they arise.
3. Set aside time for real work.
Is your company meeting-crazy? If so, you might need to be proactive about carving out space in your schedule to do heads-down work. Block out time in your calendar, as if you were attending a meeting, and make a commitment to getting stuff done during that time. It’ll help if you can get your manager on your side, so you can decline any truly extraneous meetings in favor of working on your to-do list.
4. Develop your master plan.
Where do you want to be next year, in five years, in 10 years? Your answers will evolve over time, as opportunities come up and your industry changes, but it’s worth thinking about where you want to go in the long-term. Doing so will help you chart a path from here to there, and make you feel like you’re getting somewhere right now.
5. Unplug from the office.
When it comes to work-life balance, technology giveth and technology taketh away. The good: you can work from home, if your company allows it. The bad: you might wind up working all the time.
As much as possible, it’s important to give yourself a quitting time and stick with it. That means keeping your phone out of the bedroom and resisting the urge to check your work email late at night, first thing in the morning, or when you’re supposed to be watching your kid’s soccer game.
That’s sometimes easier said than done, if your company’s corporate culture dictates accessibility at all times. But unless you’re specifically told that you’re expected to respond, don’t assume that it’s required. It’s in your employer’s best interests to have a well-rested, productive worker.
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