Imagine spending your day energized, excited, and optimistic about what you were doing.
Wouldn’t that be a nice way to go through the workday?
It might be so nice for you, in fact, that other people in your life would probably notice a little extra spring in your step, expressions of enjoyment on your face, and a pleasant tone in your voice.
You might be thinking that this sounds good–and also unlikely.
After all, you will need to somehow find an organization with a compelling mission, fantastic people, and a great culture. You will need to find a great boss to work for in that organization. And you will need to find your way onto the best teams.
With all that in place, you can be more fully engaged!
The funny thing is, that common concept isn’t realistic.
While the grass certainly seems greener most of the time, often it isn’t. And the path to get over there can be long and difficult.
You could take another approach. One that is far more immediate and more fully in your control.
You could take some simple steps to engage yourself more in whatever work you are doing and wherever you are doing it. (Engage yo’ self as they might say on Parks & Rec).
Because, as we talk about often here, much of your success actually depends on you directly.
More important than many of your circumstances is how you choose to respond. Even a terrible boss can be a great opportunity for you if you handle it in the right way.
Some simple steps to get started
As CEO of you, self-management is an important skill. And there’s no better place to get started than in your day-to-day work.
The one change that can help right away is to set out a plan for each day.
The act of planning helps you to feel greater involvement in your own workday. It also helps you to identify concrete goals, which leads to a sense of accomplishment as you achieve them.
A lot of us work on time management skills and to-do lists and various calendar organization schemes.
The key to feeling more engaged is to set out a unique plan for each day, either the night before or first thing in the morning. It’s that short act of review in the moment that is most powerful.
Also, you should work on both time and task management. Plan your time for the day, but also know that you will be interrupted and that new issues will arise. Priorities will shift and things will change.
That’s ok. Just build some contingency plans into the day so that you continue to feel productive and in control.
If you anticipate problems and challenges, they will feel less problematic to you when they arise. Because you predicted something would happen and you prepared to deal with some unexpected eventualities, just like any good CEO.
Adopt an attitude of learning
Sometimes you may not be jazzed up about the work you have to do. Or the people you need to work with. Or whatever else may make a situation frustrating.
Empowering yourself with a good plan for time and task management might help you gut it out. But even better would be to adopt a learning attitude.
It can be very powerful to think about these unpleasant scenarios in advance and ask yourself, “What can I learn from this experience?”
This changes the perspective of something that you need to survive to something that can be more valuable to you in the longer run.
When you adopt a learning mindset, you can start to see the positives that might come out of difficult or unpleasant assignments.
Even better, it can prompt you to think about little experiments to try. You might come up with ideas to test that will help to validate a particular hypothesis or otherwise gain some valuable insight.
By doing that, you also step back mentally more easily. Which can help to not be so emotionally invested in something you deem as unpleasant. You become a little mad scientist in disguise.
Recognize your accomplishments
When you recognize your accomplishments, even small ones like sending an important email or filing an expense report or getting the meeting agenda set, it gives you a boost.
Too often, though, we keep scrambling through the day and don’t take note of what we have done.
It’s natural to focus on the huge stuff left on the to-do list, on the next deadline, or on something we’re worried about.
But if you stop for a moment to check some things off your to-do list or even to just mentally acknowledge what you were able to pump out in the last few hours, it can make a difference.
You might also try to be a little more aware of what others around you are accomplishing and point that out to them too. That way you are helping someone else to be a little more engaged and happy today, and you will start to build and improve relationships.
Relationships matter too
Work is about people. No matter how fancy or intricate your company’s org chart might be, or how fanciful everyone’s job descriptions might be, at the end of the day you work with a group of people on stuff that doesn’t often fit neatly into those definitions.
The more you can engage yourself in healthy relationships with others, the more support you will have at work. And the more creative solutions you will find.
Because it’s in those grey areas that a lot of important stuff happens. Yes, you will still need to write the report, balance the spreadsheet, and update the system. But your path to doing that well is always through people. People you will need to rely on in whatever the next phase of work involves.
There are things you can do outside of work that will help you to be more engaged in your work. Picking up a great nonfiction book, dialing in to a timely podcast, or reading some articles that cover your industry or particular challenges you are facing will help tremendously.
This kind of self-education will help you to become more informed about your work. It will help you to see the bigger picture and to understand that others face similar challenges. You will get ideas and inspiration.
Which gets back to learning, and relationships (as you share this info), and planning (as you select things to try out in your own situation).
It’s a little cycle of engagement that can reinforce itself.
Scratching your own itch
When you are feeling a little disengaged at work, there is a lot the company can do to help.
But you can’t always rely on those things. Sometimes you should simply take matters into your own hands.
By making a plan for your day, you will become more immersed in goal-setting. You will also get a good sense of accomplishment as you tick things off your lists.
Adopting a learning mindset will help you to see things–even difficult or unpleasant things–in a new light. And you can become energized about using these lessons in the future.
Don’t forget to take a moment to recognize your accomplishments. Especially the small ones. And the accomplishments of others. That’s part of your relationship building, which helps increase your engagement even more.
And, of course, there’s extracurricular activities. Reading articles like the one you’re reading now, as well as other relevant books and podcasts will help to invigorate your thinking about work.
Do these things for yourself. Enjoy your work more. Do better work. Build better relationships for the future. That’s a good plan for engagement, and it’s good preparation for your next promotion or job interview too.