You might feel like you’re at a dead end.
When your job stinks, it can be hard to go to work in the morning. Days can feel long. And you can feel drained of energy and enthusiasm.
Maybe you can’t turn your job around or find a new one overnight. But you can do some things right now that will help your days go better.
We’ll talk about 3 of the most powerful ways you can approach your work that will make a big difference in how your work days go.
And as your work days get better, your job becomes a little bit more bearable. Maybe even enjoyable. And certainly your work experience will become more valuable.
Let’s look at the three techniques.
1. Exert more control over parts of your day
Work is frustrating when you feel a lack of control. Fortunately, this is easy to change.
Maybe you can’t turn down assignments, skip that meeting with your boss, or avoid certain customers. But you can exert control in a lot of places. Probably in more places than you think.
That’s because your default is to ignore lots of opportunities. We humans do that in order to move through our days efficiently. We take lots of little decisions and make them routine.
You can, however, change those “default” settings anytime you wish. You can change lots of little things that will help you feel more control over your work.
Exerting control over simple things like format of a report, the way a meeting is organized, or even the order in which you will tackle the day’s tasks are a good place to start. And while these may seem like small and insignificant adjustments, they can be key to being happier at work. Because they give you autonomy, which has been shown to be more important than money to happiness at work.
The more you can chip away at taking control of (and deeper responsibility for) your work, the greater sense of independence and freedom you will have. Even in small amounts, this can feel extremely liberating.
And, you can build on this over time. As you work to do this more and more, you will begin to see new opportunities to exert great control and to feel more self-directed.
2. Embrace learning opportunities (which are everywhere)
Build on your sense of independence by taking more steps to improve yourself through experience. No matter how frustrating your job may be, there are always opportunities for learning.
You can try new approaches, you can consult your colleagues, you can make observations. While you are on the job, you should always be looking for lessons. These are your personal “take aways” that will be valuable to your current job and your next job.
Think about interviewing for a promotion or your next job, and being able to talk about dozens of lessons you have learned through your experience. You’d be able to show that you approach your work with focus, dedication, and curiosity.
Plus, it makes your job more interesting to do. So you “win” in the short and long term when you take a learning attitude to work with you. This is the best way to learn all the lessons that they should have taught you in school but didn’t.
And, you can go further.
Say the company won’t pay for you to take a class or go to a conference that will help build your career. You can always do that yourself.
You can take a vacation day and write a check. After all, if you really think the investment is worthwhile and will benefit your career, why not send yourself to the conference or class?
You will meet people and grow your network. You will learn new information. And you will be exerting greater control over your professional trajectory.
That right there is a recipe for happiness in your work.
3. Assign a higher meaning to your efforts
One of the keys to motivation, which directly influences your happiness at work, is meaning.
This is where reflecting on why you do your work can help. Sure, you want the paycheck and the benefits and the experience. But you probably also have higher level aspirations.
Maybe you are working to support your family. Or it could be that you really enjoy helping people. And you probably have some vision of building a better future for yourself.
Take an inventory of why you are doing what you are doing. It doesn’t have to be one big thing. It doesn’t even have to be some super-dramatic or ultra-noble goal. It just has to be something that you assign a higher meaning to. Something beyond the transactional basics of trading time for money.
You might not have the best job in the world right now. And you might feel a little under-enthused about going to work.
But you can do a few small things that will make a big difference in your days. And they will help you build the skills and experience you need to move on to a better job.
By finding ways to exert more control over aspects of your work–even if they are small–you can feel greater independence. And that’s one of the keys to satisfaction at work, your level of self-direction.
What’s more, you can always find ways to learn on the job. That might mean some of the technical aspects of what you do, or lessons from your colleagues, or deeper industry insights. You might even send yourself to a class or conference.
All of that learning will give you a sense of progress that will enhance your satisfaction with any job, because you will be building a better future for yourself by learning as much as possible from everything that you do.
Lastly, you can take some time to reflect on the higher meaning in your work. You are working toward some long-term vision for yourself inside of work and beyond. Tapping into that can lighten the load of the drudgery because you are working toward something bigger and more important than the task at hand.
Take control, learn, and focus on the big picture meaning, and you can take even a bad job and turn it into a good (and worthwhile) experience.