How To Have A Happier, More Productive Work Life

August 29, 2019 — 17:00 PM

In the United States, Labor Day falls on September 2 this year. The occasion acknowledges the contributions of workers and unofficially marks the end of summer and the beginning of a new year. (Think of September as the other January!)

In the tumult of everyday life, it can be hard to step back and ask ourselves the big questions. This year, just as New Year’s Day is for planning upcoming goals and Valentine’s Day is for celebrating love, try using Labor Day to think about how you could be happier, healthier, more productive, and more creative in your work life.

Here are 7 things you can do today to shake up your work life for the better:

1. Tackle a nagging task.

Do you need to write a difficult email, edit a boring document, or search your files for a missing form? The stewing is often worse than the doing, so tackle that task. You’ll get a big charge of energy from crossing it off your list.

2. Choose a one-word theme for your work goals.

It’s fun and helpful to choose a single word to sum up your yearly goal for yourself. My one-word themes have included “Delegate,” “Growth,” and “Repurpose.” Crystallizing my aim into a single word helps me stay focused. Also, because it’s just one word, it’s easy to find whimsical ways to keep it in mind: Use it as a screen saver or password, or put it on a piece of jewelry.

3. Clean your desk.

For most people, outer order contributes to inner calm, and also a sense of focus and energy. Take even just 10 minutes to create more outer order: Organize your supplies, clear out a desk drawer, toss some old brochures, take home the plastic containers, sweaters, and shoes that you’ve amassed at work.

4. Create outer accountability for a habit you want to change at work.

Do you want to start taking a short walk at lunch? Or stop procrastinating on processing invoices? It’s important to remember that we must shape our habits to suit ourselves—our own nature, our own interests, our own strengths. That’s why I created the “Four Tendencies” framework to explain why people do the things they do. In a nutshell, the framework distinguishes how people tend to respond to expectations: outer expectations (a work deadline, for example) and inner expectations (like the decision to keep a New Year’s resolution). Calculate your tendency with this quick quiz, and then try to shape your accountability style accordingly and see if it helps.

For example, if you’re an Obliger—that is, if you readily meet other people’s expectations but struggle to meet your expectations for yourself—the key element is external accountability. Need to work on the annual report? Tell your boss you’ll give her a draft by Friday. If you’re a Rebel, on the other hand, you might do worse with this external accountability, since you don’t like people looking over your shoulder or telling you what to do.

5. Adopt an office show.

Research shows that having friends at work is a big happiness booster. One way to foster connection with co-workers is to adopt an office show—a TV show or podcast that many people enjoy. It creates a bond, makes it easier to connect, and gives an easy, casual way for more reserved or junior people to join the conversation.

6. Ask yourself: Whom do I envy?

Envy is a very uncomfortable emotion, but it’s instructive. If you envy someone, that person has something you wish you had. Do you envy your friend who gets to travel all the time—or the friend who never has to travel? Do you envy your co-worker who’s taking night classes toward getting an MBA or who gets to make lots of presentations? Envy can help show us how we want to grow and change, in and out of the office.

7. Choose the bigger life.

Tough decisions about work life are bound to crop up from time to time: Should I transfer to another city? Should I go back to school? Should I switch careers?

Sometimes the pros and cons seem balanced, and it’s easy to get paralyzed. In that case, it’s helpful to think, “Choose the bigger life.” Often, that simple statement can make the course more clear. The great thing about it is that nobody can tell you what the “bigger life” is. That’s up for you to decide for yourself.