Most of my clients come to me because they want to change something about their work. They want to enjoy it more. Or feel more fulfilled.
Some of course make significant changes like leaving their job or stepping down as CEO. But the majority achieve greater happiness and fulfilment by upgrading their job (and therefore their life) from within it, without leaving at all.
Below are some tried and tested ways to increase joy, fulfilment, happiness, feel more aligned with your work or live closer to how you want to live without leaving your job or role.
This is about making work work for you.
1. Shape your job around what energises you
Identify what you really enjoy at work, what energises you or makes you feel alive. And identify what (or even who) drains your energy. Shaping what you do around this – minimising the drainers and spending as much time as possible on what feeds you – is obviously easier if you’re the CEO or own your own business, but you’d be surprised how much more is within your control then you might think even as an employee.
It starts with clarity – knowing exactly what you do and don’t want to do.
And then action – taking conscious and deliberate steps to make this happen – any way you can.
Perhaps you can delegate what you no longer want to do to someone else, outsource it or hire someone to do it or even get it automated.
To work more on what you want and less on what you don’t, usually also involves clarifying and setting expectations for others about where your focus will be and what you’ll be prioritising. This may be with your team, peers, the senior management team, the board – whoever the relevant people are. Sometimes this will be a case of letting people know (and following through). For others, it will be a discussion or negotiation with the relevant people.
A partner in a law firm who wasn’t that happy in his work, for example, recognised how much of a buzz he got from speaking and presenting (he’d always wanted to be a teacher not a lawyer!) and so went out of his way to find and create opportunities to give speeches – at meetings, conferences and giving guest lectures – and felt much more energised and happier as a result.
This is all a process of recreating, redesigning or renegotiating your role to make sure it works better for you and allows you to feel and work at your best.
2. Focus on relationships
Studies on life satisfaction point again and again to the central importance of relationships to our happiness in life. We are hard-wired with a human need for connection and a sense of belonging. And we all know the lift we can feel from a simple moment of connection, chat or conversation with someone.
The reality is when people are busy at or under pressure this is often the first thing to go. We get task-focused rather than allowing time and space for nurturing or enjoying relationships.
Getting more enjoyment from relationships can be as simple as consciously connecting with or chatting to a colleague before a meeting starts, having a chat in the lift, having a little banter as you pick your sandwich up at lunch each day or a bit of chit-chat before you launch into that one-to-one meeting.
And the purpose of this is not for networking or furthering your career. It’s not something you’re trying to make yourself do. It’s for enjoyment! For the positive feelings we get when we connect with others.
And it can also good to work on the relationships we find more challenging – after all, they can affect our happiness the most. If you find someone difficult at work, try seeing what you can appreciate about them. Or see if you can connect with them at a more human or heart level. You might be surprised at how it shifts your relationship with them – and as a result, your own mood or happiness.
Since relationships are so central to our happiness and we spend such a huge proportion of our time at work, enjoying our relationships at work more can significantly impact our mood and how we feel day-to-day in our work, even when nothing externally changes about what we do.
3. Bring some fun, playfulness or lightness to work
Many people can be quite serious at work or find they become this way when they’re under pressure. Given we spend about half our waking day at work, imagine how much more enjoyable life would be if we made it a little more fun. If you laughed a little more often in meetings or with your colleagues. If you brought a more playful attitude to some of your projects, tasks or meetings. If you had a little more banter or craic along the way.
As well as enjoying our life more, the bonus is also that we learn better, are more creative, more resilient and our brains function better when we’re having fun or enjoying ourselves.
4. Set an intention for work
Before you go to work, set an intention for the day. An intention of how you would like to feel and act throughout the day. For example, deciding you will go through the day feeling calm, or at ease, or enjoying the day, or being creative or connecting with others etc.
Staying conscious of this throughout the day significantly increases the chances you will experience what you want for that particular day. For example if you set your intention for ease, and you feel yourself struggling with something, remembering your intention could be a trigger to pause for a moment and ask “Is there an easier way?”. Or if your intention was for calm, you might catch yourself as you start to overreact to a difficult e-mail and decide to take a breath and keep it in perspective.
If you don’t want to create a different intention every day, you can of course choose one core intention for your work. Either way, it really helps to remind yourself of it every morning and as much as you can throughout the day so that it stays front of mind. Reminders like a phrase or picture on your phone, your screensaver, on your desk, or a piece of jewellery that reminds you of this or a post-it on your computer screen can all help.
5. Remember you always have a choice
Feeling like we’ve no choice in a situation can make us feel powerless, obligated, burdened or heavy. Feeling a sense of control or choice on the other hand, even in a very challenging environment or situation, is much less stressful.
A very common effect of the coaching I do is that people often tell me that they found that they had more choice or discretion in their work or in certain situations than they thought they had. Feeling and knowing you have a choice is very powerful and liberating.
So if you feel you have no choice about the pressure you’re under, the hours you work, about that challenging person you work with or you have no option but to complete this difficult project you’ve started etc – challenge yourself to find some choice or control you do have within the situation.
What could you do to improve the situation? What options do you have? Do you even really need to do it – could someone else do it? Or could someone else help? Or could it be postponed by a week or a month? How could you make it easier or more enjoyable? Can you ask someone for help?
I’ve yet to find a situation that someone couldn’t find at least some element of choice within – even if it’s the attitude they take to it – no matter how challenging or seemingly outside their control the situation was.
6. Dial up the things you love outside work
Despite the amount of energy and focus we often put into our work, I bet there are things that feed your soul, that fuel your joy more than work. This might be playing with your dog, pootling in your garden, singing in your choir, spending time beside the sea, writing poetry, walking in nature, travelling, experiencing new things, doing an adventure race, coaching the under 10s football team, going to a concert or the theatre or listening to opera etc.
Spend more time doing these things that make you feel alive and energised and – like the rising tide that lifts all ships – your improved mood, joy, motivation or energy will lift how you feel about your work too, even without anything else changing. It literally changes the lens with which you see the world. Your perspective shifts. For the better.
And if, like many hard working people, you only find time for these things at the weekend, if you get creative I know you can find time for “Pockets of Joy” – moments of joy, fun, peace or connection – during the week, without relegating it to only the weekends.
You can meditate or listen to a favourite piece of music or podcast with your headphones on in 5 minutes. Going outside to have a cup of coffee doesn’t take long. A cold shower (think Wim Hof here) is very quick! If you book the theatre for a show you really want to see, you will be super-efficient all day to make sure you get there.
7. Create an environment that feels good around you
You don’t need to be a Feng Shui expert to know that your environment affects you.
Just think of when you’ve walked into a dark room, building or office and felt its negative impact on you. Or how a bright, airy environment with some lovely plants, great art or nice views can lift your mood.
The best example of this I’ve come across was at an organisation I worked with for many years who put a giant photo covering the entire wall of their boardroom of Packie Bonner (the Irish goalkeeper) mid-dive, saving a goal in the famous penalty shootout against Romania which put Ireland into the quarter finals of the 1990 Football World Cup for the first time ever. A moment all Irish people (even non-football fans) remember as truly iconic. If you’re Irish, I promise you you can’t walk into that boardroom without feeling uplifted!
Such is the power of environment.
So upgrading your environment with things that make you feel good – plants, photos, quotes, colours you like, even simply decluttering your desk – can lift and improve your mood subconsciously.
8. Create space in your working week
A lot of added pressure at work comes from having no proper time to think. No time to process or step back or think something through properly or not having the space to get a different perspective.
We all need time for quality thinking. I’m a big fan of scheduling ‘White space’ – time in your calendar for deep thinking – every week, a minimum of two hours per week. The more senior you are, the more important this time is and the more of this time you need.
So a simple, yet transformative, thing you can do to feel better if you’re busy all the time, is to make having White Space a priority. It really is a game changer.
So to conclude, if you think you need to change your job, first try changing the job you have already. You may well find that these steps are enough for you to start enjoying your work more, feel more in control, more peaceful and more liberated.
Or, if you find it’s still not enough, you will have at least created more space, energy and be feeling better which is a much better place from which to make more fundamental decisions about what job IS right for you.