It IS possible...
The average Brit spends 99,117 hours of their life at work. That’s roughly 4,130 full days. If you’re fired up by your job and it meets your requirements (adequate salary, mental stimulation, good hours, a measured workload) that’s four thousand days of fulfilment.
But what if it doesn’t?
It isn’t hard to get bogged down by the monotony of work life. Unproductive routines are hard to break and sometimes it’s just easier to dread each day and then complain about it afterwards.
But this type of cycle must be broken. If you are stuck in a work quagmire, it’s time to make some changes. Start by following these five expert tips…
1. Don’t expect everything from one job
‘People often feel a sense of entitlement about their career,’ says Professor Heather McGregor, Executive Dean of Edinburgh Business School. ‘They feel that they should deliver everything to them – friends, intellectual fulfilment, personal development, money, a social life, it goes on and on.’
Professor McGregor’s advice is to work out what makes you unhappy – then do something about it. If you love your job but can’t be doing with your meagre salary, consider negotiating a three-day week and finding a part-time job that pays more for the other two days. Alternatively, use the weekends – get a Friday night job at a bar or run a jewellery stall on Saturdays to make extra cash.
It’s a different story, however, if your unhappiness lies in the knowledge you’re not developing at work (compounded if your job pays well and you don’t feel you can leave).
‘What you need to do [is] seriously challenge yourself,’ says Professor McGregor. ‘What else could you qualify for in your spare time?’
Examples she gives include signing up for a flexible MBA or learning a language on your morning commute. Sound slightly unfeasible? Professor McGregor speaks from experience. She learned to fly an aeroplane, wrote two books (Mrs Moneypenny’s Careers Advice For Ambitious Women was a bestseller) and delivered a one-woman show to the Edinburgh Fringe in 2010 and 2013, all the while running a global executive search firm.
It can be done.
2. Jump-start your day
If your work dissatisfaction stems from the way you work – specifically, our dumbfounding inability to get things done – then you need to find ways to increase your productivity.
Step one is to start your day feeling energised. This can be achieved through an active commute (e.g. walking to work) a nutritious breakfast or, as Emily Forbes, founder of crowd source video app Seenit, advocates, listening to ‘loud badass music’.
‘It really helps to buzz me up for those Monday mornings and [enables me to] hit the ground running,’ she says. ‘The right track can totally transform your mood and energy.’
Rosanna Falconer, Business Director at Matthew Williamson, swears by a quiet hour in the office before her team arrives. ‘It sets you up feeling like you’ve won the race before the day even begins,’ she says. Don’t make it a regular habit, however. ‘Mix up early desk days with gym days,’ she adds.
Once in the office, make sure you do the most important task first. Productivity Coach Clare Evans, author of Time Management For Dummies, says, ‘When you’re energy is up, your willpower is at its greatest.’
Doing the most urgent task first leaves you with a sense of achievement once it’d done – a real bonus at 10am.
3. Make a plan
It might seem rudimentary, but planning each day is likely to yield far greater results than merely muddling through. How you plan is up to you: an age-old ‘To Do’ list, a carefully kept diary, bearing a daily goal in mind – all useful.
Once a plan’s in place it’s easier to focus. You’ll be able to see clearly what can and can’t be done thus, manage expectations – other people’s and your own. And when it comes to tasks leftover, let go of control and delegate. Not everyone delivers to your standards, true, but the right person will help ease the pressure considerably.
Finally, don’t forget the importance of saying ‘no’. Practise it, says Head Coach Grace Marshall, author of How To Be #REALLYProductive. ‘Like a muscle, the more you use it the easier it gets and the more you realise the world really doesn’t end when you do.’
4. Take regular breaks during the day – and from work in general
‘We spend 65-75% of our day seated and stationary according to a recent survey,’ says Clare Evans. ‘[But] it’s important to take regular breaks at work – not just for your health and wellbeing but [to] improve your productivity and increase your energy.’
Obviously, a good excuse for a walk is during your lunch hour – which you should take in full. What you buy to eat during it can influence how you perform as well.
‘Make sure that you have a meal that’s a balance of protein, low GI carbs and a little good fats,’ says body transformation and wellness expert Louise Parker. ‘The combination of macronutrients is going to ensure your blood sugar levels are stable, which help you feel perky and able to concentrate and not want to have a snooze under your desk – which you might if your meal were entirely carbohydrate based.’
If you bring lunch in, however, you should still find time to go out; fresh air and exercise benefit mental health.
‘You need to almost make a date and say, “Every day at 1 o’clock I’m going to go for a 20-minute walk”,’ says Professor McGregor. ‘It sounds very simple, but it’s really tough for most people to do because work just expands to fill the time available.’
Finally, remember that whatever you do, not every day will be a success. Failing is par for the course.
‘Learn to fail well,’ says Grace Marshall. ‘Mistakes happen. There is life after a mistake and what matters is what we do next.’
5. Beware of meetings
A survey of 2,000 people conducted by Sennheiser Communications in 2015, found that the average worker sits through 6,240 meetings during their career. 60% of respondents said most meetings were ‘pretty pointless’. 70% said they zone out ‘constantly’ during them and the average worker was found to switch off ‘completely’ after 20 minutes.
‘Question meeting requests,’ says Grace Marshall. ‘Ask “what’s the purpose of this meeting?”’
Many can be dispensed with following a quick email or conference call. But if a meeting is non-negotiable, keep it short (no longer than 20 minutes) and to the point (write an agenda). And conduct it standing up; an ad exec in New York refused to have chairs in his office so when people came in for meetings they had nowhere to sit. His meetings lasted just minutes…