Disillusionment and despair are traps that I sometimes stumble into. These feelings happen periodically in the workplace. There's nothing more uninspiring than punching in the time card, day after day, at a job that sucks energy and creativity.
Gallup surveys have reported over recent years that seventy percent of workers in the United States feel disengaged from their work. Some days I feel like a member of the downtrodden majority, but I quickly take steps to cross over into the territory of the engaged minority. By following the ideas of thought-provoking authors and visionaries, I've learned to make the best out of less-than-optimal work environments. These life hacks have helped me join the engaged thirty percent.
I take ownership of factors that I can control before spending the workday in a stressful office. I start by getting sufficient sleep at night, taking a minimalist approach to morning routines (e.g. setting aside the work attire the evening before, having a set idea of food and snacks to pack, and filling my bag with essentials to take during the day), eating a healthy breakfast, and stimulating my mind through reading thoughtful material or writing.
Using sprints, grouping similar tasks together, and avoiding multitasking while working cuts down on unnecessary mental fatigue which happens when I switch gears more than I need to. I find it easier to get things done when I tackle work using these tactics. The "first-in, first-out" approach to getting work done might work in some occupations, but as a modern-day knowledge worker, I question the wisdom and the effectiveness of taking an assembly line approach to processing work. It goes without saying that I abhor the so-called "emergencies" that are caused by others' procrastination, carelessness, or laziness (Want to promote respect in the workplace? Develop your work skills and empathy to minimize generating these urgent issues).
I've recently learned the importance of knowing when to stop work and take time to recharge. It's an essential idea that Tony Schwartz details both in his book (Be Excellent At Anything) and in a recent New York Times article ("Relax! You'll Be More Productive"). Setting aside time for energy renewal throughout the work day helps me maintain focused energy throughout the work day, and I rarely feel drained when business hours are over.
I also get away from my desk during lunch and break times. Getting away from the noise and stress does wonders. During every workday over the past fifteen months, I've also collected interesting photographs of nature outside my office: The Lunchtime Project is a splendid diversion which adds a moment of creativity during workdays. On those rare times that I eat at my desk during lunch, I'm likely participating in interesting webinars.
One of the keys to my engagement at work is that I'm able to connect the dots between the work that I do and how it impacts the ability for my customers and peers to make awesome. When I feel that my work goals are closely aligned with the business goals and aspirations of my customers, I feel more inspired to kick ass. Finding meaning in my work--not the size or the frequency of my paycheck--is what inspires me to get out of bed each morning. I find meaning through building connections with customers and peers. We often share commonalities, such as interest in creative and innovative pursuits, life hacks, music, art, fitness activities, and culinary arts. Getting to know others enhances my workplace engagement. I've strengthened my relationships with others through years of excellent work and finding shared interests.
Through discovering these commonalities, I've met many awesome people at work. Recently, a discussion with a customer about a business book author whom we both respect led to after-hours social gathering and a lunch outing. Learning about another friends' interests in mobile photography led to many interesting conversations. And through establishing my personal brand and value proposition, I have met people in the organization who are fully behind my journey on the road to awesome. These folks include friends in high (organizational) places, professors who offer courses on productivity hacks and neuroscience, and other kindred spirits who believe in finding meaning in work and being engaged at work.
Designing an environment where I feel engaged at work is rewarding. The connections and the relationships that I've built through the years are invaluable. However, there will be those people who do not, or want to, understand why I work the way I do. They don't think of work as being anything but a set of rigid rules which must be followed in exchange for approval and paycheck. As a recent Fast Company article succinctly puts it, "people will always shit on the things they're scared of." There are haters out the who don't get the life hacks. They believe that work involves only pain and suffering--that is, being being happy and engaged through productivity, sense of purpose, and working smartly, means that I'm not working hard enough. They are the ones who complain that they're so busy that they don't get to enjoy lunch until after six hours of work (do they pack sensible snacks and bring them to work?), scarf down prepackaged instant foods at their desks and then wonder loudly why they feel sluggish in the afternoon, and insist on telling me that I "don't have the luxury" to work the way I do.
Not everyone understands my road to awesome. Let the haters and the biters ride their own short buses on their circular road to nowhere. Jealousy might cause others who don't understand to get mad at me for getting my shine on and being successful. That's their loss though: it frees up the traffic on the road to awesome for the fellow folks in my tribes to follow their own journeys to engagement.