Work is a necessary part of life, yet sadly, for so many of us, it’s seen as a necessary evil. A recent study found that 64% of people would quit or switch jobs right now if they could – and even for those of us who do enjoy our jobs, there are almost always parts of it we don’t.
While some of these elements may be out of your control, the good news is that there are steps you can take to, not only improve how you feel about your work, but how you feel about life too.
So, if you’re entering 2023 feeling gloomy about your job or uninspired by your career, what can you do to make things better? Here are 11 workplace changes that can improve your life.
1. Practise ‘single-tasking’
At work, productivity is linked to happiness – and when it comes to productivity, one of the biggest myths surrounding it is the idea that multitasking is a good thing. People multitask because they think that by working on several tasks at once, they’ll get more done. Except, according to science, the opposite is true, and instead of multitasking, we should be focusing on one task at a time.
The human brain isn’t capable of focusing on more than one complex task at a time, and every time we jump to another task, we lose momentum and focus. Plus, there’s a mountain of research telling us that multitasking is damaging because it can make us less productive, reduce our work quality, harm our brains, and limit creativity.
One of the best things you can do at work to improve your productivity, and in turn, your happiness, is to try single-tasking – the practice of focusing on one thing at a time. It’s a small action that can provide an astonishingly large reward.
2. Try to focus on the positives
Thinking positively is another small step that can have a big impact. We’ve just seen that the brain works best when it’s focusing on one thing at a time – and this is a reason why trying to think positively is so important.
Thinking positively doesn’t mean suppressing how you really feel or plastering a smile on your face when you’re feeling sad. It just means choosing to focus on what’s positive rather than what’s negative. These positive thoughts feed into your attitude and instil good feelings – not just towards yourself and your work, but to others too.
Trying to think positively might not come easily, though it’s something that can become easier with practise. One way to begin thinking more positively is to try practising gratitude when you start work. Even if you’re currently unhappy at work, there are many small things you might be grateful for – having a friendly coworker, having great free coffee, or having the ability to work from home.
To find out more about thinking positively, you might want to read our article; How practising gratitude can lead to a happier life.
3. Invest in building relationships
Having strong working relationships with your coworkers can have a significant effect on how happy you feel at work. For example, it can improve collaboration and communication – which, in turn, can improve the quality of your work while providing a sense of belonging and boosting your confidence.
You don’t have to be best friends with your colleagues, though, at the very least, it’s important to try to be friendly to make sure you’re communicating effectively.
If you feel your working relationships could be improved, why not invest in building them? Try to have regular conversations with your coworkers, not just about work but about life too – as this is a great way to build rapport and trust, and to better understand one another.
4. Take proper breaks
One of the biggest reasons people are unhappy at work is because they’re burned out. The latest research by Gallup found that a third of all workers always or very often feel burned out – and burnout can have an incredibly harmful effect on your work or productivity, as well as your mental and physical health.
It’s really important to take proper breaks – and that means taking holidays. Studies published in the Psychology and Health Journal show that taking a holiday can improve your physical health, mental wellbeing, and cognitive ability.
If you don’t have the funds for a sun-drenched break, there are plenty of other ways you can escape from your work for a while. For example, you could book a staycation, or even take a week at home, catching up on things like sleep, reading, exercising, watching your favourite shows, and simply taking some space.
On a smaller scale, it’s important to take proper breaks throughout the working day too. No matter how much work you have to do, try to step away from your desk and take some time to clear your head several times a day.
The best break you can have is to go outside and go for a quick walk. The fresh air and change of scenery can help your brain reset, and walking can be surprisingly meditative, allowing you to return to work feeling recharged.
5. Learn to say no
If you do feel burnt out at work – or just feel that you always have too much work to do – then it might be because you’re saying yes to too many things. It’s normal to say yes to taking on more work even if you don’t have the capacity; usually, because you feel obliged to your peers, you don’t want to let people down, or you want to show your dedication and competence.
However, having the strength to say no can make a significant difference in how stressed you feel at work. Plus, this new-found confidence can feed into your personal life too, whether that’s feeling able to say no to attending gatherings you don’t want to, or simply feeling proud that you’ve stood up for yourself and put your own priorities first.
Saying no doesn’t make you rude. If you want to decline a request, you can do so politely yet assertively. You may even want to suggest an alternative – for example, seeing if you can help once you’ve finished your own tasks – but remember that you should always prioritise your own work before helping others. If taking on extra work means you’ll be tired, stressed, or unhappy, then it’s not in your best interest.
For more tips on boundary setting, you might want to read our article; The power of saying no – 8 ways to say no and why it’s important.
6. Help others
Now, we know we’ve just said that learning to say no can be seriously beneficial for improving both your work and life – but that’s if you genuinely don’t have the time to take on extra work or help other people out. If you do, then taking some time out to help someone else can be a great way to get you feeling more positive about yourself, or shake off a lingering negative attitude.
Research shows that helping others is one of the best ways to make yourself feel good, and based on this data, all of us should be spending around 100 hours per year helping out – which is about two hours a week. This doesn’t mean you have to spend two hours helping at work (you could volunteer in your personal life, or help a friend or family member), but it does mean that taking some time to assist a coworker has proven benefits.
Wellbeing expert Martin Seligman famously wrote that “kindness produces the single most reliable momentary increase in well-being of any exercise we have tested.” So, if you have the capacity, why not see if there’s anyone at work who could use a hand? Or, if you see someone who’s having a bad day or is overloaded, why not ask how you can help and offer to take a task off their hands?
7. Challenge yourself
If you feel stuck in a rut at work, it can help to find ways to challenge yourself and grow.
For example, if you’re asked to do a presentation – yet you’ve always dreaded speaking in public – why not think about saying yes, and try to see it as a chance to show off what you know and work on your weaknesses? To prepare, you could sign up for a public speaking course or simply practise with a loved one until you feel more confident.
No one’s perfect, though if you’re aware of your professional weaknesses, whether it’s public speaking or giving honest feedback, try to be brave enough to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Doing so won’t only develop your skills, but it’ll also help motivate you – and perhaps lead to a promotion, or potentially even a career change.
8. Learn to delegate
No matter how passionate you might be about your job, you shouldn’t be constantly thinking about it, or working overly long hours. Doing this can eat into the time you have to relax and be with loved ones and also lead to burnout – or at the very least, reduce the quality of your work.
If you hold a relatively senior position, learning to delegate can make a huge improvement to your work-life balance and happiness. Plus, smart delegation is considered a key managerial skill. It’s a proven way to boost performance and an excellent way to show that you trust the people you work with.
You can delegate both authority and responsibility, and while it’s not a good idea to micromanage, it’s still worth staying involved. Not only will that help your colleague or employee feel more confident when tackling a new task, but it’ll also help you feel more at ease too.
9. Set goals and track your progress
We’ve already looked at how powerful positive thinking can be for improving your life, and while we might know this, it’s still all too easy to remember the negative more than the positive.
So, take time to celebrate everything you’ve achieved – whether that’s hitting a major deadline or taking on more responsibility. In order to see what you’ve accomplished, you need to be able to track your progress.
Instead of just daydreaming about what you want to achieve, try to set clear and achievable goals; for example, SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound). Whenever you make a step towards reaching a goal, be sure to note it down. This will mean that during those times you feel like you’re stagnant and not accomplishing anything, you can see that you are, in fact, moving forward and developing your skills.
10. Tidy your workspace
You’ve probably heard the saying ‘a tidy desk, a tidy mind’ – though you might not have thought there was much truth to it. However, research shows that when you’re working amongst clutter, it can unconsciously add to your cognitive load, harming your ability to focus.
More research has also revealed that people who procrastinate tend to have messier desks, because their messy environment causes them to get more easily distracted.
It might seem like a small thing, but clearing your desk can be a great way to clear your mind too. Seeing stacks of folders, piles of papers, old cups, and leftover packs of food strewn across your desk won’t help you feel positive as you sit down to work – yet a clean, tidy desk will help you feel on top of things.
Why not keep a bin beneath your desk so rubbish doesn’t pile up, and take a minute each day to do a quick tidy?
11. Limit distractions
In our hyper-connected world, there are endless digital distractions, and it’s well documented that they’re one of the most common barriers to both productivity and happiness.
The more time you waste at work (whether it’s constantly checking your phone, mindlessly browsing the net, or gossiping to coworkers) the less work you’re doing – and the less productive and accomplished you’ll feel.
It can help to take a moment to think about what you find most distracting and consider ways to remedy it. For example, if you spend too much time checking your email, you could set a few times throughout the day to log in and reply. If you spend too long on social media, you might want to set time blockers on your devices. If you’re distracted by the noise around you, whether it’s chatty coworkers or builders next door, you could invest in some noise-cancelling headphones.
Every time we become distracted, it takes around 25 minutes for our brains to refocus properly. So, when you’re constantly distracted, it has an incredibly detrimental effect on your productivity, which in turn, leads to delayed tasks, lower quality of work, and missed deadlines – all of which make us feel bad. So, doing what you can to create your own boundaries and avoid interruptions is important.
Our article, 7 ways to improve your focus, has plenty more tips on how to boost productivity.
It’s normal to feel disillusioned at work from time to time, and to feel you’re not getting anything out of your job. While work – like most other things in life – will have its ups and its downs, there are many small things you can do to change how you feel about your job.
Whether it’s making a decision to develop your own skills or take on more responsibility; limiting distractions and boosting productivity by practising single-tasking; or taking time to help other people and develop your professional relationships, these small actions can have a ripple effect not only on your work but on your life too.
And if you feel like your issues with work run much deeper, and the advice on this page isn’t enough to change how you feel about your job, remember that it’s never too late to think about a career change. Head over to the career change section of our site to find out more.