How to Love Your Job Again in Eight Easy Steps

Bored and fed up with your 9-5? Managers driving you crazy? Spend all week wishing your life away until Friday rolls around? In this post I’m going to suggest eight ways that you can begin to love your job again. I’m not promising you’ll look forward to every Monday morning, but I know it’ll be a whole lot more enjoyable than it is now.

Woman on a sofa on the phone
Remember this moment and how you felt
Remember why you chose your job in the first place

There must have been something that attracted you to this position. Think back to how you felt when you were told that your application was successful. How were you feeling on your first day in post? Sometimes when we are so familiar with something it becomes boring. Some of the most exciting jobs might be perceived by some as tedious. But take a step back and really focus on the purpose of the role and what function it serves. To others it may look interesting and you need to try to recreate that curiosity in yourself again.

Accept You can’t enjoy everything all of the time

Accept that we all have parts of our jobs that we don’t like e.g. admin tasks, difficult clients, long meetings. Natalie Bacon says that life is 50-50. That is, 50% good and 50% bad. Work is like that too. There’s the days when you love your job; the reason perhaps that you applied for the post in the first place. Then there’s the other bits, that come with every job. Instead of resisting these, just get on with them. See them as a necessary evil. Then you can put your energy into the parts of the job that you love.

remember Managers will be managers

Feel that you already have too much on your plate and yet your manager is trying to give you more to do? Don’t take it personally. Your manager’s job is to give you work. They may have pressure from above. I would recommend that you ‘pick your battles’. Try to be positive and accommodating most of the time. Then when you do put up some resistance they are more likely to take you seriously and listen. No one likes being told what to do, but that’s the nature of being an employee.

Even if you disagree with decisions the manager has made, at the end of the day they are the manager and it takes less energy to accept and just get on with what they are asking. You can waste so much time and energy feeling negative, whereas if you just do what is asked you can forget about it and move on to something more enjoyable. That’s likely to be the ‘deep work’ that you took this position for in the first place.  

Try to do a good job

You are likely to feel more positive about work if you get some job satisfaction, which I think comes from seeing a job well done. You are also more likely to get positive feedback from a manager or be selected for a promotion if you are seen to be someone who works hard and takes pride in what they do.

Two women in an office smiling at each other
Make your colleagues into your friends
Make friends at work

If you work full time then you are spending the best part of your week with your colleagues – well at least when we all went into an office. Your days are going to be so much more enjoyable when you feel you have a connection with those around you. We can’t all get on with everyone, but I am sure there are some of your colleagues you’d be happy to be friends with.

Take an interest in the lives of your colleagues and if you cooperate with other organisations or companies this can extend to those too. This can make collaboration so much more enjoyable and you can share your day to day lives, good and bad, with those that you are working with. When the opportunity arises, such as lunch or coffee breaks, take some time away from your desk to relax together. Have a look at my post about Tom Corley’s advice on building rich relationships.

Try not to get on the negativity bandwagon

Human beings, or at least a lot of the people that I know and some of whom I work with, have a tendency to focus on the negatives. How often do you bump into someone and their first question is ‘Busy?’. They moan about the manager, then about the company in general. Being in that negative vibe all of the time can be really draining. It’s not easy being the one who challenges the status quo, but there may be others who’ll be glad to hear your positive thoughts. They might have been thinking the same thing, but were reluctant to say so.

Take advantage of workplace benefits

Whether that’s taking all of your paid leave, using the office gym or taking advantage of the bike to work scheme. It’s always worth finding out what’s available at your place of work. We commit a lot of our time and energy to our company and if they reward that in ways other than your salary don’t be afraid to take advantage of that. Check out my post about the benefits of working in the public sector.

Computer on desk showing the time
Have a set logging off time
Have good work boundaries

I know that this is easier said that done, particularly when many people are working from home. Having set start and finish times and making sure you take a lunch break can prevent you from resenting work, as it doesn’t spill into your home life.

There we are, a few ideas to make your Monday to Friday a little more enjoyable. If you still can’t love your job you could move to a new position, but remember that after the novelty of a new job wears off you may begin to feel the same dissatisfaction as you did in your old job.

Perhaps you might want to think about opting out of work altogether. Why not start planning your ‘Work Optional’ life?

If you want some more ideas about positivity I would suggest checking out this post.

Want to learn more about life coaching and how to design your life? Why not check out ‘Grow You’, Natalie Bacon’s life coaching programme (affiliate link).

The Benefits of Working from Home

This has been life over the past ten months
recent changes

Over the past ten months many of us have been working from home full time. Therefore we are spending more time in our own homes. Whilst I am looking forward to seeing people in person again and catching up over coffee or lunch, I think that there is so much to enjoy about spending more of our days at home.

Several years ago I submitted an application to make working from home my norm, but this was turned down by my organisation. Now all of a sudden we have all become home workers. My positive views are probably also reflective of the fact that I don’t have children. This is particularly difficult now when parents are having to home school, often alongside working full-time from home.

If though you don’t have kids or they’re old enough to get on with their school work without too much input from you, then I would really encourage you to consider how you can make the most of this period. How many times in the past have you used the excuse of not having enough time as a reason not to exercise or to justify all those takeaways? Now there are no excuses! Imagine you had a time machine and could jump forward six months or a year. What would that you want you to have done during this time? I’m sure it’s not sit on the couch more and eat lots of cake!

Do you know where your time goes?
how do you spend your time?

I would suggest sitting down and thinking about your average day. What time do you get up? When do you start work? How long do you take for a lunch break? How many hours are there between when you usually finish work and when you go to bed? If you aren’t really sure where all of that time goes, and remember there are 168 hours in a week, try tracking your time for a week. Break the day up into 15 or 30 minute slots and note what you spent most of your time doing in each slot. You can find some more ideas and tracking sheets  here on Laura Vanderkam’s site.

Once you have an idea of how you fill your 168 hours have a think about what your ideal week or day would look like. Then start to make some changes. You don’t have to do it all at once. I don’t expect you to leap out of bed at 5am, jog ten miles, meditate, journal and read a good book, and then cook a three courses gourmet meal in the evening all on the first day. In fact, none of these may be how you want to spend your time. The idea is to intentionally use the extra time that you now have, rather than while away your day scrolling your Twitter feed.

Here are some suggestions for activities to include in your day when you are working from home:

Does your morning routine set you up for the day?
Morning routine

This is an area that I’ve written about before, but I so enjoy my time before work. Prior to lockdown it’s likely that some part of your day was taken up by travelling to and from your place of work. Many people used to spend a couple of hours or more commuting. Now you can fill that time with something that you enjoy as your commute just involves sitting down at your desk and turning on your computer.

If this is an area you want to work on you might want to check out Hal Elrod’s book and/or websiteThe Miracle Morning’. He recommends six personal development practices which he suggests that you undertake every day. These are silence i.e. meditation, affirmations, visualization, exercise, reading and scribing i.e. writing/journaling. You can also see what Natalie Bacon says about routines. For myself, I just practise the silence, exercise and writing. I used to read, but I tend to do that before bed now.

I start the working day with a five minute inspiring podcast
Work routine

In order to start the working day I always make myself a cup of coffee. Up until the end of 2020 was listening to Laura Vanderkam’s very short daily podcastThe New Corner Office. Since the beginning of this month I now listen to the Before Breakfast Podcast, also by Laura. Previously I didn’t always take a lunch break, but now I take at least an hour.

I can keep on top of this when I am at home
Keeping on top of household chores

Another benefit of working from home is that I can do chores in my breaks. I usually put a load of laundry on before I start work. By coffee time the machine has finished and it’s ready to be hung up.

With more time at the end of the day as there’s no journey home I can do some housework. Whilst I know that this isn’t the most exciting thing to do, by spending a little time each day keeping the house clean it helps to free up my time on the weekend. By the time Saturday and Sunday come around I don’t feel that all of my free time is being taken up by getting on top of the housework again. I can actually spend some time doing things that I enjoy instead.

It feels good to get outside whilst it’s still light
Mid-day exercise

I know not everyone likes to exercise first thing. An alternative is to take a longer lunch break and get outside for a walk. At this time of year, when it’s usually dark before and after work, we need to make the most of the daylight hours. Occasionally I can kill two birds with one stone by walking into town in my lunch break to do some shopping or collect some books from the library.

Virtual meetings has increased my capacity at work
Change your working practices

As for work itself, whilst others complain about the virtual nature of our work I am enjoying the ability to be in several places every day without actually going anywhere. I can fit more into my day. As I log off from one call I can immediately join another. Previously this might have involved a 50-mile journey along the motorway.

As I have said before, I am a social worker, working with families. Although I am not meeting anyone in person at the moment there are benefits to virtual working. One is that I can have shorter, more frequent meetings with clients. People who previously I may have only met on two occasions I am now seeing three, four or even more times. This makes me feel that I know them even better than before.

I have also taken the opportunity to do some preparation for dinner whilst listening to training courses or attending team meetings. Chopping veg and cooking doesn’t take much brain power so I find that I am able to concentrate on what’s being said at the same time.

So there we are, a few ideas for you. If it all seems too much effort just think about that future you. Looking back you’ll always wish you had done the hard thing and I know you can. A slimmer, healthier, more organised and hopefully happier you might just emerge from this period of enforced seclusion.

Draining the Shallows

If you’re a regular reader you’ll know that I’ve been making my way through Cal Newport’s book ‘Deep Work’. So far I’ve given you a general overview and introduced you to his first two rules – ‘Work Deeply‘ and ‘Embrace Boredom‘. There are four rules in total, the third of which is ‘Quit Social Media’. This title pretty much speaks for itself – limit the amount of time that you spend on your smartphone. I’m therefore just going to skip to the final rule which is ‘Drain the Shallows’.

In this chapter Cal says that if you eliminate shallow work and replace this recovered time with more of the deep alternative, not only will your business continue to function, it can become more successful. Basically if you’ve been wasting alot of time scrolling through Instagram, when you stop doing that don’t then use that extra time to watch TV. Instead do something useful to move you towards your goals. So what are his ideas for achieving this?

Plan your schedule for every day ahead of time
schedule every minute of your day

I know what you’re thinking, that’s so boring, but I honestly believe that it is life-changing. Cal believes that we spend much of our life on autopilot, not giving much thought to what we’re doing with our time. I see this so often. People’s days lack any structure. Then all of a sudden that report is due tomorrow and they’re up all night writing it. Their life goes through peaks and troughs. They lurch from one crisis to the next, instead of being on an even keel. That may sound boring, but I can tell you, it’s a lot less stressful.

Cal recommends dividing the hours in your work day into blocks, assigning activities to each block. The minimum length of a block should be 30 minutes. The block tasks should be generic and you then make a separate list of the full set of small tasks that you plan to accomplish in that block. The life coach Natalie Bacon would say that you shouldn’t write “work on article”, but should say, “write 1000 words of article”. In other words, quantify the task that you want to have achieved at the end of that block.

How can you guarantee that you’ll allow enough time to achieve a task? You probably won’t at first, but you will get better as you go along. You will also have tasks that crop up unexpectedly. It’s rare than someone has a job which is entirely predictable. So, even though you’re going to write yourself a schedule, it needs to be flexible and you may have rewrite it as you go along.

I have recently moved to having only an electronic calendar and it makes this so easy. There’s no more messy paper diary with lots of crossing out. All my tasks and appointments are given slots on my calendar and as the week goes on they get moved around. Sometimes I put off a task until the following week. Other times, if something is cancelled, instead of wasting the space that’s been created I can easily see what I planned to do tomorrow and bring something forward.

Divide your day into activity blocks
Cal’s tips for scheduling
  • Over time you will get better at predicting how many blocks tasks require
  • Use overflow blocks – allocate the expected time a task will take, then follow this with a block that has a split purpose
  • Be liberal with your use of task blocks – lots of things come up in the day. Having regularly occurring blocks of time to address these surprises keeps things running smoothly. I have two 30 minute blocks a day where I deal with emails and make calls. Sometimes these get extended and other days they are shortened. I also use this time to create new blocks in my calendar for tasks that arise.
Work out what is ‘deep work’ and the rest is ‘shallow’
quantify the depth of every activity

Once you have a schedule you can determine how much time you’re actually spending in shallow activities. To determine whether a task is deep or shallow ask yourself:

How long would it take (in months) to train a smart recent graduate with no specialised training in my field to do this task?

Once you know where your activities fall on the deep-to-shallow scale, try to make more time for deep work and reduce the amount of shallow activities that you do.

Try to get guidance from your boss about deep work
Ask Your Boss for a shallow work Budget

Ask yourself or your boss:

What percentage of my time should be spent on shallow work?

Settle on a specific answer and try to stick to this. Obeying this budget will likely require changes to your behaviour e.g. saying no to some projects, having more mornings where you turn off all communication e.g. emails and your phone. You may decide it’s not as important as you once thought to respond quickly and in detail to every email that crosses your inbox. If your amount of shallow work increases over the limit you’ve set, your boss should agree to you saying no to things.

Cal comments that it’s incredibly wasteful to pay highly trained professionals to do things such as send email messages. When I read this I wanted to copy it to my management team as I spend a lot of time doing administrative tasks, as do many people in the public sector. I always feel that it is such a waste of me as a resource. Someone on the minimum wage, with half a day’s training, could do some of the tasks that I have to regularly complete. I feel that I could be a much more effective employee if these tasks were reallocated.

Your desk should be clear by 5.30pm
Finish Your work by Five Thirty

Cal calls this ‘fixed-schedule productivity’ – fixing a firm goal of not working past a certain time. I think nowadays many people are very poor at this. I think that it’s a result of a couple of factors. Firstly, many people do have too much work, but there are those who do seem to manage their time better than others. I think there’s also something ego-boosting about feeling that you have to be available all of the time. It’s like saying that your work couldn’t run without you, when in fact that’s probably not the case. I am definitely a fan of turning your work phone off at 5pm and on a Friday it stays off until Monday morning.

Email and instant messages makes us too available – you need to learn to manage it
Become Hard to Reach

Finally Cal gives a few tips for dealing with emails:

  1. Make people who send you email do more work e.g. sender filter laying out expectations e.g. I don’t always reply.
  2. Do more work when you send or reply to emails. Give full replies with specifics e.g. meet up times and locations to reduce the amount of emails back and fore. Each email will take more time, but save you time in the long run.
  3. Don’t respond

So there we are. If you’re like me and still in work, but doing all of it from home, you may have some more time to reflect on how you’re managing your work day. How about putting some of these suggestions into practice? You may find that if you put them in place now, once life gets back to normal you’ll be more productive than you were before.

Embrace Boredom – the route to ‘Deep Work’

Beagle dog looking bored
You need to learn to just be bored sometimes

In this third post looking at the book ‘Deep Work’, by Cal Newport, I’m going to take you through his second rule, entitled ‘Embrace Boredom‘. In a nutshell, this is about learning to live without distractions. It also includes tips and ideas for learning to concentrate better and focus your mind on challenging problems.

embracing boredom

I was recently reminded of the rarity of just sitting alone by this recent post from Hustle Escape. With smartphones as our constant companions we very rarely just sit and do nothing. Waiting in the queue at the supermarket checkout we spend the time looking at our phones. On the train home from work no one talks to each other, they’re all just looking at their phones. According to Cal you need to wean your mind from this type of behaviour. If you don’t you’ll struggle to achieve the level of concentration required for deep work.

phone showing social media icons
Make time slots to lose yourself in social media
Take Breaks from Focus, not from Distraction

Instead of constantly checking your email and what the authors of ‘Make Time’, John Zeratsky and Jake Knapp, call ‘infinity pools’, e.g. Twitter and Facebook, schedule times to do this. Outside of those times you need to avoid social media and other internet distractions altogether. Cal Newport suggests writing down on a piece of paper the next time you’re allowed to use the internet. He says that it’s not the service itself which reduces your brain’s ability to focus. It’s the constant switching from low stimuli/high value activities to high stimuli/low value activities at the slightest hint of boredom or when you’re trying to do an intellectually taxing task, that teaches your mind to never tolerate an absence of novelty.

the word email on tiles
Keep email to their own time slots
Three points to consider

If you have to spend a lot of time answering emails in your job, just schedule lots of blocks of time to do this, rather than switching back and fore between deep work tasks and email activity.

You must keep the time outside these blocks absolutely free from internet use. Basically, close your emails down so they don’t pop up as you’re doing deep work and distract you. Put your phone on silent when you’re having focused time. I do this with my personal mobile. I need to learn to do the same with my work one, as nothing is ever that urgent that it can’t wait, but I’ve resisted this.

Scheduling internet use at home as well as at work can further improve your concentration training. It might be that what you do in the evenings and on weekends is undoing all that great training that you’re doing for your brain when you’re at work. Try the same techniques in your personal life. When you’re spending time with your family put your phone in another room and agree just to look at it when the kids have gone to bed.

Set a deadline

One tactic for getting yourself to focus on a task is to set yourself a tight deadline. It will mean that you have to concentrate intensely on finishing the project. You won’t have time for distractions. I must admit I have never been one to work this way as tight deadlines stress me, although I know many people who seem to leave tasks until the eleventh hour and are able to work all night to get them done.

feet in trainers walking on boardwalk
Take a walk and think about a problem you’re trying to solve
Moving meditation

We’ve all heard about sitting in a chair, or even cross-legged, quietly for a few minutes and the benefits that this can bring. I’ve even written a post about it, but Cal suggests a different type of meditation. This is where you are doing something physically e.g. walking or showering and during that time you focus your attention on a specific problem. When you are distracted you need to bring your mind back to the challenge that you’ve set yourself. I’ve not tried this in such an intentional way, although I do find that my mind will mull over problems when I’m driving (if I’m not listening to a podcast that is) or over the summer, gardening is a task that allows my mind to wander. According to Cal, as a rule you should try to do this two to three times a week.

conclusion

So there we are, some really practical ideas for how to achieve the goal of deep work. For me it is something that I am still working on, but I do feel that I have improved my ability to concentrate, particularly in the afternoon, which I used to find really difficult during that ‘post lunch dip’ period. Have you tried any of Cal’s advice from my previous posts? I would love to know how you got on?

The First Rule of ‘Deep Work’

the words work harder in a neon sign on a blue wall
Learn not just how to work harder, but also how to work smarter

I have finally finished making notes from ‘Deep Work’ by Cal Newport. It has taken me much longer than I expected, probably because it contains so much useful information. I had planned to write just one more post looking at his four rules, but the first rule alone is going to take up all of this post.

If you missed my first post on ‘The Benefits of Discovering Deep Work’, then take at look at it here, otherwise let’s get started…

The philosophies of deep work

The first rule is – Work Deeply i.e. implement his recommended way of working. Cal suggests four different ways in which you can go about trying to do this, which he calls ‘philosophies’.

Monastic

Basically lock yourself away like a monk, ignore the modern world and do deep work. This is how some of the great minds of our time have written the texts that made them famous. Unfortunately this is not practical for most of us. I don’t think that my employer would be happy for me to take a couple of months off to go and live in the woods.

Bimodal

In this philosophy you spend whole days at a time, with a minimum of at least one whole day, doing deep work. Again, this may not be practical unless you have complete control over your time.

Rhythmic

Have a set time each day during which you do deep work. This may be achievable if your days follow a set format. Unfortunately for me, no two days are the same, so having to do this would make it difficult for me.

Journalistic

Fit deep work wherever you can into your schedule. At the beginning of the week or the end of the previous week, have a look at your calendar and see where there are gaps that you can allocate to doing deep work. This is the method that I have been trying to use and which Cal himself employs.

desk with laptop, lamp and vase of roses
If you want to do ‘Dee Work’ you will need to remove distractions from your desk
The Method

Once you have decided on when you are going to do your deep work, Cal then gives you tips on how to actually achieve it.

Where

Decide on a specific location in which to do deep work. Open plan offices are not a good place to focus. I have never understood why employers think that they are such a good idea. If you work in an open plan office and want to do deep work, I would suggest that you ask to work at home on some days. Alternatively you could try to block out noise distractions with ear plugs, but you can’t shut your eyes to cut out visual ones.

I am lucky in that I can work at home a lot. My office is at the front of the house and although I try to minimise distractions I still lose focus when someone walks past the house. I don’t want to close the curtains and sit in the dark, but I have considered buying a roller blind which would let in light, but block out the world.

Ritualise

Include various rituals as part of your routine e.g. start with a good cup of coffee, have a break part way through to take a walk and clear your mind. I suppose it’s a way of signalling to your body and mind that you are about to do some deep work. It’s a bit like brushing your teeth and putting your pyjamas on before bed. Your body knows that it’s time to wind down and think about going to sleep.

Prioritise

Decide what’s most important to you and focus on that during your deep work hours. You can’t do deep work all day every day, as it’s hard and your concentration is limited. Therefore you have to select the most important parts of your work to undertake during this time. For me this is writing reports, which is the culmination of all of my smaller tasks and what other people see.

Collaborate

This may be not be relevant to your role, but if it is you could work alongside someone else to push you both deeper in your work. You will also need to make time for your own individual deep work. An example would be if you are working in product development and want to bounce ideas off of someone else. You may be a scientist and deep discussions with a colleague may help you to make that breakthrough you so desperately want.

Be lazy

Have a set shutdown time at the end of the day and forget about work. This helps recharge the energy that you need to work deeply. It allows the conscious brain to switch off and the unconscious mind takes a turn in sorting through your most complex professional challenges.

According to Cal Newport, any work undertaken in the evening will not be ‘deep work’ and so will be less valuable. Without a break you may not be able to achieve quality deep work the following day. When later reflecting on this I realised that for those with caring responsibilities this may not be realistic. I know many women who finish work early in order to collect their children from school and be with them until they go to bed. After that they turn on the computer again and finish their working day.

Evaluate

Deep work is a new skill and from my recent experience, not easy. You need to practise regularly and hone your skills. You should routinely review what went well and what didn’t. Then change your practice accordingly. Over time you will hopefully get better at deep work.

Conclusion

In our working day there are so many interesting distractions, such as checking email or looking at our phones. It’s tempting to busy ourselves with these easier tasks, but they often bring less value to our work. It’s the more complex tasks, which take focus and commitment, that you need to master if you are going to progress. Whether it’s career advancement that you’re looking for or an ability to focus on your side hustles, both of which may help you on your road to financial independence, deep work may be the answer.

Fancy trying out ‘deep work’? I’d love to know how you get on. I’ll tell you about the three other rules next time. Until then, thanks for reading and take care.