Most of us spend five days of every seven in the workplace. That’s a huge chunk of our lives lived in an often stressful environment. Of course, it’s impossible to control every workplace stressor. But we do have the power to change elements that will, in turn, bring unexpected pleasures to each day. It’s easier than you think…
- Try leaving your car at home once in a while.
When I worked nine-to-five, I grew to dread the daily rush-hour commute. My twenty-minute journey often lasted close to an hour. My teeth were grinding long before my day at the office had even started. Between the slow drivers obstructing passing lanes, crabby horn honkers, and the constant braking and inching forward that’s par for the course on overcrowded city streets, navigating a path to and from the office was a daily exercise in frustration. One day it dawned on me that I had other choices. I decided to give public transit a try. The one con was that I had to roll out of bed a half-hour earlier to get to the bus stop on time, but I discovered that the pros made it worthwhile. The fresh air and exercise I enjoyed walking to and from the bus stop was energizing, and I began to feel clear-headed before I’d taken my first sip of coffee. On the bus, I sat back and listened to music on my headphones (at a volume that wouldn’t disturb other travelers) while watching irate car drivers from the comfort of my window seat. Sometimes, I read a book or magazine. Or did some needlework. All while my bus driver dealt with the traffic. I returned to driving only when my hours were changed to a flex schedule outside of the rush-hour zone.
- Surround yourself with beautiful images and treasured items.
While leafing through an art magazine (on the bus, of course!), I came upon the most beautiful photograph of a swan curving her wing gently around her baby— a photo that captured the true love at a mother’s core. I clipped out the photo and pinned it to my cubicle wall. When I need a mental boost, all I have to do is look up at it. I’ve enhanced my workspace with things that I love: pictures of my family, a calendar of artwork and sayings that make me laugh, a vase of fragrant lilacs from my garden. It’s all balm for the working soul.
I often feel as if I’m chained to my ergonomic chair. Tech screens are a form of hypnosis—they have the ability to draw us in and keep us absorbed. Some days, I look up to discover that four hours have disappeared in one swift chunk. Yes, being preoccupied makes the day seem shorter—at the expense of having a body that’s stiff from lack of motion, and eyes that are on fire in their sockets. If you have to sit in front of a computer all day, do your body (and your mind) a big favor—take five minutes to wander outside and revitalize yourself with a quick walk around the block. If you need a motivational push, invite a co-worker to join you. Five minutes in the morning and five minutes in the afternoon will not detract from your workload. If anything, you’ll return to your desk refreshed, and with a clearer mind and more energy.
- Slip on a pair of headphones and plug into some music.
If there are too many distractions around while you’re trying to concentrate, music can be a saving grace. Not only do most people hesitate to interrupt a person wearing headphones (it’s a trick I use when I need to focus, and it works), music is also a wonderful mood enhancer. Favorite songs conjure happy memories and have the power to banish a lousy mood. Classical music has actually been proven to enhance the powers of concentration and energize thought processes, which is why many college students play Vivaldi and Bach while they study.
The most relaxing way to spend a lunch hour is … in your car! Head out to your car at noon, recline the seat, lean your head back on a comfortable pillow, and lose yourself in a really good book or magazine. There have been a few occasions when I’ve actually fallen into a light doze (I’ve yet to oversleep since my coworkers know that if I don’t show up at my desk after an hour, I need a wake-up call!). I always return to my desk feeling relaxed, refreshed and ready for round two.
- Organize a weekly “Stitch & Bitch” lunchtime club.
I was a cross-stitch enthusiast for many years; nowadays it’s crochet. Two of my co-workers are avid knitters. Another one makes beaded jewelry. Another does patchwork quilting by hand. Few of us have time to devote to our crafting projects after work, because of family responsibilities. When I suggested that a group of us gather once a week in the boardroom with our bag lunches and our crafts, the response was enthusiastic. Years later, our weekly “meetings” continue on a regular basis. If the weather’s bad, we reserve a boardroom and sit around the table. During good weather, we take lawn chairs outside and get creative in the shade of a nearby tree. Not only have we been able to finish lots of projects that would not otherwise have been completed, we’ve become great friends too.
There’s a drawer in my desk that I refer to as my “snack drawer.” In my quest to avoid afternoon vending machine binges, my snack drawer is an essential component of my workspace. Mid-afternoon is my danger zone. I usually find myself craving something sweet, sometimes salty/crunchy. If I didn’t take the time to prepare ahead for these cravings, I have no doubt I would cave in and head to the vending machine for a chocolate bar or a bag of chips … and a big dose of guilt. Everything in my snack drawer is portion-packed, non-refrigerated and ready-to-eat. I have packs of cinnamon oatmeal, apple sauce, fruit cups, low-fat puddings, cup-a-soup, microwavable light popcorn, hard candies, a couple of snack-size Aero bars to soothe chocolate cravings, and high-fiber protein bars for energy. My advance preparation pays off in a big way, since I’ve created an environment that enables me to reach for healthy solutions instead of calorie-laden snacks that offer nothing more than brief satisfaction.
- Never allow your job to define your life.
Your career is not who you are. I’ve always said: when I’m on my deathbed, work will not be something I’ll regret I didn’t do more of. I consider myself fortunate to have a job that I enjoy, but in the scheme of things, my job is simply a necessity if I want to have a roof over my head, keep my pantry stocked, save money toward a comfortable retirement, and afford the basic necessities. It also gives me access to luxuries such as recreational travel, a nice restaurant meal now and then, tickets to a concert or sporting event—things that are enjoyable, but aren’t essential to living a joyful life. The life that I create outside of my work is what brings me my greatest joy. Simple things like spending time with family and friends, immersing myself in a hobby or taking a class to learn something new, watching a sunset, planning a picnic at a park, communing with nature, taking a journey to someplace I’ve never been before. Life’s greatest riches exist outside of the workplace; the choices are endless.
No matter what you do for a living, it’s possible to create a workday environment that makes all five days of your week not so bad … maybe even great! Start today—I guarantee that you’ll discover a world of benefits—and a happier you.