Habits are invisible yet surprisingly powerful. According to research done by Charles Duhigg, 40–45 percent of what we do every day may feel like decisions, but are really habits done on autopilot. Those small choices, from what you eat for breakfast to the route you take to get to your office, define your daily experience. Successful professionals are deliberate about their work habits, and that intentionality can make a difference during the workday. Having good workplace habits is one of many ways to be happy at work.
Can habits really make you happier in the office? We believe they can. Think of it as programming your autopilot in a way that sets you up for having more energy, creativity, and focus. While rewiring habits can take time, it’s a worthwhile effort.
1. Get enough sleep
Yes, that’s right. Sleep is one of the ways to be happy at work. Based on data from the CDC, more than a third of U.S. adults aren’t getting enough sleep. National Sleep Foundation research echoes those findings: About 40 percent of Americans are so drowsy and tired during the day that it interferes with their daily activities. Getting less than seven hours of sleep a night has been linked to a variety of health risks and diseases — regardless of the effect it has on productivity. Companies are taking the lead on encouraging employees to get a full night’s sleep with some even paying out a bonus for seven hours of sleep a night.
Whether you’re lucky to work for a company that will pay you to sleep or not, getting plenty of rest will set you up for a better day at the office. For many of us, that is easier said than done. Between the distractions of social media, favorite shows, and stress, many of us have difficulty getting to sleep on time. Experts recommend turning off digital devices and establishing a bedtime ritual to cue your mind and body for better sleep.
2. Pay attention to nutrition and hydration
The fuel that you put in your body will determine the quality of your energy during the day. Is it any wonder that starting a day with a coffee and a donut will result in feeling sluggish within an hour?
Much has been written about structuring nutrition for optimal performance. The reality is that you don’t need an elaborate or restrictive diet to be at your best. Be sure to get a blend of slow-burning carbs, proteins, and fats in every meal or snack. Pay attention to how different foods make you feel — if a pasta lunch makes you better suited for a nap under your desk than a client presentation, look at other options. Be sure to drink plenty of water during the day — not just the kind that has been filtered through coffee beans. Limit your intake of sodas and remember that the vending machine is not your friend. Those easy nutrition swaps can go a long way and are an easy way to be happy at work.
3. Cut out the mental clutter
Mental clarity is a precious commodity these days. Our brains process thousands of pieces of information, and if you’re not careful, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and ineffective.
The answer? Short of going away on an island retreat, become deliberate about the information that you allow in. Your brain on social media is not in its most productive and creative state, so resist the temptation to check out Instagram or Twitter on your break and take a walk instead. It’s not only a good work habit, but it’s a great way to be more active.
You may also consider adding a brief meditation practice to your daily routines. Many high performers, from Digg founder Kevin Rose to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, credit their daily meditation practice with helping them achieve their potential, manage stress, and improve productivity. As with nutrition, you will find that starting simple is the best way to keep making progress. A 10 or 15-minute daily practice is sufficient to create results, and there are many apps including Headspace and Calm that can help you get started.
4. Keep your space organized
Are you greeted every morning with precarious stacks of mail and reports on your desk? Are there piles of paperwork on the floor that require a GPS to navigate a safe path to the file cabinet? The physical clutter may be making it difficult for you to concentrate and be productive.
If your office looks like a paper factory just exploded inside, set aside a block of time to get it straightened out. File paperwork away for future reference and toss what is no longer relevant (if in doubt, scan it first). Create a system for dealing with incoming mail, emails, and reports so that you don’t find yourself drowning in paperwork a month later. It’s a good work habit to start now that will benefit you in the long run.
5. Take movement breaks
Human bodies are not made to sit at a computer for 10 hours straight. Getting active during your work day is a great work habit to implement in your day-to-day. Taking the time to physically move around can make a tremendous difference in your fatigue levels, boost your creativity, and minimize the aches and pains that are associated with office work.
On the same note, if you’re feeling frustrated or stuck, try stretching, going for a walk, or even jumping. Your mind is affected by what is happening with your body.
6. Make a plan
An intentional day feels very different from one where you spend your time chasing the latest fire drill. I recommend making an action list the day before — it can do wonders for focusing your attention as you arrive in the morning. In an effort to limit procrastination, consider starting the day with the most challenging or demanding tasks. If something stays on your to-do list for months at a time and you never seem to find the time to address it, consider eliminating or delegating that task.
7. Get a big picture
No matter where you work and what your daily responsibilities are, you chose this job for a reason. Maybe you believe in the company’s mission and want to make a difference. Maybe you want to get the experience you need to move to the next stage in your career. Maybe you just want to pay the bills. No matter what your reason is, remember it. Staying focused on the big picture will put smaller bumps and inconveniences in proper perspective and give you the motivation to keep going.
By the same token, if your reason is no longer speaking to you, consider that a cue to reflect on your next move. In my experience, it is better to leave an employer before you become so unmotivated and grudging that your attitude colors the experience and negatively impacts your options going forward.
8. Take charge of your money
No matter what reasons you had for choosing this job, chances are money played some role in your decision. That reasoning does not make you greedy. The paycheck allows you to have your needs met and creates a safety net for the future.
Be smart about money and you will be happier at work. There is an immense relief and a sense of accomplishment when the use of your paycheck is deeply intentional. Covering your immediate living expenses like paying rent and food bills is good, but think about future-oriented tools like IRAs, 401k accounts, healthcare plans, and savings as well.
9. Steer away from toxic people
The last point on the list is one of the most important ways to be happy at work. Toxic people can make life at the office intolerable. If you can structure your days to minimize your interaction with people who thrive on confrontation, negativity, and bullying, do so. If you are reporting to one of those people, consider the long-term effect on your health and well-being and think through your options.
In closing, pay attention to your happiness level at work. No position is without its challenges and tough days, so take the focus away from any one day and instead track how you feel over the course of several weeks. Good work habits like a positive attitude and a healthy lifestyle can do a lot towards being more productive and having a better experience at work, but they won’t overwrite a toxic work environment or a dead-end job. Misery in the office is optional, and if you sense that your excitement is waning and you are dreading going to work, it may be time to reassess what is happening.