I have a good friend who recently received some bad news concerning his health. A couple of days later, this same friend bumped into a co-worker in the hallway at his office.
When my buddy asked his colleague how his day was going, the guy replied, “It’s OK, but I sure can’t wait until this week is over!”
My friend just nodded and walked back to his cubicle with tears in his eyes. He recognized himself in that sentiment and couldn’t count the number of times he’d wished his days away, just waiting for something better to come along.
What he wouldn’t give, he told me, if he could go back in time and really squeeze the most out of each day and drink in all it had to offer.
Every day is full of the opportunity to make yourself happy right where you are if you’ll only put forth the effort. And, by enabling yourself to enjoy the journey, you might be surprised by how much more productive you become in the process.
With that in mind, here are four ways you can make today a joy for yourself and for those around while also getting more done than you have in years.
Do you like meetings? If you do, you’re in the definite minority and may be already more contented at work than the average American.
Truth is, most people dread meetings like the tax man, and usually for good reason. Meetings often are boring, and they don’t do much to help you get your job done.
But there’s a little trick you can use to turn every meeting into a stimulating and enriching experience: actively engage.
That might sound corny and idealistic, but it’s a practical tactic that you can put to good use with just a few simple steps:
- Review the meeting agenda ahead of time. If the organizer doesn’t send an agenda, email him to ask for one or politely decline the meeting invite.
- Leave your electronic gadgets in your office. Do you really think you’re so important the world can’t survive an hour without your email replies?
- Arrive early and review the agenda again.
- Greet each meeting participant as they arrive.
- Watch each participant as they speak and try to get a read on their body language as they express their points. How engaged and passionate are they?
- Take notes.
- Add your two cents when you have something valuable to say.
Taken together, these steps won’t eat much more of your day than that hated meeting already would have, but they will make that time much more productive for you. You’ll come away with a better understanding of the issues discussed, you’ll feel like part of the process again, and you’ll strengthen connections with your co-workers.
This advice doesn’t apply to just meetings, either.
If you want to be happy where you are and when you are, make an honest effort to engage in what you’re doing throughout your day, both at home and at work.
2Have a Goal
One of the best ways to engage your situation is to always have a goal for what you’re doing.
In that hypothetical meeting we discussed above, maybe your goal is to ask enough questions that your boss finally explains what he means by “failure is not an option.”
If you’re stuck doing yard work on a beautiful spring weekend, your goal might be to finish cleaning the flower gardens by Sunday afternoon so that next weekend is free.
Once you have a target in front of your face, work tends to go much faster. Even better, it’s infinitely more enjoyable to tackle a challenge in your job or at home than it is to just punch the clock and wait for the bell to save you.
Consider these two scenarios:
You come to work, sit down at your desk, check your email, maybe peck away at a few memos you need to write. If you’re lucky, you can waste enough time to get you to your 10-o’-clock coffee break and then maybe play solitaire until lunchtime.
You come to work, sit down at your desk, and pull up your list of daily goals. The first one is to complete a memo to your boss about a big case you’re working on. You give yourself a deadline of Noon for finishing the report and then dive in to pull together the information you need and start writing
Now, which of the two mornings will make you feel more engaged in your job? Which will leave you with a feeling of accomplishment? And which do you think will go faster?
In almost every case, it’s the second scenario when you’re working toward a clear goal.
Whatever you’re doing, and whenever you’re doing it, set a goal of some sort. Even if you’re “just” mowing the lawn or reading a book, make sure you have a target or you’re just going through the motions.
And that’s a sure road to a gloomy disposition and wasted time.
3Solve a Problem
Sometimes our jobs and our home life don’t present clear goals to us. In those cases, you might have to get creative.
For instance, some programming jobs I’ve had are cyclical in nature. The team might work on a project 60 hours a week for six months and then have a two-month stretch when we’re basically just minding the store.
There will be occasional break-fixes during this period, but no heavy-duty development is happening.
How do you stay engaged and set goals during this kind fo “down time”?
Easy … solve a problem!
No matter how bored you think you are or how convinced you are that all of your work is done, there is always a problem — somewhere — that needs your attention. They’re often insidious, too, because we find ways to work around them rather than address them, and that just lets them fester and grow.
For instance …
How about tackling that drippy faucet in your bathroom sink before it stains the basin any further?
Or maybe you could fix that funky display error you noticed on your company’s website a while back but that, for some reason, no one has reported — yet.
Or how about something bigger? You know how your teenage son seems to have grown moodier and very quiet in recent weeks? Maybe you should take him out for a run or to play some catch and see if you can break through that shell to find out what’s going on.
Problems come in all shapes and sizes, so you can start small if you’re intimidated. But actively working on the troubles in your life, whatever they may be, will engage you in the day like nothing else and help you build a happier, healthier future.
Think back to the story of my friend at the beginning of this piece, and about how he wishes he could go back in time and drink in all the experiences that his job and his life afforded him rather than watching the clock tick away his life.
He wants to fix some of the things he’s done wrong in the past, sure, but he also just wants to the chance to relish the moments that he let slip by.
What he wishes more than anything, though, is that he would have been more grateful for the life he’s lived over these last several decades.
More grateful for his family.
More grateful for his job.
More grateful for his camping trips.
Even more grateful for the Saturday mornings when his wife dragged him into her volunteer activities.
He wishes for this chance at gratitude because he knows now that he won’t always have these things, that they could be gone tomorrow.
But you and I are in a better position than my friend. We have his experience to guide us, and we can learn the lesson from him that he wasn’t able to teach himself until it was, maybe, too late.
Just take a few minutes each day, perhaps in the morning when you rise or at night before you go to bed, to think about all the really good things in your life.
Your family, your job, your house, even your car and your iPad and crisp winter air on a cold January morning.
Make your gratitude more concrete by writing these things down. You can use a Google Doc or a spiral notebook or a cocktail napkin, but just the act of jotting down your blessings will make them more real to you.
Now, after you remind yourself how great it is to have a job in a safe, warm environment with interesting people and steady work, don’t you think it will be easier to enjoy your time in the office? Don’t you think you’ll get more done?
I sure do.
It’s Later Than You Think
You’re going to die someday and when you do, it will be too late to fix any of the broken pieces you left behind.
It’s easy to get caught up in feeling the impositions of a demanding world and wish for the weekend to hurry up and get here. Or for school to finally be out. Or for the kids to go back to school after Christmas break.
But you don’t have to live this way, and wishing away your life won’t make you happier and it won’t make you more productive.
If you choose to engage in the here and now and relish the opportunities that each day presents, you can enjoy your life — the one you have right now — while moving toward a brighter future.
Don’t wake up one day and wish you had enjoyed the blessings you held in your fingers but were too busy complaining to notice.