8 Ways to Turn a “Meh” Workday Around
The coffeemaker made coffee this morning: so much, in fact, that it spilled coffee all over the kitchen counter. A neighbor decided that mowing the lawn at 5 a.m. would be a good idea, and your favorite shirt looks great on you, if you can look past the weird stain on the collar (Is it coffee? It’s probably coffee.) When you arrive at the office, your computer welcomes you with a beeping screen, and you realize with a sigh that a call to the IT department is in order. Some workdays, despite your best efforts, can feel like a grown-up version of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day.
Don’t fret. Keeping these tricks in your back pocket can help you turn a “meh” workday into a healthier, less stressful, and more productive one:
1. Five-minute meditation. Meditation has been shown to help alleviate stress, pain, anxiety, and other mental and physical health issues, and help to cultivate a mindset of peace and gratitude. Studies have even found that meditation may change the composition of our brains and increase our ability to process information. Sounds like the perfect antidote to a less-than-stellar day, doesn’t it? For those who haven’t tried it, however, the idea of meditation can be a bit daunting. The good news? You only need five minutes, a quiet and comfortable spot in or out of the office (pillows optional), and a willingness to try something new.
Meditation has been shown to help alleviate stress, pain, anxiety, and other mental and physical health issues, and help to cultivate a mindset of peace and gratitude. Studies have even found that meditation may change the composition of our brains and increase our ability to process information. Sounds like the perfect antidote to a less-than-stellar day, doesn’t it? For those who haven’t tried it, however, the idea of meditation can be a bit daunting. The good news? You only need five minutes, a quiet and comfortable spot in or out of the office (pillows optional), and a willingness to try something new.
Try it: First, find “your place.” That can be an empty room or a quiet space somewhere in the office, a nearby park or green space, or a chair at your desk or mat on the floor. Get yourself into a comfortable position, either seated or lying down. You can simply close your eyes, be still, and focus on your breathing for several minutes. You can also follow these simple steps for a short “desk chair” meditation, or try this 5-minute meditation video designed to calm the mind. If you’re into apps, Headspace or Meditation Studio have a ton of meditation sessions to fit different lifestyles, pain points, and moods. Looking for meditations for work, veterans, tax stress, entrepreneurs, and moms? They’ve got you covered.
When it comes to meditation, perfection isn’t the point: gaining a more focused or mindful practice takes time, and the only thing you really need is a bit of patience with yourself. The more you consistently practice, the easier you will find it to quiet your busy mind and start to gain the benefits of meditating—including a better mood during the workday.
2. Desk yoga. Looking for something a little more active than meditation, but with similar benefits? Yoga may be more your thing. Although technically, “desk yoga” may not take place at your desk, doing a little yoga during the workday has been shown to lower stress, alleviate back and neck pain, help with anxiety and depression, and increase productivity, mental alertness, and work performance. And as more people flock to mindfulness activities to improve their wellbeing, more companies are realizing that the benefits their employees see from mindfulness activities can impact the bottom line.
Try it: Fitting yoga into your workday doesn’t take as much time as you may think. This morning yoga session takes a mere three minutes, and this 14-minute yoga session is specifically designed for those quick yoga breaks during the workday. These yoga poses, stretches, and sequences can be done whenever you find a few minutes to spare, and Gaia even has an entire category of yoga videos dedicated to Yoga at Work. If you’re stuck at your desk, pranayama, or yogic breathing techniques, have been found to be effective for relieving stress and promoting relaxation. The bottom line? Work with what you’ve got, warrior.
3. Take a walk outside. The benefits of walking are vast, and when you add a walk into your workday, you’re actually taking steps to become a better worker. Going for a walk, even if it’s only a short journey outside, can boost performance, increase your blood circulation, improve your mood, and give you a fresh perspective—along with a dose of vitamin D. Research has shown that immersing oneself in nature while disconnecting from multimedia and technology can decrease stress responses and inspire innovation and creativity. Research aside, who doesn’t feel better after getting outside, breathing in fresh air, and walking around after being cooped up inside for hours?
Try it: You don’t need to plan on a marathon: one study of participants engaged in “green exercise” like walking found that the biggest improvements to participants’ self-esteem and mood occurred in the first five minutes of exposure to nature. So, if you only have five minutes, start there. Increase the time as you’re able, or take multiple short breaks. The rule of working with what you’ve got applies here, too. If you can’t find anything resembling a park or greenway, walk the city streets instead, or make a point to stroll past the fountain in the middle of town. If you aren’t in a walkable place, just sit outside for a bit and take in your surroundings. Something is better than nothing when it comes to getting out of your own head (and away from the fluorescent office lighting).
4. Reward your work streaks. It’s been shown that rewards can shape our behavior. At work, the “reward” can be as simple as tricking your mind into delaying gratification to get an important project done, or giving yourself something to look forward to once you get through a tough work conversation or a meeting you’ve been dreading. And even if your day is going along swimmingly, setting a reward for your hard work can set you on a course of snowballing productivity and happiness at work.
Try it: Decide in the morning what you’ll reward yourself with that day—or if you have several rewards in mind, set up your reward list on Sunday for the week ahead. Work “reward time” into work breaks and post-project lulls. Rewards can be anything that’s desirable to you and digestible during a quick break—allowing yourself to read a chapter in the book you haven’t been able to put down, listening to a song or two from your favorite band’s new album, indulging in your favorite smoothie from the local deli, savoring a piece of good chocolate, tuning into a well-loved comedy bit or a new podcast episode, or taking a few minutes to feed your poetry, gaming, or cross-stitching craving. Not sure what to reward yourself with? Consider your “love language” of self-care, and start brainstorming from there.
5. Eat a healthy lunch (away from your desk). Making healthy choices at work seems fairly straightforward, but as it turns out, more than 6 in 10 workers opt for sad desk lunches at work. Only 20 percent of professionals have been found to leave their desks to eat lunch.
Not only is eating lunch at your desk not a good look, but it’s also often an unhealthier choice, both mentally and physically. People who opt to eat at their desks have been found to consume more calories, choose more sugar and salt-laden foods, and snack more throughout the day. It doesn’t help that birthday cupcakes for Kim in accounting are placed tantalizingly close to your desk, or that participating in Bagel Fridays is optional, but encouraged. Between office birthday celebrations, team-building events, and processed-food-friendly vending machines, it can be a lot of work to maintain a healthy lifestyle at the workplace. The result? Studies show that by choosing unhealthy foods at work, you may be spiking not only your blood sugar, but also your work-related stress. As the author of a Harvard Business Review article puts it, “Food has a direct impact on our cognitive performance, which is why a poor decision at lunch can derail an entire afternoon.”
Try it: By and large, lunch at work is one meal that you have control over both where and what you eat. If you don’t do so already, start packing your lunch and bringing it to work. If you already bring a lunch, evaluate what you’re bringing. Homemade is great, but are you loading up on heavy pastas and packing brownies on the side? You may be contributing to your 3:00 slump and lack of focus. Use these 100 healthy lunch ideas for inspiration, and set yourself up for success by meal planning and prepping for the week ahead and packing plenty of healthy snacks to be at the ready when cravings emerge.
Walking to pick up your food will also get you fresh air and exercise, and though seeing a view of more than your office walls is ideal, even your building lobby can provide a needed change of scenery. If you can’t peel yourself away from your desk during a hectic day, getting a healthy lunch delivered—or better yet, bringing your own homemade creation and meeting co-workers in a break room—is much better than reaching for the nearest candy bar stash or fast food calorie bomb. By eating food that sustains and energizes you, in an environment or with people that inspire you, you’re setting yourself up to make continued healthy choices throughout the day. Peace, love, and cauliflower may yet be the key to a happy workday.
6. Phone a friend. Sometimes, nothing else but calling your bestie will do. That may mean phoning up or Skype-ing your significant other, your actual best friend since ‘85, or your dad—or if could even mean checking in on your dog via webcam. The “phone a friend” method is strictly for contacting someone outside of your work bubble, and getting your mind off of your work problems for a little while. You’ll likely emerge feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the rest of the day’s challenges.
Try it: Make a rule to talk about everything but your work frustrations. Briefly mention your “meh” day and move on. Focus instead on discussing your lives outside of work. You’ll likely find that after getting your mind off your problems (even if it’s focusing on the other person’s) puts everything into perspective. Suddenly, that lame work meeting seems distant, and you’re able to shake it off and dig back into work. And, bonus: you just got to connect with a dear friend or family member.
7. Schedule a coffee chat with a coworker. Whether you schedule an weekly, ongoing coffee chat or need an impromptu caffeine session, chatting with a coworker about a work situation you need advice about, or sharing your questions about a project you’re working on, can give you needed insight. Research has shown that high levels of social support are predictive of job satisfaction and job tenure; specifically, career mentoring and task support are most predictive of job satisfaction, and coaching and task support are most predictive of job tenure.
Try it: While you may be tempted to vent-a-latte to a coworker, keep in mind that talk of work-related frustrations can actually lead to more stress. It’s important not to let things slide into the negative; it won’t help your mood, and it will likely add additional worries to your plate. Keep things professional if you’re engaging in work-specific talk, and the rest of the time, focus on getting to know your coworkers better. Who are they outside of their job title or uniform?
Socializing with coworkers can provide a much-needed laugh, and it can also elevate your mood, foster communication, improve cross-functional teamwork, and build friendships. A study at the University of Michigan Center for Social Research found that talking to others in a friendly fashion can make it easier for participants to solve common problems. In fact, researchers found that engaging in brief 10-minute conversations in which participants were simply instructed to get to know someone else resulted in boosts to their subsequent performance on an array of common cognitive tasks.
8. Post an encouraging mantra. Your Instagram and Pinterest skills are about to be put to good use. Think of your favorite quotes or inspirational sayings—you know, the ones you tell yourself when you’re feeling down and need some wordy motivation, or having a mental block and need a little push. Consider how you can surround yourself with literal motivation all around you. We’re not talking vision boards at your desk, but we’re not not talking vision boards, either.
Try it: Peruse quotes or motivational sayings you’ve “liked” online or scribbled down in a notebook, or check out your local thrift shop or gift-y store. Etsy is great for this, too. You can type out some sayings in a large, happy font, print it out, and put it in your work area. Go nuts: put an inspirational Post-It on your work phone, and scribble out a favorite poem and attach it to the top of your computer screen so you always see it when you look up. Tape one onto your chair, and place some inside a drawer. Give yourself little waves of inspiration and happiness to find when you may need them most.
How to create lasting change
Any of these changes can be incorporated into your “work hours,” but let’s be honest: the workday really starts the minute you start negotiating with your alarm clock in the morning. Try starting your day with a fresh outlook by incorporating these workday tweaks one at a time. Evaluate how you feel, and when you’re ready, add another, and continue the process. Create lasting change by first defining your work goals: What’s your definition of a successful workday? How will you get there? Starting with small, low-risk adjustments can give you the motivation you need to make bigger changes when the need arises.
It’s true: some days are like that. But by using these tools, you’ll be able to take charge of your workday and remain productive, focused, and sane.
About Signature Consultants, LLC
Headquartered in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Signature Consultants was established in 1997 with a singular focus: to provide clients and consultants with superior staffing solutions. For the ninth consecutive year, Signature was voted as one of the “Best Staffing Firms to Work For” and is named the 15th Largest IT Staffing Firm in the United States (source: Staffing Industry Analysts). With 28 locations throughout North America, Signature annually deploys thousands of consultants to support, run, and manage their clients’ technology needs. Signature offers IT staffing, consulting, managed solutions, and direct placement services. For more information on the company, please visit https://www.sigconsult.com.