Designing A Better Day At Work
When we think about our careers, we often think about two things:
1. Stereotypes we’ve heard about particular professions, and
2. How we’d like to be perceived by others
e.g. “being a doctor sounds interesting” or “I’d like to be a famous author”
These might be based on little vignettes and moments that you can imagine having in that career, like talking with a patient or signing copies of your novel at an event.
Whilst these are lovely moments, they’re not representative of your typical week.
What this misses is the much less glamourous but far more rewarding question:
3. What makes a great day at work?
Mr Money Mustache said
“The key to a great life is simply having a bunch of great days”
Would you rather a 20% increase in salary or a 20% increase in happiness?
If you can identify what makes a great day at work for you, your quality of life and career satisfaction will increase tremendously.
That’s why this is such a valuable process.
This isn’t one of those surveys that ends up telling you which exact role is definitively right for you.
The real world doesn’t work like that – within every industry there are sole traders and giant firms, traditional mindsets and creative thinkers, strict hierarchies and laidback families.
We’re looking to identify the factors that are important to you, ending up with your “Non Negotiables” and “Nice To Haves”.
Where do you like to get work done?
Travel – how far are you happy to go each morning/afternoon?
Does it make a difference if it’s time spent in your car versus walking versus public transport?
Space – Where do you like to sit in order to be productive?
Open plan offices?
Your kitchen table?
Lighting & Ceilings – Are you affected by the lighting in a building – e.g. natural vs artificial, warm vs cold, windows vs walls?
Do you find that the height of the ceiling impacts how you work?
Who do you want to spend most of your life with?
Bet you never thought of it like that.
Team Size – Do you like small teams or large divisions?
How many people do you like to have in your bubble, i.e. do you like having a small dedicated team within a much larger organisation?
Interactions – What percentage of your time do you like to spend working in direct contact with your teammates?
Would it be in long planning sessions, frequent formal meetings, road trips, or just sitting at a shared table all day?
Attitudes – What do your favourite colleagues have in common?
Not in terms of their demographics, but rather their personalities and work styles.
Are they funny?
Good with customers?
Do you need to go out for drinks after work in order to feel like a team?
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Is it a cause or a feeling?
Cause – Do you have a specific cause in mind, or do you like the feeling that comes from doing something well?
Is it focused like “Child Protection” or broad like “Helping people”?
Proximity – Do you need to be in direct contact with the beneficiary, or can it be through the broader work of your organisation?
e.g. would you be happy to be the accountant for an NGO, or do you want to interact with people first-hand?
Tangible Impact – How do you measure the change you as an individual are making?
Is it something you want to see on a daily basis, emerge through statistics, or through collected stories and anecdotes?
What does money actually do for you?
How much do you need?
Principle – What does your income mean to you?
Is it a measure of your worth, or just a utility to cover your living costs?
Anchors – How does your brain process amounts of money?
How do you tend to draw comparisons?
Is it compared to peers (people you graduated with) or your industry averages or your last few roles?
Formats – Do you like the certainty of the same pay each week, or are you happy with project work that comes in lumps?
Does the idea of commissions or bonuses change your work ethic or mindset (for better or worse)?
Tiers – Once your essentials are covered, how does your brain (and budget) process the next tiers of money?
What would an extra $5,000 per year mean for you?
What about $20,000?
What sort of treats make your day brighter?
Which bonuses don’t lose their novelty?
Hours you work – do you like being able to choose your own hours?
Arriving early and leaving early, or arriving late and leaving late?
Taking a Friday afternoon off and catching up on a Sunday?
Special Events – do you value occasional fancy dinners or tickets to events?
Travel – are you excited at the prospect of your work sending you to interesting locations?
What percentage of your time would you be happy to spend away from home?
What locations are off the table for you?
How do you want to feel on Friday morning?
How do you want to feel on Friday evening?
Are you open to working on a Saturday?
If so, under what circumstances? E.g. up to four hours, working from home, etc?
Do you want to socialise with your teammates on the weekend?
How do you want to feel on Sunday evening?
Will you be looking forward to Monday?
How much stability do you draw from routine?
How much variety is too much variety?
Tasks – Do you want to do the same set of tasks each day?
Clients – Do you want to work for the same clients each day?
Location – Do you want to work in the same room each day?
Do you like working in cycles?
E.g. a dentist or hairdresser would have essentially the same cycle each day, whereas a pilot might have the same cycle each fortnight, while an early stage startup has almost no cycles at all.
What length of cycle do you find stimulating and rewarding?
How do you tend to measure your improvements?
What are you willing to do that most other people avoid?
Are there unpleasant aspects of a role that don’t particularly phase you?
Is it in the hours you work – either early starts, night shifts, weekends, fly-in fly-out, or occasionally pulling a 70-hour week?
Is it in the work itself – willing to serve others, get your hands dirty, working with difficult people, or being put in high pressure situations?
Are there lifestyle effects from the role – physical fatigue, feeling shaken after tough days, not being able to stay out late on weekends, taking leave at restricted times of the year?
Is it the income – taking a pay reduction in order to work in a more gratifying or recharging industry/role?
Designing A Better Day
It’s important to not tell yourself that you need your perfect workplace to “pick you”.
If you can make a series of small improvements to your routine, they add up to a much better day – even when things are tough at work.
How does your day start?
With a jarring experience, or with simple pleasures?
Waking up – how can you improve the experience of waking up?
Is it with a series of gradual alarms?
Songs instead of default ringtones?
A “Feet on the floor” rule to prevent you from snoozing?
Apps that control the light in your room or sync your alarm to your sleep cycle?
Food – How can you increase the odds of having something nutritious at the start of the day?
Is there a fast or pre-prepared breakfast that you can eat on the go?
Are there ways to make healthy foods more delicious?
Commute – How can you “redeem” the time spent on your commute?
Is it through reflective or uplifting playlists?
Podcasts on interesting topics?
Audiobooks for professional development?
Taking a form of transport that makes you walk a few thousand steps before getting to work?
During the day
What rituals or boosters can lift your energy levels?
Movement – what changes to your routine could force you to move more?
Is it worth implementing a “No eating lunch in my workspace” rule?
Can you replace your chair and desk with more comfortable/supportive furniture?
Would a more comfortable pair of shoes encourage you to walk more?
Food – what are some enjoyable lunch options that don’t cause you to crash in the afternoon?
Are there hot drinks that don’t have a tonne of sugar in them?
What snacks make you feel good, and can you store some around your workspace?
How do you unwind at the end of the day?
Commute – Are there ways of changing your route home that are either less stressful or add in more exercise?
Can you vary your way home each day?
What forms of entertainment take your mind off your work?
Hobbies – What new hobby or activity can you add to your week that would feel like a treat?
Could it be something creative?
Could it be something fitness related?
Could it be a weekly dinner or drink with a group of friends?
What other work can you do to supplement your professional interests?
Is there a side business that would teach you about startups?
Could it be a volunteer role for a cause close to your heart?
Is there a course that would enable you to do more complex work next year?
I hope these questions inspire you to do four things:
1. Identify the factors that make you happier and more productive at work.
2. Make you more open minded to different roles if they can offer you consistently great days at work.
3. Ask Can-If questions like “I’d enjoy working in that industry if…”
4. Take responsibility for yourself and your happiness, using improvements to your routine to keep yourself in a better mental/physical state.