The 7 Essential Work Habits That'll Make You Happier at the Office
When I was in 7th grade, my soccer coach always told my team, “First you make your habits, then your habits make you.” As I’ve gotten older, this makes more and more sense. It takes time and effort to form a new habit, but once you get there, it really can start to shape who you are.
For example, I recently started running before work. It required a lot of positive self-talk—“You’ll feel like crap if you don’t do this, Abby”—and a commitment to crawling into bed earlier. But now that it’s part of my routine, I crave it (this shocks me, too). Those early miles set me up for a successful day, increase my self-confidence, and make both my body and mind stronger.
Gretchen Rubin, a happiness expert, also feels very positively about habits. In her book Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits—to Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life, she outlines seven that you should weave into your life in order to be happier.
“When we change our habits,” Rubin explains, “we change our lives. We can use decision-making to choose the habits we want to form, use willpower to get the habit started, then—and this is the best part—we can allow the extraordinary power of habit to take over.”
Reading this resonated with me so much that I started to wonder: What if you take it one step further and utilize Rubin’s behaviors to increase your happiness at your job? After all, your profession is a large part of your life. If you can improve your experience in that area, perhaps it will positively impact other parts of your life as well.
I took my wondering one step further (I know, I’m a nerd) and broke down how all of Rubin’s seven habits could translate to the workplace:
1. “Eat and Drink More Healthfully”
Eating well at work can be hard—sometimes, our days are so packed we can hardly spare a second to take a bite. Other times, stress or boredom leads to mindless snacking. Or, a colleague brings in leftover birthday cupcakes to share with everyone, and you obviously can’t refuse (because cupcakes!). But if you follow these general guidelines, you’ll be better off.
Block off time on your calendar for lunch, then do what you can to protect that time.
Pack your lunch and snacks as often as possible.
Steer clear of office treats—ask a co-worker or two to hold you accountable to this. Or, if that feels impossible, limit yourself to one slice, one cupcake, one cookie—just because they’re all there for the taking doesn’t mean you have to eat them all.
Choose water or tea instead of coffee (after your first cup—or two).
2. “Exercise Regularly”
As you’re constantly told by scary article headlines on Facebook, sitting all day is detrimental to your health. But did you also know it affects your productivity? In fact, without consistent bursts of activity, your brain goes into slow motion. When you can, hold walking meetings, set “movement reminders” on your calendar (even if only a quick lap around the office or a few stretches), or start a lunchtime exercise group. You could also speak with your manager to ask about the possibility of getting a standing desk. While these activities aren’t what you might consider traditional forms of exercise, they’re all working more movement into your day.
3. “Save, Spend, and Earn Wisely”
You obviously know that buying lunch less, making coffee at home, and walking or biking to work will help keep costs down. But I wasn’t born yesterday, and I know those kinds of tips are easier said than done.
But what you can be better at is taking of advantage of any financial benefits, your company offers, ASAP. If you need to, put some time on your HR person’s calendar to learn what’s available. Ask about your 401K and stock options, as well as FSA and HSA accounts. None of those available to you? Talk to an accountant to see if there’s a solution that you can set up on your own.
While forcing yourself to put aside savings each month can be difficult, options like a 401K that automatically deduct from your paycheck can make it much easier.
4. “Rest, Relax, and Enjoy”
Rest is a crucial part of being as productive as possible. Tony Schwartz, CEO and Founder of The Energy Project, says, “As every great athlete understands, the highest performance occurs when we balance work and effort with rest and renewal. The human body is hard-wired to pulse, and requires renewal at regular intervals not just physically, but also mentally and emotionally.”
Some use the rule of 52 and 17—get down to business for 52 minutes, relax for 17, repeat. But what you really need to do, Schwartz says, is listen to your body. Itching for more caffeine because you’re falling asleep at your desk? You probably need a break to recharge instead. If taking a power nap’s not an option, make sure you listen to your body and take it easy after you leave the office.
5. “Accomplish More—Stop Procrastinating”
According to Heidi Grant Halvorson, a social psychologist and Associate Director of the Motivation Science Center at Columbia Business School, you procrastinate for one of three reasons: You’re scared of messing up, you don’t feel like doing it, or you don’t like it for some reason (e.g., it’s hard or boring).
But while you may be able to delay doing laundry until you’re out of clean clothes, you can’t prolong your professional responsibilities forever. As Halvorson says, “Can you imagine how much less guilt, stress, and frustration you would feel if you could somehow just make yourself do the things you don’t want to do when you are actually supposed to do them?” It’s true—every time I push a due date back for no good reason, I feel pretty crummy.
Figure out what your reason is, then face your to-do list head on. You’ll feel a lot better when you go home for the night.
6. “Simplify, Clean, Clear, and Organize”
Look around your desk right now. What’s on it? On mine, I have a coffee mug, a calculator, a pink highlighter, a plastic hippo holding paper, two types of chocolate—I could go on. Nothing good can come of this mess. Clutter’s not only a distraction, but also an enabler of procrastination (among other things).
You’ll be much more efficient if you clear away unnecessary items and then organize the rest of your space. And, while you’re at it, consider working on your computer, too. File away documents and delete anything you no longer need. (And if you’re wondering, yes—I do need the hippo. He’s staying.)
7. “Engage More Deeply in Relationships—With Other People, With God, With the World”
When it comes to the God reference, take note: Rubin isn’t preaching that one of the areas you absolutely need to engage in is religion—if that’s something that’s important to you, make the effort. If that that doesn’t align with your beliefs—that’s perfectly fine, too.
The point is to spend more time on the relationships you value, which could include your family, friends, significant others, yourself, and so on. I’m a big believer that engaging more deeply in anything you believe in—whether it’s spiritual or otherwise, is extremely beneficial. Interacting with your colleagues, for example, is really good for you—they can help you get through the tough times, solve problems, and celebrate wins.
Lately, I’ve dedicated more time to me, and it’s made a world of difference. In addition to running, I began taking yoga again. While my motive was to prevent those chronic injuries I'm so prone to (hi, plantar fasciitis), I’ve realized how soothing it is for my mind. And now I cherish that time I have to set my intention and focus on only my breathing and movement. And, bonus: It’s made me a lot less stressed at work, too.
At the end of the day, you play a large role in how happy you are (it’s not all chance and circumstance!), especially when it comes to your career. You should make as much of an effort as you can in enjoying your current position, and you can try using on—or all!—of Rubin’s seven habits to do so.
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Abby works in health education and prevention at a university in Washington, DC. When she’s not trying to make the world a healthier place, you can find her taking selfies with her cat (Mildred Meow Meow), hunting down the city's best grilled cheese, or zipping through the city on her bike, named Libby. Say hi on Twitter.More from this Author