By TIM HERRERA & The New York Times
Now, I don’t mean that in the broad sense of wondering whether you’re on the right career path. I mean on a day-to-day basis, if you thought about every single task your job entails, could you name the parts that give you genuine joy? What about the tasks you hate?
It’s an odd question. We don’t often step back to ask whether the small, individual components of our job actually make us happy.
But maybe we should. As many as a third of United States workers say they don’t feel engaged at work. The reasons vary widely, and everyone’s relationship with work is unique. But there are small ways to improve any job, and those incremental improvements can add up to major increases in job satisfaction.
A study from the Mayo Clinic found that physicians who spend about 20 percent of their time doing “work they find most meaningful are at dramatically lower risk for burnout.” But here’s what’s fascinating: Anything beyond that 20 percent has a marginal impact, as “spending 50 percent of your time in the most meaningful area is associated with similar rates of burnout as 20 percent.”
In other words: You don’t need to change everything about your job to see substantial benefits. A few changes here and there can be all you need.
“When you look at people who are thriving in their jobs, you notice that they didn’t find them, they made them,” said Ashley Goodall, senior vice president of leadership and team intelligence at Cisco and co-author of the book “Nine Lies About Work.”
“We’re told in every commencement speech that if you find a job you love you’ll never work a day in your life. But the verb is wrong,” he said, adding that successful people who love their jobs take “the job that was there at the beginning and then over time they transform the contents of that job.”
To be sure, transforming your job isn’t easy. But you have to start somewhere, and there’s a wonderfully simple but surprisingly revealing trick that can help.
For a full week, carry a notepad at all times. Draw a line down the center of a page and label one column “Love” and the other column “Loathe.” Whenever you perform a task, no matter how small, be mindful of how it makes you feel. Are you excited about it? Do you look forward to it? Does time fly when you’re doing it? Or did you procrastinate, dreading every moment and feeling drained by the time you’re done?
It seems silly, I know. But this exercise — which Mr. Goodall and his co-author, Marcus Buckingham, co-head and talent expert at the A.D.P. Research Institute, write about in their book and practice in their lives — can show you hidden clues and nuances about work.
“It’s a beautifully simple way to inventory your emotional reactions to the reality of your day or week at work,” Mr. Buckingham said. “Understand what it is that lights you up. Understand what you run toward. Understand where you are at your most energetic, your most creative, your most alive, and then volunteer for that more and more and more,” he added.
This is, of course, just a starting point. You won’t instantly be happier at work once you have a list of things you dislike about your job. But this exercise gives you a road map about how to focus your time and energy on the things that get you excited. Rather than trying to get better at things you hate doing and know you’re not great at, reframe the issue and try to do more things that energize you and that you excel at. No one can tell you what those things are, and discovering them can be transformative.
“If you don’t know what you’re like when you’re in love with your work, no one can do that for you,” Mr. Buckingham said. “This has always been in your hands, and it cannot be in anyone else’s.”
What do you love and loathe about your job? That is your assignment.