When we think about our dream jobs, we imagine ourselves being happy.
Of course! If you have a great job of course you'd be happy every day. Right?
I don't know.
In addition to writing here and doing some freelance work, I also have a full-time tech job that lets me communicate with all kinds of interesting people, explore every whim of my content creation strategies, and frequently offers up free coffee, beer, and delicious food. Despite all that, sometimes I still have rough days.
My point is that even when you work at your dream job, bad days still happen. Because life happens, and it can make us cranky. (Or is that just me?)
While some people seem to be able to brush negative feelings to the back of their minds with little more than a shoulder shrug, I find it nearly impossible. If I'm in a negative mood when I wake up, it seeps into every hairline fracture in my routine and my day gets worse and worse.
I don’t like feeling this way. All I want - all any of us ever wants - is to be happy.
We want to feel good and enjoy each day from start to finish. But, if you have the same issues with negativity as I do, that can be easier said than done.
On top of simply dealing with a bad day, dealing with a bad day at work can be exceptionally discouraging. You don't feel motivated or want to talk to anyone, and the whole thing just drags on until you've put in your time and you leave. The thing is, this kind of work day doesn't help your happiness. It doesn't counteract or lessen the pain of your already less-than-stellar day.
A few months ago, during one particularly rough patch of days where nothing seemed to be going right, I remember just feeling downright tired of being so bummed out. It wasn’t any fun, it was emotionally exhausting, and it certainly wasn’t helping me accomplish anything at work. I just wanted to find...peace. To find a way to stop feeling so frustrated and angry.
I started testing some things out: apps and strategies for work that might help me find peace and motivation, even on the roughest of days.
For the most part, they’ve worked very well and I want to share some of my favorites with you so you can enjoy more of your days, too.
You’ll, of course, have to put some effort into finding peace. You can download every browser extension and app in the world, and none of them will ever help you if you don't try from within.
Try to rationalize your negative thoughts and be understanding of others. Acknowledge that nothing happens to just you, and be mindful of other people who may be facing similar challenges.
In combination with that kind of thinking, here are a few things you can do to find peace on bad days.
Keep yourself inspired with stimulating images, quotes, or colors.
For many of us, I think rough days occur (or at least continue) because we feel trapped in the routine of The Everyday. We commute the same distances, work on similar projects, and work toward similar deadlines every day. After a while, I’m sure many of us feel a little bored, if not frustrated, by our seemingly mundane schedules.
However, doing small things to change your routine can be really helpful in keeping your day interesting, thereby making it more enjoyable. For example, sometimes I take a different road to work in the morning, just because.
Another routine-changing way I’ve found to keep myself feeling inspired during rough days is to use the Momentum Chrome extension to introduce new scenery, goals, and creative quotes into my day-to-day.
The extension randomly selects a different, beautiful, high-def. photo to be your default Chrome background, so every time you open a new tab you see a breath-taking photo of a city skyline at sunset or a towering waterfall in a South American jungle.
I like this because it tends to catch me off guard in the middle of the day and makes me take a second to stop and admire the scenery in my browser. It’s peaceful.
Additionally, the extension includes a customizable daily goal line, where you can type your main focus for the day, or simply type whatever’s on your mind.
I often use this field to type random movie quotes or song lyrics, so when I need something to make me laugh or inspire me during a rough patch, I can open a new Chrome tab and there it is. (Sometimes famous people will favorite your Tweeted screen captures, too.)
These are the main reasons why I like using Momentum, however, the extension happens to also have been designed as a productivity tool. From its creators’ perspective, the app’s main goal is to help you focus. When you have Momentum enabled in Chrome, all of your bookmarks disappear, making it easier for you to stay on-task when you open a new tab.
The extension also includes a to-do list feature, so you can keep track of things you want to get done in a simple place. Note: The to-do list and daily focus fields do not sync across computers at the time of this writing. So, if you create a to-do list on one computer and try to access it from another, it won’t work. Regardless, I like this extension a lot.
When I started using Momentum I knew I had found something that was really helpful to me, so I started taking screenshots of my browser each morning. Here are a few of my favorite Momentum shots from the last few months:
In addition to loving the visual features offered by Momentum, I’m also an advocate for customizing your workspace so it’s colorful and inspiring to you.
For example, I’ve all but covered my desk at work with origami (a hobby of mine). I also periodically revisit my computer’s background, my Gmail theme, my daily to-do list, and the many spreadsheets and documents I use to make sure they look pleasing to me.
When I like the way these things look, I get more done and enjoy my work because I feel at home in my workspace. It’s easier for me to justify spending time in my Inbox answering emails or organizing my spreadsheets.
If you’re feeling ambitious, you could even try to incorporate color psychology into the settings and themes you choose for your workspace. For example, some people believe that blue calms you down while red may make you angry. However, most studies in color psychology have been inconclusive, so you might not want to spend too much time incorporating color psych. into your work areas.
Another strategy that’s really helped me find and stay in my zone on bad days is the Pomodoro Technique. Before you roll your eyes, let me explain.
Within the last year, it seems like the entire internet has been raving about this Pomodoro thing. And for the longest time, I couldn’t have cared less.
In my opinion, if you needed a tomato-shaped timer to tell you how to manage your time and when to focus, you just weren't trying. So I ignored Pomodoro for about 12 to 14 months.
Finally curious enough to try it during a particularly rough day, I found that Pomodoro is basically an excuse to take a ton of breaks at work! Just kidding. It’s definitely not an excuse, but it is a way to remind yourself to take a step back from whatever you’re focusing on and clear your mind for five minutes before diving back into your projects.
The Pomodoro Technique is broken down like this: You do four cycles of working 25 minutes, followed by a five-minute break. Then do one cycle of working for 25 minutes, followed by a longer break of 15 to 30 minutes.
I like to use TimeDoser, a free (and yes, very colorful) Pomodoro timer that automatically cycles you through several short breaks followed by one longer one. I don’t have to watch the clock at all because TimeDoser automatically alerts me when it’s time to take a break and when it’s time to get back to work.
The timer also has a handy pause button for those times when you just can’t find a stopping place in your work. As soon as you can stop, you can then unpause the timer and it will continue counting down your break time.
You can change the settings to better meet your focus needs, but I’ve had great experiences with the pre-set times of working for 25 minutes and then taking a five-minute break. The longer pre-set breaks are 15 minutes, which generally gives me enough time to get up and make lunch or steep a cup of tea before getting back to work.
If you don’t use Chrome, and therefore are unable to use TimeDoser, there is a huge selection of other Pomodoro apps and browser extensions for you to choose from. Pick one and give it a try for a week. After all, research shows that it’s not only unnatural but also unproductive to try to work for eight straight hours.
When you use the Pomodoro Technique, you break up your long, monotonous day into many smaller chunks, which feel more digestible and enjoyable.
I will warn you, if you aren’t used to taking breaks in your work day, it can be really tempting to ignore your Pomodoro timer and to just keep working through your breaks. This was something I had to continually fight off on my second Pomodoro day. However, ignoring my breaks didn’t seem to help me get my work done any faster and, if anything, only contributed to quicker mental fatigue and more stress.
So stick with it. At least for one week before deciding if it’s for you or not.
If you find it difficult or even stressful to take breaks, let alone to stop thinking about your work, you may need a more long-term strategy to help you find peace and learn to calm your mind.
Enter: Another constantly talked about technique that I encourage you to hear me out on...mindfulness.
I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that there have been copious studies conducted that show there are clear benefits to practicing mindfulness meditation. Yet, I’m generally one of the odd people out in my peer groups when I mention practicing mindfulness.
To some extent, I think more people don’t practice meditating because we aren’t always sure how to get started. There are so many meditation and mindfulness apps out there that just picking one to try is a chore in itself. If you want my suggestion, Stop, Breathe & Think is a great mindfulness app that uses your current emotions to suggest short, guided meditations for you.
SBT has a web app, as well as apps for iOS and Android so you can use it just about anywhere. The app is free to download and has a good selection of free meditations, plus you can download additional meditation packs for about $0.99. I’ve paid for a few extra ones and they’ve all been well worth it.
I found I felt most peaceful when I listened to a meditation before falling asleep at night, and then listened to another meditation in the morning before driving to work. Not only did this routine help me to be a calmer driver, but it also helped me learn to slow down during the day.
I don’t listen to these every day anymore, but I still use the app when I’m having a rough day and need to take a few minutes to reflect. It helps a lot.
Lastly, few things bring peace on a rough day like thoughtful, creative writing.
For me, anyway.
I kind of stumbled onto this when I was having a difficult time focusing during a bad day. I took a short break and ended up reading a creative nonfiction post on Medium. When I started working again, I noticed that I had more mental energy and was able to approach my work with a rejuvenated sense of motivation and purpose. And I actually enjoyed working for the rest of the day after that.
I've since returned to this strategy quite a few times when I'm feeling unmotivated or just a little lackluster. And, for me, it works well consistently. Some days I feel the need to look for fiction, other days I just want to read some interesting reporting. No matter what genre of writing it is, it seems that any kind of creative and well-written work is enough for a mental refresher.
Here are some things I've read in the past that have helped me out during a "meh" day:
None of these posts had anything to do with what I was working on at the moment, but just reading something creative helped get me back in my zone.
If I'm not really feeling like reading, I've found just browsing through Unsplash can help, too.
In the end, you're always going to have another bad day. At least, it might start to get bad. Just try to recognize it and do what you can to find peace.
I'll be the first to admit that sometimes my quest for peace is more successful than other times. But I do what I can, and so can you.
If you want to talk about some of your own strategies for finding peace on rough days, you can share your thoughts in the comments below, or shoot an email my way.
Image by Nathan Walker