Happiness at work? Is it possible? Yes, I think so. So many of us professionals spend a lot of time at the office, so we might as well be happy about it. Because I am a lawyer, I see all too often and first-hand the grey-skinned, depressed legal professional slumping along and dragging their briefcase through the office door. Their clothes are often rumpled, they appear unhappy, they have become pudgy, and their expression is one of a scowl.
I remember the first office I worked in. It was not fun and extraordinarily stressful. Other young lawyers told me that they experienced a pleasurable work environment. I thought that was outrageous. The first group of lawyers I worked with only experienced happiness when they were done work, happiness when the weekend came, and happiness when they were consuming enough alcohol to forget what their work environment was like.
It was only when the anxiety I was experiencing became virtually crippling that I decided to do something about it. Although I did something about it and left that office, it took years for me to really experience true enjoyment in my work place and work environment.
Go to university, get good grades, study hard, just so we can be miserable? Is this what we signed up for? I say, no way.
So, let’s figure out how to experience happiness at work shall we? There are oodles of ways. However, in my view, the best way to experience happiness at work is to start incorporating just a few at first, without getting all wrapped up in whether or not you are doing enough. Start slowly and build from there.
One of the things that I do is actually work when I'm at work. What I mean is that, I do not work 40+ hours per week. This is almost unheard of for a lawyer in private practice. I do, however, focus like crazy and work hard while I am at work. In essence, I focus more on what I am going to accomplish in any given day rather than logging the hours.
One of the other things I find is that if I not only really focus on the task at hand, but focus on being in service to my clients, it makes a huge difference. As I write this, for example, I am going to leave for the office in about 30 minutes. When I get there I am going to be doing trial preparation with a client for a trial that is starting next week. I have already done a lot of prep so I am not panicked.
I will turn my email notification off (so I won’t be distracted by emails), I will turn my cell phone notification off (so I won’t be distracted by the sound of texts), I will put my office phone on “do not disturb” and I will put a similar sign on my office door. When I have cleared the deck to do final trial preparation, I will focus exclusively on the work at hand and on my client. My client will feel well-served by my efforts, focus and dedication. I will also feel really good (not to mention very interested now because there are no other distractions) about working towards putting the final touches on representing my client at trial. I will also have the energy to think and focus and provide a high level of legal service.
Whether you are a lawyer, or other professional, it always increases happiness at work when you can focus entirely on the job at hand. It also increases happiness at work when you are completely dedicated to doing a good job. Even junior professionals or the ones doing the “grunt work” at the early part of their careers (“early” yeah right, this lasted in excess of 10 years for me), you will experience way more happiness at work if you do that grunt work with interest and enthusiasm rather than in a half-hearted way while you are continually distracted as you check your emails, texts, etc. The other most important thing I do is that when I am done my work for the day, I am “outta there.” I rarely ever work weekends or evenings (and when I say rarely, I mean maybe 3 weekends in the last 5 years … almost unheard of for a professional). And yes, I continue to bill and earn income at a very respectable rate.
Happiness at work is not as elusive as you may think. Think about what you are going to accomplish in any given day and get rid of other distractions. Even if you can only work with intensity in short bursts, it is way better to work in intense short bursts of clear focus than lump along all day in a half-hearted manner.
Written by Val Hemminger, the nonconforming professional