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10 very small things you can do to make your workdays more pleasant

Categories: Career Talk, Just For Fun


happy at workI never hide the fact that I love to work and I am extremely passionate about what I am doing right now. But you know, work is work, and sometimes it’s tough to get through my long workday. So over time I’ve found a few ways to make my workdays a bit more pleasant and thought I’d share them here:

1. Start each day by doing something that energizes you. In an ideal world, I’d work out in the morning, before work. Getting my heart pumping gives me energy, endorphins put me in a positive mood, and I feel more productive. In the real world that involves juggling work, kids, chores, carpools, and more, this doesn’t always work so you have to get creative. Go for a quick brisk walk, even it’s just by parking your car far away and walking to the office. Take a few minutes before your morning shower to close your eyes and breathe deeply. Stretch. Jump around with your kids for a minute. But do something that makes you feel energized.

2. When you start working, do one thing you really enjoy first. When I was in venture capital, my favorite part of the job was working with entrepreneurs, so I’d try to connect with one of them in the morning to check in. I love interacting with Work It, Mom! members and often start my day by commenting on someone’s photo, blog post, or joining in a group discussion.

3. Try to get the annoying things off your to-do list before lunch. This is something I’ve recently started doing to be more productive and I’ve found it also makes my workday more pleasant because I spend less time dreading my annoying to-dos. If you have a call you’re dreading, a document that needs tedious work, a meeting with the boss that gives you stomach butterflies, schedule time to take care of them before lunch.

4. Treat yourself in some small way every single day. This follows from the previous point: If you get a difficult task accomplished, treat yourself. Now, don’t get excited. For me, sitting down to eat lunch for 5 minutes instead of doing it while rushing around, making a cup of tea in my favorite cup, or going for a 1/2 hour brisk walk is a treat. But I make sure that every day I take a bit of a time out do something that I really enjoy.

5. Invest a bit of money in supplies you like. Hi, my name is Nataly and I am a stationary junkie. I love writing things down (my to-do list is always in a notebook, never digital) and I love writing things down on great paper with great pens. I have several different notebooks and work-related journals that I keep, some for to-do lists, some for ideas, some to keep track of different meetings and conversations. A few years ago I started buying Miquelrius notebooks and have never looked back. If you’re spending many hours a day at work I believe you should work with supplies you really like.

6. Make your workspace a place that makes you smile. I am a big believer in personalizing your workspace and making it a bright, happy place. As a mom, this means lots and lots of photos and artwork by my kiddo: My mousepad has a photo of my husband and daughter on it, my pens are in a container she made at school, and I have lost count of pasta-decorated frames that are on my desk. is a great place to get some fun, personalized desktop items.

7. Procrastinate creatively and productively. All procrastination is not bad. I read an article in the New Yorker recently about scientists who are studying how people solve problems and puzzles. It turns out that while it’s great to focus on the issue or problem at hand we need to give our brain some downtime so that our creative right half can kick in and create new connections between our different thoughts. When I procrastinate I try to make sure that it’s in some way productive — e.g. I will read the latest technology or start-up news, because I might find an idea that inspires me, check out one of my favorite blogs, or re-write my messy to-do list. Doing these things lets my brain chill out a bit while still being engaged.

8. Get up from your desk once every hour. I admit to sometimes sitting at my desk for 4 hours at a time without getting up and will be the first to tell you this is a horrible idea. Not only is this horrible for staying productive — and sane — it also has some serious health risks, as I’ve discovered. If you need to, set a reminder for yourself to get up once an hour, to get some water, take a walk around the office, chat with a colleague, or get a (healthy) snack. (If you can manage to get some air during one of these breaks, that’s extra credit.)

9. Treat your commute as your “me” time. Sitting in traffic or standing in a crowded subway car is no fun, but try to find a way to use this time to de-compress before you start your second shift at home. Listen to music or an audio book, nosh on your favorite snack, if you’re not driving, read a magazine. (If you work from home, a Work It, Mom! member suggested this trick to me a few months back: At the end of your workday, get up, go outside, walk around for 10 minutes, and then come back as if you’re coming back from work. This break separates work and non-work time and allows you some time to de-stress and re-focus. I do this most days.)

10. Wear something you like (on most days). How you look affects how you feel, no doubts there from me. While I think it’s unrealistic to be happy with what you’re wearing every single day (if you’ve figured out how to do this, call me, we have to talk), having a work wardrobe that makes you feel great is important and worth the money and time investment. Check out The Working Closet blog for tips and ideas about creating a wardrobe that works for you, your body, and your budget.

What do YOU do to make your workdays more pleasant?

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7 comments so far...

  • [...] 10 very small things you can do to make your workdays more pleasant [...]

    Do you like to be happy?  |  August 18th, 2008 at 11:44 pm

  • Some great suggestions here, Nataly.

    And it’s great that you’ve pointed out that not all procrastination is created equal.

    It can sometimes be good to procrastinate - it can lead to less struggle, delay (counter-intuitive, but true), and more optimal functioning.

    There’s a new book out titled Productive Procrastination, and it describes how to do it, how to tell productive from destructive procrastination, and how to end the destruction kind. It’s available on Learn more about the book at

    Kerul  |  August 19th, 2008 at 9:09 am

  • Nataly,

    I agree that getting the annoying little tasks out of the way first thing is a great idea.

    If it’s something that you are dreading. Knock it out first and move on.

    I have a priority list. I know which actions I need to take first and which affect my bottom line. And those are the actions I enjoy the most.

    Having a passion for your work is wonderful.
    And it’s great feeling when you accomplish what you set out to. Celebrate your success - little or big.

    BELIEVE Success!


    Lisa Willard  |  August 19th, 2008 at 11:49 am

  • I can’t remember the last time I read a Top Ten list and thought that every single idea was brilliant. This list is going to change the way I work!

    Leah  |  August 19th, 2008 at 5:33 pm

  • Brilliant, Nataly, really spot on!

    And I totally should get up from my desk, er, couch, more often.

    Karen Murphy  |  August 19th, 2008 at 8:09 pm

  • I enjoyed reading this list. I work with my hubby and sometimes forget that I need to take me time.

    Rona  |  August 30th, 2008 at 12:35 am

  • Great suggestions! I am inspired to go out and buy some pretty notebooks.

    I find that one of the hardest parts of my day is the drive home after picking up my daughter from her daycare. Usually I’m tired and trying my best to mentally switch gears from day job to Mom, but there’s no time to tune out or take a moment for myself. It is not uncommon for me to start dreading the drive long before its time to leave. The only things I find that help are making sure she has a good snack (a mouth full of food = a quiet moment) and having some good music in the car that won’t require fast forwarding every other song (four year olds are SO opinionated!). Nonetheless, any suggestions for those of us who don’t have a break between work, commute and home would be much appreciated!

    Sarah  |  December 17th, 2008 at 5:00 pm