It’s easy to get out of bed and head to the office when you’re excited about your job, but when it feels like a slog, staying motivated is a herculean task. Calling in sick starts to seem more and more appealing. So does whiling away the workday playing solitaire. But productivity-sucking coping mechanisms, while they may help you feel better in the moment, ultimately create a vicious cycle: A job is even worse when you feel like you’re bored and bad at it.
This isn’t necessarily a sign you need to jump ship — sometimes even the best jobs have rough patches — though it might be helpful to start putting out feelers in case the burnout becomes insurmountable. In the meantime, you still need to do the job you have. And while you weigh your options (or try to reignite the spark), you might need a little help maintaining your motivation. Here are some tips to get you through the workday.
Identify the cause of your work malaise
Work boredom is usually a symptom of a larger stressor. Perhaps you don’t jibe with your boss’ management style, or you’re stuck on a particularly grating project, or your desk is in a dark corner of the office and you get antsy without a little extra dose of sunlight.
Whatever the trigger, you need to identify it before you can begin to improve your situation. “In order to get more enjoyment out of a job you hate, you want to be able to pick out the factors making you miserable and [decide] whether you can change them or not,” says psychologist Susan Krauss Whitbourne, a professor emerita at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
“You might hate the actual work tasks that your job entails — [for example,] you might hate having to speak to the public because you’re a complete introvert, but the job makes you be an extrovert. You can’t change the fundamental architecture of work in that case,” Whitbourne says. “But if it’s something changeable or fixable that isn’t inherent to the job and you can control it, you can seek to get more joy out of the job by working with those more controllable external factors.”
“You need to think, ‘How did I end up in this job, why did I take it, and can I reframe it?’”
So, for instance, if you’re struggling because don’t like being confined to your cubicle, or you find your hours constraining, or your commute is unbearable, or your colleague chews too loudly at his desk, you are dealing with things that you may be able to alter. “You can at least get actual joy out of the job tasks if you don’t focus on external factors that are really bugging you,” Whitbourne says. “Maybe those things could change, like you could ask for a physical move to another location or get a plant and dress the place up.”
But if it’s the day-to-day tasks that are getting you down, you’ve got a bigger problem. In which case…
Remember that you chose this job for a reason
In theory, you should be choosing a career path you find exciting and fulfilling. By extension, in theory, every job in that career path should also be exciting and fulfilling.
In reality, though, not every gig is your dream job, but rather a way to pay bills, gain experience, have health insurance, and so on. When work feels like a struggle, it’s helpful to remind yourself that you took this job to fulfill those particular needs.
“When we remind ourselves, ‘I don’t have to do this forever. I don’t have to do this for a long period of time, but I’m choosing to do this today. I chose to be here,’ something happens on the inside,” says psychotherapist Bryan Robinson, author of #Chill: Turn Off Your Job and Turn On Your Life. “Many people, when they hate their job, forget why they’re there and how they got there. Remind yourself it is something you’ve chosen.”
That might sound simplistic, but it does help change your outlook. “Typically, there are some benefits and perks to your job,” says psychologist Goali Saedi Bocci, whose private therapy practice specializes in work-related issues, among other things. “It might be, ‘Well, I’m doing this job because it’s not going to be super overwhelming, so I can pursue my side passion of writing.’ It might be that you took the job because of its flexible schedule or because of health insurance.”
And though it’s easy to forget those particular perks in the midst of the daily grind, it’s important to remember that returning to them can help you keep perspective. “Sometimes you get so distracted and overwhelmed, you forget your original intention [in taking the job],” Saedi Bocci says. “You need to think about, ‘How did I end up in this job, why did I take it, and can I reframe it?’”
Talk yourself out of the dread
A common phenomenon people experience when working a nine-to-five job is the so-called Sunday Scaries, the pervasive sense of dread that comes with facing an imminent return to work on Monday. That dread is wildly unpleasant; it is also, as Robinson points out, mostly in your head. Sure, last week was slow, but perhaps this week you’ll tackle an exciting new project, or get some unexpected praise from your boss, or have a fun night out with a co-worker. “The mindset we take to our jobs is key,” Robinson says. “If you allow your hate or your dread to lead you, it’s going to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
“It’s not happening to you. You’re making it happen.” In which case, you can make it unhappen, too.
So, if you become increasingly miserable as Monday morning approaches, remind yourself that the workweek is only going to be as bad as you make it. “In mental health, we encourage people to talk to themselves and to their parts,” Robinson says. “Talk to the hate. Tell it to relax. Tell it to move over.”
Pick out one thing you like
Even if you hate your job, there’s probably at least one thing about it that you can stand. If you try to focus on that, it’ll help reorient your attention away from some of work’s less appealing attributes. “It can be really insignificant — someone you really like, your lunch break, whatever,” Robinson says.
“If I dread something or I hate something,” he adds, “it’s like the zoom lens of a camera — it clouds out everything else.” But if you zoom out, psychologically, you’ll be able to drown out some of those negative feelings. “If I love the flowers on the way into the building, or I love the music that plays during the day, it will change how you feel inside. It’s not going to fix the problem, but it will get you through until you make decisions about whether you will stay or leave,” he says.
Set aside time to pursue your passions
It’s not uncommon for professionals whose day jobs align with their career goals to feel like they’re leaving their favorite hobbies by the wayside, but it’s important to make sure you have an outlet. As Saedi Bocci says, a side passion “can bring in a sense of excitement and energy and counterbalance things [at work].”
You might even want to find a way to monetize that side passion so you have an escape route of sorts if your “real” job becomes too much. “When you’re in the grind of it and feeling stuck, having a thing on the side makes you feel productive, like you’re doing things that are valued in a way that can balance out when you’re feeling burnt out,” she says. “A lot of people will have an Etsy shop, for instance. I had a client who had a T-shirt printing business on the side.”
Look for something new
Sometimes a job just isn’t the right match. If you’ve tried all of the above but still can’t bring yourself to feel engaged with your work, it might be time to move on. This is particularly true if your dread has started manifesting physically. Some symptoms to watch out for: “Anxiety and/or depression, nightmares, inability to sleep,” Robinson says. “And certainly any kind of psychosomatic illness like gastrointestinal problems and panic attacks.”
Even just the act of looking for new work can ease some of those symptoms. “Make a schedule, work on your résumé, put out feelers, look around, give yourself some deadlines as to when you’re going to get something done by,” Whitbourne says. “You might feel a little more in control than when you feel helpless.”
After all, as Robinson points out, for the most part, you get to pick your job, even if it doesn’t always feel that way. “You’re choosing to be in the job,” he says. “It’s not happening to you. You’re making it happen.” In which case, you can make it unhappen, too.