Woman gazing out a window

It’s time for some Smartlife philosophy — if not the Zen of Motorcycle Maintenance, at least a Thought of the Day for Scooter Repair — with a simple strategy to make everyone in the world happier and better at everything. You’re welcome.

The problem for millions of employees (currently sighing their way through Solitaire) is that we grew up aiming to be astronauts or elite fashion designers. But since there are so few jobs in industries based on gigantically expensive clothes regular people would never wear, most of us ended up assisting accounts receivable. And that’s absolutely fine: accounts won’t receive themselves, there’s nothing wrong with receiving them, and the only possible problem with someone having a livelihood and the ability to look after themselves and their loved ones is if they decide to hate it.

Which is exactly what happens.

You see it in the thousand frictions and frustrations which slow down your day: people who’ve clearly decided that since they didn’t grow up to be King Emperor of Bikini-Wrestler Testing, they’re not going to bother…as if they’re going to get a “do-over” in the next lifetime. They don’t seem to understand that This Is What They Do, and if they suck at it, then they suck full stop. They act entitled to punish everyone interacting with them, as if that invitation to help Armani test handbags was in the mail, not understanding that they’re piling the most misery on themselves.

This isn’t a management rant against them; it’s spiritual advice for them! What can we as workers do to improve our day?

1. Get Better

Human beings need to do something worthwhile. It’s coded into our most fundamental urges. We survived instead of other species because we had the advantages to win and, just as importantly, the urge to use those advantages. In the old days, achieving things was both easy and hard: if you found enough to eat that day then your work was done. If you didn’t, you got increasingly motivated to do it until you fell over. Things were only “not your problem” when you died of starvation or got attacked by a horrible saber-toothed tiger, and even if you spent twenty years educating those proto-humans in language, the word “ennui” still wouldn’t mean a thing.

But now the only consequences of failing to work are a permanent nagging sense of guilt and dissatisfaction, which many no longer even recognize as anything but normal. This means many simply decide to hate their work, hiding behind the shield of “it’s not my job.” They’re waiting and wasting their own time instead of going out and getting the extra bit done. They’re acting like they can do something poorly for eight hours every day without it affecting them right down to their soul. Guess what: if you’re unhappy with how you spend half of your waking life, you’re going to be unhappy!

You don’t have to be a mug — you shouldn’t take two jobs without twice the pay — but the bits and bobs which enable you to finish your job are part of that job. That’s what being employed to do something means, and if you act like an idiotic robot incapable of anything but following firm instructions, don’t be surprised if they replace you with one the instant the technology is available (which will be very soon).

2. Work First, Farmville Second (Preferably Never)

Because people hate and fear their responsibilities, they waste time shoving them to the furthest corners of their own brain instead of improving their ability to deal with them. Facebook, Farmville, Freecell: all applications parodying the very idea of achievement, instead of simply finishing just one of your tasks… at which point those exact same entertainments would feel good. Deserved, even.

It’s like discovering that you’re on fire: you have to do something anyway, and the longer you ignore it, the more your brain will send unpleasant signals telling you to get started, and the harder it’ll be when you eventually do. And in the long term, guilt and annoyance are just as damaging as flame.

3. Streamline Your Everyday Tasks

How many inefficient procedures do you use every day, putting up with constant frustration instead of taking half an hour to fix them? You spend ten minutes a day struggling with some procedure, adding up to an entire day of annoyance a year, and never spending another ten minutes to sort it out once and for all? Does that make any sense.

You’re really giving yourself a raise. Start optimizing your procedures, investing even a tiny bit of effort to make every single time you do it for the rest of your life easier. Since the reason many give for not engaging with their jobs is “It’s just the same thing over and over,” they don’t have an excuse. Knowing you’ll do the same thing repetitively is the best reason to get better at it, easily and permanently improving your quality of life without any real extra effort (because you had to do it anyway). You know, instead of complaining.

Then, you’ll have everything done for the day (just remember you don’t have to be stupid; you don’t have to tell others that you’re done if you don’t want to!) and now you can fling yourself into those same distractions without any background guilt spoiling your mood. Or who knows, maybe you’ll carry on improving yourself instead.

Image credit: LajosRepasi / iStockphoto