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How To Create Purpose In Your Work

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How To Create Purpose In Your Work

Jerome is desperate. He drags himself to his office job every day, the one he’s had for 4 years now. He clocks in at 9 and starts doing client calls until 12. He then takes a half-hour lunch break, followed by a team meeting, and then more client calls until 5. The same old job, the same routine, and an overwhelming feeling of emptiness deep inside. He doesn’t know why he’s doing what he’s doing, he just feels no sense of meaning to it all. It’s a good job, pays the bills, but he’s just so unhappy. He increasingly finds himself zoning out instead of doing his work, and his performance reviews suffer. He is worried about being laid off! So, he decides to research strategies for bringing a sense of meaning and purpose to the workplace. He learns about science-based strategies for doing so, and starts applying them to his workplace. So, what are these strategies?

Build community spirit and social bonds through your work.

Plenty of studies indicate that community and social bonds contribute strongly to a sense of meaning and purpose in life. The scientific literature shows this applies to work as to any other sphere of life.

I will use myself as an example. In my own role at Intentional Insights (InIn), I strive to create opportunities to engage with fellow participants on projects together and to collaborate in a positive and supportive manner. Collaborating around mutually exciting projects in a positive manner is one way to build social bonds in the workplace.

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Moreover, I make sure to regularly meet with InIn participants to talk about topics not directly related to our mutual work, but to other things going on in our lives. Doing so helps enrich the professional relationship and turn it into a deeper and more meaningful one, where both people feel supported by the other. Likewise, I occasionally organize social events where all InIn participants can gather to socialize, especially to celebrate important organizational accomplishments.

You can do some of the same in your own work. Most types of work provide opportunities to work with others on mutual projects, and you can do your part to be a great team player who supports and encourages others.

Likewise, set up meetings with coworkers and talk about things related not only to work, but also to life as a whole. While an increasing number of people work from home, video-conference calls can provide an opportunity to both collaborate on work projects and talk about non-work topics.

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Serve others through your work.

Social service to others is one of the keystones of greater meaning and purpose in life, as numerous studies reveal. Research specifically on the workplace has found that the same concept applies to work as well as to anything else. So I and my fellow InIn participants are lucky ducks, as the organization by its very nature is oriented toward helping our audience have better lives. Furthermore, one of our key principles is to coach and mentor each other, which both builds social bonds and serves others.

It is important, however, to reflect occasionally on how I specifically help others have a better life. To do so, I and other Intentional Insights participants collect quotes from emails, blog comments, and other sources where people express gratitude to the organization for helping them, and share these with each other. I encourage a work culture where we highlight and celebrate mutual accomplishments in helping our audience members improve their lives.

Let’s say you have a 9-5 job that does not explicitly serve others, what then? No worries! Every job helps somebody somehow. Think about the social value you provide. What is it about what you do that helps others have better lives? Journal about it and collect any positive feedback provided from others about your work. Take steps to solicit such feedback, since some workplaces don’t have optimal systems to provide it. Don’t ask for direct compliments, but ask people for their frank assessment of how you are doing, both your strengths and your weaknesses. Look for both formal and informal opportunities to support and coach others in your workplace.

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Likewise, see if your workplace has service projects, like building homes through Habitat for Humanity or volunteering in a soup kitchen. Also, remember that the salary you earn at your work can be donated to charity, and many employers offer matching contributions. Effective Altruism identifies the most effective charities by using well-reasoned, evidence-based evaluations. Such civic engagement can help you find greater meaning and purpose in your work  by serving others outside the direct context of your work. Again, to cultivate the deepest sense of life purpose, keep a journal and reflect on the positive impact you’ve had on others.

How do I know if these strategies are working for me?

Great question! Use the Meaning and Purpose Questionnaire (MPQ), a research-informed tool used to quantify your own sense of purpose in every area. Take that questionnaire with a focus on your work activities, and work on any areas that you might find are lacking.

What if my supervisor doesn’t want me to do meaning-making activities at work?

I hear you. Some supervisors don’t yet realize the benefits for employee mental and physical health and wellbeing that come from a greater sense of meaning and purpose in their work. First off, I’d suggest you talk to them about the research on this topic. If the argument about the mental and physical wellbeing of employees doesn’t satisfy them, I suggest you bring up research about how creating a meaningful workplace contributes to the bottom line of well-known companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Southwest Airlines, Tom’s of Maine, Ben & Jerry’s Homemade, and many others. Also consider bringing this research to the attention of the HR department and upper-level administrators if your direct supervisor is not flexible.

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Still, regardless of what your supervisor might think, a great deal of these activities are under your own control. Remember, you’re working for yourself, not for anyone else. Always remember that and be intentional. Show agency in getting what you want from your work, including a sense of meaning and purpose in life. Consult resources such as this science-based free workbook about meaningful work, and this web app to measure your sense of meaning and purpose.

Consider sharing this article with your co-workers and/or supervisor if you think they would benefit from reading it, and also if you would benefit from them having read it.

Questions to Consider:

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  • Do you already practice any of the meaning-making workplace activities described above? If so, what do you do, and how have they worked out for you in gaining a greater sense of meaning and purpose? If not, which of these do you think are the lowest-hanging fruits for you?
  • How has reading this article caused you to think differently about finding meaning and purpose in the workplace? What’s your main takeaway?
  • Do you intend to take specific steps to gain greater meaning and purpose from your work after reading this article? If so, what do you intend to do?
  • What kind of benefit have you gained from reading this article, and how might this information improve your life?

Featured photo credit: Happy businesswoman via flickr.com

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Dr. Gleb Tsipursky

Cognitive neuroscientist and behavioral economist; CEO of Disaster Avoidance Experts; multiple best-selling author

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Last Updated on October 21, 2021

How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

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How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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Program Your Own Algorithms

Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

How to Form a Ritual

I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

  1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
  2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
  3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
  4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

Ways to Use a Ritual

Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

1. Waking Up

Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

2. Web Usage

How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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3. Reading

How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

4. Friendliness

Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

5. Working

One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

6. Going to the gym

If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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7. Exercise

Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

8. Sleeping

Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

8. Weekly Reviews

The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

Final Thoughts

We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

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More Tips to Conquer Time Wasters and Procrastination

 

Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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