At happy hour with a friend, you innocently start whining about the annoying comment your co-worker made earlier. Hours later, you both realize that the only thing you’ve spoken about the entire night is what you hate about your jobs. Whoops.
It’d be quite remiss of me to say this should never happen. No position’s perfect, and you’ll probably need to vent sometimes. But you don’t want to let a so-so or bad day at work bleed into your life outside the office on a regular basis. That’s not good for anyone.
And, I admit, it’s an easy trap to fall into. But luckily, it’s much simpler to prevent than you may think. How? By ending on a positive note. Ha, you say. That’s much easier said than done. Maybe. But I suggest you try these four tips before drawing that conclusion.
1. Review Your Accomplishments
At the end of each day, set aside time—even if only five minutes—to write down what you achieved in the previous eight (or nine, or 10) hours.
“Your team members and clients are too busy to notice your daily victories, so it’s important to take a brief moment for self-congratulations,” says William Arruda, author of Ditch, Dare, Do: 3D Personal Branding for Executives. “It’s a great confidence builder, and it helps you quantify and assess your strengths.” And don’t worry if you only checked minor items off your list. The bigger wins can’t happen without them.
This short activity can give you a feel-good boost and help reinforce that you were productive. Even if it was only somewhat productive. Because let’s be real—believing you got nothing done isn’t a warm and fuzzy feeling. Instead, it makes you want to shove your face into your couch and crawl under a blanket of shame. (Or is that just me?)
And hey—if you really didn’t do anything, take this time to tell yourself it’s OK. Because it is. Sure, this can’t be a common occurrence, but an occasional lazy day is perfectly fine. Pat yourself on the back for showing up, and go on your way.
2. Get Ready for Tomorrow
I spend a lot of my leisure time contemplating my giant to-do list. Rather than relaxing and partaking in activities I enjoy, I let the tasks consume my every thought. It’s not necessary for me—or you—to do this.
Before you go home, prepare yourself for tomorrow. Outline your main action items that need to be completed. And review what’s on your schedule, too. Are there any meetings to prep for? Any deadlines to meet? Form your list with those things in mind.
Tonight, you’ll feel less burdened because you’ll know exactly what direction you need to head in upon returning. No longer will you have to waste your evenings thinking about it.
I’ve started doing this and, let me tell you, it makes me feel better at the beginning and end of each day. My Google doc remembers (and keeps track of) the important things, so I can be fully present when I catch up with those pesky New York housewives.
3. Organize Your Space
In college, I usually couldn’t sleep unless I’d tidied up my room. The desk needed to be cleared, and all clothing had to be in drawers, the hamper, or at least hidden under my bed. Doing this made me feel more in control, less scattered, and like I was tying up the loose ends of my day into a nice little bow.
The same goes for my office. When it’s more visually put together, so is my mind. I can head out the door feeling confident that I’ve taken care of anything that may have popped up spontaneously.
(Plus, cleaning always makes me feel like I’m “adulting” a little bit better, which makes me feel relatively successful.)
I’m not saying to whip out the magic erasers and go all Mr. Clean here, but at least put things into piles and throw away any lingering trash. (If you’re the laziest, these tips will be right up your alley) You won’t leave feeling like you’ve forgotten something, and tomorrow you won’t be taunted by the mess you walk into.
4. Have Something to Look Forward To
Happiness isn’t something that just comes to you. You have to put in the effort. You have to set yourself up for “happiness success.” And one way of doing that is by scheduling things that you’ll look forward to.
When you do this, “you bring happiness into your life well before the event actually takes place,” explains Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project (Revised Edition): Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun. “In fact, sometimes the happiness in anticipation is greater than the happiness actually experienced in the moment.”
Meet up with a friend or family member. Start taking a class, such as improv (like me!) or ceramics. It could even be diving into a good book. It doesn’t have to be anything big, and you don’t have to spend money. Just be intentional about consistently taking time to do something you’ll truly enjoy.
When you schedule time for fun activities into your calendar, you’ll think about that rather than work.
We have much more ownership over how our days play out than we think. Sure, there are going to be off ones where you’re thrown super random and sometimes downright discouraging curveballs.
But for the most part, you’re in charge. When you take back control of the wheel, you can start to steer it in a more positive direction and end each day on a happy note. Good luck!