How to Make a Bad Work Day Better

You probably know a person at work who always seems to be in a great mood. They’re continually smiling, walking with a bounce in their step and asking everyone about their weekends. Nothing can bring them down.

You might think these peppy people have an invariably positive outlook. But the truth is, everyone has bad days at work, even if they don’t often show it. On the bright side, it’s possible for anyone to turn a seemingly lost workday around.

If you’re having a stressful, unproductive or slow day at work, you don’t have to abandon all hope. You can take steps to boost your mood, making it easier to get through the day without feeling upset or burned out by the end.

Here are 16 easy ways you can make your bad work day a little better.

1. Go for a Walk

Humans didn’t evolve to sit in front of computer screens all day. Though it can be tempting to hide out at your desk during a bad day at work, you might benefit more from getting up and moving around.

One study found workers who took breaks to walk around at least once every hour had significantly higher moods compared to their coworkers who didn’t. So, moving around periodically is essential to maintaining a happy attitude at work.

If you’re having a bad day, stop what you’re doing and walk somewhere. Getting some coffee from the break room or merely getting up to say hi to an office friend could help you come back to your work with a fresh perspective.

2. Visit the Outdoors

Appreciating nature is a quick way to boost your mood. People who live near green surroundings show decreased mental distress and higher well-being overall. Additionally, getting outside in the sunlight supplies you with vitamin D and a better mood.

Though working in a traditional office might make it hard to spend adequate time outside, it’s well worth the effort. If you can, try taking your lunch break in a nearby park or garden.

If you absolutely can’t get outside during the workday, consider bringing a few plants to the office. A little greenery could brighten up any bad day.

3. Share Your Thoughts

On a particularly stressful day, you might not be in the mood to talk to anyone. However, sometimes talking to another person about your problems can help you feel better.

By externalizing your emotions, you’ll be able to keep pressure from building up inside and creating big problems later on. If you have a trusted friend at the office, tell them how you’re feeling — they might be able to offer some advice or uplifting encouragement.

4. Use Healthy Coping Mechanisms

Some people use unhealthy coping mechanisms like drinking or lashing out to deal with work stress. Though these things might feel good in the moment, they won’t help you deal with stress in the long run. Instead, they might end up backfiring and making things worse.

If you know you rely on unhealthy coping mechanisms, be aware of that tendency on bad days and look for alternatives. Healthy options like exercising, keeping a journal and using aromatherapy are all good options to help you through a bad day.

5. Compliment a Coworker

Everyone likes to feel appreciated. If nothing seems to be going your way, giving a heartfelt compliment might be the easy mood boost you need to get your day back on track.

Like gift-giving, complimenting others can be as rewarding to the person paying the compliment as it is for the person receiving it. You could compliment a coworker on their cool outfit, their work on that last project or an aspect of their personality.

If you’re lucky, they might compliment you back. And that always feels nice.

6. Do Something Nice for Someone

Performing little acts of kindness can boost your mood and help you feel like you’re making an impact through your work. Whether you’re doing something for a coworker or a customer, a nice gesture can help give you something positive to remember throughout the day.

For example, you might get coffee for a desk mate, write a thank-you card to a person who helped you recently or walk an elderly customer to their car.

7. Listen to Music That Makes You Happy

Research has shown listening to music can affect your mood. If your office allows it, put on some headphones and turn on your favorite playlist. Listening to music could help entertain you on a slow workday and give you the energy you need to power through.

However, be aware some music can be relaxing or uplifting, while other types might increase irritation and aggression. So, make sure to choose your music carefully, picking songs that you already know make you feel good.

8. Clean Your Desk

Nothing sinks productivity like a messy desk. If you have some downtime, consider clearing up your workspace by sorting papers, tossing out old reminders and putting things in the drawers where they belong.

A clean desk can save you time, reduce stress and help you remain focused on the task at hand. Plus, a clean start might help you approach the remainder of your day feeling refreshed.

9. Optimize Your Systems

It’s easy to let the technology you rely on get cluttered and dysfunctional. If you can never find those documents you need on your computer, or if your antivirus has been begging you to update it for the last three months, it might help you to spend some time optimizing your systems.

A dysfunctional tech setup can be just as frustrating as a messy desk, so use a slow workday to set yourself up for success. Delete unneeded files, reorganize your desktop and update your computer software if needed.

It’s amazing how big a difference regular maintenance can make to productivity.

10. Make a Plan

If your frustrations at work result from stress or a lack of direction, you can reclaim your day by making a thorough plan of action. By giving yourself some clear goals for the day, you can tackle your workload more efficiently. Plus, you’ll get the satisfaction of crossing things off your list.

Make sure to write down your plan. To-do lists on paper or a whiteboard, for example, put the plan directly in your hands.

11. Solve a Problem

Sometimes an accomplishment is all you need to turn a bad day into a success. If something in your office is bothering you, brainstorm ideas to fix it.

Is the light in the hall flickering? Talk to someone about replacing it. Is there a tedious process you hate? Write a proposal detailing how to streamline it. By coming up with solutions to your biggest work pet peeves, you’ll feel like you’re making significant progress. Plus, you’ll pave the way for a better work experience tomorrow.

12. Run an Errand

Sometimes you might need to escape the office on a bad day. If business is slow and you can get away for a few minutes, consider running an easy errand. That could involve picking up something from the grocery store, mailing a letter or stepping outside to make that phone call you keep forgetting about.

Running a quick errand can not only give you an encouraging sense of accomplishment, but it can also help reduce any stress that might be piling up outside work.

13. Learn Something New

If you’re feeling bored or trapped at work, learning something new can be a great way to break you out of stagnation and provide new motivation for the days to come.

To learn something new, you might read an article or two, chat with a customer about what they do or ask a coworker to show you how they complete their work. Not only will learning experiences increase your feelings of work satisfaction, but they could also lead to new work opportunities in the future.

14. Have a Snack

Conditions like hunger can affect your mind as well as your body. Though it can be easy to underestimate, hunger can irritate you and even impact your decision-making.

Particularly on bad days, it’s a good idea to pay attention to how your body might be influencing your mood. Grabbing a quick snack might help you get back to work feeling better. If you have time, you could even step out to get doughnuts for the office from your favorite bakery across the street.

15. Take Time for Yourself

It’s easy to let stress follow you home after a bad day at work. However, it’s vital to make sure you’re getting enough time to relax to make sure a bad day doesn’t turn into chronic stress or other mental health issues.

Take care to make a clear distinction between work and play. For example, you could try having an end-of-the-day routine, journaling about your workday and then leaving it behind, or challenging yourself to talk about things other than work when you’re with your partner, family and friends.

16. Pat Yourself on the Back

You do good work. Though you might not feel confident in your abilities or position all the time, remember you’re valuable, no matter what.

Try to take note of at least one good thing you accomplish every day. That could be as large as finishing a complicated report, or as small as being early to this morning’s meeting. Whatever you choose to congratulate yourself on, make sure you mean it. You deserve some sincere appreciation, even if it’s just from yourself.

A slow or stressful day at work can put a damper on anyone’s mood. However, by taking a few simple steps to take care of yourself, you can make the best of a bad situation and set yourself up for a better workday tomorrow.

If you found this article helpful, subscribe to Punched Clocks and share it with a friend. If you have any other tips for handling a bad day at work, be sure to let us know in the comments.


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Sarah Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks.

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