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5 Tips For Making Your Job Feel Exciting Again

It's Groundhog Day, and Punxsutawney Phil didn't see his shadow. Now the question is, what if you feel like you're starring in a workplace version of the movie Groundhog Day?

If you haven't seen the movie, it's the story of a weatherman (Bill Murray) who keeps reliving the same work day over and over again. Over time, he learns how to work the repeating sequence of events to his advantage, and the movie ends well because it's a movie.

Groundhog Day-like sequences are everywhere in real life, too. Just look at the results in Iowa last night. While it looks like Hillary Clinton is narrowly cruising to victory, the whole thing still feels a little bit like deja vu all over again, doesn't it?

But that's national politics. We need to talk about office politics! Namely, what if your work routine has become, shall we say, a little bit too predictable?

You know the routine. At 9:15 a.m., your co-worker will leave to get a cup of coffee. At 9:25 a.m., your other co-worker will place a stack of invoices on the filing cabinet next to you. At 9:50 a.m., your coffee-drinking co-worker will use the restroom and return 30 minutes later. At 10:05, the postal carrier will deliver the mail. Shortly thereafter, your most demanding customer will call to complain.

At noon, your boss will sit down at his desk and eat the same, exact lunch he's had every single day for the last five years. It will be eaten in the same, exact order (sandwich first, then chips, then pickle, then cookie) every time.

On the one hand, the sameness of routine is comforting. In the workplace, sameness allows us to get a rhythm going so we can be more productive employees. We can anticipate and plan better. Managers are always looking for ways to create even more predictability in an unpredictable world. Nobody likes big, last-minute surprises on the job.

On the other hand, predictability can get boring. We no longer feel challenged on the job. It takes longer to get the work done because our minds wander. We might procrastinate until the very last minute simply to feel the thrill of being on deadline. If left unchecked, too much sameness can turn into presenteeism. That's a fancy way of saying our bodies are at work but our minds are somewhere else.

I've been there myself. I wrote a national management column for ten years that followed a specific writing flow. I was always thankful for the work -- I had my dream job! -- but as time went on I felt less and less challenged by it. I wanted to break the mould and try a new approach. So I can relate to the topic.

The sad truth is, today's virtual economy can feel just as repetitive as working on an old-fashioned assembly line. We send the same emails, fill in the same spreadsheets and rewrite the same PowerPoint presentations. Basically, we plug in the same solutions day after day.

Over time, we may feel less and less engaged in much, if any, original problem solving. We're simply going through the motions. It's like doing the same 100-piece puzzle all day long, every day.

Variety is the spice of life, and we need to shake things up a bit. But how? Here are five tips for adding some newness to an old job:

1. Challenge yourself to stay interested. If you're an accountant, you might challenge your co-workers to an invoice processing competition to break up the monotony, for example. Look for ways to do things a little bit differently in small ways. I used to tell myself that my column was due the day before it was actually due, simply so I could enjoy the thrill of working under a tighter deadline. It's how I stayed motivated.

2. Look for volunteer opportunities at work. Whether it's a new project, rounding up a group of employees to pursue an outside volunteer effort, or simply planning a co-worker's workplace party, volunteering to do something new and different will put a temporary stick in the spokes of sameness.

3. Reward yourself throughout the day. If your job is highly repetitive, then you'll need to keep yourself motivated. When I finish this PowerPoint slide presentation, I will go get a hot cup of coffee. Find what works for you to push on through the work. Small motivators really do wonders.

4. Realize that many of your co-workers feel the same way. You're not the only one who feels the monotony. You might ask a trusted co-worker how he or she stays motivated and productive amid the daily dose of predictability. Maybe you two can come up with a way to motivate each other to up your game and keep going?

5. Make sure you have a life outside of work. If your work is your life and your workload has become too boring and predictable, then you desperately need some outside stimulation. It might be a yoga class, a running group, a book club. Look for something fun that propels you to quitting time. Or to a new job, as the case may be.

We've arrived at the end of this post, just like Bernie and Hillary have arrived in New Hampshire. The next week should be very interesting on the campaign trail. I hope you can make your job feel more interesting, too.


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