“On Monday I wished it was Tuesday night, so I could wish for the weekend to come...”
July 16, 2009 11:47 AM   Subscribe

Help me stop wishing the days away.

Since the beginning of my working life (more than twenty years ago, if you count part-time teenage-era jobs), I have generally conceived of work as an unpleasantness to be “gotten through,” before I could enjoy myself. Subsequently, each day, and every part of each day, has its own intrinsic advantage or disadvantage based on where it is located in the week. For example, Thursday is better than Tuesday, because it is closer to the weekend. Four pm is better than 10am because its closer to quitting time.

I used to think that I did this because I had a career for which I was unsuited, but after a major career change from a field that wasn’t a good fit to something that feels like a perfect fit for me, I find that I still do it. (Although the “lows” are less low—I no longer get those really harsh “Sunday blues” that I used to.) I suspect that my mindset has more to do with a habit, attitude, or worldview, rather than whether I enjoy my work. Additionally, now that I am (temporarily) a stay-at-home mom, I find that I do it to an equal degree (that is, I count the hours until my husband comes home or the number of days till the weekend, when my home workload will lighten a little).

I’m sure that lots of people experience this to some degree, but it strikes me as sad. I don’t want to spend my days and weeks, and—by extension—my very life, wishing the days away.

The question in all of this is: Has anyone successfully transitioned out of this mindset, and if so, how?

Note: For the sake of clarity and convenience, I’ve presented this question using a 9-to-5 model, but I’ve held jobs beyond the standard workweek, and, if anything, the anticipation-dread cycle is worse in a non-standard cycle, because I’m likely to experience half-days off spent sulking about the fact that I have to work later that afternoon or evening.)

Also: Maybe others will hear this differently, and it’s fine if you do, but I consider myself to be a cheerful, positive, rarely-depressed person.
posted by dreamphone to Work & Money (22 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Look ahead with some interest to the interesting parts of work, focus on the enjoyable things while you do them, and try anything to make the less than fun parts more interesting. If you can listen to music at work without disrupting others, try that.

Where are your clocks situated? Can you hide most of the clocks and your watch without losing complete track of time? Maybe warn yourself of deadlines with a small, pleasant alarm and do away with timekeeping devices.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:16 PM on July 16, 2009

Best answer: Maybe give yourself things to look forward to during the day? Like getting takeout lunch from your favorite cafe, or listening to a book-on-tape you enjoy on the way to work/doing errands, or only allowing yourself to check your favorite website at a specific time of day, and never during the weekends. I do these things to help me look forward to various parts of my day at work that don't have anything to do with my home life or free time, so I can integrate positive parts of my life into the working regime. If nothing else, it's a lot easier to simply look forward to lunch, than to pine for Friday evening.
posted by np312 at 12:17 PM on July 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Look for challenges in your work. Set various goals, some easy, some more difficult. Turn your work into play.

For example: You are cleaning dirt and weeds out of a concrete irrigation ditch with a shovel and hoe. How many feet can you do in an hour? Can you predict how many feet you can do in a day? Can you get to a certain point by lunch time? How many cubic feet have you done in the last few hours, calculate only by doing the math in your head. Think of ways and means to improve your output or make your work easier. Fantasize about being the best ditch cleaner in the world, and then visualize backwards in time as to how you got there. Is the work done better if it is done faster? What is the optimum method? Is it faster to fill the shovel with big heavy shovelfuls, or do you go faster with smaller shovelsful? Pace yourself to the work.

No matter what the work is, review your progress at the end of every session. Look for progress made, tasks completed. Focus on the positive. Don't fret about hindrances or setbacks. See them as challenges to be over come, as if you were playing a game. Mentally itemize, or heck, write down every little task you need to do. Check them off one by one. Filing those TPS reports? Check. Empty the trash? Check. Refill the stapler? Check.

Make yourself happy by achieving the tasks and goals you set for yourself. Don't work for other people - work for yourself, your own satisfaction. By that I don't mean quit your job and start your own business. I mean you should just try to get satisfaction out of the mundane. You have to mop the floor of the kitchen at the end of the shift? Try different methods for getting the floor as clean as possible. Not to make the boss happy, but to challenge yourself.

That last item is crucial. Do not try to make others happy. You will be miserable, and you won't succeed at making them happy. Make yourself happy by achieving these small goals you set in your daily routine. If the boss is happy because you have the cleanest floor in the shop, let your eyes twinkle, knowing you did it for yourself.

A really crappy job can be made enjoyable by doing this. Conversely, a really good job can be made unbearable otherwise.
posted by Xoebe at 12:17 PM on July 16, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You could plan really crappy things to do on your days off :)
posted by zeoslap at 12:18 PM on July 16, 2009

For a while, every night I would pack myself a tasty, interesting lunch. It gives you something to look forward to midday.

Some other little rewards I sow throughout my day:

a magazine I only let myself read on the bus/at the bus stop

good coffee in the morning

emailing my fellow photos of street art and strange gig posters and silkscreens and etc
posted by Juliet Banana at 12:22 PM on July 16, 2009 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I very much know what you're talking about. I have successfully transitioned out of that mindset. I was always eagerly anticipating the next step in my day/week/life to the extent that I was actually missing out on whatever was happening at the moment. I wasted an awful lot of potentially cool experiences that way.

I decided that while it's impossible to enjoy every single minute of every day (well, maybe not impossible, but highly unlikely [at least for me]), I would feel much better if I am actively engaged in pursuits that I believe will make happy in the future if not immediately.

I set some goals for myself, and started working toward them. I found something that I really love to do, and now I don't even really notice what time it is when I'm at work . I find that things definitely creep up on me more, and I get a lot of "Oh shit, it's time for X already?!" However, it beats the hell out of watching the clock.

I don't know if this is at all helpful, but figuring out some achievements that I wanted to work toward really changed my outlook on life and time.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 12:25 PM on July 16, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the comments.

Filthy light thief: Funny, I'm a (mental health) therapist, so I literally can't avoid the clock. Tee hee. Like the ideas though.

Xoebe: Make yourself happy by achieving the tasks and goals you set for yourself. Don't work for other people - work for yourself, your own satisfaction. I think this is a path I can (and do) follow. (Basically was the reason for my career change, to change my work to something that I care a whole lot about and can feel entirely engaged in.) A great reminder.

solipsophistocracy: Your comments are actually precisely what I'm talking about, but your response left me with a question: when you write about setting goals and engaging in satisfying future-oriented pursuits, are you talking about at work, or away from work?
posted by dreamphone at 12:39 PM on July 16, 2009

Response by poster: And, to clarify (not sure if it's needed, but...): I enjoy my work very much. When I'm with clients, I am 100% present with them.

The problem I have is that I hate the fact that I'm always running a mental calculation about how close I am to the end of the day or to the weekend. In some ways, it's more like a bad habit than a major affliction, but I worry that by being so future-oriented, I'm missing out in a big way on the present.
posted by dreamphone at 12:43 PM on July 16, 2009

Plan things to do after work. Go to a museum or see a show during the week.
posted by Bunglegirl at 12:56 PM on July 16, 2009

Best answer: I do this. I love my job - but I love my time off too. This has helped to some degree and is similar to what Juliet Banana suggests: I wake up a little earlier than I need to and do something that's just for me in the morning before work. I'll walk the crosswalks that link the buildings for an hour while I listen to an interesting podcast, I'll sit in a coffee shop and read a book - then I go to work. Some how it feels like the whole day is not all work since I've already done something before work that I really enjoy. Something for me. I had a boss once, a busy mother and the owner of the business, who would sit in her car for about an hour before work and read novels. She loved that quiet time that was all hers.

It is like a habit of thinking - that I want to be done with work. I try to stop this train of thought early and recognize what I love about work: how I connect with people in an intimate and unique way. That I can help people. That I can develop my own learning along lines that I find really engaging. I also like to think of work as what allows me to do what I want to do. It's a continual little battle with my own head. Sometimes I'm better at it than other times. Good luck.
posted by dog food sugar at 1:52 PM on July 16, 2009 [3 favorites]

Juliet is also right on about having a good lunch.
posted by dog food sugar at 1:52 PM on July 16, 2009

The best way to get rid of this is to find a job you actually like. I did this and the only part of my day that I hate is the drive home (no public transportation available on long island going north to south).

Also if your always thinking about the weekend you dont like your job as much as you say.

Find a job doing something you actually like.
posted by majortom1981 at 1:53 PM on July 16, 2009

Best answer: I’m watching this thread keenly, as I have the same problem, that I, too, would like to turn around.

Like you, Dreamphone, I consider myself to be a pretty upbeat person most of the time. No, I'm not ecstatically happy 100% of the time--who is?--but overall I am generally happy, and my "lows" are well within what I would consider to be a normal range of frequency/intensity. Although I couldn’t say that I am passionate about my work, I do like my job, and it offers me a pleasant work environment with good co-workers, and the security and financial stability that I need in my (newly-mortgaged) life right now.

You mention that the Sunday blues aren't as much of a problem anymore, so perhaps this isn't that helpful, but for me, planning a busy Sunday full of fun activities has really helped reduce my feelings of feeling wistful about the "almost-over" weekend (this would happen as early as Sunday morning!). This tactic may sound ridiculously obvious, but I used to think that NOT planning too much on the last (tragic sigh!) day of the weekend would seemingly stretch out the weekend (shades of Orr in "Catch-22"!) because ‘everyone knows that’ time seems to go faster if you’re having fun. I know, crazy. Not surprisingly, this harebrained theory was wrong, and I found that if I lost myself in fun activities on Sunday, I wasn’t always anxiously checking the time, watching my weekend ticking away.

I haven’t had as much luck during the week (to not start Monday morning already wishing for the weekend to come). For whatever reason, filling my weeknights with after-work activities just makes me feel too busy.

Love the interesting/yummy lunch idea!
posted by parkerama at 2:38 PM on July 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Here's something I try to do, but am not entirely successful at: be grateful. When you catch yourself wishing for tonight, tomorrow or the weekend, take that moment and be grateful for where you are, what you're doing and who you're with. Whether you want to be thankful to God, the people in your life or yourself, just take a moment to appreciate what you've got. This way you'll be changing your bad habit into a positive one.
posted by shesbookish at 3:27 PM on July 16, 2009 [3 favorites]

What fixed it for me I think was getting rid of the big commute.
posted by singingfish at 4:24 PM on July 16, 2009

when you write about setting goals and engaging in satisfying future-oriented pursuits, are you talking about at work, or away from work?

Both. I started with goals at work, but setting them in my daily life for other stuff helps a lot too.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 4:51 PM on July 16, 2009

Best answer: I think sometimes these sort of thought patterns get "recorded" in our brains and play over and over without any conscious input. I got into the "how many days until Friday" rut when I hated my job. I got a new, better job that I am very happy with, but the "why isn't it Friday" tape kept playing, until I started thinking "stop" when it started running through my head. No self-judgement, no criticism...just "stop". The habit is going away, and I still look forward to Friday, but not at the expense of today. It takes some time, but sometimes all you need is a little mental retraining. :)
posted by itiscertain at 6:30 PM on July 16, 2009

Best answer: it's more like a bad habit than a major affliction, but I worry that by being so future-oriented, I'm missing out in a big way on the present.

From the breaking-the-habit perspective, you might try practicing being in the moment. For some people (not me) meditation/zen practice is an effective way of doing this; for others, a sport that requires focus and concentration (skiing, flying trapeze, rock climbing). In theory, if you practice being in the present in one setting, it can carry over into the other part(s) of life.

Also, you mentioned that you're a stay-at-home mom, but didn't say how old your kid is, or if you have more than one, but for me, one of the unexpected benefits of being a parent has been an enhanced ability to be in the moment much more easily. Again, I attribute this to practice, but also having a great example (my kid) to follow--children live so naturally in the moment.
posted by gubenuj at 10:50 PM on July 16, 2009

When I'm doling work I don't enjoy, there are a bunch of techniques I use to make it more pleasant. I take lots of breaks, to go to a good coffee shop across the street, to walk around the neighborhood for half an hour taking photographs, or will break up the day with meetings. But overall, if you find your work grating, these sorts of things are ultimately turn out to be stopgap solutions, and if you find yourself using them more and more, eventually you'll have to decide if you need to change what you do to something you like better. When this happens to me I try to make larger changes, like refusing projects I don't want to do, switching from working at home to working in an office (or vice versa), learning something new, or focusing on different types of projects. Do you have any flexibility at all about your work that allows you to switch things around?
posted by lsemel at 11:49 PM on July 16, 2009

Best answer: Well, I figure, we are human beings after all, and everyone has to make a living, but it's work, and you have to make money, but what's wrong with looking forward to not being at work?

I don't see this as a problem so much as.. maybe we've reached this weird place in society where we consider it not a luxury, but a requirement, to actually enjoy our jobs and find some kind of meaning or fulfillment in it or whatever. Yet IMHO it really is a luxury to have this. Not everybody can have it - opportunities are limited, not all doors are open, sometimes they don't open to where you thought they would. I mean we could be one of billions of people in the developing world, where the options are working in a factory or subsistence farming, and none of us would be feeling bad about ourselves for getting in the habit of looking forward to the end of the workday.
posted by citron at 12:37 AM on July 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

just a wild guess, but you maybe it's not the work. maybe you're reacting to something inside the system of work, but not the work itself.

For example, I hated work. But, then I realized after some hard experimentation and long reflection that I didn't really hate work. I hated authority, and I hated chasing status. So, I changed those attributes of my work environment, and the work became much more acceptable. I now only work with and for people I respect, and I don't do it for the status or the money.

Anyway, just a thought...maybe there's something in your environment that you haven't recognized yet.
posted by TheOtherSide at 4:49 PM on July 17, 2009

Best answer: One thing I saw in your question was that it is only about work, and looking forward to the weekend. What do you do after work? I found the best solution to this problem was having stuff to look forward to during the week:
- Wednesday is capoeira
- Thursday is curry for lunch day (at work)
- DO NOT HESITATE to plan parties or social events during the week

But maybe you can solve my new problem, which is that I plan the week to be packed and often have to scramble to make weekend plans!
posted by whatzit at 11:35 PM on July 18, 2009

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