We’re celebrating Autostraddle’s Fifth Birthday all month long by publishing a bunch of Top Fives. This is one of them!
My day job is pretty cool, and I’m really lucky to have it — I get to do things I like, I’m friends with my coworkers, and I JUST GOT MOVED next to this awesome window, with a view of a small wind turbine spinning inspiringly in the distance. Still, when I quit being a gardener a couple of years ago in order to sit down all day and look at a screen, I quickly noticed a pronounced difference in my mood, my energy level, my attention span, and my propensity to freak out over trivial things. I realized that — just as you’ve got to train your brain and body to do the things you want them to do — you’ve got to train your mood and your environment, too. Here are some ways I have succeeded in bringing adventure into my 9-5.
Note: making your desk job more exciting is totally different from making your desk more homey (though that’s also a noble goal). For that I suggest starting with a terrarium, photos of your friends/family/pets/other important people and animals, and tasty, easy homemade lunches.
1. Use lunch breaks wisely. Can you go walk around outside while you eat your PB&J? Do it! Can you set aside enough change to take yourself to that cute sandwich stop down the street every once in a while instead? Do that too! Do you have a cool coworker with whom you can set up mutually beneficial, Jim-and-Pam-esque scavenger hunts in the surrounding hallways and streets? Why haven’t I thought of this before. I’m going to do that tomorrow.
This goes for smaller breaks as well — think up something that intrinsically excites you and find a way to build it into your day. I have been known* to stash issues of The New Yorker in an out-of-the-way supply closet and read them in the hallway — you can totally get through a Talk of the Town before anyone comes looking for you. (And yes, I could read this same Talk Of The Town online, but that would be much less clandestine and fun).
*I have not actually been “known” to do this because I hadn’t told anyone about it, ever. But maybe now I will be.
2. Learn a skill. Think about concrete things your job requires. Do you have to type a lot, or do quick calculations? There are all kinds of programs and websites that can help you speed up your typing or your mental math. Would learning a little bit about how to code help you communicate better with your web developer? Everyone else is doing it. Did you get your awesome position partly because you know another language? Consider asking your boss if you can spend a little of your day brushing up on it.
Getting measurably better at something that will help you no matter where you end up is one of those endeavors that feels purely good — especially on those days when everything else you’ve done seems like a pointless paperwork. It’s basically the opposite of constantly refreshing Twitter.
3. Play daydream games. When you’re sitting in a chair and staring straight ahead all day, chances are you will have moments when your mind empties of its own accord. And, as we all know, an empty mind is the devil’s playground. My blank mind tends to attract repetitive thoughts of frustration and worry and boredom, so I like to distract it with what I call daydream games — enactments of little scenarios that are totally divorced from the real world, and have no consequences and no limits except for the ones I want.
These often build themselves, but when nothing comes to me immediately, I tend to turn to childhood classics, such as Ways I Could Get From This Roof To That Roof If I Were Spiderman and What If There Was No Gravity In This Room All Of A Sudden, as well as contemporary favorite How Can I Incorporate That Weird Team-Wide Skype Conversation We Just Had Into My Future Television Show, The Office.
4. Talk to people. Offices are generally tech-enabled, and it’s easy to have an entire day that’s full of conversing and planning and communicating without ever actually looking at anyone’s face. It may also seem preferable, but eventually never speaking to anyone takes a toll and your day begins to seem like it doesn’t belong to you. Avoid this! Break the cycle! You don’t even have to talk, actually. My mornings have been much better ever since I started compulsively high-fiving the person whose desk is between mine and the door.
If you’re shy like me, invite interaction via a “conversation piece,” such as a strange desk decoration. Try to pick up on coworkers’ conversation pieces as well. Why else would someone have a “Fifty Shakes Of I Don’t Give A Shit” mug on their desk? They want someone to laugh at it. That someone could be you.
5. Invest in a Slinky. I think there’s probably some corporate-culture thing where Slinkys are good for productivity/mind-speed/empathy/sales. I have definitely come across articles along the lines of 9 Surprising Lessons Slinkys Can Teach Us About SEO. Don’t worry about those things. Having something at your desk that you can mess around with can turn a sleek, functional desk into a sleek desk WITH A TOY ON IT.
Also see: that weird magical sand stuff, a yo-yo, Legos. If budget/appearing outwardly childish is a concern, very ordinary office supplies can also be easily repurposed as toys. You’re not a huge weirdo, you just happened to find yourself with an excess of paper clips and sticky tack and non-dairy creamer.
Header Image by Rory Midhani
I have coloring books and a box of 96 Crayola crayons (complete with built in sharpener) in my office, and on more than one occasion I’ve passed them out to coworkers.
This is great for me right now, as I’m about to start a desk job next month!
This couldn’t come at a better time. I LOVE LOVE LOVE my job, but my favorite parts are the “not at my desk” parts. When I’m in the office/at my desk, I find myself drifting into the worrisome daydream states, too, sometimes. O.o Merci beaucoup.
This article speaks to me. As someone who has worked at desk jobs for the past decade, no matter how much you like your job it can still get boring staring at a computer all day.
I’ve also found that how much you like/get along with your coworkers can really impact happiness on the job. So my advice to all desk jobbers is to try to make at least one work friend. Having someone who will go on a coffee break with you at 3pm is a nice break.
I cam into the office one day and there was silly putty on my desk, and it has kicked office blues butt.
My problem: I only have two coworkers, and they’re both my superiors, so I don’t really get to have office friends. Also I have to share my desk with one of them when I’m not there, so I don’t really get to customize. Oh well.
We have invested in a lacrosse ball, and a nerf football. I go out with legal and throw it around every so often.
We may have also once shut the door to one of the lawyers offices so that we could see what would happen when we threw the lacrosse ball in an enclosed space but I cannot recommend repeating the experiment because it resulted in a spilled cup of coffee. We then repeated it, because science requires a large data set to be accurate and the second time I got a black eye.
I introduced a coworker’s 3-year-old to the wonder of twirling office chairs. Bonus: he wasn’t above spinning me around.
My desk job is mildly less exciting than watching paint dry, and we recently lost access to personal email or any social media from work. Talk about torture. That said, I did recently learn that you can read your e-books online without having to download anything (as that’ll be blocked at most uptight places). So all my Kindle books are also open on my computer screen, which I love. (I say this as if it’s a tip, but let’s face it, I was likely the last to know.)
Add RSS feeds to outlook. It looks so much more like doing work than reading stuff in a browser does.
that magical sand stuff!! i really love it.
i had a 40 hr/week “desk internship” this summer and everyone in the office made an effort to do fun group activities to make it a fun environment. we played touch rugby for an hour every wednesday on lunch break, did volleyball after work sometimes, and had theme outfit days – jersey thursday, flannel friday, etc. it was helpful in between the hours of staring at an excel doc waiting for emails to roll in
OMG you had my rugger heart at touch rugby. So wishing my office would go for that!
I saw some tiny race cars…quarter-like big that can be controlled from your phone. Haha. =)
One of my bosses has a small remote controlled helicopter which he never uses… its killing me just sitting there on the windowsill, longing to be free.
Fly it around the office!!!!!!
He. Would. Kill. Me.
I have an emergency stash of colored pencils and markers in my desk drawer, and – because I work in the library – a huge supply of interesting books to read, and that’s without going next door to the high school to borrow their books. Thankfully, my workplace (elementary school) is pretty chill, so I can listen to music or podcasts while I shelve books.
My favorite thing to do is daydream. I have stories I make up but never write down, because they’re just for me. Sometimes I replay my favorite scenes, and other times I make up what happens next – or happened earlier, or might happen in an alternate timeline, and so on – but it means that I always have a go-to daydream waiting for me if I need it – like, say, during a long meeting, and nobody has to know.
I have Lego friends on my desk to compensate for having only 2 Co workers in the office, both of whom require silence to function.
Oh I forgot to mention Smart Mass!! I have the magnetic type, it comes with a cube magnet and the stuff which is like silly putty but is smart swallows it because magnetic. It stretches, bends, rips and breaks! It’s also like having a huge stress ball that is liquid-y/solid-y.
thanks to my wonderful coworkers and former coworkers, i have a wire guy rappelling down the side of my cube, a zombie virus stress ball, a collection of doodles on my white board that i will never erase, a plush boba fett, a mini domo, a bunch of random animal figurines (like tiny elephants for real yo), a mustache lollipop, and a shbearno.
You are so precious and I appreciate you and all these tips