Everyone wants work to be engaging and stimulating. One of the primary ways we derive meaning from our work lives is through complexity: being able to master new skills and improve on skills we already have. While too much complexity can seem overwhelming, too little means we can end up in a rut. In an ideal world, we’d end up somewhere in the middle: feeling challenged but still in control. Is there a way you can create challenges for yourself at work when you look up to find you’re on autopilot? Absolutely.
Focus on what you’re best at.
When you’re doing work you’re passionate about, time flies and work satisfies. No one has a job in which every moment is filled with work you love, but every job has a best part. Since it already inspires you, identify that part of your job and challenge yourself around it. Think about ways you can expand the ways you do it or ways you can learn more and get better at it. Use your outside interests, resources inside you company and your imagination to take that part of your work to the next level.
For example, if what you really love is getting on your feet and talking to a room, look for chances to do that. Volunteer for presentation opportunities, even ones that might be outside of your job description. It will give you not just more opportunities to do what you really enjoy and hone those skills, but having something to look forward to will make every day better. As an added bonus, you’re more likely to be seen in the company in the roles you’re best at.
Embrace what you hate to do.
On the flip side, embrace the things you really don’t enjoy. Whether it’s something you find hard to get done, you aren’t good at or that feels pointless, really tackle it. By committing some bandwidth to the things we don’t like, we have a chance to break out of our ‘normal’ patterns and approach problems more creatively. Challenge yourself to break out of your box, push through discomfort and into solutions.
It may be that you need to learn more about the part of work you don’t like. That’s great –expanding your knowledge base is inherently stimulating. Take advantage of those things you don’t like and treat them as opportunities for learning. If the work you don’t like feels pointless, put on your detective hat and try approach it from a new perspective. Instead of seeing it from your perspective, see if you can see it from the perspective of the people who are on the other side. What are they seeing? Why do they need it? How can you make what you’re giving them most effective?
Compete – with yourself.
By setting ambitious goals for the work you’re doing, you give yourself something to strive for even when the work itself hasn’t changed. Whenever you’re feeling like things have gotten unchallenging, ask yourself, “is there a way I can make the work I’m doing better?” Not everything you try is going to work perfectly, but by approaching the question, you give yourself room to create and think in new ways. If you’re presenting the latest sales figures, is there a way to present the numbers in a more compelling format: what story do they tell? If you’re creating an spreadsheet with month end numbers, is there a way to use your software to it’s full capacity or delineate information so that people can see it better and you can use it more easily?
By alternately focusing on different parts of your job – those you like and those you don’t – while motivating yourself achieve at a high level no matter what the individual task, you’ll be able to create the kind of complexity that lets you thrive in your job.