How do you feel about your work?
Of course there may be days when you feel either jaded or angry and wish you could be doing something else. There may also be amazing moments when everything comes together and you get the recognition you deserve.
We’re looking at enjoyment not because of touchy-feely notions about the meaning and purpose of life. This is about performance, results and getting noticed for the right reasons. The scientific evidence is clear: people who revel in their work are more likely to perform better.
Under the spotlight: two people, same job
Suppose two friends, Helen and Christina, both work 10 hours a day as marketing executives for the same firm. Helen gets a big kick out of her job, while Christina merely tolerates it.
On arriving at the office on a Monday morning, they both check their email. Unsurprisingly, they already have dozens of emails to wade through.
Christina doesn’t hate her work but she could definitely think of things she’d rather be doing. That lack of enjoyment and value means that she isn’t exactly focused and efficient. So she takes 25 minutes to empty her inbox.
On the other hand, Helen is quite entertained by reading her colleagues’ and clients’ thoughts and queries and – because her interest allows her to work more efficiently – takes maybe 20 minutes to sort through the same number of emails. So Helen is already up five minutes.
Being slightly less engaged on the first task may also affect Christina’s performance on her next task. Having completed one unrewarding task drained some of her mental strength. With less willpower to spare, Christina may find herself becoming grouchier, too. When faced with even relatively innocuous requests from colleagues, she may find herself answering back rather more sharply than she would prefer.
Having had an emotionally draining day, she will have far less willpower at home. She may have so little strength of will left that she can only open a bottle of wine, drink more than is good for her and head to bed in exhaustion.
The point of all of this? Engaging in activities we find interesting and valuable not only improves our performance. It also preserves our willpower so that we can pursue whatever other goals we have later in the day – whether they are to do with our work or not. Enjoyment isn’t just a nice‐to‐have – it’s a must‐have for performance in work and life.
A study by O’Keefe and Linnenbrink‐Garcia tells us that attaching greater value to a task can stoke your efficiency. They also demonstrated that value is something we conjure up in our heads rather than a given.
As human beings, we can choose to believe that tasks, duties or projects are more or less valuable. We can imbue assignments and chores with more or less meaning. Simply by believing that something has more intellectual worth and value may help us to perform better at it. And that must be a good thing indeed. After all, who doesn’t want to be recognized as a standout, star performer?
Taking just six minutes out of your day to review your values may be a savvy investment: reminding yourself why you do what you do may help you to recharge and enhance your efficiency for the tasks ahead. Does your work provide you with the platform to pursue your sporting achievements, relations with family or artistic leanings? Or maybe you can find ways to live your values at work– to do your work with integrity or by living in the moment, utilizing your creativity or being in control.
Much of human life hinges on the psychological games that we play with ourselves. Success or defeat in many arenas – spanning sports, business and even relationships – can come down to our beliefs about ourselves and the world we live in. It’s tempting to dismiss the importance of values because we can’t see or touch them. However, the experimental evidence tells us that they are very much consequential.
 O’Keefe, P. A. & Linnenbrink‐Garcia, L. (2014). The role of interest in optimizing performance and self‐regulation. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 53, 70–78.
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This article is an extract from Dr Rob Yeung's latest book: