We’ve all experienced bad days at work. From missing your train connection which results in being late to the office, to an unhappy customer, to running out of your favorite tea, experiencing even a slight misfortune at work can really put a damper on your entire day.

But what if someone told you that these bad days were something you had control over?

In this article, we’ll take a look at how science-based solutions can help you alter your approach and make decisions that can improve the quality of your work day, every day.

Image cred: Brooke Cagle via Unsplash

Having a bad day at work can impact every area of your life. Things like a slow computer or an unreasonable client are commonplace occurrences that can happen to anyone that has a regular 9 to 5. And the worst thing about these crummy experiences at work is that they don’t just stay there. They can build up and persist into your personal life.

Wouldn’t it be great if you had control in how your day pans out?

Well, according to Caroline Webb and her book, How to Have a Good Day: Harness the Power of Behavioral Science to Transform Your Working Life, you do.

The power you possess to having a good day

“If there are days when you are at your best, what would it take to recreate those days more often?”

Caroline Webb is an economist, former partner at management consultancy McKinsey, and author of How to Have a Good Day: Harness the Power of Behavioral Science to Transform Your Working Life. Through her work, she’s helped companies increase employee productivity and welfare by showing them how their lives can be transformed for the better by applying insights from behavioral economics, psychology, and neuroscience.

In her book, she explains that we have more control than we think with shaping our day, and that we possess the power to ensure that every day we have at work can be a good day. Webb highlights this belief with science-based solutions. Using research and real-life examples, she illustrates how you can develop certain routines and habits which you can implement when confronted with challenges during the working day, and which will help with reducing the chances of a bad day.

So, how can we exert this apparent power we have?

5 tips on how to have a good day at work

1. Avoid email grazing

Emails can be a major distraction in the work place. Even if you’ve switched off notifications, it can still be tempting to check your inbox every so often. Switching from one task to another can disrupt your concentration and diminish your focus which is why Webb advises to avoid email grazing.

Research has found that it can take up to 20 minutes to regain your focus, so to avoid aimlessly checking your inbox throughout the day, instead, what you can do is to establish a time where you tackle all your emails in one go. Depending on the number of emails you receive, you could even do this twice a day. Not only can this stop you from task switching, but it also limits distractions which can ensure you get more tasks done so that you’re able to achieve your goals for the day.

2. Set your intentions

Defining your intentions for the day can play a huge role in how you can make yourself have a better day. It helps you decide where you want to focus your attention. Your intentions should be framed in positive language. For example, if your goal was to increase business revenue, opt for something like “make my product exciting” instead of “stop losing money”.

Setting intentions provides you with direction. For instance, one of Webb’s clients, a strategic director of an aircraft manufacturer realized the value of setting intentions. He explained that he manages to sit on the board of several technology companies alongside his role because he learned to be as strategic about his daily personal intentions as he is about his work. He used to suffer from a lack of concentration, but one day he wrote down why he was doing what he was doing, and how he wanted to do it. This gave him clarification and a sense of purpose which enabled him to establish an intention-setting routine and avoid the distractions that used to plague him.

Our attitude can also have an effect. A study on how mood effects person-perception judgements conducted by Joseph Forgas and Gordon Bower, professors at the University of New South Wales and Stanford, found that participants who were happier could perceive subjects in a more positive light compared to participants who were intentionally put into a funk. So, if we approach the day with good intentions and a positive attitude, then it can influence our day favorably.

3. Connect with your co-workers

Another way to increase the likelihood of having a good day every day at work is to connect with your co-workers. Your co-workers are the people you spend the majority of your waking hours with, so it makes sense to know them beyond a superficial level. It can create a sense of collaboration and trust, which can also be economically beneficial.

Invest some time and make the effort to really get to know them. Ask about their weekend, their hobbies, and whether or not they have any vacations planned. By having a genuine interest in what they do and who they are as a person, you may find commonalities and shared interests, which can only elevate your relationship.

Building rapport between co-workers is an important part of having a good day. Not only does working in a comfortable environment make for a more pleasant day-to-day experience, but the nature of your relationships with the people around you can greatly effect your mood and overall happiness.

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4. Have a plan for managing challenges

No matter how much we plan and approach the day with good intentions, sometimes things just don’t work out the way we want them to. While we can’t control the subway system or a client’s mood, we can control our reaction towards them. Planning for challenges that may arise during the work day is another way to have a better quality day. Webb recommends to recall past problems that you overcame and assess how you overcame them. Not only will the reminder of how you prevailed give you a confidence boost, but it can make any difficult or stressful situation seem like a piece of cake.

Of course, situations will differ, but you can still create a basic structure of how to overcome common problems when confronted with them. Here are some examples of what can go into your plan for managing challenges:

  • Co-worker/client challenge
    If it’s an issue with a co-worker or a client you’re facing, talk about it with them. Addressing the problem and resolving the tension is a far better solution than keeping quiet. When addressing the issue, you should be firm but also polite. Hear out their point of view as well, you may find something out that you didn’t know before.
  • Commute challenge
    While there isn’t much we can do when it comes to the public transport system, we can still find ways to get through our commutes. Find an alternative route to work or home should your initial transport option fail you. Download a podcast or bring along a book that you enjoy so that when you do experience delays, you have something pleasant to fill your time while you wait.
  • Work challenge
    A work challenge can be anything from an undesired project outcome to being assigned a task that seems near impossible to complete. Chances are you would have experienced a similar issue in the past, even if it’s not within the same context, there can still be factors that parallel. Think about the resources you used to overcome the past issue and see if the same or similar things can be applied to your current one.

5. Take breaks

Taking regular breaks at work is imperative for your health and general wellbeing. This is especially important for people who work in front of a computer as they are leading sedentary lifestyles. Not only is taking regular breaks crucial for maintaining health, but it plays an important part in keeping up energy and productivity levels.

As focus starts to waver after 90 minutes, it’s a good idea to take a small break every 90 minutes or so. You can get up to grab a beverage, take a bathroom break, or stretch your body. There are even plug-in apps that you can install into your browser so that you are reminded regularly to look away from your screen.

Psychologist K. Anders Ericsson studied elite performers in various fields such as music, sports, and chess, and found what they all had in common was that they practiced in 90 minute intervals with short breaks in between. Doing so optimized their productivity and minimized fatigue levels.

big ang work GIF by RealityTVGIFs


Having a good day at work doesn’t necessarily mean that everything is going to be peachy from the moment you leave your house in the morning to the moment you step back inside at the end of the day. (I mean if it does then great, but let’s be a little realistic here). What it means is that you’re aware that you have some control of how things shape around you and that you know how to exert that control to have a better day.

From forming closer relationships with your co-workers to having a challenge-managing plan, Webb’s book provides examples to how your behavior can alter situations that can impact the quality of your day. By making the right decisions and proceeding towards a positive outlook, you’ll realize that you have more control than you thought on how to have a good day.

How do you overcome challenges to have a good day at work? Share your experiences in the comment section below. 🙂

Cheers,

Dinnie and the Zenkit Team