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Workarounds: How to Improve the Quality of Your Job

The first area of focus in order to achieve satisfaction and success in the day-to-day world of work may well be on your own mindset.
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It's no surprise that we are enduring the worst economy of our lifetime. Millions of jobs have been lost, and if you're lucky enough to still be employed, you are probably buried under a mountain of work. Although a lot of jobs vanished, the work did not; instead, those still employed now must do the work of two or even three people.

As you know if you have been following these articles for a while, my focus is on how you can create the life you want rather than the one you settle for. Last week's article asked you to consider the power of one simple question: what could you do that would make a difference that requires no one's permission other than your own? This week, I want to begin taking the discussion into success in the workplace.

The pressure to perform in today's business world is felt everywhere, whether you work in a Fortune 500 enterprise or a small, entrepreneurial startup. Roadblocks abound in businesses large and small, and overwhelming workloads are made even more challenging by time lost in meaningless meetings, misaligned work groups and debilitating processes.

If this sounds familiar, then you may be confronted with increasing frustrations as it takes more and more effort to work around a growing number of roadblocks in order to get even the simplest tasks done. You may also find yourself anywhere between anxious and fearful about the status of your job as you go through the apparently thankless ritual of doing more and more with less and less.

My new book, "Workarounds That Work: How to Conquer Anything That Stands in Your Way at Work," addresses this question in a number of work-related circumstances, ranging from how you overcome overwhelming workloads and meaningless meetings, to uncooperative people, misaligned silos and broken systems. In today's article, I want to address the first and most important step in building a better job, business or work environment. As is almost always the case, the first workaround may well start with your own behavior and mindset.

We all know the drill about making lemonade out of the lemons life hands you. It sounds somewhere between cute and great, depending on what kinds of lemons you wind up with. However, this somewhat prosaic cliché contains an element of power and truth. It has also been said quite differently and even more to the point: it's not what happens to you, it's what you do about it that makes all the difference.

(If you want to see just exactly what this could look like in an amazing, real-life story of lemonade-making, click on the hyperlink above and read about how W. Mitchell overcame a blazing motorcycle accident and a paralyzing plane crash four years later to become a successful businessperson and sought-after motivational speaker.)

The first area of focus in order to achieve satisfaction and success in the day-to-day world of work may well be on your own mindset. As much as you may need to find workarounds that work in order to overcome frustrating processes, difficult people and complex systems, you may first need to work around your own resistance to owning the outcome.

One reader, Donna Corona, wrote this in an e-mail after having read last week's article:

You asked for shared experiences relating to your article. Once I was in a job that had become increasingly miserable. There was no end in sight and it continued to be more frustrating and oppressive as each day progressed. Finally, I decided my options were to quit (which wasn't the best choice) or find a way to set myself free within the framework of the position. I decided to ask myself a few questions and think through the process with the following:

No one is holding a gun to my head to work here. If I really wanted to, I could quit today though it would make for many equally exasperating problems - but still I could do it and find some relief. So since no one is holding me prisoner with a gun, I must be here because I am choosing to be. There must be some pay-off or I wouldn't be here. So if I am choosing to be here I must realize that I am really working for myself and I'm not just a pawn of a company. If I am working for myself and choose to come to this job everyday - how exactly am I working for myself? I am offering services to the people. When I began to view myself as my own boss and not a pawn in a chess game and that I was contributing my services to solve problems for people and I was not responsible for things over which I had no control, I was released from the responsibility for all the frustrations. I was now in charge of my life and I was not letting someone else have all that power over me. It was a very liberating experience and I have maintained that freedom many years later. Thank you for listening. I was so amazed at what a big difference a little talk with myself could make that I have never forgotten it!

Notice that Donna did not say that everything miraculously changed. In fact, the work remained exactly as it had always been. However, Donna's attitude about the work did change. As Donna shifted her mindset about her job, she also found a way to be of greater service to the people with whom she interacted. That service could be extended to fellow employees as well as to customers. The point of the matter here is that by addressing the question of what she could do that would make a difference that required no one's permission other than her own, Donna was able to make her own life better as well as extend a better quality of experience to those with whom she interacts.

Another reader, KempMiller left this comment:

I am a Realtor in a part of the country that has been hit hard by the economic slowdown. This is a perfect time to ask what I can do without permission to improve my situation and that of others. Once I stopped blaming the economy and started formulating a plan to move forward, my outlook changed, I had more energy and my creativity increased. Am I getting rich in terms of $$'s? No. Am I making it day by day and building for the future? A resounding, "Yes"! Can't wait to read the book!

If you could make a positive difference that impacted how you experience your job, would it be worthwhile to make the shift? How might you make work-related lemonade? What could you do to make the experience of work less frustrating and more refreshing? Would it be worth it to you to make this shift?

I would love to hear from you about your ideas and what choices you have that will help you work around whatever stands in your way at work.

I'd love to hear from you. Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at)


If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life and to your job, about a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, please download a free chapter from my book, Workarounds That Work. You'll be glad you did.

Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at)