Feeling unchallenged by your job? Maybe you haven’t learned anything new lately or your work has become stale and repetitive. Or maybe your career hasn’t evolved or your job doesn’t involve the types of projects and ambition you hoped it would. You may or may not have gone to your boss to talk about it (you should!), but it’s always an option to take on your own development when your employer isn’t doing so with you.
Whatever the cause, there are some great ways to challenge yourself when your job just doesn’t cut it. Here are a few great ways to start.
Create stretch goals for yourself
A stretch goal is one that is seemingly out of reach, but not outside the realm of possibility. A stretch goal is designed to challenge your conception of how much you can accomplish in a given amount of time or with a given amount of resources, whether it’s a day, a week, or a month. Setting stretch goals for yourself is a great way to get out of your monotonous routine and pump some life back into your workday.
An easy way to start setting stretch goals is on a project-by-project basis. Think about a project you’re working on - does it have a set deadline? Do you have specific weekly or monthly goals to hit based on your manager’s expectations? Take that deadline and those timed goals and consider how long it could actually take you to get everything done if you put in 110% effort. Set new goals for yourself based on that calculation. Try to get done what you’re expected to do in a week in 3 days, or finish what you’re required to finish in a month in 2 weeks.
You’ll be challenging yourself to hustle every day. It’ll drive you to work hard and avoid distractions and procrastination. You’ll find yourself actually enjoying your work as you compete against yourself and your own conception of how much you’re capable of doing.
Participate in someone else's project
Finding you have a ton of free time on your hands because you can get your day’s work done in a few hours? That’s no reason to sit at your desk and twiddle your thumbs. If you truly care about improving your career or the company you work for or its mission, getting involved with others is an ideal use of your time.
Other co-workers on your team might be able to take special advantage of your skills or might be struggling or behind. Participate in projects that you’re not assigned to by offering your assistance. Even if someone just needs to talk through an issue with you, bringing a fresh perspective can be a great way to help others in your company succeed. It also lets you get a more comprehensive view of the organization and will likely enable you to be better at your own job.
Have a side project outside of work
Your 9am-5pm job isn’t the be-all and end-all of your professional life. Not satisfied with what’s going on in your office? It might be time to start your own side project. There are many ways for you to challenge yourself outside your day job.
Take a leaf out of the page of software developers. Many developers get home and work on their own side projects, such as ideas for apps, personal websites, or freelance development for small businesses. They also attend events like hackathons where they’re challenged to conceive of and develop an application or website in a 24 hour time period, collaborating with and competing against other developers.
Start blogging, contribute your skills as a freelancer, start your own side business, ors, volunteer your time to non-profits and other organizations that need it. The things you do don’t have to make you money. They just have to make you happy and advance your professional learning.
Make a game out of your tasks
Got plenty of work but just aren’t having fun doing it? Gamify your work!
Apps like Duolingo and Fitocracy use gamification to make repetitive and habitual tasks more fun. Duolingo is a language learning app that gives you experience points (XP), allows you to level up, and rewards tokens to spend on cosmetic enhancements and bonus lessons, driving you to return each day and keep learning a new language. Fitocracy allows you to complete fitness challenges and get props from their community and your friends.
Take the principles of gamification used by these apps and apply them to your work. Set chunks of tasks and assign rewards for each chunk that you complete. The reward can be anything from an ice cold beer after work to a more complicated points and leveling system.
For example, for each chunk of tasks you complete in a given day, you can reward yourself 100XP. To level up to level 2, you have to gain 500XP, and once you do, you can reward yourself with a slice of cheesecake or a movie ticket. Leveling up from level 2 to level 3 should be harder, and the reward should be better.
Make yourself a spreadsheet, begin tracking your tasks, XP, and levels, and make a fun and rewarding game out of your everyday work. You’ll begin to really enjoy the challenge.
Your job doesn’t have to feel miserable. Your work doesn’t have to feel monotonous. All it takes is a bit of effort and creative thinking, and you can get yourself back on track, improving your career, and enjoying life.