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4 Tricks to Sharpen Your Mind for the Best Workday Ever

Jun. 23, 2015 Wired

Eyelids open; flowers blossom; tiny beaks tap cracks in eggshells; crops sprout; creatures stalk, slide, and wriggle from their burrows; teenage elk scrape hooves in the dust, lower antlers, and charge their com­petition. So: Did you—yes, you, clutching your fourth Keurig of the day and still feeling sluggish—really think you were immune to the effects of circadian rhythm, aka the clock cycle of practically all living things? Please.

The master controllers of your internal chrono­meter are two tiny clusters of neurons called the supra­chiasmatic nuclei, located behind your eyeballs in the hypothalamus. This area of the brain helps regulate the chemical factors that determine whether you feel droopy or perky. Here’s how to synchronize your activities with your hormone levels. —JAMES MCGIRK

“Work,” Studs Terkel once wrote, “is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread … for a sort of life rather than a Monday-through-Friday sort of dying.” So what makes some jobs soul-stirring and others soul-sucking? In the last several decades, scientists have explored that question with laboratory experiments, field studies, and big data. Their research offers five crucial lessons that apply Monday through Friday and beyond. —DANIEL H. PINK

Make Progress
Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile and her husband, psychologist Steven Kramer, collected nearly 12,000 daily diary entries from 238 employees at seven companies to try to discover what constitutes a great day on the job. Their surprise finding? The single greatest day-to-day motivator—by far—was making “progress in meaningful work.” On days when people made headway—whether on fixing up Buicks or stitching up bodies—their motivation and performance soared. The lesson: Relentlessly gather feedback on how you’re progressing and celebrate progress at every turn.

Make It Your Own
Think about your job descrip­tion. Now forget about it. Fulfillment often depends on pushing outside your formal responsibilities—a process Yale School of Management’s Amy Wrzesniewski calls job crafting. In studies of hospital janitors, salespeople, and others, she and her colleagues found that the happiest people customized their jobs, often without the permission of their bosses, “to better fit their motives, strengths, and passions.” Some of what gets done each day isn’t “part of my work,” one job-crafting janitor explained, “but it’s part of me.”

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