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How to Find Inspiration at Work

We’ve all had those days… you know the ones. The days where the minute hand of the clock seems to drag on forever and an entire pot of coffee isn’t enough to give you the energy to tackle your to-do list.

Don’t worry, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Your inspiration is somewhere deep inside you just waiting to burst out.

But, in case you wanted to speed up that process a little, here are five tips to help you snap out of it and find the inspiration to get you going:

1. Decorate your work space

One of my first orders of business after starting at my job last year was to decorate my cube. I knew that without adding some color and personality to my space, I’d never make it. Immediately, I headed to a craft store and picked up a few pieces of calming blue scrapbook papers. I hung them and then brought in postcards of Rome and Greece (where I studied abroad in college) to remind me of the amazing summer I spent abroad, and also to inspire me to work hard so that I can travel more. I also printed out the Holstee Manifesto, which reminds me every day to live my best life. If you’re a sucker for motivational quotes and sayings like I am, be sure to check out the Things We Forget blog for post-it sized nuggets of wisdom. Now that I’ve moved into an office, my next plan of attack is to print out my favorite Things We Forget reminders to post on a cork-board.

Jessica’s inspiration board at work (photo blurred to preserve the privacy of her colleagues).

2. Break out the warm-fuzzies

You know those emails that make you smile? That glowing email from the CEO praising your latest newsletter column, or the email from your boss thanking you for your dedication and hard work. When you get those emails, save them in a special folder. I picked up this little trick from author Jenny Blake, after reading and reviewing her book Life After College. Jenny refers to these emails and notes as “Keepers.” Somewhere along the way, I started calling my folder “warm-fuzzies.” When I’m having a particularly stressful or difficult day, I click open the warm-fuzzies file and am quickly reminded of why I love my job, and why I’m good at what I do. Enjoy your warm-fuzzies or keepers, but be sure to only read them when you need them most!

3. Create a killer play list

Music can be pretty powerful when it comes to inspiration. I suggest using the always reliable Pandora for a mix of music or create your own playlist on Grooveshark. And of course, now that Spotify has hit the U.S., many are turning to this tool to check out new music.

4. Turn to your social network

I’m addicted to Twitter and Facebook, and with the launch of Google+, social networking is an important part of my daily schedule. I always find that turning to my social network gets me inspired. So many of the people I follow are doing incredible things on a daily basis, and checking out their Twitter accounts or blogs is usually enough to get me motivated and ready to get working. (FYI: These are a few of my favorite blogs).

5. Take a walk

No seriously, take a walk. I know it’s the most basic advice and you’ve probably heard it a million times, but have you actually tried it? I didn’t until a few weeks ago on a day when my to-do list was a mile long and I was feeling particularly overwhelmed. I brushed off the idea of a walk, because HELLO?! I’m busy. I don’t have time to take a walk! But I decided to give it a try and took a ten-minute spin around the new walking trail behind my office building. That ten minutes of fresh air and Vitamin D definitely did me good. I came back to my desk refreshed and ready to bang out my to-do list the rest of the afternoon.

How do you find inspiration at work?

Jessica Lawlor is a public relations professional in Philadelphia. In her free time, she manages a book review and writing blog and is currently writing a novel.


  1. Anonymous

    Great advice! My Pandora always helps when I’m in a slump. And I especially agree about the walking point; if there’s a particular problem I’m chewing on, getting some fresh air always leads to fresh perspective. Thanks! :)

    • I don’t know what it is about the fresh air, but it definitely does its job!

      I’m not sure what kind of music you like, but the John Mayer Pandora station is my favorite.

  2. Love these tips. Having even just one great picture within eyeshot can do wonders for your mood, and getting up and away from your desk, even for 10 minutes, can change your whole perspective on that snarling email you were about to send or the frustrating co-worker.

  3. Hmm, not so helpful for the grocery store checker, construction worker, or retail clerk. You office workers have it pretty cush, don’t you? Your personal space, the leeway to schedule your own breaks, listening to the music you like, jumping onto the computer for inspiration instead of having a “no cell phones at work” policy, all while making more than minimum wage … take a minute to appreciate it!

    • Jessica Lawlor

      Hi Ellen,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. You’re right; I am absolutely lucky that I am able to do all of these things…but since this is my experience, it’s the only thing I can speak to.

    • Jenna

      I didn’t realize that the grocery store worker, retail clerk or construction worker would be on a site called “Brazen Careerist”. If the advice doesn’t suit you, the look elsewhere. Or create your own site with tips for those people if you see population not represented, instead of posting a comment dumping on it. You can appreciate your work and still feel burned out sometimes. The two ideas aren’t mutually exclusive.

      • Railway Dandy

        Everyone has aspirations, and believe it or not, a lot of people don’t get their dream job right out of college. Many people graduate to find that they work in a liquor store, the mall, or a restaurant. A lot of these people spend their working days dreaming of jobs they actually wouldn’t dread going to, for example, starting their own business. I don’t think it is too far afield to say that “those people” are often probably much like you. It is a crummy economy; not all college graduates have their own space in which to hang their whimsical “inspiration board.”

    • Liz

      Ellen, you’re right but actually these methods can be adopted to a “wage” job as well. I used to work days as an engineer (desk and factory) and nights/weekends as a sales associate in a clothing store (mall). There are so many times when you need escapes in the “wage” environment, riddled with customer service challenges! I just made these above suggestions portable to suit the mall. Had to carry my bit of inspiration with me. We had little foot lockers so we decorated those, and I definitely used a playlist on my breaks. I also found many times that we needed to find sources of “group inspiration” rather than individual ones. Paying a coworker a compliment or giving them a genuine thank you was something needed often to survive upset customers or rushes. I’d also go visit neighboring stores on my breaks and give them a break by being a great customer/visitor (golden rule). Anyway, I like both worlds (wage and salary) and don’t think one is easier than the other. They’re definitely different. I think any job that provides income and well being deserves appreciation. Hope you share your ideas on work inspiration so we can learn. Take care.

  4. This is kind of self-helpish, but seriously, take a breath, look at what you are doing and figure out how you could to it better–faster, more elaborately, better intake, better output. Pausing in the middle of the task to daydream about how else it could be approached lets the creative part of your brain kick in. (Just resist the temptation to start completely over this time around–stay on task and deadline.) In the long run you’ll either come up with the career-moving fix or realize you need to leave and start your own business. At the very least you set yourself up to be a can-do person who really has a focus on the business. To Ellen Ska’s point, I think this works for all professions–this is how clerks become managers and craftsmen become foremen.

      • In the mornining, it’s typically caffiene.

        During the day, I typically rely on momentum, which is why I’m not a big fan of breaks…takes too long to get back up to speed. If I take a 15 minute break, 1)it’s tough to keep it to 15, tends to be 20 and 2)I only get an hours worth of work done in the next 90 minutes.

        At the end of the day, it is the sheer force of wanting to go home.

  5. No.5 Is top on my list. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve sat at my desk trying to figure out a problem or being a bit bored. A quick walk (or any time away from the desk) usually does wonders for my problem solving skills and or motivation! Great post!

  6. I love Chris Guillebeau’s blog. So inspirational. And if I ever have a cubical, I’m definitely using the inspiration board idea. I do that all the time on posterboard and tack it to my wall in my townhouse. Also love the Keepers email folder. Brilliant!

  7. Pghgal

    Another use for the keeper file – job interviews. Seriously! I have pulled the “thank you” type notes out and put together a small portfolio for the decision-maker. It’s a great substitute for a reference from a current employer!

  8. Rusty

    Totally agree with #3. When I am designing, I like turning on my Jack Johnson Pandora mix. When writing or strategizing I go for as mellow as possible, Enya, new age and such. I also like browsing other people’s work to spark an idea. I work with a lot of dentists on their dental marketing, so sometimes you hit a wall when it comes to creativity within a professional niche and seeing fresh looks definitely helps. Dental CMO — Dental Marketing

  9. Mar24g

    I redirect my mindset and continue the task at hand. If possible, listen to my IPOD/MP3; take a break (short walk, exercise or stretch). Chat with a buddy or have a snack or liquid beverage. I especially like the aromatherapy break (peppermint/lavendar/jasmine) when wokring at home. Important is to recharge, redirect and focus.

  10. Ref

    I’m ok with the first idea. My work space is decorated, it’s better to work fine !
    I’m not agree to visit our social networks. It takes time and time is money :p

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  13. What about changing jobs. Sometimes, you’ll find yourself in a position that it simply impossible to get inspired about. You can stick up a hundred motivational posters, it won’t change a thing if you truly hate your job.

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