I Was Having a Really Shitty Day. Here’s the Simple Trick I Used to Turn it Around

Have you ever had one of those days where everything is going wrong?

I’m sure you’ve been there.

It’s one of those days where the work you completed weeks ago seems to have magically vanished from your computer. Your website crashes. You realize that the incredibly important email you “sent” last week is still sitting in your drafts folder, unsent. Then you find out that one of your projects is running behind schedule.

This just happened to me the other day.

It was just one of those days where nothing went right. Everything that could go wrong seemed to, indeed, be going wrong (thanks a lot, Murphy).

Technology wasn’t cooperating–I couldn’t get some basic functionality on our site fixed and working properly. But even worse, I had a bunch of pending tasks I was working on that I couldn’t complete until I figured out the tech issues.

I was having a shitty day.

It was frustrating. Everything I tried seemed to fail and I was losing faith. I was about ready to just walk away and call the entire day a loss.

After spending a few hours running into walls and feeling frustrated, tired, and defeated, I decided to refocus my energy. I went back to the calendar and my task list to see what other items were pending.

That’s when it hit me.

For months, I had one task on my to-do list that kept getting pushed back.

I wanted to research and formalize a reward system for our team. They do amazing work every day and I always try my best to acknowledge it. But, I wanted to do more to show them how much I appreciate their work.

What I needed to figure out was some kind of reward mechanism where I could provide micro-bonuses to people for doing an excellent job.

But, I had put it off. And off. And off again.

Like many other business owners, I often feel overwhelmed by a list of pending tasks and projects that’s a mile long. And as soon as I dig myself out of the backlog, I turn around to find that there’s a another pile of work waiting for me to do.

Because of this, many things–even really important things, like rewarding my team–can often get pushed to the back burner.

I could tackle this project for employee rewards, but I still have those 2 proposals to send, client research to do, and that blog post I’ve been meaning to write for the last 3 weeks.

But, at this moment in time, I realized something.

It occurred to me that not only did I need to do a better job of prioritizing things that matters for my team’s happiness, but that focusing on improving their lives and creating a better work environment is something that I can do to relieve some of the stress and frustration that comes when nothing else seems to be working out.

Although I had been angry and frustrated for the entire day, as soon as I turned my attention to our people and trying to improve their lives, everything turned around.

My shitty day got a lot better.

For the first time all day, I actually felt like I was accomplishing something worthwhile.

This small thing–and, admittedly, it’s very small in the scale of possible reward programs–felt like a huge deal to me. And I felt like the team appreciated it as well.

For such a small investment in time and money, I felt like I was unlocking huge returns. One of the really core elements of Optimist is about treating people like they matter–”be human”, as our ethos says.

That means that when technology sucks or processes break down, we have to find the humanity in it all. We’ve got to find the part that matters more than anything and then put energy toward that.

The simple trick that I learned to turn around my shitty day was to take time to remember this and then focus not on the minutiae of day-to-day tasks, but think bigger about how to make people feel better.

By helping other people, I was also helping myself.

Focus on the people

As a manager, CEO, or founder, our job is to give people the right environment to do their best work.

That can take a lot of forms. But, I am a firm believer in the power of small gestures, recognition, and reward. Our company can’t afford to give out lavish bonuses or big-ticket gifts. But, when someone does a great job, I want them to do know that I appreciate their time and effort.

If nothing else, I can tell them thanks and buy them a beer–or a taco.

Being a remote team, that’s a bit difficult. I can’t literally take people out to reward them for work well done or order lunch for the office to celebrate a big win.

But, I’ve found what I think is the second best thing.

It’s an app for Slack called HeyTaco!.

The Optimist HeyTaco! leaderboard

Our team has actually been using it for some time as a symbolic high-five for work well done. But we hadn’t really embraced it as a matter of process.

This week, I changed that. I created our first real reward. I gave members of the team the option to redeem their tacos for a gift card of their choice (hopefully for real, delicious tacos!)

So, that means that every time someone does a great job on a project, I can send a taco their way and it’s like a tiny financial bonus. It’s not a million dollars, but I hope that it shows that I care enough to reward them for their work.

I read a lot of bullshit on the internet about “hustling” and working 100-hour weeks to build a business. But, I’m not that kind of leader. I work hard, but I rely on surrounding myself with other smart, talented people to make things work.

So, to me, one of the best ways I can spend my time is not killing myself to write 50 blog posts a week. It’s investing in the people that make the business work and finding ways to help them feel good about the work they’re doing.

That’s how I regain my energy and keep myself focused on what really matters.

When I’m having a shitty day, I want to make someone else’s day a bit brighter.

Focusing on people took me out of the funk I was in and gave me a sense of accomplishment and pride that I was doing something to help someone else.

And, when it comes right down to it, that’s what really matters the most.

Quick note about the Agency Journal:

When I first created this agency journal section on our website, I had big plans to lay out a fully transparent look behind the curtain of our organization.

Unfortunately, I’ve fallen behind on that goal (remember that post I had been meaning to write for weeks, that I mentioned up above?) We’ve had some great successes along with our fair share of setbacks. But things are going well. We’re continuing to grow and learn new things every day and we are still on track to achieve our goal of building a $1 million agency. It may not happen exactly within 1 year, but I feel confident that we will get there in the coming months.

I am planning to get back to this section of the site and do a better job of posting regular updates.

If you’d like to sign up to see how things are going, use the form below. I won’t send every entry here to our full email list. So, even if you’re already a subscriber, sign up there to make sure that you get all of the Agency Journal updates in the future.

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Tyler Hakes

Tyler is the strategy director and principal at Optimist. He's been helping helping startups, agencies, and corporate clients achieve growth through strategic content marketing and SEO for over ten years. These days it's hard to find him anywhere as he nomads around the globe, but when you do, he's probably iterating on research strategies to better serve Optimist clients.