Jobs and the Future of Work

When to leave your job, according to two Stanford academics

Share trader Thomas Holler  reacts on share price development on the trading floor of the Frankfurt stock exchange, October 8, 2008.  European shares plunged more than 7 percent to five-year lows in morning trade on Wednesday, with the deepening financial crisis sending jitters into the market that sector rescue packages failed to calm.       REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach  (GERMANY) - RTX9BSN

The authors recommend keeping the journal for three weeks. Image: REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

Shana Lebowitz
Strategy Reporter, Business Insider
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Future of Work

Life is too short to stay in a job you hate. It's also way too short to jump ship at the first new opportunity, only to realize that you hate the new gig even more.

You could theoretically deal with this situation by never taking a risk professionally. Or, you could take a calculated risk after you engage in some careful introspection — specifically by figuring out what it is that you detest most and least about your current work.

That second option is called the "Good Time Journal," and its creators are Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, authors of the new book "Designing Your Life."

Burnett is the executive director of the design program at Stanford University and Evans is an adjunct lecturer in the product design program at Stanford; together they teach a Stanford course by the same name as the book.

The idea behind both the course and the book is to help people use the principles of design thinking — a strategy for improving on a product or experience, like a lightbulb or online dating — more broadly. The goal is to take control over your personal and professional lives so that you're a happy, fulfilled person.

When Burnett and Evans visited the Business Insider office in September, they said they don't have hard data on how often people leave jobs "prematurely," before they've gotten to the bottom of what exactly made the job so horrible. But they suspect it's a relatively frequent occurrence.

The Good Time Journal, which the authors describe in the book, is designed to prevent that kind of premature departure.

The first component of the journal is the activity log (you can see a blank copy on the Designing Your Life website), where you list your primary activities and how engaged and energized you were while doing them. The second component is reflection, which involves reviewing your activity log and noticing any patterns or surprises.

The authors recommend keeping the journal for three weeks.

During our interview, Evans shared an example of a civil engineer he and Burnett worked with who was miserable at his job and assumed he hated civil engineering generally. But after keeping a Good Time Journal, he realized he in fact loved the engineering portion of his job, in which he got to work on hard problems on his own. What he didn't like was all the "people stuff" and administrative tasks.

He enrolled in a doctoral program so that he could apply to a company where engineers did the kind of work he loved, and ended up getting hired by that kind of company before he even finished the program.

Interestingly, Burnett and Evans argue that you don't necessarily have to look for a new role — it's possible to turn a job you hate into a job you love.

Evans shared an example of a woman they worked with who believed she was stuck in her job. After keeping a Good Time Journal, the woman created an Energy Engagement Map, or an outline of activities that gave her energy and drained it.

She shared the map with a colleague, who asked her why she didn't simply stop doing the draining tasks. She did; apparently none of her other coworkers noticed that she'd cut out half her previous responsibilities; and she was much happier.

Obviously, the authors acknowledge that eliminating unfavorable tasks won't be possible for everyone in every role.

But the woman's experience is a nice example of job crafting, a term coined by the psychologist Amy Wrzesniewski to describe the process of molding your job to become more meaningful. Research suggests that employees who engage in job crafting are happier and perform better than their coworkers who don't.

Ultimately, it's about choosing the most practical path to happiness and fulfillment.

"Before you leap out the window, you want to look around," Evans said. "Are you sure you can't be happier where you are? And not because we think where you are's a better place. But it's just cheaper; it's just easier to get there."

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