10/18/2012 04:33 pm ET Updated Dec 18, 2012

Vote With Your Feet to Be Happy at Work

As I get older I am a lot less tolerant about wasting my time, including at work.

When an event is not meeting my expectations I "vote with my feet" as quickly as I politely can. I leave the room. I hang up the phone. I shut off the webcast.

I know many of you are thinking: "I can't walk out of my boss's meeting." You're right. There's always some degree of obligation or politeness or even apathy that keeps your feet nailed to the floor, preventing you from leaving right that minute. I accept that there will be times of misery and mediocrity beyond my control -- being happy at work doesn't mean being happy every single minute. When this happens, I soothe my frustrated inner child, clamoring to be entertained, by climbing a logic tree:

Does nearly everyone else at this event look (or sound) as miserable as I am?

If yes, will the event continue for at least 30 minutes more and is there something I can do to improve the event?

If no, I tough it out and start daydreaming about my next meal. (I also silently whine a little; all food goes better with wine.)

As you can imagine, the best way to prevent this mental tree climbing is to avoid the situation in the first place. I have a checklist I use to determine if I should attend voluntary events:

  • Do I know why I am going?
  • Do I know what I will get out of it?
  • Do I want to spend time with the people who are attending?
  • Is this event tied to one of my priorities?
  • Do I think the time I invest in this event be worth it?

If I answer "yes" to three of these questions, then off I go. If not, I don't go. This is also a great way for me to determine if an event is voluntary: if I have less than three yeses and I feel compelled to go, then I am most likely attending a obligatory event.

And, while I occasionally like playing the victim as much as the next person, it occurred to me as I wrote this blog that I, too, can be a source of misery. Are my meetings boring? Do I babble on the phone, forcing the corresponding party to pretend to be in the car driving through a tunnel to be able to cut the call short? Am I standing around waiting to be entertained instead of being entertaining myself?

You see, if I give myself permission to vote with my feet then the opposite is true: People in contact with me can vote with their feet too. I have to raise my game. I have to ensure that every event I host is worth the time people trade for it. I ask myself as I prepare for an event: Have I earned an hour of your time? Did I put my best effort into this event? Did you think it was worthwhile, or were you longingly hoping it would end early? I understand that we all can't do our very best every minute, but if I am asking for your time, then I owe it to you to try my best. If not, I encourage you to vote.