How to Survive the 9-5 in the Office or at Home

When I took the standard 9-5 desk job at the start of last summer, I felt the negative effects after only a few short weeks. I’m not talking about learning to communicate with new coworkers or navigating a new environment; I found myself tired—almost lethargic. I had no energy, couldn’t focus throughout the day, and felt like crap. After some reflection on my previous desk jobs, some research, and a few good reads through some Harvard Business Journal articles, I found ways to improve my day overall. Then when I made the shift to working from home, more challenges arose, but after more reflection, I again figured out what’s best for me. My goal is to not only have a productive work day, but positively improve my physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing.

Make your bed.

I mentioned in an earlier blog post how much I hate making my bed in the morning. But it is an easy win to start the day and will make you feel productive. Completing a simple task can put you in a more positive frame of mind and jump start your day. Plus, it will give your room the appearance of being more organized when you return later.

Making my bed became even more crucial after I started working from home. I found it all too easy to pull my laptop into bed with me and stay there well past morning–which doesn’t make for the best work environment. Now I try to quickly make the bed as soon as possible (even if it’s a little messy) to encourage me to sit at my desk.

Don’t skip breakfast.

I’m not a morning person (also probably why I dislike making my bed), so I try to minimize my morning routine as much as possible. This used to mean skipping breakfast, but I can’t do it. I don’t sit down to a full platter of eggs, bacon, and pancakes everyday, but I make sure to provide my body something nutritious: a couple scrambled eggs, a banana, some toast. Some people don’t like to eat as soon as they wake up, which is fine. As long as you have something in your system—other than coffee—within a few hours, you’re good.

Take regular breaks.

One of my previous managers set a desktop reminder every 60 minutes for him to take a walk. At the sound of his alarm, he’d leave his desk, do a lap around the office floor, and return to work (this was pre-FitBit craze). On average, you should give yourself a brief break every hour and a half to two hours. Take a walk down the hall or step outside for a minute. Believe it or not, this simple act will renew your body’s energy sources.

Rest your eyes.

Unfortunately I don’t mean taking a nap (unless your office has a nap room or you work from home and have the luxury of using your lunch break for this purpose). Your eyes do need a break from staring at your computer screen all day. The section above is a good practice for this, but there’s more you can do. If there’s any work you can do involving pen and paper, do it. It might not be as efficient, but if you can spare yourself a few extra minutes it’s worth it. Working from home I sometimes have the misimpression that if my eyes aren’t glued to my screen, then I’m not working. Obviously this is wrong, and I’ve discovered a few tasks that are still productive but don’t involve looking at a screen.

Since screens dictate our lives, I try to give myself a break before/after work by not looking too much at my phone–which is difficult. I also try to cut out my laptop use on weekends by picking one day to completely restrict its use. Knowingly, constant screen use can be damaging to our eyes. Last year I noticed my eyes not focusing and seeing blurry screens by the later half of the week. Even though nothing is “wrong” with my eyes when it comes to seeing things close to me, my doctor explained my eyes were most likely worn out from looking at screens 40 hours a week, suggesting I wear my glasses (usually only used for driving at night and seeing far away) whenever I’m looking at a screen for multiple hours. I followed his advice and noticed a difference right away.  Alternating resting your eyes and taking regular breaks is a great way to break up your work day, and can make your mind think time is moving faster.

Snack time is for adults too.

When you eat smaller meals throughout your day, you’re more likely to avoid highs and lows. This means your energy levels are up and consistent all day long. If you’re providing yourself a quick breakfast and a decent lunch, it’s not a bad idea to give yourself an afternoon snack. Trail mix is my favorite and sits in a container right on my desk (try to avoid ones mixed with too much candy as that negates your efforts).

Exercise regularly.

Sitting all day is not good for your body, and the only way to combat that is with exercising a few times a week. A couple walks throughout the day are good to keep you energized, but overall a regular exercise routine is optimal. This will potentially reduce any negative affects from inactivity at work, as well as increasing your sleep quality, lessening stress levels, and lower your risk of certain diseases, like type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

Don’t bring home your work.

Sometimes it’s necessary to put in extra hours or do a little at-home work to catch up, everyone understands that. In this case, I’m talking about negative workplace emotions. If you have a bad day at work, certainly come home and vent about it to your significant other, cat, plant, whoever or whatever will listen. But don’t let it consume you. Constant complaining can further ruin your mood and the rest of your night. Set yourself a time limit and that’s all the time you can spend dwelling on those negative feelings. Don’t feel forced to talk about it either. It’s okay to remain quiet on certain issues and not share. Even try focusing on the good things that happened throughout the day. Sharing something positive with someone who cares is always a way to improve your mood.

Everyone has different ways of living a balanced life, and it’s all dependent upon your work habits and environment. While, this isn’t “The Solution” for everyone, it’s a way to get you thinking about how you spend your time at work and if you could benefit from changing your routine.

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