9 Oddly Therapeutic Work Habits To Make Your 9-5 Suck Less
Are you hiding from your front-of-house manager in the service kitchen, hate-scrolling through your ex’s Instagram? Or hunched inside your cubicle, staring longingly at a pair of sweet kicks on Zappos.com, toggling back to your work email tab every time the boss walks by? Plastered to your bed, ignoring your alarm clock, wondering: How the hell am I going to get through another day of this job without pulling my hair out?
Cool. I got your back. Here are nine ways I got myself out the door, reporting for duty during work doldrums and lackluster gigs.
1. Dress up.
The psychological benefit of wearing real clothes — that you enjoy walking around in, that fit in with your personal aesthetic and identity, that make you feel professional and sleek — is inestimable. When I worked office jobs, that meant dropping a few bucks at Goodwill to get a brand-name pencil skirt for just $7-$15 (instead of the original retail price, usually $80+ for quality cuts). When I worked service jobs that required a food-safe, utilitarian, primary-colored “dress code” or uniform, that meant choosing a favorite pair of earrings and stylish shoes for the walk to work (my sneakers awaited me in my locker once I arrived). I felt worthy of professional treatment (and more equipped to handle challenges at my job) when I made an effort to look the part and take care of my comfort and preferences.
2. Turn off social media.
It’s tempting to check Twitter or Facebook or Snapchat when you’re waiting on Table 5 to finish their goddamn Mud Pie and call for the check, or you’re slogging through emails during that 4pm slump at your desk. The escapist thrill of reading your friends’ sarcastic comments about Pokémon Go feels, at first, like a welcome reprieve from work. But I’ve found that a long, pessimistic list of “why me” and “why not” and “never” and “when I quit…” fantasies will follow fast in tow. Broad City’s glittering Twitter feed and your bestie’s charming posts from her comical family reunion at the lake are a guaranteed recipe for resenting the Here and Now (that is, your job). Turn your phone off, slam out some work, and indulge in these social media exploits from the safety of your own free time, when ~dreaming of a better tomorrow~ feels feasible, not defeatist.
3. Set up your text lifeline, and treat it like one.
You know that charming best friend I just mentioned, who’s live-Tweeting her drunk uncle’s escapades at Lake Winne-whatever-mago? Her impersonal or generalized social media posts might be FOMO fodder, but a individual text lifeline is another story entirely. Having someone on the other end of the horn (preferably, a nonjudgmental friend who’s also — at some point — struggled through an unfulfilling job and understands your plight) is key for those days when your boss yells at you, work is piling up with no end in sight, and your daily tasks seem more repetitive and meaningless than ever. She’ll listen. She’ll remind you of your worth as a human being, outside of work. She’ll rustle up an old inside joke that makes you laugh in spite of yourself. She’ll tell you to take a long bath when you get home. She’ll trade a similar story of defeat that puts your own distress into perspective (“I’m not the only one!”). Just remember: lifelines should be treated as a precious resource. Use yours sparingly, in times of true need for support. In other words: don’t flood your friend’s phone with one-off FMLs everyday, on the hour; that’ll distract you from your job (see #2), and drive your friend crazy.
4. Get that playlist going.
If you’re at a service job and the floor manager is in charge of managing the station that blares over the speaker system, put in a respectful request (I fell in love with Lorde’s “Love Club” while working as a cheesemonger, thanks to a friend’s astute suggestions to our boss). If you’re at a desk…pull up that Spotify “Discover” playlist and plug in your earbuds. Music is a free, noninvasive, personalized way to restore your sense of gratitude and motivation when you find yourself boxed in by drab or predictable surroundings. Best of all, it won’t distract you from your work, the way that social media will.
5. Take lunch outside the building…with a coworker.
The times I’ve felt most listless, unhappy, isolated at work were the times that I didn’t establish or foster (platonic, professional) relationships with my coworkers. There’s a strong possibility that, if you’re feeling cut off and forlorn at your job, there are other interesting, amiable employees who feel the same way. There’s a quick, mutually-beneficial fix to this predicament: send a quick email to a group of two or three coworkers in the morning and ask if they’d like to grab lunch together in the afternoon. You might have to push through some timid small-talk before people begin sharing helpful tips about work or funny stories from their weekend, but — when you pass them in the hall the next day and feel truly comfortable waving and asking “how are you?” as a genuine questions — it’ll be worth it. If you’re working a service job with a brief, scheduled lunch break, do whatever you can to take that break away from the restaurant or workspace (I packed my lunches the night before, stowed them in my locker, and power-walked a few blocks away from my shop to eat outdoors).
6. Walk around, speak in-person.
In moderation, of course. Be respectful of the general work culture and your coworkers’ preferred means of communication (maybe Bill only wants to go over the agenda via chat or email, because he’s juggling five different tasks today), but also experiment with…HUMAN CONTACT. Get up from your desk every hour or so (avoid those blood clots!) and take a turn around the hall, go to the bathroom, or get a glass of water. Not only will the newly-pumping blood help with your productivity, but moving through the office might bring you into contact with your supervisors (a chance to speak in-person about your interest in a project) or coworkers (“Want to grab lunch later today?”). I guarantee you that human contact will help the day will seem shorter and less punishing.
7. After work, do the opposite of what you did all day.
If you sat in a cubicle, emailed for eight hours, and never once used your voice to communicate, get outside; call up a friend (or your mom) while take a walk through a busy part of town. Go to the gym and make a point of chatting with the lady at the help desk; do some errands on your way home from the office and strike up a brief conversation with the dude at the register or the lady in line for checkout. If you were on your feet all day, working a service or customer representative job, find a place where you can sit and breathe peacefully in silence. Read a book, cook yourself a nice dish (without listening to music or podcasts), or meditate to release all the assholery you dealt with today and quiet your mind.
8. Don’t use Happy Hour as a cure-all.
Everyone once and a while, taking advantage of the $4 draft beer at your local bar is a fun, affordable way to kick back, blow off steam, and laugh the day off with your buddies. But if you find yourself living for that happy hour — or drinking is your only social outlet outside of work — pump the breaks. The road to AA is paved with happy hour price tags. This is especially true if the restaurant you serve in has a bar with employee discounts (or the bartender tends to pour you one, or several, “on the house.”) I’ve seen a few friends of mine — especially those in the restaurant business — run themselves into serious trouble with an after-work habit that began innocently. Drinking won’t make your job any less boring; no matter how hungover you are, your tasks will be waiting for you in the morning (and they’ll feel even more insurmountable if you try to tackle them while hungover).
9. Schedule your weekends ahead of time.
Your weekend (or off-shift day) fun is the carrot you can dangle in front of yourself throughout a dismal work week. The more concrete and active your plans are, the better: buy tickets in advance for a show, set the itinerary and trail for your day hike, coordinate your ride to the beach, invite friends for dinner and make a grocery list. That way, when you leave work feeling exhausted yet unfulfilled, you’ll have a timeline to hold yourself to (no backing out on hosting that dinner, because five people are coming!). These plans will be your light at the end of the tunnel, your reminder that You Are Not Your Job. The extra planning and effort of pre-planning your weekend can feel overwhelming when work is kicking your butt; trust me, the emails and grocery lists will be worth it, once the weekend finally rolls around. Plus, afterglow of your adventures will give you courage as you start the next work day.
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