Years ago I had a job that was seriously driving me crazy. I awoke each weekday morning already disappointed about having to spend 8 hours (make that 10 hours on most days) doing work that I didn’t have an interest in, or that I felt was a waste of my valuable time. I felt sluggish in my office while I trudged through work that I found tedious and unchallenging, and depressed by the time I got home, where I drowned my frustrations in a glass of wine (or two, depending on the day). What was causing me to feel this way, and in fact, what leads lots of people to feel unsatisfied and frustrated at work? (That’s the subject of a later article, so stay tuned). The question to answer here is, how do you prevent yourself from going completely batty at work?
In my case, my main problem was that I felt like I was losing my mind in a job I didn’t like, and was desperate for all the help I could get to help me survive it. I wish I had known then what I know now. What I’ve learned over the years, through my own experiences and by observing and helping others, are some sure-fire ways to keep your sanity at work, and maximize productivity at the same time.
1 – Organize Your Time and Value Every Minute
The first way to keep your sanity at work is to try organizing the time in your workday so that every minute counts. Sometimes I am woefully ashamed to admit that I have kept my daily tasks and to-do lists organized in a daily journal since I was a freshman in high school. However, I am proud to say that organizing my time and planning out my tasks for the day in this way has helped me to stay productive throughout my professional life, and I highly recommend it.
Sometimes just having a plan, whether you execute it perfectly or not, can alleviate the stress that you might be feeling at the beginning of a work day. It keeps you focused, and helps you prioritize the things in your head that need to get done. So when Sally next door pops her head into your office and drops a bombshell corporate announcement that you know will require some action on your part, you already have a mental image of what you had planned for the day, or week, and how this new task might fit in.
2 – Identify Your Optimum Work Style
Another thing that will help you keep your cool at work is to determine if you work best by multitasking or by focusing on one thing at a time. Knowing your work style and how it impacts your productivity is something that each of us has to learn, hopefully early, in our professional lives. Some people work best when they can focus on one task or project at a time, and get flustered and ornery when they’re interrupted or asked to stop and focus on something else. Others happily grind away at several projects at once, working on each a little at a time, and get bored if there’s not enough variety in their work day. Figure out what works best for you, and then try to organize each day so that you can work in a way that’s less likely to get you all flustered. If you feel yourself moving in the opposite direction, then take a step back and refocus yourself to stay on a productivity track that matches your work style.
3 – Relax and Reward Yourself
Speaking of taking a step back and refocusing, there’s nothing like a good old-fashioned break to help you transition from one project to the next, almost as a mini-award for a job well done. I’m not talking about the long-ago popular fifteen minute morning and afternoon breaks from days of workplace yore, but other types of breaks that you can tailor according to your personal interests. By taking small breaks that help you regenerate your mind in between finishing one task or project and starting the next one, you will do wonders for your psyche and your productivity. Some of the ways you can do this: 1) spend a couple minutes surfing the internet – check out CNN or Bloomberg to find out what’s going on in the world, or read the latest company newsletter to catch up on new hires or who got promoted; 2) phone or email a friend, and catch up with a brief chat about plans for Friday night; 3) take a walk around your office and visit a co-worker to complement their support on a project you worked on together, or take a walk outside and breathe in some fresh air; 4) take a few minutes doing a mini-meditation somewhere quiet, and then get a refill of green tea or ice water. Whatever you do, ignore the conventional wisdom that says it’s a no-no to engage in ‘non-work’ activities at work. Make sure that you’re not abusing company policy or engaging in activities that take more than a few minutes to complete. But if doing any of these things, within reason, each day helps you boost your productivity and feel more calm and in control of your day and your time, go for it. A workday without time to reflect and re-engage is for drones and computers. A carefully planned day with time to take stock of what you’ve accomplished and what lies ahead, is for smart professionals that have learned how to make every minute count.
4 – Talk It Out
The fourth way to keep your sanity at work is to communicate, communicate, and communicate. Have a quick laugh with the co-worker who’s always got a joke up his sleeve. Walk around the office to see your boss or a co-worker you respect, and lightheartedly tell him or her that you’re stressed and need a 5-minute mental health break. Without complaining, honestly share your frustrations and maybe even ask for advice. Everyone has work frustrations, and sometimes the most unexpected sympathizers can be your best supporters when times get tough.
5 – Call It a Day
Finally, when the day has passed beyond the point of being bearable and you feel like you just can’t take it anymore, go home. Don’t leave so early that you appear wimpy, but when it gets to be a reasonable hour, just leave. Leave the office and all of your frustrations there. The moment you exit the building, accept that the day is done and tomorrow you can try again. Sometimes we all need to remind ourselves that there is a limit to how much can be done in one day, and then the mind needs to rest.
Years after I left that job I swore was driving me crazy, I found that if I could muster the strength to remind myself every now and then how good I was, how truly capable of success I was when I maximized the use of my time, then soon I learned to close my eyes, breathe in deeply, and let the insanity drift away (until tomorrow).
by Melanie Haniph