It’s long past 6pm and you’re still sitting at your desk, pouring over reports and notes from an earlier meeting. Your caffeine pick-me-up has long faded and you are finally considering leaving for the day, only to look up and find that at least half of your co-workers are still firmly glued to their own chairs.
You resign yourself to another couple of hours of work before you head home, crash on the couch and get up and do it all over the next day. Sound familiar? This cycle of overwork is far too common, and often it creeps up on us before we realize it. You may work for a company that values a great deal of face time, to the point of creating an atmosphere where hours on the job are more highly valued than actual productivity.
You may be a part of a team that thrives on the adrenaline rush of trying to finish a project at the last minute to meet an important deadline. Or you may have gone with the flow early on in your job, and now find yourself surrounded by colleagues who routinely send emails at all hours and expect you to make yourself available around the clock as well.
These situations result when there is no clear alignment between your values and the expectations of your boss or colleagues, leading to undue stress and diminished productivity. Over time, the constant stress will negatively impact your health, relationships and reduce your overall quality of life.
The good news is there are ways that can help you regain control of your time, tipping the balance in favor of a more manageable work environment which sets you up for maximum productivity.
Here are the five simple steps:
1. Set boundaries
You don’t have to make a broad announcement to your whole office that you will no longer answer emails in the evenings for them to get the picture that work is no longer going to follow you home. Write down how you envision your workday to get a clear idea of what is most important to you and then start turning your vision into a reality.
Be polite but firm when someone asks (or demands) more of your time or energy than you are willing to give (say by asking you to put together a few slides for tomorrow’s presentation at 11pm). It may take time, and there may be some pushback, but eventually the people around you will realize that your time is valuable and that you will expect them to treat it as such (or compensate you adequately for what it’s worth).
“I encourage people to remember that “No” is a complete sentence.” – Gavin de Becker
2. Compare yourself less
Every workplace has someone who boasts about how late they stayed, or how many hours they’re working (how many of those are spent watching YouTube is another story). Competing with someone who keeps this kind of schedule is a recipe for unhappiness.
Have confidence that if you do your job well you won’t need to prove your worth by clocking in extra hours, especially at the expense of spending quality time with family and friends. Work on developing meaningful pursuits outside of work so you always have something to look forward to, allowing you to more easily ignore any side eye from colleagues when you promptly leave at the end of the workday.
3. Take your breaks
Research shows that short and frequent breaks help with overall stamina and even to reduce minor aches and pains associated with long periods of sitting. Moreover, breaks can help spark creative thinking, allowing you to find unique ways to problem solve and perform your job better.
Trying different techniques can help provide some structure if you are not used to taking regular breaks, while helping to increase your focus on a given task. Even something small like not eating your lunch at your desk once a week can help ease stress when you’re feeling overworked.
4. Socialize with your colleagues
It might be tempting if you have an ever growing pile of work to hunker down with your headphones on and not acknowledge any of your coworkers but this type of mindset is counterproductive in the long run. Not only do employees with weak social ties have much higher mortality rates, they also report feeling less happy in the workplace.
Fast-paced and challenging work environments call for greater outlets to release stress. A weekly social lunch with colleagues or writing a simple thank you note can help make your job more enjoyable and feel less hectic even if your overall hours do not change.
“I absolutely love to relax and have fun. I like socializing; I like chatting. I like dancing, mixing with friends.” – Gwendoline Christie
5. Invest in professional development
According to a study of working-age Millennials, the number one source of frustration in the workplace is a lack of company support for training and professional development. If you’re already feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work on your plate, taking a seminar or an evening class may seem impossible, but it can provide an excellent outlet away from the daily grind of your 9 to 5.
Furthermore, gaining additional skills may boost your overall productivity and may make you a more attractive candidate come promotion time or if you decide to take your talents elsewhere.
The average person will spend close to 10 years of their life at work, which may feel like much more if you’re overworked and overstressed, but even small changes can have a huge impact on your wellbeing at the end of the day.
How do you stay sane when work seems like it will never end? Please leave your thoughts below!
Image courtesy of Twenty20.com