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March 18, 2013 8:56 AM   Subscribe

Looking for lifehacks to help me thrive in a stressful high-pressure job working 50+ hours a week long-term. I am special, find out why..

I'm about to leave my cushy public sector job for a new position in a notoriously stressful industry.

In the past I've had issues with motivation to work, getting stressed out to the point of explodey head, having an unhealthy lifestyle (food / exercise-wise) and generally being a bit lazy. Sometimes I'm ill (usually a chest infection or something like that) and it won't go away for a long time, leading to time off work ill. I'm not great at deferring gratification, and it seems like a useful trait to develop, especially given that this is one of those jobs you can earn a shedload of money in if you can hack the pace/stay focussed on that goal.

New job is the kind of job where I need to be dressed professionally, physically in the office for quite long hours with few breaks during the day (50 hour week is the minimum expectation, more is preferable), with a positive attitude and a sunny demeanour (I'll be client-facing most of the time) and bags of energy.

These things do not come naturally to me, and as such I recognise this is a massive risk, but it's a good time (for me personally) to take such a risk, and the possibilities of reward are utterly amazing, in fact they are literally life-changing. So I'm going to give it my best efforts for once in my life, and see what happens! I realise it may suck, so I've got myself a reasonable exit strategy and I'm not afraid to use it if I have to.

I'd like your lifehacks please - what tips and tricks can I use to keep my energy up, myself healthy and motivated to work, my stress levels down, and also manage all of those little day-to-day life administration jobs I need to do while working 50+ hour weeks. How do I survive without a lunch break? What happens if I get ill? How do I deal with stress, rejection and workplace disappointments without staying in bed for a few days? How can I get better at deferred gratification? What haven't I thought of?

I'll have about a week to prepare myself before starting, so any big things I can do in that time would be helpful to know about.

Bonus: I'm relocating city to boot, because I like ALL the new. I have a small community in the new city, but it's a little seedling, and I'd like to put down some proper roots. Is there anything that will help me with the above stuff, and also help me build a community around me?
posted by f3l1x to Work & Money (20 answers total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
Getting enough sleep is really key, so much flows from that, so even though it may cramp any not-work things you want to do with your life, try to get to bed early every night.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:05 AM on March 18, 2013 [6 favorites]

Get a gym membership very close to your office so that you can easily go work out before or after work or during breaks if you have any.

Lunch is easy. If there is a refrigerator, cook a little more than usual and bring leftovers from the previous night's dinner to eat at your desk.

The professional clothing will be a lot easier if you don't do your own ironing.
posted by steinwald at 9:20 AM on March 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Exercise. Energy begets energy. I will tell you that I do not love exercising, but I get up 3-4 mornings a week early and go to the gym because it helps me have so much more energy during the day. It also seems to help with mental acuity and mood. Good luck!
posted by little mouth at 9:23 AM on March 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

The Pomodoro Technique. Changed my life. (I sound like an infomercial, but seriously, it transformed me from "lazy" to happy and efficient.)


Good Luck!

**Oh, and it is free.
posted by gravitypanda at 9:24 AM on March 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Yes. SLEEP. That is the major thing that people undervalue. When I see someone dragging ass at work, nine times out of ten it's because he or she didn't get enough sleep within the last two nights (as I type this, I'm (barely) functioning on 8 hours sleep since Friday, and I can see it in my work product).

As others have said, exercise will help immeasurably. I hate it too, but I force myself to the gym three nights a week to run, and I do push-ups and sit-ups in front of the TV on the other nights.

There's a huge difference between "no lunch breaks" and "no lunch." Take them at your desk. Bring in some shelf-stable foods (processed or otherwise; whatever works for you) each week. Take five minutes to wolf down an apple or nuke a TV dinner when you can. Have a snack mid-morning and mid-afternoon as well.

Generally speaking, figure out the rules -- official and otherwise -- for things like running errands during the day or reading MetaFilter at work. I've worked in those 50-hour-plus workplaces, and I find that a lot of that 50 hours is people doing their own shit on company time (and excusably so).

Draw a bright line between Work and Not Work -- for instance, I wear a stupid yet hilarious T-shirt under my work shirt. When I leave work, right there in the parking lot, I take off the work shirt and throw it in my trunk, and I am now Not Work Etrigan. The toils and tribulations of the work day are behind me. Literally. They're in the trunk, with my work shirt.
posted by Etrigan at 9:27 AM on March 18, 2013 [8 favorites]

Figure out what you need to get through the weekend and make a plan to set yourself up every weekend: wardrobe, food, etc. Build habits around those things, so that you never wake up midweek and find out that you're out of deodorant, or clean underwear.

If you have problems with blood sugar and eating properly, this might include keeping snacks stocked at your desk. Luna bars are not ideal but they are better than going hungry.

Make plans outside of work to meet people you like and do things that energize you. You'll have to find the right balance of work time / social time / me time.

Look at your current processes and see how you can streamline them. If you're hanging onto a shirt that you hate and never want to wear, but wind up looking at every time you're figuring out what to wear to work, chuck it. If your alarm clock isn't reliable, get a new one. Etc. Make it easy to do the right things.

Nurture good relationships in your work environment where-ever possible. Dealing with people you are not on good terms with is so much more stressful than dealing with people with whom you have a friendly rapport.

Seconding pomodoro, and sleep.
posted by bunderful at 9:30 AM on March 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Pay for time. Do wash-and-fold rather than laundry. Hire a maid service to come by once a week. Be willing to pay more in rent for a shorter commute.
posted by ewiar at 9:35 AM on March 18, 2013 [8 favorites]

50 hours a week isn't really all that much - that's a normal base workload for most people in my life (many different industries).

For me, like many people above, the keys are sleep and food.

Make your lunches on the weekend and bring all of them in on Monday morning to keep in the work fridge. Keep meals in the work freezer for Thursday and Friday so they don't spoil. These containers are very handy.

Try to take a walk outside in the middle of the day. It really helps to get some sun - even if it's just for 10 minutes.

I find it helpful to choose my clothing for the week on Sunday night and hang in order in my closet. It's not like I have that many clothes, but removing one decision from my mornings helps get me out of the house on time.
posted by valeries at 9:39 AM on March 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Materially, use your money to buy a small number of items that are of a very high quality (think heirloom, not fancy). The fewer your possessions, the less time you need to spend cleaning them up and caring for them. The higher quality they are, the less time you will need to spend replacing them and/or having them fixed. Your possessions will serve you instead of the other way around.

And the more intimate the item, the better quality it should be. For shoes, socks, your bed suite, the items you commute with like your briefcase, pay for quality. Comfort and durability will be important when time is short.

To increase the likelihood that you will cook for yourself, get a very basic set of high quality items. Get a chef's knife, a paring knife, and a serrated knife of the highest quality you can afford. Get one very good saute pan. A good chopping board, etc. You don't want to buy whole sets because you won't use half the stuff in them. Just get a few key pieces. Believe me, cooking healthy meals for yourself means chopping stuff up and a good knife makes all the difference.

And all of this means little if you do not have your eyes on the prize, so to speak. Keep your goals in mind, think of them often. Constantly remind yourself that you are making these sacrifices, stepping out of your comfort zone for a Purpose.
posted by cross_impact at 9:40 AM on March 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

Since you will be client-facing, spend some time figuring out a good mindset to deal with people all day. If you go in thinking that you'll have to put up with a stream of stupid assholes and rude ignoramuses all day, your wish will come true. But if you think that each client is a person who has a life and problems and is trying to do their own job just as much as you are trying to do yours, you can develop some empathy and get in a mindset of reaching out and helping others. Figure out a mindset that will work for you, and make it a positive attitude.
posted by CathyG at 9:47 AM on March 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

Routine, routine, routine. Routine sucks, but it also saves your ass when you have to adopt a lifestyle like this. I spent the last 3 months working 100-hour weeks, and I have two small children, and a partner who works too. Routine is what kept us functioning. Lunchtime is important. Make sure that every day, you take a break away from your desk to get some headspace from your job. Whether its running out to a cafe to grab a coffee and look at the outside world, or sitting in the breakroom eating a packed lunch and chatting with co-workers, or scarfing lunch at your desk and then taking a walk around the block. You have to take a break at some point - browsing MeFi at your desk while you eat doesn't really count.

Prep all your clothes, lunches, bag etc every night ready for the morning. Do all the grocery shopping on the weekend, or very late at night when you get home. Try and pride yourself on your skill at lifehacking around your new job, so you get a sense of satisfaction at adapting to this, rather than feeling dragged down by the work. Reward yourself for your organisational skills!
posted by Joh at 9:56 AM on March 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If you can afford to buy lunch at least a few days a week, just do it. Packing your own lunches is a great idea, but if you're not poor, save yourself one tiny head-ache.

Also, pack some work snacks. Unless your office has an amazing array of healthy snacks - which mine does at the moment, thankfully, but I realize that's rare - pack a little baggie of trail mix and an orange, something to keep your blood sugar up and you away from the evil vending machine.

If you can't/don't want to buy lunch, prep everything on Sunday. The less you have to do in the evenings, the better.

Go to bed early. I still struggle with this one, but really, what are you doing after 11:30 PM? Probably nothing important.

Get up and go for a run in the morning. If you don't run already, Couch to 5k is great study in deferred gratification. Also, you will feel super awake and amazing when you get to work.

Do something stupid easy and nice for yourself now and then. I like painting my nails. I try to do my nails once a week. Take bath. Whatever.

If you're feeling really angry about something at work, write a draft of a scathing email, don't put an address in the "to" field, and delete it when you're done.

I haven't had a lunch break in years, I work sixty-hour weeks, and I have no money. If I can do it, so can you. Keep your eye on the prize.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 11:39 AM on March 18, 2013

These are my rules:

*Not too much coffee.

*Eat early and often, make sure you get some protein to prevent blood-sugar spikes and crashes.

*Sleep is really important.

*Leave work at work. Don't bring it home - have a few hours every evening for true relaxation.

*Listen to good music on the way to and from work.
posted by mai at 11:51 AM on March 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Everything that's been mentioned up thread is excellent advice on looking after yourself physically. As someone who has spent large portions of their career doing easily those hours and more, I'd say so much of it is mental too. So my recommendation? Convince yourself you love it. Look hard for aspects of the job that you really enjoy and get excited about going in every day. Find people at work you enjoy being with to make the day go faster etc.

The job I had where I did the most insane hours (working til 3 in the morning, sleeping on the office couch, the getting up again at 6 to keep going) was the one where I could see the biggest benefit to doing it and I convinced myself that I loved it, and mostly, I did. So it didn't feel like work, it felt like what I'd rather be doing anyway. Doing those hours came easier than you might think.

The worst soul destroying job I had also wanted longer hours but I had a much harder time convincing myself I enjoyed it and spent too much time focusing on the negative and talking myself into hating it even more. I focused more on where I'd rather be instead and what I was missing out on. I burnt out a lot faster there. Basically it takes a mental shift, you need to commit to it in your head and not resent it to keep doing it long term.
posted by Jubey at 12:57 PM on March 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

This might sound counter-intuitive if you feel you lack energy, but consider slowly tapering off any caffeine or other legal stimulants you currently use. If you drink multiple cups of iced tea a day, for instance... many cans of Coke.

I inherited my dad's night owl tendencies and assumed it would scuttle my ability to work 9 to 5, or have a "normal" career. My way of handling it - especially with my first "overtime" job, working in publishing the summer I started college - was to drink energy. Mountain Dew, and coffee.

Surprise, surprise - about fifteen years later, when I cut down, way down on caffeine, it was not only easier for me to sleep but I got more refreshing sleep. I no longer routinely feel like crap in the morning. I am often up before my husband, who had on many occasions helped me get through the morning if it was an early one. I'm still a night owl, but I also get to sleep by midnight, rather than 2 AM, and I don't need to sleep in every weekend.

So whatever you do, you don't want to get your energy from caffeine every day, and make my mistake.

Now, if you cut down too fast, you'll feel horrible. I actually thought I had the flu for about a week or so. I would ease down into drinking half-caf, then move over into non-caffeinated drinks. There's great decaffeinated tea, ground coffee and more.

Trust me - nothing has made as big a change in how good I feel beyond exercising more and cutting out caffeine. I can still drink caffeine occasionally but I am not reliant on it for my energy.
posted by mitschlag at 3:37 PM on March 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Outsource and routinize your life as much as possible. Hire someone to clean your home. Set up some kind of meal delivery for dinners (or figure out which places near you have healthy, simple take out and get used to buying that stuff, unless for some reason cooking is something you LOVE). Make a list of things you buy EACH TIME and keep on hand to bring for a lunch-on-the-go. Buy a set of work clothing that's comfortable, professional, wears well and has interchangeable components. Buy enough shirts, ties, underpants, tshirts, etc to get you through two weeks at work and get into the habit of dropping it off at a local dry cleaner weekly.

Then the things you can make routine but personal: get enough sleep. Get some exercise as part of a routine (even if you get up earlier). Work out a system for drinking a lot of water (the pee breaks will also help you catch your breath during the day). Since you're moving, optimize your new location between being close to work and being close to services that can help you personally.

If you're just going to do this to get through it, remember not to lose yourself in the work but also recognize that these couple of years will be ALL about optimizing what you're doing there including operating your personal habits around it.
posted by marylynn at 4:07 PM on March 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

No lunch break isn't really a big deal - I'm assuming you can at least get off the desk for around 15 minutes or so which should be enough time to pop outside and buy something to eat at your desk. If you have something like Seamlessweb which will deliver directly to your office, even better. If you need to stretch your legs during the day, you can offer to buy coffee for everyone in the office.

If you eat your breakfast at the office too (either buy something on the way in or prepare it in advance) you can save time in the mornings.

I also think it's worth experimenting with how much sleep you actually need. I always thoguht I needed a lot, but I've found that if I sleep a lot on weekends (like 10+ hours) then I can get away with an average of 6-6.5 hours during the week without any real impact to my performance.
posted by pravit at 4:50 PM on March 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think the biggest difference between working 40 hours a week and working 50+ is that suddenly you don't have time for hobbies. I don't mean this to be depressing. I mean literally, the lack of the 5-8 PM window during weekdays has just forced me to be a lot more decisive in where I will invest my time.

I decided that 1) working out before work keeps me sane, and that 2) making a homemade meal for myself and my SO every night is my priority. As a result, it means I'm in bed by 10:30 PM almost every night and then up at 6 am to go to the gym. During weekdays, the only things I do are gym, work, cook dinner, and sleep. And that works for me - you will have to pick your two things, too.

Maybe your two things are staying up til midnight playing video games and making sure you have time to swim after work, or whatever, but subtracting work + commuting / showering / getting dressed (12 hours) and sleep (8 hours) you basically have 4 hours a day for your other two activities. Choose wisely, and then outsource other responsibilities. I get my groceries delivered, send out my laundry, and have a maid service come through once every two weeks.
posted by CharlieSue at 6:27 PM on March 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

I agree with pretty much everything everyone else has said upthread (especially about exercising). My additions:

If you like to cook, mark off some Sunday evenings as your down time to do something you enjoy and to prepare some of that week's meals in advance. If you don't like to cook, then create a shortlist of eateries along your commute home that offer take out. Work out the cost of eating out every day but as long as it doesn't break the bank, it's time and mental energy saved which is well worth it if you're pulling 50+ hour work weeks.

If you're used to an Asian diet and need to eat fresh rice & greens most of days of the week, invest in a high-end rice cooker with a timer function and set it to finish 30 minutes after you expect to be home. On the way home, pick up one or two entrees from a restaurant or grocery takeout counter and blanche some greens when you get home. Or pick up a container of pre-washed salad greens.

Print out your weekly calendar schedule first thing on Mondays and use the back to maintain a todo list. Carry the print out with you to each meeting so you always know where you're going to next and so that you can schedule ad-hoc meetings while away from your desk. It also gives you a pretty quick gauge of how much is on your plate and how much non-meeting time you have to complete them. Print out your calendar schedule daily if weekly is not detailed enough.

Add to the todo list items that aren't even a todo: comments or updates that surprised you, things that raised an eyebrow, fleeting what-if thoughts. Later on, read these at the end of day or the beginning of the day to see if you want to do anything about them. Try to clear off that todo list by the end of the week so you don't need to carry over to next week's schedule.

Yeah, lay off the caffeine as much as possible. Water, milk, almond milk, whatever works for you. Keep extra cartons of your preferred drink and snacks in your drawer. Keep a few pair of fashionably flexible shoes at work (even if you're a guy) so you can wear comfortable sneakers and boots outside of the office. Rotate between the shoes.

If you can hack it, try coming into the office earlier than anyone else to get one more hour of precious no meeting, no interruption time. And if you work in a business district, try to fit in a few social lunches each month for networking, keeping up with friends to make up for the lack social time outside of work and just to get away from your colleagues a bit.

Lastly, like everyone else has said, keep your eye on the ball and know what your exit point is.
posted by tksh at 6:33 PM on March 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks to all! This is really helpful, I see that it's the combination of mindset and routine that I need to wrap my head around and your answers have been very useful in helping me identify my priorities.
posted by f3l1x at 2:48 AM on March 19, 2013

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