Teach me how to Dilbert
December 13, 2014 4:31 PM   Subscribe

Just accepted a new job. Yay! It'll be my first 8-5 Monday-Friday job ever. And I'm in my 30s. I'm apprehensive about the switch. Right now I work 3 twelve hours shifts and I have a fair amount of freedom to move. In my new position I'll be more tethered to my desk. Give me tips on how to survive. I've read all the guides about the desk exercises, and those are helpful, but I still feel like I'll be struggling to stay focused and not get bored.
posted by MadMadam to Work & Money (15 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Congratulations! Life in the cube isn't as awful as it's made out to be. I'll kick off the tips with this:

Keep a folder of things to do if you get bored. I have a folder of work-related articles torn out of publications and other mail that finds it way to my desk. I also put index cards with one-off tasks that have no deadline, like "run duplicate email report" or "empty your inbox!" I have an Evernote folder for the same thing -- I clip work-related articles into it. So if I need to switch gears for 10 or so minutes, I'll grab something out of one of those folders and read it/do it.
posted by kimberussell at 4:43 PM on December 13, 2014 [10 favorites]

Best answer: I use a white board to keep from forgetting all the tasks I have to do. A To Do List on paper can get lost or ignored, and Outlook reminders are easy to "Dismiss". But something hanging in front you, that you see every time you look up, is harder to overlook.

If it's acceptable in your office, headphones will not only help you through tedious tasks, but keep chatty people away from you.

Finally, I try to have a primary task and a secondary task at any given time. I'll switch between them when I get too bored with one.
posted by spaltavian at 5:22 PM on December 13, 2014 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I used to find a reason to walk around the office once an hour, on average. Not even intentionally - an hour was about as long as I could tolerate at once. There are many reasons one might need to get up - supplies, bathroom, printer needing fixing, checking in with a coworker. People do eventually notice, though, so you've got to walk with purpose sometimes, and very, very quietly other times. Deep breathing can help, but try not to make it sound like you're sighing, that gets picked up too.

If I had a cube job now, I'd probably do isometric exercises and secret stretches under the desk.
posted by cotton dress sock at 5:26 PM on December 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Take breaks outside as frequently as possible - whether that's coffee/lunch breaks or just 5 minute breaks between tasks. Sunshine, fresh air and exercise are not only important antidotes to stretches of desk posture in an air-conditioned environment, but you'll be more mentally energized after taking breaks away from your workspace, which will enable you to stay focused and positive when figuring out how to make the most of your time at work.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 5:31 PM on December 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: So much is culture-specific, so the norms at your office will vary wildly from mine. With that in mind, my single best tip is:

Within the first week or so, find someone it seems like you can trust -- maybe they're nice and welcoming, or you can tell they're well-respected by everyone, or they've been at the company a long time. Make sure this person isn't in your direct management chain (but it's okay if they're a manager of other people). Offer to buy them coffee or lunch in exchange for a half-hour of their time, and use that to ask "off the record" questions about office norms.

Most people appreciate being sought out for advice like this; it makes them feel smart and valued. Anyone who's not a complete asshat will be very helpful to you, especially if you straight-up say that you have no context in a 9-5 office world and you need some help getting oriented. They'll probably close the conversation with something like "and if you have any other questions, let me know". Take them up on that.

Good luck! It's not all Office Space-caliber dysfunction :)
posted by Dilligas at 5:57 PM on December 13, 2014 [10 favorites]

Best answer: Great post.
There are 2 categories: work related, and other. I can't tell you the ratio. You have to figure it out.
For work-related, see http://www.metafilter.com/user/162306 above. And read about your company. Its intranet, its website, Google hits, etc. Be a beast learning about your company.
Read about your industry.
Read about your function. Are you a programmer? Tech writer? Admin? So are others. find them.
Beyond that, read widely. More managers than you might think appreciate a worker with a broad outlook.
posted by LonnieK at 6:21 PM on December 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I like the Pomodoro method browser add-on. It sets a 25 minute timer to put your head down and work, and then sets off a small pop-up alarm to give you a 5 minute break. I use that break to get up and walk around or stretch. After 5 minutes, it alerts you again and you reset the timer.
posted by quince at 6:39 PM on December 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Congratulations on your new job! My suggestions: 1. Drink a lot of water. Keeps you hydrated in the dry office air, and forces you to take brief bathroom breaks. 2. Email can be a huge distraction. Try keeping it closed and then only checking once in a while. Same goes for smartphone. If you keep it nearby you may check it too often. 3. Be careful not to get caught up with chatty people (other than maybe in the lunchroom); you will get a reputation for being a time waster and people may start congregating at your desk. 4. Lunchtime yoga is awesome.
posted by leslievictoria at 8:20 PM on December 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Things I like to do:

Don't eat at your desk for lunch, get up and take a walk or go out with coworkers.

Write an email to yourself at the end of the day about what you're working on or need to do next. Provides good continuity and clarity when you come back to work overnight or over a weekend.
posted by nickggully at 9:12 PM on December 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

There's the specific office culture, and then there's how you work. Some people are really focused and can plug away for hours. Others (like myself) tend to mentally wander a bit when the project isn't really challenging/ engaging, so you need to take breaks, or find a way to multitask efficiently and effectively and keep from getting sucked into non-work distractions (for too long).

Personally, I'm fond of the Koss KSC75 over-ear "open" headphones. They allow me to be able to hear around me, or turn up the music and drown conversations out.

And I felt a lot better when I turned off the sound and visual indicators that I had new email, as those tend to break my concentration when I'm working on something. Some people go as far as to close their email and open it once an hour.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:54 PM on December 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Get a plant or two for your desk. It makes a huge difference, especially if you lack windows.

I have also really enjoyed having some nicely scented hand lotion. Both for the scent (many offices smell vaguely of warm plastic - computers) and for dry skin (dry office air, hand washing, handling paper).

Chapstick and a water bottle.
The more I think about it, it's kinda like being on an airplane...

Congrats! I like my 9-5 :)
posted by jrobin276 at 10:01 PM on December 13, 2014

Be wary of Alice. Not really a joke. When you are the new guy it is easy to rub an old hire the wrong way. Be civil to everyone at least until you now them better.
posted by Cranberry at 10:47 PM on December 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

I take a walk every so often to get some fresh air, get the blood flowing and take a little break. Assuming this isn't like high school where you need permission to do anything, I find the walk helps. I'd basically take it at set times every few hours.
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:35 PM on December 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Spend time on your first day of every week to review and organize your big picture responsibilities. Are there tasks you need to initiate yourself? Things that you said you'd do that are behind? Get out ahead of as much as you can and immediately raise and solve anything that's behind.

Likewise give yourself ten to fifteen minutes each day to organize and prioritize tasks. I find it is much easier to keep focus when I have confidence that what I'm working on is actually the most important thing at the moment.

If at all possible, leave the office for lunch, or at least leave your desk. I aim to take an hour every day and spend at least 15-20 minutes of that time walking outside, even in the nasty seasons here in Vermont.

Don't play into drama and don't blame co-workers for work. If you find something you think is wrong, start by asking neutral (non-blaming) questions. If you are correct that it is wrong help to fix things. Unless you are finding real problems in how it impacts your work it is rarely useful to go down the "who let this happen?" rabbit-hole, and unless you are management it isn't your job.
posted by meinvt at 10:09 AM on December 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

I had to do this, for like, four years. It always felt like a grind when I would get up, get ready, go to the office, come home, and be too exhausted to do anything but dinner, chores, and bed. So I started getting up early -- like several hours early, so I had time to do yoga, make a nice breakfast, read a bit, and wake up fully before going in. It made the day feel more 'mine', instead of just reacting to the requirements of my job.

Caveat: I hated it anyway because routines are my kryptonite and left to start my own company, so YMMV. Good luck!
posted by ananci at 11:22 AM on December 14, 2014

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