How to cope with long working hours
Hate working long hours but can’t avoid it? Here’s how to cope with them so you don’t just survive, but actually thrive.
Overtime is a fickle topic to deal with. The majority of people are against staying overtime for a reasonable fear of health issues – in Japan too many people like 31 year-old journalist Miwa Sado have died from ‘karoshi’, or overwork.
And it’s not just physical health that makes people unwilling to spend too many hours after work in the office. We all need a life outside work, and if you have a family then you’ll be keen to return home to them.
That said, there are occasions when working overtime has its benefits – or is even essential. Maybe you’re working on a big pitch, or are up against a deadline. Your team could be short-staffed. Or perhaps you want to stay late and work on your own side project.
What can you do then? How can you burn the candle late into the night without burning yourself out? Here’s how to work overtime safely and responsibly.
You can survive overtime as long as you plan
Marissa Mayer is a former Yahoo CEO and early Google employee who is often referenced for her mastery of working 130 hours a week, especially when she had twin daughters. Mayer herself emphasized the importance of planning and scheduling to actually achieve such high numbers.
Following the same sentiment, this article will have a list of actionable tips based on cautious planning and thinking ahead.
What works when working long hours?
Here are some of the most effective steps to survive long hours at the office.
When you’re supposed to stay in overtime, make sure you have that time planned out ahead. Determine which project or task has priority – the one keeping you in the office in the first place. The last thing you want is entering overtime without a clear direction about what you’re going to do and when.
Everything that can be put off for later should be – including email responses and unrelated tasks that pop up. If for some reason you do see a task and you’re unsure whether or not to make time for it just ask:
“Will it help me leave the office earlier?”
The last thing you want is to stay there much longer than necessary.
Timeboxes are your best friend
Along with prioritization, a good idea is to organize your work by timeboxing.
Timeboxing is a time management technique where you schedule tasks and allot time for each task to be completed. This means you have a good enough grasp of how long it takes for you to complete things, which you probably do.
This technique gives you a timeframe within which you can freely operate, instead of hopping between tasks, not really finishing anything fully.
There are tons of apps and free software that can help you with timeboxing. I’ve been personally using a time tracker the company I work for created, called Clockify.
Prevent the ‘hangry’
One of the biggest issues of working overtime is hunger. Endearingly dubbed “being hangry”, huger affects your mood, overall focus, and throws your digestive system out of balance.
Some women take pride in focusing on their work so well, they forget to eat. Which, in itself, is just as harmful as feeling hungry, but deciding to ignore it.
I’ve noticed that, aside from messing with my eating schedule, it also makes me less pleasant to be around as I get cranky. Which is why over the years, I’ve found a few workarounds:
1) Keep snacks around
Preferably healthy snacks, such as crackers, trail mix, or veggie slices with some dip. Candy bars and M&M packs are great for an energy boost, so long as you’re careful of the energy drop when the sugar high passes.
2) Fruit is your friend
Try to bring cut-up fruit with you on the day when you know you’ll stay longer. Fruit is a healthier alternative to candy, plus its freshness shakes up any signs of fatigue.
3) Use snacking as a break
Numerous studies have shown that when we eat in front of the TV, for example, we tend to overeat. Eating without distractions will also keep you in the moment, and let you regroup for the workload ahead. The tasks won’t suffer from a five-minute snack break, but it’ll mean the world of difference to you.
If you don’t have one, establish a morning or night self-care routine. Why are they important for working long hours, you may ask?
Imagine coming home from a long night, it’s around midnight, and you just took off your shoes, and plopped down on the bed to get a brief “shut-eye”. You wake up the next morning with the alarm blaring and you feel hungover, wishing it was partying that kept you up all night. What do you do?
You take a quick shower, put makeup back on, and rush out the door for more grind. Now repeat that for the whole week. It’s hell!
As taxing as it may be in that moment, take at least fifteen minutes after a long night at the office to squeeze in a brief hot shower, and make a hot cup of tea. For at least a minute, sit quietly in your bed, and breathe. Let your mind slow down, and your body to catch up to it. You’ll thank yourself in the morning.
As for morning routines, when you know the day ahead will be long, go over your workload quickly. Pick up a journal and write down the things you are grateful for, just to remind yourself why you are doing all of this. Have a personal pep talk, and a slow morning to balance out the hectic rest of the day.
Simplify where you can
You must’ve heard how Steve Jobs wore mainly black turtlenecks and Zuckerberg plain T-shirts, to simplify their morning routines. Eliminating the process of choosing what to wear that day would save their brain power for much bigger decisions.
There had to have been times where you couldn’t decide on what to wear, only to find yourself exhausted 15 minutes later. Or figuring out where and with whom to get lunch.
But one doesn’t have to be a CEO to use this method: prep your clothes the night before, plan your meals accordingly, and eliminate any and all unnecessary errands on overtime days. Keep your brain from overworking on minor things, and you won’t be exhausted before overtime even begins.
Forgive yourself in advance
This isn’t a piece of practical advice, I know. But stay with me on this one:
There’s way too much pressure on ourselves for being unable to handle everything on our plate.
If we work too much, we neglect family, friends, our own health… and others tend to look at us with a judging eye. The one thing to do here is to forgive yourself. When you know a rough work period is coming up, let others know you’ll be unavailable for some time.
Make it known to them and yourself that staying longer hours is not something you want or like, but has to be done. And then move on from the guilt. Because the more you beat yourself up over it, the less you’ll be able to focus on work.
Instead, plan out how ways to make up for lost time once your life is less hectic. It’ll also give you a positive goal to work towards.
Have an office unwind
It’s good to find a place in the office where you can disconnect for a few minutes. Depending on the kind of person you are, it can be anywhere.
Maybe you want to get a stretch – if there’s a stairwell, take a few minutes to walk up and down a few floors.
Or if you want to rest your eyes from the computer screen, bring a magazine, a book, or simply look out the window for a little while. Brewing coffee in the kitchen while listening to your favorite song through the headphones, chatting with a coworker, playing a few rounds of your favorite mobile game and so on.
Make your breaks entertaining
Along with having a safe space in the office to relax, you’ll want to do something that truly relaxes you.
If you like playing match-three games on your phone but are prone to getting annoyed, maybe that won’t be the best choice. Or watching clips of your favorite reality show on Youtube filled with drama. Instead, look for things that will truly relax you.
Have a conversation with a coworker, watch funny animal videos, or listen to a constructive podcast. Relax your brain, don’t put it under more unnecessary tension.
Leave your work at the office
As hard as it may be in this day and age, especially when you love your job, there have to be clear boundaries between your work and life.
Sure, it takes a minute to check your work email on the weekend, but the mental power it takes to read through the inbox, consider the messages and mull them over long after you’ve closed them is longer than that.
Make an agreement with yourself to disconnect from work the moment you leave the office. Prepare for it – sing loudly in your car, call up a family member the moment you enter your home to ask how they’re doing, or just unwind with a movie or your favorite show.
How can you make your long working day easier?
Working long hours can be a far cry from the life-ruining trend we’re led to believe. Many successful women have proven that you can have a personal life and overtime when the hustle requires it.
The way you accomplish this is through thorough planning, clear boundaries, a healthy mindset and a few little habits you’ll have to adopt. With the advice from this article, 80+ hours a week can be a breeze.
Are you at risk of burnout from working too late? Here’s how to spot if you have career burnout – and what to do about it.
Marijana Stojanovic is an experienced writer with a passion for self-improvement techniques and apps. When she is not trying them out for herself, she is researching the best speakers, teachers, and experts in the fields of productivity and time management to share their knowledge, necessary for survival in the modern professional world.
Photo by Stacey Gabrielle Koenitz