How to survive your first office job
Finally. You’ve been hired to work in a real office, doing real office-y things. Spreadsheets, “reply all,” and EOD, whatever that means. At last, you’re the one buying fancy lattes on your way to work in the mornings.
At first, it’s magical: the joy of a steady paycheque and sick days when you need them. Eventually, though, reality starts to poke its head up over your cubicle wall. You’re dreaming about excel formulas, getting late-afternoon headaches, and your coffee budget is out of control.
Here’s what you need to know to not just survive your first office job, but to create habits that will help you stay healthy, be more productive, and enjoy your work more – throughout your career.
- Move your body.
It’s incredibly common for people to notice their energy levels going down (and the numbers on the scale going up) when they start working at a desk job. If you can, walk or bike to work and back – it’s great for both your body and your mind. If not, find another form of exercise you like and do it. Then stretch and move throughout the day. It will make a big difference to how you feel when it’s time to go home (and in thirty years).
- Find a friend.
Some people will tell you that work is for work, and life happens during the rest of your day. A) This is incredibly sad, given how much time we spend at work during our lives; and B) Having friends at work is actually good for you and your employer. People with close friends at work are 50% more satisfied than other employees, and having a best friend at work makes you 7 times more likely to engage fully with your work.
- Try the pomodoro technique.
Pomodoro means tomato in Italian, and the technique is named after the ubiquitous kitchen timer. Essentially, you set a timer (25 minutes is standard), and get to work. During this time, you commit yourself to one task. When the timer is up, you take a break. It’s super simple, but incredibly powerful for increasing focus and productivity.
- Pack your lunch. But treat yourself occasionally.
If you’re eating out every day, the costs will add up fast. Save some money and commit to bringing lunch from home at least four days a week. Here are some delicious ideas for what to pack in your brown bag (or fancy neoprene lunch bag, as the case may be).
- Save some of every paycheque
Speaking of saving money: save some money. This is basic, but it’s shocking how many people don’t contribute regularly to a savings account. Start now by setting aside a small portion of every paycheque. Even if it doesn’t seem like much, it will add up over time.
- Make and stick to a budget.
The perfect time to create a budget is when you’re just starting a new job and aren’t yet used to the increased income (or now). There are lots of online tools for creating and tracking your budget, but a good place to start is the 50/30/20 rule: spend no more than 50% of your after-tax income on things you need, no more than 30% on stuff you want, and at least 20% should go to savings or debt reduction.
- Take time for yourself and life outside of the office.
It’s really easy to stay late at work every night, hoping to make a good impression. In some company cultures, it’s necessary. Otherwise, you’ll be better served by taking the time to relax and enjoy something you love. And don’t check your work email when you’re done for the day. Recharge, then do truly amazing work during business hours.
- Don’t stare at your screen all day.
Avoid eyestrain by shifting your focus every 20 minutes to something about 20 feet away from you for 20 seconds. You can also give your brain a rest by doing some of your work – like brainstorming, planning and drafting – on paper.
- Start your day with something that matters.
Advocating for this habit, Laura Vanderkam says “Certain aspects of work will expand to fill all available space. We have to consciously choose to spend less time on email and carve out time for the important work that matters to us.” For most people, their first instinct when arriving at work is to check email. Instead, schedule time at the beginning of each day for the projects you want to be focused on.
- Keep good coffee/tea/snacks at work.
Back to that $12 a day latte habit. While office coffee is often abysmal, you can up your caffeinated beverage game while staying on budget by keeping your own coffee at the office. The Aeropress is perfect for in-office coffee snobbery. Add some tea and fancy snacks to your desk drawer, and you’ve got the makings of a delightful afternoon break. Related: take your breaks!
- Podcasts are awesome for making mindless drudgery enjoyable.
Many of us have some element of our work that is just mindless – no strategy, or even just thinking, needed. Rather than being brought down by boredom, turn it into an opportunity for learning and fun. Podcasts and audiobooks are both great for keeping your brain engaged, even when it doesn’t have to be.
- Keep track of your wins.
This is important. As the days, weeks, and months pile up, it’s easy to forget what you’ve been doing with yourself. Create a folder or file where you keep track of all of the amazing things you accomplish at work, as they happen. Remind yourself of what you’ve done when the time comes time for a salary review, or to get ready for interviews when it’s time to take your next step. This way you’ll be ready to highlight your amazing contributions, and outline the value you bring to the team.