Even when you love your job, some days are tough. Tasks pile up, deadlines loom, and things go wrong—but you can handle it! Plan ahead for a challenging day with these five tips to help you cope.
Take Breaks When You Need Them
If you can force yourself to work for eight hours straight, you’ll get everything done faster, right? Probably not. An array of research by leading psychologists demonstrates that stepping back actually makes you more productive. It seems counterintuitive, but a quick break can strengthen motivation, enhance creativity, and minimize mental fatigue. Even if you can’t get up from your desk, fun activities like playing solitaire, watching a cute animal video, or messaging a supportive friend can fulfill your brain’s need to disengage occasionally from difficult tasks.
Make the Most of Your Focused Time
After a quick break, you’re ready to dig into your work—but you keep getting notifications on your phone, and the construction crew outside is getting to work, too. Staying focused is essential for getting through your workload efficiently, so take a few extra steps to block out distractions.
Invest in a pair of noise-cancelling headphones if you work in a loud environment where disruptions are common; not only will the headphones block out sound, but they’ll also remind others that you shouldn’t be interrupted right now. This can be doubly important if you’re working from home and family members often disturb you. Listen to nature sounds or instrumental songs to ensure your audio choices don’t distract you further.
If you think you might distract yourself, step away from your favorite diversions by turning off your notifications, closing browser windows that aren’t work-related, and putting your phone away. It doesn’t have to be forever; a 2017 study found that the most effective employees took a 17-minute break for every 52 minutes they worked. Set a timer on your computer, stay focused for the duration, and take a break when the timer is done.
Stay Healthy and Hydrated
You won’t be doing your best work if you’re hungry or thirsty, so make sure that some of your breaks include time to refill a water bottle or indulge in a healthy snack. During the day, stick to snacks and meals with a low glycemic index to avoid a noticeable post-snack energy dip. Researchers at the University of Sydney discovered that high-GI foods cause your body to produce tryptophan, best known for its association with turkey and post-Thanksgiving sleepiness—not what you want during a long shift. Dried fruits and vegetables or whole grains are safe choices.
What about that third trip to the coffee machine? According to the Mayo Clinic, most adults can safely drink about four cups of brewed coffee daily. Still, if you’re already stressed, caffeine can make you feel anxious and less productive, even if you’re more awake.
Triage Your To-Do List
Maybe you’ve pushed through six or seven hours of work already, but your to-do list isn’t getting any shorter. When you’re putting in effort and can’t clear your workload, start prioritizing. Which of the items on your list have to get done now, and are they your responsibility alone? Delay work that isn’t time-sensitive, enlist coworkers to assist with work you can delegate, and focus on two to three important items. If task overload is common, try reorganizing your schedule, delegating more responsibilities, or talking to your manager about your workload. Too many long days can lead to burnout and lost productivity.
Plan Ahead for Next Time
Once you’re done, it’s time to get some well-earned rest, but remember that every day shouldn’t be a long day. Could you make work less stressful in the long term? Changes don’t have to be dramatic to be helpful. Try organizing your day so that you have uninterrupted time when you know you’re at your best; for many people, that’s early in the morning, but everyone has their own internal clock. Stay focused so you make the most of your “on” time at work, since distractions can stretch a one-hour task into a five-hour marathon. Finally, resist the temptation to impress by taking on too much work; the best managers will be impressed by employees who deliver consistent, high-quality results.
Even though work can be a fulfilling part of your life, it’s impossible to avoid long, stressful days entirely. With a few simple strategies, you can cope with tough work days, and improve your workflow to make the next challenge less challenging.