Welcome to January, that wonderful month of the year when anything seems possible – at least until your first day back in the office, when you realise there are weeks of freezing weather ahead and not a holiday in sight. Work can be tough this month, as memories of mince pies and Christmas film marathons retreat into the distance, to be replaced by deadlines, meetings and dark evenings hunched over a laptop. While I don’t believe in grand, sweeping New Year’s Resolutions, a few simple changes can help to make the next few wintery months a little more bearable.
This was one of the things I promised myself at the end of last year and it has worked wonders for my sanity and productivity. Sadly, taking an entire hour on a regular basis isn’t realistic, but what about pledging to leave the office every day at lunchtime, even if just for a five-minute walk around the block?
We’ve all somehow got used to being bound to our desks and either skipping breaks completely, or using them for yet more screen time by scrolling through Facebook. Breaking this habit, even for a few minutes, can give you a fresh perspective and renewed energy.
Own up: how many of you write things on your daily to-do list purely so you can cross them off again? Writing lists can be a good start to the working day, but all too often they morph into an endless, intimidating nightmare that makes you stressed every time you glance down.
First, stop putting things on your list that you do without thinking. “Check emails” does not need to be written down. Take longer to consider what you can realistically get done in the day ahead; then write down only what you actually need to do – not the million other things to be done at some point in the future. The aim is to cross off everything on a list by the end of the day, or at least try to. Ever-increasing lists do nothing for your sense of balance or efficiency.
There are few better feelings than that rush of freedom when you turn on your “out of office” before a long holiday. The idea is that anyone emailing you will know you’re away, and therefore won’t have the same expectations they would of a normal working week. So why not make use of this more often? Stress is often caused by an influx of demands, often from different people who have no idea how busy you are already. If you’re running an event then you won’t be able to approve a draft or contribute to a presentation – but the people emailing you won’t know that.
If you are so busy that you can’t do anything else, let people know and they will adjust their expectations. If they get no answer from you all day, they will push harder and make more demands. Far better to let them know straight away that you are in meetings all morning, so that they can adjust their expectations accordingly.
This is laughable advice coming from me, as I’ve never managed to get out of bed without pressing the snooze button at least five times. However, my most successful friends have one thing in common: they all get up a bit earlier than everyone else. This might be because they’re taking the time to have breakfast, waking up with small children, or going for a 5km run – it doesn’t matter, it’s all about giving yourself a tiny extra bit of time before rushing into the madness of work. We all assume we have no time, yet we spend hours wasting it: watching mindless TV, on social media, or repeatedly set the alarm to snooze. Those few extra minutes could be the difference between arriving at work refreshed and ready to face the day, and being face down in a cup of coffee until 11am.
If you only make one change this month, it should be this one. We waste a huge amount of time and energy in the workplace trying to please others: not saying no when we should, not taking credit where credit is due, not asking for a well-deserved pay rise for fear of looking pushy.
Imagine how much we could achieve by taking a step back from the politics and using that energy more productively, redirecting it back towards our work. The ultimate mark of success in the working world isn’t about being the person in the office everyone wants to go for a beer with, it’s about being the one that others aspire to emulate. This comes from creativity, passion, talent and delivering real results.
Five simple steps to a better work-life balance in the new year – Career Centre Malaysia