My career before kids, I was a paper-pusher in office administration, usually working directly under the big boss. I loved it, but every week was the same chaotic cycle. Mondays, were dreadful. Tuesday’s required more coffee. Wednesday’s were bliss. Thursday’s, ran on pixie dust and genie wishes. And, Friday’s were absolutely carefree. Even though that seems a little crazy, it was normal for the industry; however, I was able to handle massive amounts of work, ridiculous requests, hostile phone calls, and meet unreasonable deadlines on a daily basis without losing my mind.
Sure, time management and organization played a huge part in dealing with heavy work loads, but I believe personal work rules are important to maintaining good mental health.
Over the years, to cope with work stress, I created personal rules for myself at work. It is okay to have personal work rules, so long as they do not get you fired. Here are my 10 rules I followed to keep me stress free and sane at work:
#1. Don’t be afraid of getting fired! It’s okay!
Sometimes we get stressed out, because we fear we might get fired; especially, if we are struggling to push through so much overwhelming work. Employer expectations can be intimidating; however, they often put out unrealistic expectations to purposely create fear to drive productivity.
A good employer knows that working too hard is bad for your health, both physically and mentally. In many cases, employers don’t really pay attention to their strict productivity policies, unless someone is purposely falling behind in their work or disrupting the work environment. If, in good faith you are doing your best to keep up on work flow, you are generally not at risk for the pink slip. You might be bombarded with intimidating productivity memos, but, if these memos are not directed at you personally, it generally isn’t something to worry about.
And if you are wondering; yes, I’ve been let go once. The big boss called me into their office, told me that my position no longer exists, handed me a sturdy cardboard box (that was kind of them), told me to pack up my things and then, had my best friend / co-worker escort me to my car. It was a nightmare, because I was young, in college, with no savings. But, I survived unemployment; later realizing had I never been let go, I probably would have missed the opportunites that led me into a successful career in office management. So, I have learned to never worry about being fired, because when one door slams shut on your face, another little door can open up with bigger opportunities. It’s difficult, emotional, and also straining on the bank account when unemployed, but it’s not the end of the world.
#2. Never work on a Friday unless absolutely necessary.
You will rarely, if ever, see me scrambling around to finish work on a Friday. Whatever didn’t get finish during this week, automatically, gets moved to Monday to be next week’s problem. Of course, there are some things that pop up on a Friday that need to be completed immediately before going home, but by moving unfinished business to next week, I can focus on those pesky unexpected Friday tasks that need to be done by the end of the day without feeling overwhelmed with endless work.
#3. Bend the rules, just a little and dress comfortably
I’ve always had a tendency of bending the rules; mostly in regards to dress code. I am a semi-causal kind of gal! I am not going to sit 8 hours in 5X5 cubicle wearing a 3 piece suit and heels, that is just ridiculous! I will certainly come into the office wearing what is expected, but you bet there is going to be a comfy sweater, gloves, and a pair of comfortable sneakers or maybe slippers waiting for me at my desk. Usually, throughout the day I slip into my uncomfortable heels to walk around the office, but then I slip back into my slippers when I am at my desk (nobody knows, if they do, they don’t care).
At one company, they compromised with sneakers around the office so long as I didn’t wear them to meet with clients or in front of the owner who was quite the fashionista!
Dressing comfortably, in my opinion, keeps me productive. It’s really difficult to focus on work if your feet hurt from uncomfortable formal shoes or you are freezing, because they outlawed comfortable casual sweaters forcing you to bend your arms in a snug suit jacket. Poor men, I don’t know how they can work wearing a tie strangled around their neck all day!
It is okay to bend rules, just be sure you bend the right rules at a reasonable angle so that you don’t cross boundaries that could result in serious disciplinary action; like walking in with pajama’s and rollers in your hair! That might be bending the rules a little too far, unless its Pajama Day.
#4. Game Plan Monday’s
The first thing I would do every Monday is make a weekly game plan (prioritize my work). This involves some nifty time management and organizational skills; however, by the time Thursday rolls around, I am sitting with my feet kicked up on my desk, daydreaming about Pina Colada’s and warm toes in the sand, while the rest of the office is running around like chicken’s with their heads cut off. My point is, following a good game plan for personal work flow, generally gives you free time to slow down, relax, and work at a pace that is stress-free and still productive. Work smarter, not harder!
#5 Eat outside
If I had it my way, I would work outside. Just drag my desk into the court yard and enjoy a beautiful day. Being stuck indoors everyday could bring on depression or, at the very least, an unproductive bad mood. I made a rule for myself to eat lunch outside as often as possible, to get a little Vitamin D and fresh air. I am not a smoker, but I will certainly pretend to be one, if it allows me to get outside for a minute.
#6 Always Keep Something In Your Inbox
I used to think having an empty inbox would grant me some extra downtime, but I learned the hard way, an empty inbox just makes you a prime target for more work, and usually tedious time-consuming work that nobody else wants to do in the department. I was once assigned to an entire week of staple removal duty to help transition paper records to electronic records. Sure, sounds like a vacation, until you get back to your desk and discover you are behind in last weeks work. So, if you want to keep your work load lighter and flowing smoother to reduce stress, always keep something in your inbox!
#7 Smile, Smile, and Smile some more
Every workplace has one! That annoying, make you sick to your stomach, overly positive, super optimistic, sparkly co-worker. That is not me.
But, if there is one thing to learn from these sparkly work nymphs, is how powerful and magically transforming a smile can be against the stressful evils one may encounter in the workplace.
I used to work for a particular real estate industry (I shall not name, but pretty sure you can guess) that had to deal with upset, hostile, sometimes violent (I can remember a stapler flying across the lobby) type of people. Personally, I do not do well with confrontation, especially, when I become distracted by the steam coming out of both ears of an upset client, like on those old Warner Brother cartoons. Very stressful! Like you might have a mental breakdown in the middle of the office floor, stressful! And, I’ve seen it happen too!
However, I learned that a smile is miraculously powerful in calming down upset, angry, and difficult people. Face to face, a welcoming smile, calm voice, and a listening ear can diffuse almost any crazy. It catches upset, angry, people off guard, because they generally pounce into the office screaming for attention, because they feel as if their voice is not being heard. But, I learned if I approach them with a warm, gentle smile, they have no other choice but to start over in a semi-friendlier civil manner, because the issue they are angry about has nothing to do with me personally and they know it. Of course, they are still angry, but they become much better to deal with, reducing everyone’s stress levels.
Even more impressive, is the power of a smile when talking on the phone to an angry person. Smiling while talking on the phone keeps your tone warm, soft, and positive. As long as you smile, remain calm, courteous, and are willing to listen, you can quickly defuse a hostile conversation to better resolve issues.
I made it a personal rule to smile, because it is good for everyone. It reduces stress and has the potential to change a negative situation. You don’t have to be a sparkly work nymph, but it doesn’t hurt to smile every so often.
#8 Offer to help another co-worker during your downtime
Sometimes work can be slow, forcing us to finish everything in our inbox and staring blankly at the clock until 5pm. Although this may feel like a great break, I often become stressed over feeling guilty for not doing any work at all. Employers don’t want to see their employees sitting around picking their noses. To reduce this stress, it is best to offer help to others who may be backed up with their own work. This way, you are busy working (being productive), you are helping a fellow co-worker (taking an initiative), you don’t get assigned work you don’t want (like staple removing) and furthermore, working on something that you are not responsible for is absolutely stress-free!
#9 Take frequent breaks
To reduce stress at work, I take frequent breaks. I don’t disappear from my desk every 15 minutes or for long periods of time. I simply take a moment to close my eyes, breathe, and stretch my arms and legs at my desk. I will take on any opportunity to walk around the office (maybe things need to go to the mailroom). Take a soda, coffee, smoke break and go outside for some fresh air. There are many opportunities throughout the day for mini-breaks and not all breaks require leaving one’s desk.
Unless you are a cyborg with the capability to work non-stop from 9-5, let your work go for a minute! No job is worth breaking your back or getting sick over. Your work will still be waiting for you when you come back.
#10 Change out of your work clothes before going home
I refuse to bring my work home with me and to be sure of it, I always kept a change of clothes at my desk. Once the clock hit 4:55pm, I would be in the bathroom changing out of my work clothes into my normal comfortable casual clothes (t-shirt, jeans, and flip flops). I also leave my name tag in my desk drawer or locker. I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager working at my first job.
Going home in casual clothes reduces a lot of work stress for me. It allows me to mentally leave work behind when I go home. Also, walking out of the office wearing casual clothes gives me the feeling of freedom as I don’t have to go home right away to change out of my work clothes. I can go anywhere!
Creating Personal Work Rules
In the beginning, I had no personal work rules. I followed every workplace policy as strictly as they were written and found myself a miserable mess. I eventually realized that workplace policies are just a set of flexible guidelines to ensure workplace order. Policies dictating workflow are often written with the goal to increase productivity without taking in consideration of an employee’s mental health. I respect company policies; however, my own health comes first, thus why I decided to create personal work rules for myself to protect my own mental health.
Do you have any personal work rules to help reduce work stress?