As much as we all aspire to say that we successfully “leave work at work” and “don’t let personal drama impact our professional lives,” no one can compartmentalize 100%. Our vocational and personal pursuits will bleed over each other’s lines a little.
Because of this, it’s important to make sure they affect each other in positive ways. Check out these five ways to do that.
Discouraging situations and people surround us every day, but only we can decide if they’re going to drag us down. If you can identify a particular part of your life that’s souring other areas, immediate action is necessary for the sake of your emotional health.
Some negative influences are harder to spot than others. I spent a couple years of college with an extremely pessimistic, insulting roommate. If her attitude had been unbearable all the time, it would have been easy enough to cut ties and get away. However, she was often fun and interesting to be around. Her dark side only came out at random, and only once we started spending large amounts of time together.
The negative people in your career field may be similarly insidious. They may compliment you one minute and tear you down the next in private with your boss, without coming to your first. This leaves you to wonder if you’re somehow causing the craziness, especially if you’re exceeding goals and a team-first employee. If you want to be free from the grip of negativity, you must first refuse to accept such false responsibility.
If you’re not able to cut ties completely with the problem person because of a work situation, a living arrangement, or other obligation, keep your interactions polite and distant. They may wonder why you’re no longer so eager to be buddies off-the-clock; be prepared to explain to them what their behavior is doing to you if you think they’ll hear it. If, based on your past interactions, you only anticipate more abuse if you tell them they’re hurting you, seek out encouraging influences instead and don’t be around the negative ones if you don’t have to.
Get as Much Sleep as You Need
As an adult, you need 7-9 hours of sleep to be fully functional and happy. It may be the “cool” thing to be so overcommitted or love your work so much that you scrape by on four or five hours most nights, but your immune system will be less effective and your attitude will suffer.
Good days start with a routine planned out the night before, and a worry-free, device-free winding-down period to a deep sleep. I always have twice as much energy the next day, and am more willing to work out, when I actually discipline myself to do this.
If your work schedule is so chaotic that you can’t afford to sleep like you need to in one stretch, consider a short nap when you approach your afternoon crash time. (It’s not like you ever get any quality work done when you’re nodding off anyway.) Differing nap lengths have different memory benefits and require varying levels of willpower to snap out of.
It may take some experimenting to find your optimal naptime. Recruit a friend or give yourself an incentive to help you end your naps when you should, until your body gets used to the new routine. Whenever you’re able to sleep, avoid bad habits like keeping an irregular schedule or listening to music as you drop off.
Energize Your Body by Eating Well
Good eating habits aren’t just for those who can afford to buy all-organic groceries. If you limit your dining out, you can usually eat healthy food at home on a very reasonable budget.
Why is it important to be so careful about what you eat? For one thing, the more nutrients your food contains, the more energy you’ll be able to extract from your food overall. You’ll also sleep better, think more clearly, be less prone to unhealthy weight gain from empty calories, and strengthen your immune system against preventable self-inflicted diseases.
You may experience an uncomfortable system shock if you try to switch from eating mostly junk food to mostly whole food. You’ll also be less likely to stick with new eating habits if you immediately go cold turkey with your old ones. Instead, slowly replace your unwholesome comfort foods with healthier alternatives one at a time. Learn how to make food ahead so you have a healthy option to grab when you’re in a hurry, instead of relying on potato chips and microwave pizzas. This also eases the burden on your wallet, since bringing your own lunch is much cheaper than buying it every day.
Foods that relate specifically to your professional life by upgrading your body function include healthy fats, mineral-rich foods, leafy vegetables, and entrees with balanced glycemic indices. Another important tip is to restrict your after-dark eating to the occasional treat; habitually eating after sunset disturbs your sleep and turns more of your food into fat instead of fuel. Whatever amount of fun you may get from midnight snacking isn’t worth the downside.
Unplug and Go Outside
If you know anyone (including yourself) who seems depressed or cranky most of the time, you can likely connect that trend to the amount of time they spend with their tech. Interacting with other people is key to lifting your spirits, so if most of your work and/or free time involves a screen, it’s time to unplug and be physically present when you engage friends and family.
When you spend so much time with objects that require a plug (thereby keeping you also tethered near an electrical socket), what are you really gaining? After a while, there’s nothing left to do but check the same sites over and over again. If your coworkers actually expect you to be that available all the time, it may be necessary to explain to them that you are a human being, not an extension of your job; and your tech is for your own convenience, not theirs.
Logging off frequently gives you time for much more enjoyable, real-world activities like an outdoor pastime or a heart-to-heart with a friend. Face-to-face conversations and eye contact with those you care about are always better over food and drinks versus over Skype or Google Hangout.
Also, hug a teammate for a job well done every now and then! Hugs are not always appropriate at work, unless it’s with an established years-old associate with whom you’ve grown together in the company with, and not the new intern. But pat on the shoulder after a good job, high-five, or hug can increase morale in ways words can’t, so embrace when it’s fitting but not often.
Get Active in Your Community
Part of getting out and connecting with people includes volunteering to improve your community. There’s always something going on, even if you live in a small town. If kids are your forte, you can probably help with an after-school program or weekend tutoring. Hands-on types would be a great asset to Habitat for Humanity. Homeless shelters can always use an extra hand from someone who just wants to serve. When I was younger, one of my favorite service activities was packing Christmas boxes for impoverished children.
Giving of your time makes you an attractive job candidate as well; it shows that your main focus in life isn’t only you. If you show enough initiative to do something you enjoy even if you’re not getting paid, employers figure that you’ll bring the same kind of drive and inspiration to their company. You’ll meet all kinds of fun people while you’re serving together, too.
Be sure you check your motives on this. Volunteering just to put something that looks good on your resume, but being completely unmotivated by the work you’re doing, will be obvious to those watching you. The coordinators whom you ask for references won’t be shy about admitting to your potential boss that you always acted like you were serving time. Don’t serve unless you mean it.
What tricks of the trade have you discovered for improving your professional life? Comment below with your favorite practices!