So, you’ve got your first grad job and, suddenly, you’re expected to work 60, 70, even 100+ hours a week. I found myself in a similar situation when I finished my master’s degree and struggled initially to find a good work-life balance.
I had always prided myself on being an efficient worker, so working in an industry based on billable hours (and the resulting rewarding of overwork) was a bit of a shock to the system to say the least.
However, I learned quickly that your body and mind can pretty quickly adapt to whatever you put them through (though, not going to lie, there were a few breakdowns in the process).
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You will often be asked to do more work than there are literally enough hours in the day to complete (even if you pulled an actual all-nighter, which you sometimes might have to do). Learn to say no tactfully, so it doesn’t seem like you’re trying to get out of work or be unhelpful, but you still manage supervisors’ expectations.
Do you work best with music or no music? In complete silence, or with background chatter? Do you need snacks every couple of hours? On that note, for me, noise cancelling headphones were an absolute LIFESAVER for helping me get in the zone and get things done. I love the Sony ones.
Now, I know it’s not realistic to stop checking your emails at 5pm if you have a high-stress job, but, you can probably get away with putting your phone away around 11 at night so you can get an hour of phone-free time if you go to bed at midnight, for example. This may not be possible during busy times but having at least some time where you don’t feel like you are “on call” is important.
Occasionally, when things aren’t busy, try to go a full day without checking your email. Actually turning your brain off work-mode for a day can help your mental health and stamina a surprising amount.
Even if you just wait 10 minutes instead of 1, it will help you get more work done more efficiently and hopefully shave a little time off your daily hours. Like tip number 3, this may not be possible during normal working hours, but the later in the night it is, the longer these intervals can probably be.
That way, once you do manage to go home, it’ll be much easier to fall asleep.
When you’re working late, even 20 minutes of extra sleep feels like an eternity that you’ll cherish.
I really like allplants which delivers pre-made, healthy vegan meals that taste good too.
It will keep you energized and feeling good when your job is pushing your physical and mental limits. Plus, it’ll keep you from getting sick. Eating junk food late at night at your desk will make you feel worse than you might already feel being stuck at work, I promise.
This means, if you can afford a cleaner and/or a laundry service, it might be worth getting one. Having those couple of hours per week to relax instead of having to do chores is a lifesaver.
When you’re tired from working too much, it’s tempting to just drink coffee all day, but water will perk you up too (and keep you healthy).
If you have too much work to physically complete, you might need to talk to your line manager or your team about getting some help with it. If it’s a systemic issue, it might be worth talking to a trusted mentor or HR. If you’re sick and need time off, don’t be afraid to get a doctor’s note and stay home.
Now, we’ve probably all learned this lesson by now from the coronavirus pandemic. You’ll avoid getting others sick and, if you push through it when you’re really ill, you’re going to recover much more slowly. I know that if you work in a country like the U.S., you might not get sick leave, so, if you absolutely must work, at least try to work from home until you’re better.
This helps keep your circadian rhythm healthy (particularly in the winter when you may go to work in the dark and go home in the dark) and generally will make you feel better on a tough day.
Try to be as up front with your friends and family as possible, but sometimes they just won’t understand why you’re doing it (or why you’re so tired if they’ve never been through it) and that’s okay. Seek support from those who do understand. That being said, even though you may not achieve your ideal work-life balance, it's important to make time to see family and friends and do fun things as well.
Ultimately, you will get used to it. That being said, if it is seriously affecting your mental and physical health (as it was for me after a few years), don’t be afraid to quit and try something else.
So, is it worth it? For me, it was a way to earn a good amount of money, learn, and advance in my career quickly. It can be a great stepping stone to what you want to do later in life. On the plus side, everything else you do afterwards will seem easier!
Do you have a high-pressure job? How do you deal with working long hours and maintaining work-life balance? Share your stories in the comments below!
Want more? Check out my other career tips.