5 Self-Management Tricks for a Grueling Desk Job

Woman looking at a computer with her head in her hands

Even the best job has its moments. These tips will help you navigate the less-than thrilling moments of your career so you can stay on track and get shit done.

1.   Clear your backlog

Maybe you need a brain-break from your current project or maybe you’ve got some downtime. This is a great opportunity to clear the clutter and get organized. Is your inbox full of junk? Is your desk littered with papers to file? 

Don’t get sidetracked trying to follow up on tasks just yet. You’re trying to organize them, not accomplish them. 

Right now just focus on categorizing: 

  • needs reply (things you have not yet answered)
  • needs research (things that require more info)
  • needs reminder (things you need from others but have not gotten yet). 

Without fail, each time I do this I end up with a tiny and totally manageable number of things to follow up on. A stack of papers that was giving me stress is whittled down to a handful of actionable items.

2.   Set a timer

Give yourself timed challenges. Set a timer for 20 minutes, 30 minutes, or an hour and commit to focusing for the allotted time. Time for a break? Set a timer for that! 

When I was indexing books (yes, that’s a thing) this strategy was essential to my productivity. I would come home from an 8-hour workday and sit down for another 4-6 hours of indexing. I was tired and easily distracted and sitting in a chair that long makes me squirmy!

Person working in a cafe

3.   Move

Are you feeling squirmy? Whether it’s moving your body or your desk, change will do you good.

A sit/stand desk has been a lifesaver for me. Up for an hour, down for 30 minutes, up for an important phone call or presentation, down for schedules and spreadsheets. It keeps my legs awake and my back limber.

If you have the freedom to change location, use it. An afternoon of data entry on the patio with an iced coffee can be a nice change of pace. Stuck in a sea of cubicles? Not even a window? See if there’s a conference room or lounge space you can use, even for 30 minutes. The fresh scenery will feel like a break even though you’re still slogging through your to-do list.

4.   Gamify

Make it fun! Set challenges and rewards for yourself. Can you finish your task before lunch? Meet your goal and you get a treat. Fail, and it’s cafeteria food for you! 

I’ve also been known, during especially frustrating projects, to turn those frustrations into a game of bingo. Each square represents a particular nuisance. Email went to spam? That’s a square. System went down? BINGO! 

Note: Keep it lighthearted and kind. Poking fun at the situation is one thing, poking fun at coworkers is another. 

Coworkers collaborating around a table

5.   Team Up

Speaking of teammates, they’re there to help! If you’re all working on the same project, try dividing up the work so that everyone can get into a flow. Repetitive tasks can be boring, but other times you can get in a groove and just fly right through them. You may even reduce your data errors. It’s easier to notice outliers and mistakes when you’re repeating the same task than when you’re changing tasks every minute.

In action this division of labor might look like one person entering data while the other audits. One person might schedule calls and follow up with clients while the other builds the sales deck.

Whether your job excites you or not, you know you’ve got to show up and do the work. Your personal integrity depends on it! Hopefully these tips can help you manage the long days and challenging projects.

What are your tips and tricks for handling the tough stuff at work? I’d love to hear from you!

—Written by Nina Ottman

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