My first job ever was in fast food, and it taught me a lot of things. There was a certain mentality that could be summed up by the phrase, “if you’re leaning you could be cleaning.” In a nutshell, there wasn’t meant to be any downtime. If there were no customers, there was always an unlimited supply of more work to do.
This constant nose to the grindstone philosophy really grinds away at your will to work. The ask is that you give your all for the company and work as hard as you possibly can constantly until it is time to go home. In that environment, sometimes that is how things need to be. I remember days working over 10 hours and not having time to stop to eat.
The constant grind and requirement to do more did help make me a better worker, but it was quite a shock when I started my first job in an office setting. I was introduced to the concept of downtime in the workplace. People were in the office, but did things other than work.
People were in the office, but did things other than work
I soon realized that my coworkers were actually being more productive by doing less, whether they knew it or not. See, one of the downsides of the relentless task masters found in many fast food restaurants is that you often get pushed past the point of even wanting to work.
These work habits office made me realize that I needed breaks to refresh and see problems with fresh eyes. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and massive numbers of companies letting their employees work remotely, breaks and the work life balance are even more critical than ever.
Take a coffee break
When I was still working in the office, it wasn’t uncommon for someone to walk past my desk and ask if I wanted to grab a coffee. That quick walk down a few flights of stairs, a short wait later, and boom, I’m a freshly caffeinated worker, ready to get back to whatever it is I was working on.
But it is so much more than that sweet, sweet caffeine. The short walk gets the blood flowing again. The social interaction helps reduce stress. Sometimes you even run into someone who was avoiding your emails and get to have a work chat. This is so much more than just sating the addiction to those tasty beans. Regardless of what you get done on your coffee break, it’s a win.
These days the coffee machine is closer and our friends are farther away. The COVID version? Schedule a quick 5–10 video call with a coworker. Bring your freshly brewed K cup and have a chat!
Ask for help
Everyone has been there. You started your new job and are stuck on a problem. You just can’t seem to wrap your head around it. Your code won’t compile, the books don’t balance, you can’t figure out how to do what your boss asked. You took a coffee break and the answer still hasn’t presented itself.
Ask someone for help. Hell, ask anyone for help.
Obviously someone who knows what you need will be a great resource. They can help you solve the problem or find where you are making your error. Stand on the shoulders of giants and use the knowledge of your team and colleagues to help you out.
Now why would you want to ask someone who obviously won’t be able to help you to solve the problem? They clearly don’t know the subject or details of what you’re trying to do. Instead of learning from them, teach them.
Instead of learning from them, teach them
In order to teach someone how to do something, you first need to have some understanding of how to do it yourself. What happens when you start to teach them is you affirm your understanding of how to do the task at hand.
Another side effect of teaching someone how to do something is you more closely examine what you are doing. For me, this is the most helpful part. I’ll look at the problem through their eyes and start spotting all of my mistakes. They might not learn a whole lot from this exercise, but I will find all of the flaws much faster than if I just sat there staring at the problem.
You might not be able to hop into a conference room to use the projector and whiteboard if you are working from home, but there is always a way! Share your screen on Zoom or Slack (FaceTime if that’s all you’ve got!). Many of these apps have digital whiteboards if you need to white something out like that.
Get a fresh set of eyes
You already had your coffee and talked to someone else, but you are still banging your head against the wall trying to figure it out. Newsflash: not all of the problems you see today will look like problems tomorrow. Some things will just make more sense when you get back to it the next day.
So if it is almost quitting time (and you have the freedom to do so), take off a few minutes early for the day. Can’t leave yet? Find another work task you can do to take your mind off of it. You will still be productive for the remainder of the work day. Nobody wants to end on a bad note.
After some good sleep, you can attack the problem again tomorrow. I’m sure you don’t want to experience The horrible effects caused by a lack of sleep. And besides, working from home means you’re that much closer to your bed.