Going through a breakup? Fighting with your friends? Having issues with children (or for my friends, puppies)? It can all be mentally and emotionally exhausting and can have dire effects on your ability to be 100% you at work.
When I am having a hard time outside of work, I feel it in the way I approach people and problems at the workplace. I am much more short-tempered, impatient, and sometimes wish I could just shut my office door (or in open space, put on my headphones) and not talk to anyone all day. But maybe that is also me everyday….
Unfortunately, as you progress into people management or self-employment, this is not possible. You have to always be ‘on’.
So what can you do to make the work day easier when you’re having a hard time at home?
1. Be open about it — it’s OK to not be OK
Unless you are one of those people who are jolly, never tired, and full of positivity about getting up every morning (the worst haha), it’s OK not to be OK. Even at work.
In researching this blog post, I found many articles that emphasize the line between professional and personal. But with that line ever blurring, I think that advice is outdated.
Author Dr. Sylvia Lafair puts it nicely when she writes, “the mantra, “Don’t bring it to work” shuts down self-expression. When we can’t talk in an adult way sharing our concerns and struggles, stress builds and emotions get buried in deeper, more primal parts of our nervous systems until, like a latent volcano, they begin to bubble and finally erupt.”
Of course, I would not advise you to go around complaining about your spouse at work or telling all of your personal details to everyone around you. But it is OK to let someone at work (be it a boss or someone else you trust) know that you have had a couple things on your mind lately outside of work. And that this may influence reactions, approaches, and timelines to project deliverables.
When explained in terms of tasks and not emotions, it becomes a lot easier to have an open conversation about it. You may even be rewarded for it: studies have shown that a pessimistic outlook can lead to higher productivity and better communication skills.
2. However, for the important stuff, still fake it ’til you make it
But sometimes there are important deadlines or meetings that just won’t accommodate your husband leaving you (I went there). Client meetings, pitches, or investor presentations, sometimes you need to be on point when you are clearly not.
That is when you take a page from your favourite actors (good actors) and put on a face. But don’t be a different person than your usual self, just a more upbeat, put-together version of who you currently are.
How to do so?
- Make a good impression early so that you can let it slip later on. This will plant a positive seed in others minds, which will help you throughout the course of the meeting or day.
- A great article from Entrepreneur.com suggests that it’s never really you going into work anyways. So when in a bad mood, think of yourself at work as a self-presented version of yourself, involving tactics. These tactics are used everyday and include:
- smiling when not happy
- shaking hands vigorously
- acting interested when bored
- raising your eyebrows and maintaining eye contact when someone is talking
- Partake in #3 below at least 30 minutes beforehand (stained eyes are never great)
3. Find a good place to be alone (and maybe, cry)
If things are really boiling over and being around people is just too hard, find a place that can be your quiet, alone spot. Hopefully, somewhere no one knows about or where you can also do work for a couple of hours without anyone noticing.
If this isn’t possible, think about places where you can take even 5 minutes to relax and maybe let out a good cry.
I found a staircase once. Had a good cry in there. Also phoned a couple of friends for advice on the situation at-hand and had a good laugh or two. Luckily no one came into the staircase at that moment, otherwise I would have been a hot mess.
Many people use the bathroom stall as a respite…..but don’t stay in there too long.
4. Schedule work meetings for personal items
When I was looking to buy a condo, I was stressed out of my mind because the majority of the looking online, setting up viewings, and bidding had to be done during the work day.
What I did wrong was that I was doing it continuously throughout the day.
If your personal responsibilities and issues are the majority of your work day, you have a problem. What you need to do is start compartmentalizing these issues or ‘tasks’ into a 30 minute window — devoted solely to getting personal shit done.
- Book it in your calendar and don’t let other meetings conflict
- If someone asks what it is, tell them it is time you have booked to ‘read’, ‘learn’ or for ’email catch up time’. Obviously, try not to let it overtake your actual work duties.
- Do not let yourself fall back into the black hole of personal issues during the rest of the work day, other than during lunch breaks.
I hope that the tips and advice above will help make you be calmer, feel better, and maybe not be a (complete) dick at work in the meantime.