Career

4 Ways to Survive When You Work Long Hours

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Joanne Poh

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There are many Singaporeans who rarely see the sun. No, they’re not all vampires or working the graveyard shift. These are many people who start work at 9am, but only knock off at 8pm or later.

These are the guys who have given us the reputation as a nation that works some of the longest hours in the world. According to a 2016 survey, 2/3 of Singaporeans felt obliged to work beyond their stipulated contractual hours.

So you routinely work long hours, but you’re not about to quit your job anytime soon? If you don’t like something yet you don’t want to change it, the best thing you can do is to learn to survive it as best you can. Here are some tips for surviving those long hours without burning out or going insane.

 

Reduce stress by planning ahead

If you spend very long hours at work, it goes without saying that you’ve got less personal time. However, your quality of life isn’t determined just by the amount of free time you have, but how you use it. Your friends may technically have more time than you, but don’t be surprised if being disorganised means a lot of this time ends up wasted.

Reduce stress and make yourself feel less harried by planning ahead whenever you can. For instance, if you waste 15 minutes every morning trying to decide what to wear, you know how stressful it is as you dig though the piles of clothes in your wardrobe while trying to make it in time to catch the bus. Choose and lay out your clothes in the evening when you’re feeling more relaxed, and you’ll save yourself a lot of grief, and also win an extra 15 minutes of shut-eye.

It also helps to think about what you’re doing after work the next day and plan in advance. If you’re planning to go to the gym, pack your gym bag the night before and take it with you to work. If you’re meeting friends for dinner and drinks after work, decide on a place the day before, because when you’re rushing to finish your work at 8:30pm you’re not going to want to have to check the Whatsapp group chat every 3 seconds.

 

Don’t neglect your diet and exercise

Hands up anyone who’s ever eaten cup noodles in their cubicle at 8pm, preparing for a long night ahead typing up reports. Yes, the feeling sucks. But if you routinely neglect maintaining a decent diet and exercising regularly, over time you can expect the feeling to suck more and more.

People who work long hours need to keep their bodies and minds sharp. All those evenings spent hunched over your keyboard will take their toll on your body and mental health in time to come if you’re not careful.

Ironically, work is usually the excuse people give for eating crap and not having the time and energy to exercise. Well, for most of these people, that’s because looking after their bodies isn’t a priority.

So long as you have an hour of free time before or after work, or at least 45 minutes of lunch break, you have the time to squeeze in a quick run or a spot of yoga. Look after your body and the 3pm slump when you find yourself trying desperately to avoid a faceplant on your keyboard won’t be as difficult.

 

Maximise the amount of sleep you get

Singaporeans are some of the most sleep-deprived people on the planet. The effects of being chronically sleep-deprived are well-documented and I won’t bore you with them, but let’s just say there’s a reason you feel like stabbing that colleague in the eyeballs when she chirps “good morning” as you trudge to your cubicle. Lots of people blame work for not getting enough sleep, but in truth, many of us are just lousy at time management.

For example, I have a friend who works from 8:30am to 8 or 9pm every day and sleeps at 1 or 2am. Obviously, he is chronically exhausted. But the truth is, he usually goes to bed around midnight. He then spends the next 1 to 2 hours watching YouTube on his smartphone.

Often, for those who work long hours, getting enough sleep isn’t just a matter of going to bed earlier. Some people are actually at work all the way till 10pm and beyond, which means it’s impossible to get those 8 hours unless they permanently give up dinner and showers. Others have a barrage of duties at home like looking after the baby that keep them busy till the wee hours.

If that sounds like you, you need to maximise the amount of sleep you get. Office workers in China often take naps during lunchtime, rolling out an exercise mat and catching forty winks under their desks. You might be uncomfortable doing that in front of your colleagues, but maybe there’s a storeroom or unused meeting room, or even a stairwell you can hide out in if you’re desperate.

You also want to cut your morning routine to be as bare-bones as possible so you can wake up as late as possible. Have your morning coffee and breakfast at the office instead of at home, wash your hair before you go to bed, and instead of setting multiple alarms an hour before you actually wake up, set them to all go off minutes before you need to be up.

 

If there is no way for you to spend less time at work, spend wasted time at the office seeing to personal matters or working on personal projects

Just because you’re spending long hours at the office doesn’t mean you’re necessarily working intensely all that time.

It’s extremely annoying, but many bosses in Singapore are still obsessed with face time. It’s not uncommon for employees to sit around doing nothing all day and then start rushing their work after 6pm. Inconsiderate bosses have also been known to sit on assignments until 6pm, when they finally dump them on their employees’ desks and say they need the work done by tomorrow.

If that sounds like your situation, and you often find your time in the office unproductive, you either find a way to cut the number of hours you spend at work, or you maximise the time spent in the office.

For instance, if your work only comes in in the afternoon and your mornings are relatively free, you can run errands, read the news, have breakfast, or even take a shower (don’t tell the other commuters on the MRT I suggested this) at the office instead of during your personal time.

You can also bring personal projects to complete during office hours. Want to learn programming, study for the CFA exams, update your blog or study a new language? Bring this stuff to the office.

If you can nip away from the office for short periods during the day you can also run errands during office hours. Go to the bank or post office, buy groceries and return books to the library whenever you can during the day. That way, what little free time you have will actually be free.

Do you work long hours? Share your survival tips in the comments!

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Joanne Poh

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.