How to Guides

How Taking Care of Yourself Will Make You Better at Your Job

Written by Kate Lopaze

You know that coworker who runs marathons in her spare time and talks about the amazing hot yoga class she attended at 6 a.m.? Admit it, you kinda hate her as you shuffle in, grumpy and 15 minutes late because your alarm didn’t go off and you didn’t even have time for your customary egg and cheese burrito breakfast. How is it possible for one person to have it all together, that healthy life stuff balanced with the everyday demands of work?

Believe it or not, it’s possible without changing totally into the guy who manages to answer 45 emails on his morning train while drinking home-brewed kombucha, or the woman who uses the treadmill desk all day without breaking a sweat. (Though if you’re already doing those things, keep on keepin’ on!) It’s about making manageable, easy-to-implement changes to your daily routines. These small changes can add up to big results in your life overall, but taking care of yourself can really pay dividends in your professional life as well.

Concentrate on Food and Fitness

Changing up your diet is one of the most basic things you can do to feel better and put some structure around your self-reboot efforts. Unfortunately, for some of us it’s also one of the most challenging ones. Even the strongest resolve to eat that green salad for lunch can crumble under the reality of free pizza leftover from a meeting. (But… but… it’s free!!) Whatever your barriers to eating better at work, there are some strategies you can adopt to stay satisfied during the day and (hopefully) have it be less of a struggle.

Or there’s the convenience factor: the lunch place right down the street will bring your salad to you, for the low low price of $8.95 (plus tip). That adds up, especially if your self-improvement plan also involves a budget. Making an effort to eat better at work is a conscious choice, but one that will be even better when your take-out sandwich savings translate into a treat yo self reward at some point.

1. Eat a protein-packed breakfast.

High-protein breakfasts help you start the day on a satisfied and raring-to-go note. If you have a good breakfast, you’re more likely to perform well at work, and less likely to fall prey to that Hershey bar looking enticingly at you from the vending machine as you walk by.

2. Snack wisely.

Instead of hitting the vending machine for that 10 a.m. or 3 p.m. snackishness, try eating nuts or fruit instead, or a granola bar (not the ones that are dipped in chocolate, sorry).

3. Pack a lunch.

This way, you know exactly what you’re eating (no sneaky sugar or calories that you don’t expect). Eating Well has some great (and inexpensive—bonus!) recipes that can help you get into the bag lunch routine.

And you don’t have to sacrifice the social aspects of eating with coworkers, or the simple joy of getting away from your desk to grab lunch. Packed lunches are portable! You can head to a common area, or even head outside to get away from your desk. There’s no excuse for sad desk lunches if you don’t want to go down that dark path.

Another way to keep yourself sharp and ready for anything is to work in a little exercise with your workday. Sitting at a desk all day is not only a danger to your health (potentially causing headaches, back pains, and other ailments), but it can also be a spirit-crusher. Don’t let inertia weigh you down.

Treadmill desks and standing desks are cool, but if they’re not for you (or in your company’s budget), there are plenty of ways you can get moving, even on the most demanding days.

You can shake off the desk blues (not to mention some stress while you’re at it) with small exercises you can do at or near your desk. If you’re not feeling cardio today, or if your work clothes aren’t really made for boxing, there’s always a classic: office yoga. Or if you sit out in Open-Plan Cubicle Land like I do, a version of office yoga that won’t freak out your coworkers. And in fact, if you feel self-conscious about the idea of doing your mini-fitness routines in front of coworkers, any of these things can be done in an empty room/out of the way spot.

And really, you don’t have to overthink the fitness-at-work thing. Getting up and walking around can help get the blood moving and clear your head. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator is an easy win too. Just take a few minutes every hour to get up and move around.

Bottom line: if your body feels below par, your performance at work probably will be too. By making small tweaks to your food and activity level to make yourself feel better overall, you’ll have more energy to devote to your tasks at hand.

Build Solid Habits and Routines

If you want to start getting the most out of your workday, it’s worth taking a look at all of your daily routines, and how they affect your professional life. We’re all creatures of habit, but are all those habits truly useful? Fast Company suggests asking yourself 5 questions to see if your habits are working for you:

  1. What’s the value in this routine?
  2. Am I more concerned with the routine itself than the results?
  3. Can I handle emergencies that upset the routine?
  4. Can I handle change?
  5. Does this routine stifle my creativity?

These questions help you target the value of your daily habits, and identify ones that aren’t really working for you (outside of consistency). Once you have a better understanding of what’s serving you well and where you could improve or make things more efficient, you can start thinking about what comes next.

For example: if you leave your house 10 minutes earlier, does that take a stressful edge off your morning once you get into the office? Do you block out enough time to do routine tasks, or do they get lost in the shuffle of your day? Do you spend time writing up the same five or six types of emails, when a copy-and-paste template would make things easier? Again, small wins are the goal; we’re happier and more productive when we don’t feel bogged down by minutiae.

Change Your Outlook and Attitude Adjustment

And sometimes the solutions for being your best self are living inside your own head. Everything is the worst when we expect it to be the worst. People are more annoying, requests are more ridiculous, and there’s never enough time when we start from a negative-attitude position. You don’t have to become the most relentlessly cheerful person around, but when your happiness starts sliding a bit because work is stressful or things aren’t going the way you’d like, try to take a step back and shake off some of the negative perceptions. It can be as simple as taking the time to thank someone (genuinely) for a job well done, or a favor they’ve done for you. And when things are rough or busy, take a minute to reflect on what went right today.

What to avoid when revamping your workplace mindset:

  • Gossip/making negative comments about others
  • Backstabbing/not being up front with people
  • Sarcasm (that’s a tough one, I know)
  • Swearing (gosh darnit)

A positive attitude is one of the qualities that people (notably, bosses) notice when it’s time to promote and reward employees. It’s definitely in your best interest to be that productive, supportive team member.

Never Stop Learning

One of the most important things you can do to be your best self is to keep learning, no matter where you are in your career. Everyone has skills they can pick up or improve upon. If there’s a new type of software or process relevant to your job, learn it. If your presentation skills could use a boost, take a public speaking class. This not only builds your resume, but also keeps you busy and engaged.

This kind of self-directed self-improvement also shows you’re someone who’s always looking to improve the status quo. That’s a quality that’s appealing to the powers that be, and who knows—your next career opportunity could be sitting in that class, or that shiny new skill could be the one that nets you a promotion.

What it all comes down to is this: if you want to be more productive at work and on your career path in general, it’s all on you. The changes you make to your daily life to make things more streamlined, or to make yourself feel better—those will translate into being a more proactive and productive employee, and help make more opportunities happen.

About the author

Kate Lopaze

Kate Lopaze is a writer, editor, and digital publishing professional based in New York City. A graduate of the University of Connecticut and Emerson College with degrees in English and publishing, she is passionate about books, baseball, and pop culture (though not necessarily in that order), and lives in Brooklyn with her dog.