• Eve Arnold

4 (Not So) Basics to a Successful Work Day

Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

The basics. When we are new to work we forget the basics. It’s like we are so focused on driving fast that we forget we need to petrol in the car to get it going.

I’m not quite sure what it is about a new environment that makes us through the rule book out the window. It’s like all of a sudden we are in a new place so we think completely new rules apply. When you first start work there is a lot of adjustment to do, there will be lots to learn but the one thing you need to stay close to is the basics.

The things you’ve learnt up until this point will be your anchor to get you through the first year.

You need to use your anchor to your advantage, don’t neglect the basics.

Here’s what I learnt when I was new to the working world.

Reality – The Basics

Between year 0 and 1 will be the hardest. The first couple of months you will feel a sense of excitement and novelty, the working world is completely new and it feels cool right? New people, new places, new things that are expected of you. The overwhelm to your senses make you feel disorientated and excited at the same time.

Once the novelty wears off though, you will be left feeling confused. The dust settles and you are seeing the clarity of the working world for the first time. That could be a good or a bad thing. It depends where you are and what you want from work. On the bad end, you can see the dust falling to your feet and look up to see monotony. It might be the dull office, the industrial lighting or the sad faces but all of a sudden you see the working world for what it is.

A slow march to death.

Okay, I’m totally joking. It’s all about perspective but there is one thing for sure, everything looks fancy and shiny when it’s new. After a while we get bored.

A Realistic View

Your first year will be the hardest, to feel equipped for that and to avoid mental fatigue there are few things you can do. Work, at least for the most part, will be fairly predictable in the first year.

You’ll probably go through the following emotions:

Month 1

Excitement, everything is new, curiosity is overwhelming your senses and you have so much to learn you could burst. There is a sense of adventure ahead of you. You fall into bed every night exhausted from all the learning and thinking you are doing. You have to learn absolutely everything so the days go quickly and it’s all a little bit of a whirlwind.

Month 2–4

The dust settles. Somewhere between month 2–4 (and it could happen a little later month 3–6) the dust settles. You are over the high of learning a lot in month 1 and now you are left with the realities of the working world.

Month 4–8

The truth of work is exposed. All of a sudden you realise that no one really talks about work, or if they do it’s negatively, and that’s because most people hate their jobs. That’s the truth of the world we live in, most people spend 8–12 hours a day doing something they don’t enjoy. If you scan your workplace you will see those people and it becomes apparently clear that if you don’t work hard, you could become one of those people. Work is not like anyone told you. It’s boring, repetitive and you thought you would be surrounded by people purely elated by what they do everyday. You won’t be.

Month 8–12

Comparison station. Somewhere in the last leg of your first year you start to look around. Looking around at those you went to University with or maybe went to school with, to see what they ended up doing with their life. I’m not quite sure why it’s not until now you start to have a look around but you will and you might not like what you see. When we went to school we were taught that you get good grades, go to University, get a good degree and enter the workplace.

You might though, look around and see that kid who dropped out of school at 14 to help with his mum’s bricklaying business, thriving. He might have just employed his 14th employee and is quite clearly on the road to utter success. That will sting. It will feel confusing because you will sit there and think you’ve done everything right and you’re in a job you don’t like, with no idea what you do like. Yet someone skipped all the steps you took and is making a fortune. There are lots of things to talk about here but the main point is that you will start to look around to see how everyone is doing. Oh yeah, and life isn’t fair.

The first year at work is hard. To get you through, you need to stick to what you know, the basics. Don’t deviate from what you know works for you. There will be lessons you learnt up until this point in your life that you need to lean on now in order to get through the first year. There are a million and one things to learn about the working world, all of that needs to be put on hold and we need to remember the basics.

The Basics

Without these things you will fail. You will get confused about why you’re not progressing, why you can’t seem to focus on one thing, why you are not where you want to be yet. Without getting the basics right you will continue to fall down. The basics are step one. We can’t begin to talk about effective communication, finding your passion, teamwork, and adding value, all those things associated with a good working life, without the basics.

Those basics are:

  1. Water

  2. Nutrition

  3. Sleep

  4. Mindset

For some reason, in business, these things go pretty much under the radar. In sports we talk about them all the time. Every interview with a successful athlete will undoubtedly mention the importance of fuelling our bodies, getting enough fluids in, sleeping right and getting a clear, focused mindset to excel.

Work is no different. This is a marathon and you’ve got miles and miles to run every day. You need to be well rested, properly fuelled and have the right mindset for success. It’s like having a car and concentrating solely on going fast, you want to put your foot down and race to the finish line. However, you are so focused that you forget to change the oil, check the tyre pressure and put fuel in the tank. You slam your foot down and you go fast, for a minute. 60 seconds in though, you burn out. If the tyres haven’t popped, you’ll either run out of fuel or your oil light will come on.

It’s the same in work.

You can sustain bad habits for a little while but if you continue down that path you will find yourself half way down the track and asking for help. You want to get the basics nailed and when you’ve done that you can advance. Only when you’ve got the basics nailed.

Why are these the basics I hear you ask?

1. Water

Us humans are 60% water, our blood is 90% water. That’s a lot of water. So why do we need some much water circulating through our veins? Well water is used in the body a considerable amount. It lubricates joints, forms saliva, delivers oxygen, boosts skin health, regulates body temperature. It even cushions our brains.

On top of that, water intake:

  1. Reduced sugar cravings

  2. Improved exercise and performance

  3. Improved memory and mood

If you want to remember what was said in that meeting, if you want to feel in a spirited mood and not rely on the constant influx of sugary drinks to keep you awake, you need to drink more water. It’s quite interesting the effect of simply drinking more water can have on performance. Try it.

2. Nutrition

“We are what we eat”

The famous saying goes. And there is truth in that, fill yourself up on sugary sweets and doughnuts, you’ll be sure to hit a sugar coma by 11am. The downside of not eating the right stuff has mild to major consequences.

  1. Lethargy/tiredness

  2. Increased number of fall

  3. Constipation

  4. Poor skin health/pressure sores

  5. Depression

  6. Changes in behaviour/cognitive problems/memory loss

  7. Increased infections

If you feel yourself getting frustrated in a meeting, ask yourself, are you actually frustrated or have you just missed breakfast? If you feel yourself wanting to quit and go traveling for a year, just make sure you’ve had lunch first. You think I’m joking, there was a study done on how eating affects a judge’s decisions in the courtroom. You know that small thing of deciding whether to put someone behind bars or not. The study found that the likelihood of a favourable ruling was fairly consistent with when they ate. Just after eating there was a 65% of a favourable ruling, just before lunch? Nearly 0%. The phrase ‘hangry’ is no more true than in a courtroom.

3. Sleep

It’s so easy to be tempted to swap an hour of sleep for an extra hour at the office or working on our side projects. In fact with the side hustle revolution due to be in full swing over the next 7 years, we perhaps need to be more careful than ever about managing our sleep. When we take from the sleep pot we feel it the next day. Ultimately we end up more irritable, we lack focus and we are less productive. On top of that, lack of sleep has serious long term health implications. Not sleeping enough leads to all kind of medical problems.

We should get between 7–9 hours a night. Sleep is not one of those things we can look for efficiencies within. This isn’t lean management, there is no wastage. It’s between 7–9 hours. Not 6.5 hours so you can get an extra half an hour working on that presentation.

4. Mindset

Mindset and having a positive outlook on life has been studied for a good while. When you are new to work one of things that was most apparent to me was the effect thinking positively or negatively can have. There was a time when I’d wake up every day and have the same thoughts. They were bad ones.

Happiness, in healthy populations, reduces the risk of getting ill. In fact, it is about the same reduction as smoking or not. That’s right, being happy has the same improvement on health as smoking or not. A bad mindset is like smoking 40 a day. This isn’t to say that if you are suffering from a terrible disease, thinking positivity is going to cure you. What this is to say is that in healthy populations, thinking positively and being happy reduces the risk of getting ill. In one particular study it was found that happier people lived on average, 7.5 years longer than those that were less happy.

When you’re new to work, get the basics right. Don’t worry about communication skills, mastering the art of the presentation, trying to please people. I mean obviously don’t neglect doing any of those things altogether but if you put your focus anywhere, drive it into getting the basics right. Fuel the car, put the oil in, check the tyres. Once you’ve done all that you can work on driving the thing. Who knows, in a year’s time you might be due an upgrade.

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