Top 10 Tips for Surviving Office Life


The modern office isn’t quite a wretched hive of scum and villainy, but it’s not always pleasant, either. If your workspace, your co-workers, or your sinking feeling of not getting anything done needs fixing, here are ten possible remedies.

10. Have Someone Else Do Your Handicapping

office setup
office setup (Photo credit: Rob ‘n’ Rae)

You can only tell everybody you work with about your sleepless nights, your headache, and other self-handicapping excuses for so long, before everybody just starts putting your skills and competency at the level you’ve set with your frequent tales of woe. If you really do end up staying up all night due to the neighbors’ alarm, try to get someone else to deliver your rough condition for you—a co-worker, a spouse, anybody except you, the person who’s always got an “If I didn’t” story. Read the New York Times’ examination of excuse psychology for the details.
9. Ask Others to Be Creative Without Putting It That Way
Ask a team member or group in a meeting to “be creative,” and they’re likely to either laugh at your naivet’e or simply clam up in fear of responding with, well, something uncreative. Instead, ask, as Newsweek suggests, that they “[d]o something only [they] would come up with—that none of [their] friends or family would think of.” That lowers the stakes in suggestiveness, but still allows them to tap their unique thoughts.
8. Leave Without Burning Bridges

Bridges across the Chicago River, seen from a ...
Bridges across the Chicago River, seen from a Water Taxi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s easy to think “See you, suckers!” when you land another great gig, or can just see freedom coming up around the bend. Before splitting the scene, though, consider what happens if your next gig doesn’t work out, or if you need a favor, and keep your bridges intact. Tell your co-workers and managers that you’re leaving for growth opportunities in the new firm, that you’re leaving behind the company but not your relationships, and don’t waste any time bad-mouthing your old job to customers or new employees—you’ve got to finish up your work before you leave. It all sounds goody-goody, but it’s a small two-week investment in what might be a great resource in the future.

7. Get Around or Work Beyond Lame IT Restrictions
Some companies have a certain set of computer apps they want their employees to work inside, and nothing more. Gina’s previously recommended USB thumb drive apps and some other clever tactics to survive IT lockdown, but for those stuck in the browser race with Internet Explorer, we’ve also offered up our guide to getting Firefox’s best features in Internet Explorer.

6. Ease Into Small Talk with Anybody

Small Talk
Small Talk (Photo credit: CarbonNYC)

The tendency, at least for those not in sales, is to shrink into a corner and talk with well-known co-workers at larger events and office functions. Need some help getting out and circulating? Wired’s How-To Wiki has some great advice on making small talk, using a handful of proven tactics. Wry observations about the situation can work, but if you’re just trying to chat up one person, try looking for subjects that give the other person a chance to tell you more about themselves. More importantly, resist the temptation to follow up with your own, even more fantastical story, or you’ll be known as the person who talks to people just so they can talk at people.

5. Consider the Realities of Telecommuting
If you don’t like going into work and have daydreams of working from home, don’t indulge your fantasies without some consideration. You may think it’s rough having to deal with Sheryl from accounting, but at least when you’re away from your desk, or in a meeting, or you’ve called in sick, she’s not a bother. Working from home, on the other hand, can mean feeling like you need to be constantly accessible, as a New York Times feature explains. Due to social psychology or personal guilt, many work-from-home types end up dishing out more hours from home to clients than they ever would have at the office. It’s still an exciting challenge, but consider what you’re getting to get away with at the office before you curse it too deeply.

4. Crank Out Important Stuff Before Email Does You In
Success Ahead .. Helping others is a pillar of...

Those days where you realize it’s 4 p.m. and you still, somehow, haven’t really tackled the most important task on your list? They often get that way because you get sucked into every other worker’s dilemmas and issues, without giving yourself solid time to sit down and focus. So do as Gina suggested and don’t check email for the first hour. As crazy as it sounds, if it’s the first hour of your day, people might not actually expect you to get back to them ASAP, and you can work on your work before anyone tells you otherwise.

3. Avoid Email Annoyances and Red Flags

Red flag left
Red flag left (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ever wonder why your boss might cringe a bit when you email him about a “huge mistake” that you “can’t believe” wasn’t handled better? It might be because he knows such phrases are red flags that lawyers and investigators look for. You shouldn’t lie, of course, but your boss wouldn’t want you pasting signs in the window that read “Shady Things Happening Here!” either. While you’re considering your email output, ponder the most annoying email tendencies our readers came up with. Not everybody agrees, but take them for what they are—suggestions that the most automated and pointless of email signatures are what you should try to avoid, not common, sincere pleasantries.

2. Make Your Physical Space Much Better with Small Changes

Pst! Is getting closer to physically tweeting ...
Pst! Is getting closer to physically tweeting space… (Photo credit: meganleigh)

You can’t just ask for the corner office, but you can make the place you do your job much better with small-scale changes. Consider buying yourself a great mouse or comfortable keyboard, the kind you’ll take with you to your next assignment. Make some ergonomic changes, get yourself some hard-to-kill plants, and greatly improve your physical space.

1. Ignore People—Seriously

Image representing 37signals as depicted in Cr...
Image via CrunchBase

37Signals leader and Rework author Jason Fried lays out the case for why so many people are working on nights and weekends—it’s the only time they can actually work. Too many offices have an environment where not immediately responding to an IM, an email, or a just-over-the-cubicle “Got a minute?” is seen as rude or un-team-like. Fried suggests creating a culture, even if it’s just a culture of one, in which work is valued, messages are replied to at sane intervals, and nobody has to do secret day-off work.

Get chatty in the comments.

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