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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

6 Simple Ways to Keep Your Sanity When You're Working Insane Hours

These days, everyone’s busy. But for you, busy is an understatement. Maybe you’re working on a huge project with a looming deadline, are deep in your industry’s prime season, or have a generally taxing job that requires long hours year-round. Whatever the reason, you’re not just busy—you’re knee-deep in 80-hour work weeks.

It’s no surprise that constantly working crazy hours can easily turn into burnout and mental fatigue. So when the going gets tough and the hours get long, it’s not enough to just hold on for dear life until your next vacation. Learn how to stay energized, focused, and—most importantly—sane with these tips.

1. Nail the Basics

When you’re overwhelmed with work, it’s easy to let everyday necessities fall by the wayside. You opt for takeout over a balanced meal, pound cups of coffee rather than water, and skip the gym, convincing yourself that pacing up and down the hall during a conference call can suffice as your daily dose of cardio.

While these options may seem necessary, they can quickly take a toll on your physical and mental health, leaving you irritable, lethargic, and even more stressed.

So, first things first: Make sure you take care of yourself. Schedule fitness in your daily routine (even if it’s just a 15-minute morning stretch session before work), keep a stash of healthy snacks at your desk, or find a quiet place to take a 20-minute nap instead of grabbing another cup of coffee. Your mind, body, and boss will thank you.

2. Simplify Your Routine

Mark Zuckerberg wears a gray t-shirt every day to pare down the number of decisions he has to make, allowing him to spend that mental energy on more important matters. Adopting a “work uniform” is a simple change that can enable you to be more productive.

However, you can apply that idea to other parts of your daily routine, too. For example, you could pack all your lunches for the week on Sunday afternoon, so each morning, you can just grab and go. Or, maybe you schedule a food delivery service, such as Blue Apron or Plated, so you never have to decide what to cook for dinner or shop for ingredients.

When you’re extremely busy, every minute—and decision—counts. Simplifying your routine won’t only heighten your ability to stay focused on work; little by little, it will add free time to your schedule that you can use to do something other than work.

3. Make the Most of the “Me” Time You Have

When work hours increase, free time often gets completely edged off your calendar. The hours you once dedicated to hobbies or friends are taken over by reports and meetings. But that doesn’t mean you should throw in the towel on taking some personal time—you just have to get creative with the little time you have.

For example, when you’re on the subway on your way home, it’s easy to zone out with your phone in your hand, mindlessly browsing social media. And suddenly, you’re home, and you just missed out on 30 minutes you could have spent doing something that fulfills and energizes you.

Especially when you’re in a situation where you have very little extra time, it’s important to take advantage of those little pockets of precious free time—like when you’re walking to work or sitting down to eat dinner. Figure out what invigorates you and spend your time doing that, whether it’s listening to a podcast, calling a friend, or reading a book.

4. Find an Outlet at Work

You may be working 10-hour days, but you shouldn’t have to endure those hours alone. Finding a friend at work won’t change the fact that you’re working nights and weekends, but he or she can make those extra hours a whole lot more enjoyable.

When you’re feeling overworked or overwhelmed, a work friend knows exactly how you feel (after all, he or she works there, too) and can provide a moment of laugher or distraction from your work-induced stress.

Keep in mind, constant complaining and venting can get toxic, so that shouldn’t be the primary purpose of your encounters. But being able to walk down the hall and take a few minutes to chat with a co-worker can keep you refreshed and in a positive mood.

5. Learn to Compartmentalize

Long days at work are already tough—but when you can’t stop thinking about your looming to-do list when you get home and are trying to wind down for the evening, it’s going to be increasingly hard to relax or get a good night’s sleep. And that’s not going to do anything positive for your productivity or mental health.

So when you do have a moment to leave work, make sure you really do leave it there! Learning to compartmentalize is so important to staying sane—and with a few easy strategies, it’s easier than you may think.

For example, to stop thinking about work when you finally make it home, you have to stop talking about it. Venting to a friend or spouse only continues to center your mind on your job. But by paying full attention to someone else and engaging in conversation that’s unrelated to work, you’ll give your brain a well-deserved break.

It can also be as simple as finalizing your to-do list for the next day before you leave the office at night. With a list of outstanding tasks and plan for how to accomplish them, you can walk away from your desk with confidence—rather than with that constant nagging feeling that you’re forgetting something.

For more ways to turn off that part of your mind, try these three tips.

6. Keep the End Goal in Sight

In many cases, a period of constant overtime is linked to an eventual stopping point—e.g., the deadline of a big project or the end of your industry’s busy season. Keeping that goal in mind (and remembering that you’re not eternally confined to 80-hour work weeks) can help you avoid burnout and muster up the drive to keep going.

Of course, it’s not that simple for everyone. Maybe crazy hours are just the nature of your chosen career—and as far as you’re concerned, you’ll be working evenings, weekends and every moment in between until you can cash in your 401K. If that’s the case, there’s still something driving you to work long and hard, whether you’re pursuing a promotion, a career switch, or the experience you need to start your own business. Push that to the forefront of your mind—rather than the constant reminders that it’s 9 PM and you’re still at the office—and you’ll have a much healthier outlook on your busy schedule.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result. You want to avoid going crazy when you’re working overtime? By making a few small changes, you can stay motivated, focused, and—yes—sane.

Photo of woman working late courtesy of Hero Images/Getty.