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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

Here's How I Survived 16+ Hour Workdays Without Losing It

I used to work crazy, long hours—we’re talking 16-hour days. It’s hard for me to believe now that it’s been a while, but it’s true. While I wouldn’t go back to those days when I lived in the office, I don’t regret them because I did learn some valuable lessons and pick up a few routines that I still use today.

So with no further ado, here’s how I survived this period without going insane.

I Avoided Hanger at All Costs

I’ll come right out and say it: When I haven’t eaten for a few hours, I’m a terrible person to be around. My inclination to be impatient gets ramped up to a level where I’ll answer any question with a terse, one-word answer, accompanied with a glare. Since I know that working around unpleasant people can ruin an entire office, I learned quickly that I needed to take steps to stave off hunger.

If you find yourself getting short when your stomach is growling or you’re tempted to just lie down and forget about work for a while, then trust me, you need the following solutions.


The crockpot quickly became my best friend for lunches and for a warm dinner when I came home long after dark. I’d place beef, tomatoes, onions, and seasoning—ingredients for my favorite stew—in gallon-sized bags over the weekend. This allowed me to throw everything into my slow cooker overnight and wake up to a lunch that just needed to be packed up.

But you don’t have to own a crockpot to make sure your lunch needs are taken care of during the workday. As you know, you can find tons of awesome ideas online (such as these 52 recipes for starters).


Since I was often expected at my desk before 9 AM, I’d make breakfast at the office while letting my computer boot up. I kept it simple: oatmeal and tea for breakfast. I had a file cabinet drawer dedicated to my supplies: tea, cinnamon, honey, oatmeal packets, one bowl and set of silverware, dish soap and a sponge, and a small water heater. I also kept cans of soup in my car’s trunk in case we had a last-minute evening meeting and earned myself the unfortunate nickname: “Trunk Soup.”

While you don’t have to become your office’s version of “Trunk Soup,” you can keep a small stash of snacks somewhere, so you don’t have to resort to the building’s vending machine.

I Planned Ahead for Peaceful Mornings (and Nights)

After a few unfortunate incidents in which I had to turn around to grab an essential item (ID badge, medication, wallet, and glasses) that I had left at home in the midst of morning grogginess, I figured out that a couple of extra minutes of setting everything out in advance made my life so much easier. Sure, I was often painfully exhausted and would’ve preferred nose-diving into my bed, but in the long run, it made a difference that I wouldn’t have traded for anything—well, except maybe shorter workdays.


Instead of ironing my blouse at the very last minute with one foot out the door and my eyes glancing furiously at the clock, I learned to set out my clothes the night before, double-checking for spots or stains or wrinkles. I got into the habit of prepping my entire outfit, right down to my undergarments and shoes. I placed everything on a chair in my bedroom, where it’d be waiting for me in the pre-dawn hours when I was still rubbing sleep from my eyes. My keys, badge, and other essential items I left next to my phone, something I never left the house without.

Whatever you can do to make your mornings easier, I say go for it.


After a lunchtime catastrophe with goulash, I learned to keep an extra shirt and stain remover pen in my car or desk drawer. You might be a less messy eater than me (in which case, please note my jealousy), but there are probably still things (spare set of keys, reading glasses, toothbrush and toothpaste) you can stash at the office to make yourself more comfortable and prepared in the event of an unforeseen event (like roasted garlic hummus!).

I Made Time for My Health

I prefer working out in the morning, and I look at it as a mandatory part of my job.

In spite of my long days with obscenely early starts, I learned to prioritize exercising. My productivity literally depended on it. I knew I could fit in at least 10 minutes of exercise a day, and five minutes of meditation, if I committed to it.


Similar to how I readied my work clothes, I’d leave everything I needed for exercising easily accessible, right next to my bed. If it was an outdoor workout I was planning, I consulted the weather app to make sure I could carry out my routine as planned.

If you like working out inside the comfort of your home, which I do, (especially during the colder months), preload your TV or laptop with the YouTube channel, DVD, or file link for your workout and test the sound. Make it so easy that all you have to do is press play to get your sweat on—and your day started right.


If you really can’t fit in a morning workout, you can try to get your heart rate up during the day in 20 or 30 minute windows. Leave some gym clothes (and a yoga mat if that’s your thing) under your desk. Maybe there’s a gym within walking distance that you can get to during a lunch break.

Or, you can just get really familiar with that stairwell. Lastly, think about keeping weights on hand, it’s harder to make an excuse not to stick to your routine if everything is at your fingertips.

Regardless of whether you spend eight or 16 hours at work, making yourself comfortable while you’re there makes a huge difference. While you may hear a few giggles or comments from co-workers about your food and clothing caches, remember, it’s your sanity you have to contend with. So if that means looking a little cluttered at work, but being able to avoid a meltdown, keep doing what you need to get you through the week.

Photo of woman at desk courtesy of Hero Images/Getty Images.