Advice / Succeeding at Work / Break Room

How to Be Productive When You're a Little Tipsy

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I drink a lot. And I am very productive.

I’ll clarify—I drink regularly. But slowly, and with gravitas. I have no interest in falling over drunk or losing my inhibitions. I drink because Prosecco has bubbles and that makes everything in life 30% better, and it’s hard to find anything else that makes everything in life 30% better for $12.

Also, like a lot of people, I find that my social life—and even my business networking—involves a lot of drinking. A friend of mine from Toronto came to New York to take some meetings and commented, “In New York, when people say ‘meet for coffee,’ they mean ‘meet for two drinks.’ How does anyone even walk?”

If you left the office thinking you’d do a little work from home later, and then you’ve had those two drinks, can you still be productive?

I say absolutely—with a catch. When you’re half-intoxicated, you’re not going to be good at the same kinds of tasks that you’d be good at sober. But you’ll be better at a few, special, drunk-friendly kinds of tasks.

(Note that this is intended for people who can have a drink or two and then stop and do some work. If you can’t stop after a drink or two, please consider getting some help, and definitely do not try to respond to important work emails while drinking.)

Allow me to explain with an unusual example.

I write, among many other things, math problems for a living. I have written or contributed to nearly a dozen educational books.

You really don’t want to make mistakes while writing math problems. People hate it when they’re studying for the GRE and the book says the answer to problem #18 is 24, when that 4 was supposed to be an exponent and the real answer is 2 to the 4th power. People are driven insane by those kinds of errors, and then they leave terrible Amazon reviews. (I wrote here about reading the terrible Amazon reviews for a book and then pitching a competing book to my company.)

So, I certainly don’t try to write math problems or their explanations while blotto. However, two drinks in is a fantastic time to write the wrong answers.

As the problem writer, I sometimes find it a bit difficult to go and solve the problem all wrong in order to write those tricky, attractive wrong answers that make tests like the SAT, GRE, and other tests so hard. The wrong answers can’t be random numbers—they need to be based on common misconceptions and mistakes. So, I’ll write the question, the correct answer, and the explanation during a normal work session. And then I’ll open a bottle of wine. And then two hours later, I’ll squint at my problems and pretend I’m bad at math. And I’ll say to myself: “I see a 25, and a 3, and some symbols in the middle that look mathy. I don’t like that! So I’ll just multiply 25 times 3, that’s plenty good enough.”

And then in the next day’s sober morning light, I proofread, while under the influence of a triple espresso.

Of course, most people don’t write math problems at work. So here are some suggestions for getting things done while pleasantly and charmingly inebriated.

Write All Those Difficult Emails (Your Inhibitions Are Gone!)

If you recoiled in horror at that notion, I want to emphasize: The drafts folder is your friend! Use this time to empty out your inbox by putting all your replies in drafts. And then do not send them until the next morning, when you can give them a level-headed look-over. If you’re too drunk to keep from hitting “send,” go to bed! This idea is not for you.

But I find that most of us have emails lingering in our inboxes, even though we know what the reply needs to be. Either, “Sorry, I won’t be able to do this,” or, “I love this idea, but my rates are actually substantially higher than that,” or “Thanks for typing this up, but I don’t think this idea is the direction we should be taking.”

If you know what you need to say but you haven’t said it, well—go to that scotch tasting and then come home and dish out those brutal truths. And save them as drafts. And look them over in the morning. And then send them.

Get Through Tedious Tasks

I once had half a bottle of Prosecco and then proceeded to write many eBay descriptions for mundane objects, a task I had been putting off for some time. (“This item is a figure that looks like the Eiffel Tower! It is six inches tall! The real one is much larger, but that’s OK! You could put it on your desk. You could put it on your coffee table! It just screams FRANCE. You will like this Eiffel Tower figurine. Unless you don’t like France. But you do! You clicked on this listing for the Eiffel Tower figurine that will soon grace your workspace, or your boudoir! This would look great in your boudoir. Did you know boudoir is a French word? And this figurine: IT IS FRENCH.”)

Tipsy people often have a renewed appetite for tedious tasks. Have a presentation later this week? Pick your PowerPoint template and create the title slide. Is your phone full? Download all those photos. Fold the laundry. Write your website’s FAQ, answering all of the dumbest questions anyone could possibly ask. (How do I log in? What should I type where it says “zip code?” I see that your dog-walking service is based in Des Moines, but do you serve San Jose? I see that you have a Contact page, but how do I contact you?)

Set Out All Your Supplies for the Next Day

Maybe you’ve had two drinks and you’re really not going to write that proposal. But tomorrow-you is going to have to write that proposal. So help her out. Think of drunk-you as the lovably inexact personal assistant to sober-you.

Go ahead and have some more wine. Now what does sober-you need to get started tomorrow? An outfit? Great, get that ready. (Don’t pick the outfit that drunk-you likes, pick the one you think sober-you would like. BO-RING. She’s like that, sober-you.)

A packed lunch? Pack her one of those mason jar salads so she doesn’t have to worry about lunch and can stay at her desk working. You can make a mason jar salad while inebriated: Just put the dressing at the bottom, and something that’s not lettuce on top of that, and some lettuce on the top. If you don’t have any lettuce, just throw some food in a jar. Many cultures have different ideas of what constitutes “salad.” A jar of meat and candy is a salad if you believe it in your heart.

A Post-It on her monitor reminding her of her top priority? Do it.

Certain documents and emails all in one place? Great idea! Most of the time that people procrastinate on a task, it’s because they don’t have all their materials together, and they don’t know clearly what the steps should be. Two drinks in the night before is a great time to work that out.

Now tomorrow-you can get started first thing in the morning.

If drinking moderately is a part of your life, you might as well take that into account when designing your work schedule and style. So order that martini, take out that pen, and imagine you’re Dorothy Parker. If you’re likely to drink too many martinis, a pen is a more judicious choice than your phone or laptop, since you really can’t hit “send” on that scribbly cocktail napkin.

Photo of drinks and laptop courtesy of Picjumbo.