When you signed on to your job, you weren’t expecting to have to work after hours. In fact, you chose that specific industry or company because you wanted to go home every night without having to drag your to-do list home with you.
But alas, sometimes you find yourself in a situation in which you just can’t fully unplug for the evening (or evenings). Maybe your boss is hounding you on an important project deadline, or you took on more responsibility and are still adjusting, or you know tomorrow you’re in back-to-back meetings and won’t have time to get everything done.
It stinks—but I’m here to help make a night of work feel slightly more bearable.
Go Home (if You Can)
Can you get your work done from home? Great, pack up and leave the office.
Just because you have a lot to do doesn’t mean you have to do it at the office. You’ll feel a lot better (and more motivated) if you get out of the place you’ve just spent 10 hours in and change up your scenery. Seriously, science says so.
So go home, put on sweats, curl up on the couch (turn on some background music or TV if you can work that way), and finish it up without having to worry about keeping it professional.
See that line about sweats? Even if you have to stay in the office, make yourself comfortable (well, as much as you can without making others uncomfortable). Untie your tie, make a sweatshirt blanket, find a comfortable couch or better chair, and put yourself in ultimate work mode.
Oh, and use this app so your computer’s not so blinding in the dark.
Take a Break
And if you can’t leave for whatever reason? Give yourself a much-deserved break before jumping in for work round two. At the very least, take a five-minute walk outside and get some fresh air. But if you can, grab a quick dinner away from your desk (and maybe a coffee or two).
…Speaking of dinner, you need to eat. No matter how much you have to do, take 15 minutes and figure out what you’re going to put in your mouth. Can you order dinner in? Go grab it? Are there cookies in the kitchen?
Ideally, you’d sit down and have a healthy, protein-packed meal. However, you’re not living in an ideal world right now, so head to that vending machine (or that convenience store down the block, or that granola bar stash in your desk) and do the best you can.
Though if you have options, these foods are the most energizing.
Know Your Limits
Even if you have to work an all-nighter, know yourself well enough to know when you’re no longer churning out good work. There’s no point in staying up until 3 AM if everything you do after 10 PM has to be re-done in the morning.
If it’s better for you to wake up earlier and finish up then, do that instead.
Start With the Most Urgent, Most Challenging Stuff
Take advantage of the second wind you got from quick break by tackling the most urgent stuff first—that means the tasks that are due tomorrow or that your boss emphasized they need ASAP.
Then, cover the more challenging stuff. You know, the stuff that takes the most brain power. You may not get to it all, but starting to lay the groundwork now will make it easier to finish later on (and if you know you won’t get it all finished in time, here’s how to break the news to your boss).
Plan Before You Get Started
There’s nothing worse than planning an all-nighter and then realizing you can’t get started without Jon’s numbers report. And Jon doesn’t check his email after he leaves the office.
Make a list of everything you need from other people and ask for it before you get going (and before they leave for the night). Worried they won’t take you seriously? Read this.
Set Yourself Up for the Next Day
If you’re on an adrenaline high when you wrap up, spend 10 minutes getting ready for tomorrow—because you’re probably going to be exhausted when you wake up.
You can make a list of everything you should double-check before sending it in, or pack your work bag, or lay out your outfit, or whip together a quick lunch or snack to grab before you leave in the morning.
Finally, recognize how awesome you are for getting stuff done by unwinding with a good book, digging into ice cream, playing your favorite video game, taking a nice, long bath, or, if your eyes are closing, going to sleep.
Working late isn’t easy or fun, but unfortunately, it’s sometimes a part of your job. While it may happen, you shouldn’t forget about self-care—for your sanity’s sake, and for the sake of showing up to work your best (or, best you can be) self.
Hopefully, working after hours is a rare occurrence for you—and when it is, you’ll know how to handle it confidently and efficiently.
However, if you find your once 9-to-5 job’s turning into an all-day, every-day affair, here’s how to keep your sanity when working insane hours.
You’ve got this!
Photo of person working at night courtesy of Hero Images/Getty Images.
Previously an editor for The Muse, Alyse is proud to prove that yes, English majors can change the world. She’s written almost 500 articles for The Muse on anything from productivity tips to cover letters to bad bosses to cool career changers, many of which have been featured in Fast Company, Forbes, Inc., CNBC's Make It, USA Today College, Lifehacker, Mashable, and more. She calls many places home, including Illinois where she grew up and the small town of Hamilton where she attended Colgate University, but she was born to be a New Yorker. In addition to being an avid writer and reader, Alyse loves to dance, both professionally and while waiting for the subway.More from this Author