15 ways to make your 9-to-5 a 10


I like to think of myself as being a step past the normal employee grind, but I still get up most days and schlep to my client’s office. Sure, I take off when I feel like it and work moderately flexible hours, but I do the lunchpail shuffle. I do know that there are changes that I’ve made over the past couple of years that have made a big difference in my daily life, and my Life, capital L. These changes make the day better and make me more productive – and, invevitably, have made me a little bit richer, too. They didn’t cost anything and didn’t take any great effort. Give them a shot:

  1. Get up early. If you are an early riser, the early hours of the day are probably your most productive. If you are not an early riser, you should become one. If you wake up 30 minutes before tumbling out the door you will be less likely to exercise, eat well, prepare a lunch or simply become alert before leaving. Set your alarm clock back 5 minutes before you go to sleep tonight, and do that every night for the next month. You will be amazed how much productive time this will add to your day.
  2. Stop smoking. I am not sure this needs much explanation, but if you are a smoker you are wasting money with that morning smoke-and-joe. I won’t even touch on the health implications; you’re wasting time and money, all for the sake of a stimulant you don’t need.
  3. Stop eating junk food. Eat protein the morning. Forget low-fat/low-carb/vegetarian/slow food etc.; the simple fact is that you will be perkier in the morning if you eat protein rather than carbs. Eating protein in the morning keeps you energized longer, makes you more productive and probably will make you eat less for lunch, too. Eat eggs for breakfast, or egg whites. No bagels, young Jedi.
  4. Exercise. Exercising gives you more energy, makes you happier, increases your stamina and if done correctly even makes you more creative. Running is a great way to brainstorm; leave the iPod at home.
  5. Groom. Spend some money on hair care products or hair cuts or razors or whatever you use to groom. Some people will tell you spending money on that type of stuff is not frugal. True, it is not; but you will not get ahead in this world if you don’t keep a presentable appearance. Think even rock stars roll out of bed looking appropriately rumpled?
  6. Hygiene. Like #2, this one explains itself. Nobody likes to be around people who smell. Wipe when wiping is needed. Spend a little extra on high-quality deodorants.
  7. Stand up straight. Confidence projects itself through your posture. If you slump and slouch and avoid eye contact throughout the day, you not only project an insecure, pathetic appearance to others, you feed your own brain an unhealthy diet of intimidated glances at your shoes. I make this mistake myself, sometimes, but try it. When walking in public, keep your shoulders thrown back, your back straight and your chin in the air. Walk like you own the sidewalk, and soon you will.
  8. Smile. As in #7, project happiness and you’ll make people happy around you. There is nothing quite as startling as a smile from a stranger these days. Don’t be creepy about it, but stop scowling. Put a smile in your eyes if not on your face, and you’ll see a change in people around you.
  9. Read/listen. If you commute to work – and chances are you do – make sure you make good use of that time. I know listening to the wacky Morning Zoo on X-Rock 103.6 may be the highlight of your day, but try to make use of that time. If you commute 40 minutes each way to work (the average US commute time) you spend approximately 9,800 minutes (163 hours commuting) each year. I spend almost 720 hours commuting per year! You can read a lot of books if you take public transportation, or listen to a lot of audio books on any subject (if you drive or take public transportation). Don’t give that time over to phone pranks and Rhianna.
  10. Eat lunch with humans. I know the frugal approach is to avoid the office lunch, or the “wasted time” with colleagues in the cafeteria – but even if you have to bring lunch for everyone once in a while to tempt them to stay in the company cafeteria, do it. Don’t spend lunch reading a book or gobbling a PBnJ at your desk. Get up and take a break for a few seconds!
  11. Take breaks. I have a terrible habit of “getting in the zone” at work and sitting without moving for hours, IMing and emailing and preparing documents. It’s a bad idea. Stand up once every 10 minutes. Yes, 10 minutes. Stand up when you take a phone call. Get a small cup for your water so you have to walk back and forth to the water cooler constantly. Breath. You are not chained to your desk.
  12. Leave early. Trust me. If you are working for an employer and complete what is expected of you for that day. Do not chit chat. Do not check your emails one last time – my guess is that unless the corporate servers are impounded by the FBI, your emails will be there tomorrow. “Forget” your Blackberry on your office desk as you leave for the day. Leave 5 minutes before you normally do each day. Nobody will fire you, I promise. Think anybody at Bear Stearns is keeping their job because they turned out the lights every night? No. Take that time in the evening for YOU, and building YOUR wealth.
  13. Do errands on the way home. Don’t wait until the weekend to run by the drugstore for shampoo (although you probably should be buying it from amazon or drugstore unless you’re clipping coupons). Get it on the way home. You’re already out. Save your free days for life – or better yet, for building wealth – not errands.
  14. Take off your shoes, wash your hands and shower when you get home. If you are like me and ride the New York subways, you probably have 8,000 different emissions and fluids and various unpleasant emanations on your hands and the bottom of your shoes when you get home. Take them off at the door, then go shower. You reduce the chance of spreading illness throughout the house by staying clean.
  15. Go to sleep early. Unless you have a thriving 24 hour business that requires your input at 1 am, chances are good that there is nothing “live” requiring your attention at that time. Go to sleep and get up earlier – you are more productive early in the morning than you are late at night. Let your evenings be for your family and for more positive productive activity – thinking, writing, making phone calls and reading.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Saveena (AKA LHDugger)

30 Replies to “15 ways to make your 9-to-5 a 10”

  1. to add on #7: look at your feet when you walk. If they point out, train yourself to walk with them straight ahead. Sounds silly but a trainer I worked with pointed this out to me and I’ve since forced myself to walk with them straight (took awhile to overcome 40+ years of muscle memory!). This resets the position of the pelvis and should more or less automatically make you walk straight up and confident. after awhile it’s just your normal stride.

    1. @42: Excellent point! I have always been in fear of being pigeon-toed ever since it was explained to me what it was, so I try very hard to do just what you say. I roll my feet out a bit (so I wear out my shoes quickly) but I found the WalkFit inserts do a great job of almost forcing you to keep your feet facing forward. But willpower and focus is probably a far better way to accomplish that.

  2. Great list. I’ve read more on my commute daily than I did in both high school and college. I also use my commute time to catch up on sleep. An extra 20 minutes each way helps!

    1. @FFB: Yeah, don’t get me started on commute time. I’ve managed to watch several complete speeches from TED and read all kinds of stuff that I never would have gotten around to reading during my time at home. It’s actually the only thing I enjoy about commuting – getting a chance to read and watch informative-type videos on my Sansa.

  3. As I read this, I’m sitting in a hotel room in a foreign country (well, okay, Canada), having awakened at 5:15, spent half an hour in the fitness center, and had steak and eggs for breakfast (an indulgence I don’t do at home, primarily because of cholesterol). The point is that this list is even more essential when you travel, both to help your body to adjust and to make up for the natural tendency to do unhealthy things on the road.

    Another one I would add is dress well. Your job may not require it, and it probably won’t help get you promoted, but others won’t respect you if you don’t respect yourself. If you have the discipline to look your best, you demonstrate you have the capacity to care about other parts of your life.

    1. @Curmudgeon: Canada still counts as foreign, at least until we decide we need more oil fields…. but yes, you’re completely right. I spent years on the road thinking “wow, THIS is my chance to have beer and french fries and pizza on the company tab! Sleep late! Put aside all other cares, because, you know, I’m On The Road.” That was of course idiotic, and I wasted a lot of time and wrecked my health. And you’re completely right about dressing well. I find I’m much happier being dressed up a little at work than I am if I show up in the rumpled khakis.

  4. Nice List!

    I would add one more, hang out with like minded people at work. Avoid the chatty-kathys and the folks who thrive on office politics and rumors. If they try and engage you in this stuff, simply excuse yourself and walk away. They will get the hint and leave you out of it. This will go along ways toward your mental happiness in the workplace.

  5. You advise leaving work early — do you also recommend turning up early? Or just being focussed and getting the job done within the required hours? (Might not be humanly possible.)

    Great list of suggestions though – I especially like the ones around grooming and lunching. They run counter to my frugal instincts but make complete sense.

    1. @budgie: Turn up early but not insanely early. I have done both (show up late, leave late versus show up early, leave early) and it’s a lot easier to get stuff done if you arrive early, get your tasks out of the way and clear your day for relaxed meetings, etc. But honestly, stay focused and get out as quickly as possible, regardless. I’m all for a friendly chat – and I probably do too much of it – but when you have stuff to do hammer down, do it, and leave. Too many people are too worried about putting in face time. And as far as being humanly possible – your job will always be there. I have worked on deadlines for years and years, and let me tell you – not once did anyone fire me or cut off a finger as punishment for missing one. Your job will never END, per se, so try not to sell your life to your employer cheaply. Emails will wait til the next day. Work can – 99 times out of 100 – wait until the next day.

  6. This is an interesting point of view on making your daily grind go better for many different basic reasons that we tend to forget most of the time. I’m working hard on #12 lately!

  7. This is excellent food for thought. I’m a night person by nature, so I’m trying to train myself to go to bed earlier, because I’m usually too short on sleep, and I know it affects me in too many ways.

  8. Pingback: Enjoy Your Work More By Taking Care of Yourself
  9. Smiling is HUGE…
    It makes you feel better & everyone around you feel better.
    People seem to have a very small quota on the amount of smiles they are willing to share in a day. Have you noticed that?
    I am basically a pretty shy individual – but try to smile throughout my day & it can really make a huge difference in my attitude, as well as people I come in contact with.
    Like you said in the beginning of your post – it’s free… (and it makes us all a little bit sexier)!

  10. @Kyle: Absolutely, that’s a good addition to the list. Hanging out with positive, like minded people is good at work – but it’s good anywhere. People are afraid if they don’t play office politics they’ll get marginalized, but you’re right – mental happiness will get you further than conspiring to throw your cubicle neighbor under the bus.

  11. @Dawn: Yep! I need to do it more – I can get a sullen look pretty easily when I’m mentally “somewhere else” – but smiling and making people feel more at ease makes ME feel more at ease, and consequently less shy.

    I’m willing to bet there isn’t a person in the world who wouldn’t be better off by smiling more, no matter how much they smile already 🙂

  12. It’s funny, I’m not a morning person at all. And, it doesn’t matter what time I get in, it never feels like time to go home until at least 5:30 – I try and get in for 9 so that I’m not spending my entire life at work. I’m just not into having my early evenings at home, it’s my most productive time, and I’ve got nothing important to do.

  13. @plonkee: Of course if that what suits you, stick with it. I used to be a late-in, late-out person at work, too. I slept late(r) although I’ve never been a late sleeper, and I felt the (slightly) quieter late afternoon was better for working.

    I will say, though, that then I tried out the early schedule – forced myself to get up early for an extended period of time to really “get into it” and it felt and worked out much better.

    But again, I can’t really argue that if you feel comfortable with your schedule, stick to it – but sometimes it’s worth it to shake up your routine a bit…

  14. I totally agree with “taking shower after getting home from work”. I’ve alwas done it when I used to work. As soon as I got home I jumped in the shower to “wash the stress away”. For me it was more mental than physical. I always imagined that I wash away all the dirt from the subways and buses and all the stress and negativity of the day, and leave the work behind. For me it was important to change into comfortable house clothes. It was an act of seprating work life and home life, sort of like switching gears for the day.
    Also, strongly agree on grooming and looking nice. Not only it makes you approachable, but also makes you more confident and not self-counscious.
    Good list, Steve.

  15. My younger brother uses his evening commute time to talk to his family. Whenever I get a call around 7pm, I know it is him. Even at 7pm, we would be able to chat for an hour or more before he gets home (LA traffic).

    Saying ‘good morning’ makes a big difference too. I always say it, even to people I do not really know and the grumpy guy that ignores me. For the last 8 months I’ve been at my new job, I have only gotten Mr. Grumpy to acknowledge my daily morning greetings 2 times. But I think I might be wearing him down because the other day I got a small nod even though he did not say anything.

  16. Terrific list. I’ll have to refer to it when I am dragging at work. Getting up early has another benefit for me; because I take the subway to work, I find that getting to the train station earlier in the morning virtually guarantees that I will get a seat on the train, instead of having to play musical chairs with my fellow commuters. Having to stand during the entire 45 minute commute-from-#$%@ definitely sets the tone for the entire workday.

  17. Great list! There are so many ways we can improve our work grind. I love the smiling one. I’ve added that too may arsenal and it’s helping my co-workers and me as well.

    We just have to be creative and be willing to try what fits our personality.

  18. I agree with most of these, except “have lunch with humans”. This really depends on what kind of person you are and what kind of job you have. If you are an introvert and your job is dealing with people all day, then a nice quiet lunch with a good book is just what you need to recharge your batteries. I am an introvert. Part of my job involves serving the public. I share an office with a talkative colleague. I want to be alone at lunch time! I like to go for a walk and then read for a little while. Then I feel ready to face the afternoon.

  19. This is such a commonsensical, pertinent post!

    It describes my daily worklife to the T – if I can make it a perfect day that is!

    Wakeup early- prayer- run- pranayama- journal- shower-breakfast- and then to the Office by 9. That is the perfect morning routine for me.

  20. This is such a commonsensical, pertinent post!

    It describes my daily worklife to the T – if I can make it a perfect day that is!

    Wakeup early- prayer- run- pranayama- journal- shower-breakfast- and then to the Office by 9. That is the perfect morning routine for me.

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