Working in a cubicle farm, you learn that there are a few key behaviors and habits that really make the day go better. A quick run to Dunkin’ Donuts? A package of Doritos from the third floor vending machine? A coke? A newspaper? Before you know it, you’ve managed to waste time, money and your health, all for the sake of making the day go by faster.
So how do you control these bad habits? I’ll lump all of the answers into a list:
Keep track of your spending. I do this sporadically, to be honest, but every time I put together a spreadsheet that show my net earnings after taxes (I’m a consultant so my pay varies depending on how many hours I work) and then subtract everything I spent during the day, it provides a very powerful motivation not to spend so much. A dollar fifty for coffee doesn’t seem like much, nor does seventy-five cents in the afternoon for a quick little pick-me-up granola bar from the vending machine, but when you total that up over a week it can be a lot. I was horrified one week when, without thinking, I spent $53 on ‘stuff’ – a bottle of water in the morning, a cup of coffee, a salad, a banana in the afternoon.
Bring food to work. Every time I buy a banana from the convenience store I like to think I’m doing a good job for my health, and compared to buying a Snickers I am. But I am not helping my financial health, because that $.69 banana is expensive. A bunch usually costs less than $2 for 7 or so bananas from the market. You do the math. Bringing an old spring water bottle filled with filtered tap water saves $1 per day – double that if you fill it up before heading home.
Drink tea at work instead of coffee – and quit drinking soda, period. Black tea has just as much caffeine as coffee. Buy a 20-pack of premium tea bags like Tazo or Yogi and you’ll get 20 cups for $4, versus a cup of joe from the corner store for $1 (or more if you prefer Starbucks). If you have 20 workdays in a month, you’re saving $16 (or more) per month.
Bring something to read. We have free ‘subway’ papers in New York like Metro and AM New York, but I used to grab a copy of the New York Post for $.50 per day because I liked the sports section. On the other hand, if I bring a library book (depending on my library) I can save money, read less pointless news and maybe even educate myself on the train and during my lunch break.
Drink a lot of water. Don’t laugh at my reasoning for this one: I drink a lot of water and consequently I go to the bathroom frequently. Not a ridiculous amount, but more than most people, probably. I think this has several good effects: drinking water keeps my appetite down, it keeps me hydrated in the miserably dry and dehumidified recirculated office air, and it gives me some exercise to wake up going back and forth. I don’t see a downside there.
Don’t ever go out for lunch unless it’s an “occasion”. Generally you should bring your lunch, or at least eat something from the cafeteria (or a nearby deli). Going to a sit-down place for lunch will relax you too much, it wastes time (critical if you charge by the hour) and generally it is more expensive and your tendency will be to buy something rich. Just avoid it – a salad at your desk, or a quick cup of soup with colleagues in the cafeteria, will keep you from getting too tired or wasting time or overeating.
Don’t keep change. If you are tempted to hit the vending machine but all you have is twenties, you probably will grit your teeth and move on. I used to keep a change cup on my desk so I’d have plenty of “chip money” but now I try to use it up when I buy lunch, or just take it home for the change collection.
Leave. If I have a really bad day, and I’m dragging late in the day, rather than going to buy some food or some coffee, I just leave. Go home. You may cut an hour or so of billing time off of your day, but at least in my case that’s why I became a consultant – to have that flexibility. If you have a salaried job, just slip out early. I promise you that you won’t get fired for leaving one hour early one time a month. If you do every day, maybe – but probably not. If you do your job and leave an hour early every day, you may hurt your chances at getting the ‘employee of the month’ award, but a boss isn’t going to fire someone who gets their work done and makes him look good. Trust me. It’s hard to do, but no-one gets fired for leaving early if they aren’t busy anyway.
Of course, the best solution would be to get a job where you don’t have to sit in a cubicle farm in a high rise building, but not everyone can be Peter Gibbons.