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How to keep your mental health in check at the office

The other week, as I was trying to catch a Lyft in the rain, the person I was with cheekily commented that I had “learned how to walk.” What they meant is that I had learned how to walk like a New Yorker. If you’ve been in the city, you know it: quickly, leaning forward, and on the right.

As someone who intentionally leaves for out of office meetings a few minutes earlier than other people so I don’t have to walk with New Yorkers, my smell-the-roses Texan persona felt shook.

While I love this city, I’m constantly pushing back at it, especially where work/life balance is concerned. What’s valued in an Austin workspace isn’t the same thing that’s valued in NYC, and thus I’ve had to adjust. But some habits, I refuse to let go of.

As I’ve grown in my professional career, I’ve learned the hard way that if you don’t set boundaries, people will take as much as they absolutely can from you.

Here are some ways I guard my time and stay sane in the startup world:

1. Reserving the first hour of the day for your agenda, and no one else’s.

If I can help it, I don’t schedule any meetings before 10 AM. I may scan my email quickly to make sure I’m not missing a crisis, but otherwise, the first hour of the day is reserved for me checking in on my projects on Asana and setting my to-do’s for the next eight hours. Figuring out what my priorities are first, allows me to then compromise in a more balanced way when others come to me with their own priorities that they need my assistance on.

2. Keeping your phone in do not disturb mode.

Being protective of my time means being protective of the energy that I exhibit and that I choose to intake. Productivity does not lend itself to a full and scattered brain. This is why I keep my phone in a permanent state of DND- I also don’t actively check my email. I check both once an hour, or every two. My philosophy being if it’s an emergency anyways, you’ll call or come right up to me in the office.

3. Stepping away from your desk for lunch, ICYMI: It’ll be there for you when you get back.

This isn’t just some woo-hoo practice, there are legitimate science-backed reasons on why you should take a breather. Sitting for hours on end has been proven to be unhealthy, and you can even use this hour as a means to work on your relationship with your colleagues or have a networking lunch.

4. Automating as much as possible.

Automating workflows can help you reach your goals faster, and gives you space to focus on other projects (time is money!). I use tools like Asana to project manage and be able to quickly see the lifecycle of a task and where it’s at in the pipeline, Later for scheduling Instagram posts, Buffer for scheduling all other social posts, Boomerang to schedule emails in advance, and IFTTT to push Google Alerts to Slack.

5. Get a change in scenery.

Stop trying to fight the 3 PM slump, instead: get up and get your blood pumping. Take a quick walk around the block, or if you have a standing desk / elevated surface, work standing up.

6. You can’t work your best, if you are not feeling the best.

As a recovering workaholic, remembering this is what allows me to fully shut off once I walk out of the office. You weren’t hired to do your job in a single day, or in a single week. Meet your deadlines, get it done, but take care of yourself. If you’re stressed, running low on sleep, and in a constant gaslit state- there is no way you are going to be as creative or strategic as you need to be on the job.

This article first appeared on Jopwell.

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