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Learn & Practice

Workplace Wednesday: How to get through a Tough Time at Work

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In this week’s Workplace Wednesday we outline a work day that can ease you through a week when you are feeling down, but still need to work.

We’ve talked a lot about how many employees are suffering. They are languishing, burnt out, or just exhausted. There are many things driving these feelings, and many times it might not have anything to do with work itself, but overarching personal challenges. However, you still have to work. You have to make it through the day and get things done. So how do you actually show up, get productive, get through your to-do list, and make it through your day when you’re going through a tough time? 

Creating a routine can be enormously helpful in these situations. Below, we’ll outline a sample work day to ease you through a week when you are feeling down, but still need to work. A word of caution: if these feelings last more than a week – it may be time for a vacation or a talk with your manager.

A “Make it Through the Day” Day

Throughout the day, you will stay motivated if you intersperse moments of accomplishment (i.e. checking an item off the to-do list) with moments of reward (i.e a coffee break).

Pre-Work Morning: Meditate or Exercise (or Both)!

Before you start your work day, take time to do something for your mental and physical well-being. Even if you take 5 minutes for a quick on-the-go meditation, you will add to your resilience and ability to focus. This also supports those who may work from home – allowing a repeatable routine that signals a transition from “home” to “work-from-home” time. Try this 5 minute active meditation on a walk!

Morning: Get one thing done, then celebrate.

Make a list. Not a list for the week, not a list for the month – a list for the day. Even if that means breaking up a bigger project into something manageable for the day. Bonus points if there are items that you can easily get done to feel that sense of accomplishment. Get your regular housekeeping items out of the way first like checking email or responding to Slack messages.

Your goal? Get one thing done on the list, and reward yourself when you’ve completed it. Celebrate at 11:00 with a cup of tea, a 30 minute podcast, a walk, or by spending time mindfully preparing your lunch.

Lunch: Take a real break and spend time slowly appreciating your food. Try not to multitask, but instead nourish yourself both physically and mentally.

Afternoon: Deep Work.

Schedule a timer for uninterrupted, deep work. Turn off any distractions – especially notifications on your screen. Block your calendar, set the timer, and log-off.

When the timer goes off, take a moment to reflect on what you accomplished. This is your scheduled time for getting things done without interruption. Celebrate and reward yourself for taking this time.

Return to emails, and other items for communication. Cross off the items you completed on your list today.

End of Work Day: Appreciation.

Before you end your work day, take a moment to practice appreciation. What was positive? What worked? Can you bring up these moments from the day and silently voice your appreciation for the positive? 

Now, fully close down all of your programs, write that last email, and physically shut down your computer. Complete the circle from the morning and do something that signals the transition.

Stick to this routine all week and you should hopefully be able to follow a pattern that supports your work with self-compassion. Again, don’t push yourself through something that calls for a larger mental health intervention – but if you’re just trying to get through a few days during a difficult time, this scheduled routine of alternating reward with accomplishment can make work a bit easier for the moment. Good luck.


Learn more about how the Healthy Minds Framework can support your workplace well-being with our Healthy Minds @Work program.


HM@Work Mental Health Workplace Wednesdays