Back To Work

13 ways to make work less of a four-letter word

Words: Dylan Muhlenburg | Illustrations: Bennett Atkinson

Okay so you’ve recharged your batteries and are ready to make 2016 your best year yet. New Year, new you! No excuses. Now considering that you’ll spend the majority of your time at work, it makes sense then that if you make some positive changes at the office it will affect the rest of your life for the better. Do this to climb the corporate ladder and enjoy a much more productive and enjoyable life.

Work hard

Sounds simple because it is. It’s Biblical man: “What ye reap shall ye sow.” Or something like that... In the same way that you have too much month left at the end of your money, you probably also complain about needing more hours in a day. You don’t, what you need is discipline. Quit those little traps that eat up your time and you’ll not only increase productivity, you’ll also get to leave work at a reasonable hour. After you quit Facebook, stop arguing with people on Twitter and stop clicking on that colleague's “hilarious must watch video” you’ll find that you have the time you need to put your head down and tame your to do list. Need a break? Take a walk. Talk to someone IRL. Do something away from your desk and you’ll be much more focused when you’re back at the grindstone.

Be nice to people

It doesn’t matter how good you are at your job, if you’re the office dick people won’t want to work with you despite your brilliance. A bit of empathy goes a long way. Patience is a virtue. Listening before speaking is next to Godliness. And if you can play peacekeeper and find a solution when everyone else is pointing fingers, well that will make you indispensible. Otherwise just learn everyone’s name, try to get to know them and try to make the place you spend the majority of your time at a happier place.

Email better

You’ve probably come back to a full inbox, but how many of these messages actually matter? Now’s a good time to unsubscribe to those pointless mailing lists and make a concerted effort not to succumb to the traps that slowed you down last year. Subject lines should be a summary of the contents of your message. Messages should be short and focused and only addressed to relevant recipients. Personal, confidential and potentially dangerous information should be reserved for the water cooler and not a medium that can easily be forwarded on to others. No emojis, no SMS speak and then, please, read before sending so that you can simplify, edit, check for ambiguities, spelling and grammar and get your message across the first time without any unnecessary back and forth.

Pimp your desk

We’d all love the type of corner office Don Draper drank in: midcentury modern furniture, floor to ceiling windows with a view and a personal assistant to intercept phone calls for you. Those days are long gone, but you’ll be glad to know that you can have a much more organized workspace. At Superbalist we all sit behind the same trestle tables and while my desk has a laptop on top of a pile of magazines, taking a look around me is an exercise in inspiration. Our CEO Luke sits next to me and has a standing desk, a triple-story in-tray, a banker’s lamp and a bunch of executive desk toys. Behind me is social media guy Xand who keeps a plant, a photo of him and his fiancée in a tasteful frame and get-ahead-fast books by Paul Arden. Across from me is what’s quite possibly the messiest desk in the office, but despite the tins of tuna, loose CDs and empty water bottles, Melanie emanates hard work via two laptops and an external screen that are always simultaneously on the go. Think about what message you want to send out and then make sure your desk is aligned with that.

Exercise more

Sitting can be more dangerous than smoking. Alleviate the pain of a sedentary existence and break up your workday with some physical exercise. Even if you can’t afford to put in an hour at the gym over lunch, getting up from your chair every once in a while is just as good provided that you at least take a walk around the block a few times a day (the coffee down the road tastes better and is cheaper than downstairs!). And if you really want to see results then why not make a habit of getting up from your computer every hour and doing, say, 10 pushups (that’s 100 a day!). By insisting on standing meetings only you’ll have the added benefit of hurrying these up and not getting caught up in any time-wasting.

Take more sick leave

In primary school you may have got a certificate for perfect attendance. In the real world nobody is going to reward your iron constitution. And because you are actually working when you are at work, you should make sure that you take a few “personal days” throughout the year - guilt free! As long as it’s not a Monday or a Friday (too obvious), you can simply phone in with “I ate something dodgy last night” and only the most tactless would ask for more detail. If you find yourself at work and need to leave pronto then simply buy a tin of chunky vegetable soup, pour some over your desk and the rest down your shirt and then lie face down in the mess while waiting for your boss to prod you awake with a pen. Enjoy your holiday.

Get a work wife

In the same way that your home partner will make you a better person, your work wife is there to love and support and help you to navigate the work place so that you can be the best employee you can be. Failing that she'll just make the day go by faster. If you're already spoken for then you need to tread carefully here. Remember, you’re just friends, so leave things at the office, which means no post-work drinks or late night Whatsapp messaging, save that chitchat for across the desk. Just keep it tidy and know your boundaries with this person with whom you’ve developed a close relationship and spend more time with than your significant other.

Dress better

Need to get motivated for spending more money on clothing? This is it – Don’t dress for the job you have, dress for the job you want. And, let's be honest, everyone wants to be rock star.

Pack your own lunch

How are you going to afford to buy all those new work ensembles? Stop wasting money at the lunch spot downstairs! Bring salad stuff to work on a Monday and you can bang something up in the kitchen til Thursday. Treat yourself on Friday, you've earned it. Or you could ensure that you make enough dinner every night so that you bring in leftovers the following day? Otherwise kick it old school with a PB sandwich. Casual. 

Get a water bottle

If it’s there in front of you you’ll drink it. Get a water bottle. Keep it filled up. Stay hydrated.

Mentor someone

The best way to learn is to find someone you admire and shadow them. Offer to buy them a coffee every day and then use that time to absorb as much information as possible. If you consider how much schooling costs then this expenditure is minimal. You can make that coffee money back by teaching a junior what you know.


“I’m crazy busy.” /“I’m so swamped.” /“Send it through but I’ll probably only get to it around 10pm tonight...” These are not complaints, it’s bragging. Self-imposed busyness feeds an addiction to ambition and makes sufferers feel guilty when they’re not spinning out. Thing is, down time isn’t an indulgence or a vice - it’s crucial. Stand back from life and see it as a whole. Archimedes' eureka moment happened in the bath, Newton discovered gravity while chilling under a tree and Zuckerberg came up with Facebook while flicking through pics of his peers.

Make paper

Even if you didn’t get a raise you can at least fake it until you make it by making what you do make go that much further. Dump debt, because paying interest is money wasted, then cut out your vices (roll your own, binge drink at home) and watch your cash flow grow. With the whole shithouse going up in flames - a looming recession, junk status, drought, loadshedding, interest rate hikes, weakened rand – this year is going to be tough. Educate yourself by reading the financial papers, following successful people on Twitter and hanging out with Dan from accounts. If you’re an office drone then it’s not your job that will make you rich, but what you do in your spare time, so get involved with your money, control it and build a relationship with it. If you can live below your means – drive a standard car, don’t take overseas holidays, don’t eat at tapas joints - you'll make it in the end, my friend. Good luck!

Shop the story