Draft: How to Work in a Lousy Environment

Drafts are ideas i have chosen to commit to written word despite wanting to write it to perfection; that might take too long than i like or can afford, so i’m sticking to advice i read: shipping beats perfection. I honestly don’t know if i’ll ever revisit this piece.

This piece is intended for those who cannot get out of a lousy work environment, for reasons such as being bonded (i know what that feels like) or anything else you deem valid. The strategies listed are mainly targeted at making the best of the situation and not sabotaging ourselves on top of being in a crap place.

In essence, what we will do is:

  1. Manage well what we can control
  2. Automate as much as possible
  3. Build pillars of support

Italicised content are examples and not essential to your reading.

Let’s start.

1. Manage well what we can control

  • Seek to improve your situation, and always start small but stay consistent. It is normal to feel a rush of enthusiasm and hope sometimes, but kick yourself in the behind and make yourself do one thing at a time. Once you’ve settled in to that new habit, start a new one.
  • Dress sharply. For every profession, there’s an image of what the best in that field looks like. Cultivate that image in your mind, then build your wardrobe to match it.

    e.g. deliveryman: if there’s a uniform it should fit well, be clean and ironed. Choose shoes that strike a balance between looking good and matching the demands of your work.

  • Keep yourself well groomed: hair, facial hair, body hair, nails. Keep yourself clean and smelling good. Opt for fresh scents as opposed to strong, heady, ‘masculine’ scents.
  • Adopt good posture always. When you stand tall, you feel good. Period.
  • Structure your meals and plan what to eat if possible. This prevents us from bingeing or consuming loads of junk food which in turn will harm our health. I factor in food i like into my plan so when it comes time to eat i know exactly what to eat and enjoy it doubly knowing that it’s good for my body.
  • Stay. Calm. Always. The more calm you are the more energy you have for important work as less of it is lost to high emotions and self-restraint.
  • Your space is your temple. Make it nice and conducive to your work so that every time you go there you feel at ease and are bathed in positive vibes.
  • Time is precious and when lost, never found again. Prioritize and cut out the fluff you can do without e.g. browsing social media sites, reading the papers. You’ll soon see life is amazing without all those things cluttering up your mind and eating away chunks of your time.

2. Automate as much as possible

  • Take some time at first to organize the little things so that they can sort themselves out. That way they won’t bug you and rob your attention from what truly deserves your mental energies (the article that inspired this: Why Teachers Are So Tired).

    e.g. i only have one email subscription, the Art of Manliness newsletter. Everything else i opt out from or delete when it appears in my inbox (unless it’s important or work related of course). That way i don’t have to sieve through my inbox for ‘important’ things. Also, i get a text when my phone bill is due, then i’ll pay it via ibanking. I can choose to set an automatic deduction but i personally want to see what i’m billed for and it also helps keep my consumption in check.

    My backpack is organised according to how i use it. Left easy access pouch (from Decathlon, i attached it myself to the strap) contains my earpiece and any small article accidentally brought home from work e.g. marker, pen. Right pouch contains my house keys. I don’t have to think when i need to open the door or listen to something; it’s just there.

    I have something of a launchpad: a little container where i put the stuff i carry in my pockets every morning to work. That way once i get dressed i scoop everything up, distribute to pockets, and i’m off. 

    My workflow (i’m a teacher) is still in the process of fine-tuning because honestly it seems i am a totally different person every other month or so. But i roughly have sections/storage containers for: extra worksheets/circulars, worksheets to mark, worksheets to be done, stationery, form class admin documents, lesson resources, binders and rubber bands. That way when i’m doing work i can just reach out without thinking and grab what i need/continue with my state of flow, uninterrupted.

  • Have a clear system for dealing with tasks and incoming demands. One i’ve used: Today’s Big Three. Every night, choose three core items to get done the next day and strive to complete them as soon as possible. With the core settled, you’re left with smaller tasks (in theory). And when you at least have a focus of what to do, you’re more likely to get something done rather than try to do everything and accomplishing nothing.

    Another thing i’ve read, though not used personally, is the Urgent/Important decision matrix. Something urgent needs to be done quickly. Something important cannot be missed. Not everything urgent is important e.g. a colleague wants to know your lunch order.

    This gives us four categories:
    1. Urgent and important – prepare documents for an emergency meeting
    2. Important and not urgent – send out meeting minutes
    3. Urgent and unimportant – a colleague just dropped by your table wanting to know what happened yesterday (sorry mate i can’t talk now but i’ll tell you later)
    4. Not urgent and unimportant – responding to lame WhatsApp messages, reading everything in your inbox (why not just delete a lot of it lol)

  • As far as possible, have a routine for your day; most people already take the same route to work, stop by for breakfast at the same place at the same time, but also include what you do once you get home all the way till you close your eyes to sleep… AND your weekend and off days. This is something i’m working on myself but every time i click something into place, my life feels that much better.

3. Build Pillars of Support

  • Living alone is boring and todally not fun. There are nice people everywhere so seek them out, genuinely like and be nice to them and spread good vibes between you and them. Some examples of nice people i’ve personally found:
    • Cats
    • Family
    • Cleaners
    • Admin staff
    • Some colleagues
    • Security guards
    • Bus drivers
  • Engage in meditation and deep breathing. Having some time to connect with the divine or simply disengage from this physical world can do wonders for our stress levels, perspective of life and how we feel in general.
  • Practice deep breathing. We don’t breathe deep often enough and we really need it. Just do it, i won’t explain more.
  • Get some exercise in every day if you can’t commit to solid workouts several times a week. Exercise makes you feel good and duh, it’s good for your body too.I used to go to the gym several times a week but when that went through the window i’ve started doing pull ups every day, starting at 5 (it was too easy to be honest but i started small cos being overly ambitious at the start can lead to quick failure), and now i’m at 9; besides working my muscles a little, i’m getting excited with my slow but steady progress and the possibilities that lay ahead. I also do a minute of push ups when i get home.

  • Have something to look forward to. For me it’s reading, writing and gaming. I have a book with me almost everywhere i go and when a pocket of empty time presents itself, however small, i do my best to pull out my book and read.


Whoever you are and whatever your situation, i hope you apply these steps bit by bit. Above all, i really pray you find the strength and goodness in wherever you find yourself in; you were not put there by chance, so make the most of it.

And when you can, and you know you must, GET OUT OF THERE.

There is always greener grass; but that isn’t a reason to settle for an environment that doesn’t support your growth, health and respect you as a valued individual who’s part of a family and not merely an expendable cog in a huge, soulless machine.

(Oh wow this doesn’t seem so draft-ish anymore now that i’ve finished writing it. Inspiration here for ‘if you aren’t afraid to lose then you’ll do more to achieve and find bigger wins’. Placebo effect too? Another time.)


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