Adjusting to ~ full-time ~ life ain’t easy. Use this guide (part of our series on navigating your career) to transition to your first job without feeling overwhelmed.
Managing All That $$$
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You’ve landed your full-time job, and a full-time paycheck to go with it. So why do you still feel broke? One of the best perks but toughest parts of starting your first job can be figuring out how to manage your money.
“It’s all about being organized,” says Kimberly Palmer, financial expert and author of Generation Earn: The Young Professional’s Guide to Spending, Investing, and Giving Back. She gives her top three tips for managing your money.
1. Don’t budget based on your salary. “A lot of people are surprised by how much of their paycheck goes to other things like taxes and benefits,” she says. Make sure you’re basing your budget on take-home pay, not full salary.
2. Focus on the big three: housing, transportation, and food. As a young professional, these are most likely your biggest expenses. Food is the one you have the most daily control over—so adjust your lifestyle accordingly.
3. Yes, you actually need to keep track. Being organized is the most important thing, Palmer says. Make sure you hold onto all the paperwork about your job benefits and salary and put them in a binder or folder that will hold all your important financial docs. Try keeping track of your expenses and weekly or monthly budget with a spreadsheet or app (there are great ones out there like Mint or You Need a Budget), and make sure you’re taking advantage of your bank’s online banking services.
Photo: Getty Images
Adjusting to the Cube Life
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Cubicle, sweet cubicle. If you’ve started a new job, you know that your little desk can feel like a second home, which is exactly why it’s important to try to keep it feeling like a haven, not a prison. “You operate in cycles of rest and of work,” says Christine Carter, Ph.D., sociologist and senior fellow at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and author of The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Work and Home. Your brain works best in cycles of about 90 minutes, says Carter. So that means every 90 minutes you should try to step away from your computer, go for a walk, chat with a friend. “Do something that’s human-like—and checking Facebook doesn’t count,” she says. Besides taking occasional breaks, these other things can help make your cube a healthy-living zone:
1. Get green: Office plants (or a view of nature) have been shown to reduce fatigue.
2. Go towards the light: If you can’t get outside to snag a bit of serotonin-boosting sunlight (aka your body’s natural feel-good chemicals), adding a lightbox to your desk could help, experts say.
3. Prevent freak outs: Keep uplifting things like a happy playlist, cute pics of your pup, or a sassy inspirational quote (we like these ones) to your desk to help in the event of a stressful situation, says Carter. “These are kind of an emergency break for your fight-or-flight response; they’ll short-circuit your stress by bringing on positive feelings instead.”
Photo: Getty Images
Navigating a New Industry
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Hopping into a new industry is a lot like when you take Pilates, barre, or yoga for the first time—there are a lot of new words, behavioral norms, and processes that make you feel you’re from another planet. Feeling overwhelmed and uncomfortable is pretty much guaranteed.
“Being uncomfortable happens in any new job,” says Carter. “But the discomfort of everything being new gets interpreted as stress. “My advice for newbies: realize that you’re going to be comfortable and that’s ok. But you need to keep the discomfort from being new from blossoming into a full-blown fear response.”
Easier said than done, right? Here are some simple stress-reducing tips:
1. Stand up straight. “All mammals, when they’re stressed or threatened, hunch their shoulders to protect their neck,” says Carter. If your body is doing that, it’s telling your brain that it’s under stress. Be conscious of dropping your shoulders and reaching your head high (and exposing your neck) for an instantly calming effect.
2. Breathe deeply. You’ve probably heard this one before, and that’s because it works. The key, however, is to make sure you “focus on deep exhales from the bottom lobes of your lungs,” says Carter. Those deep, slow breaths send a signal to your brain that everything is A-OK.
3. Try cognitive reappraisal. Take a moment and say to yourself: “My body is reacting to this situation (sweaty palms, increased heart rate), but my heart is just pumping more blood to my brain.” Understanding that your body is trying to help you will help you stay calm.
Photo: Getty Images
Dealing with a Boss
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Your current job situation might be on par with Cameron Diaz a lá Horrible Bosses, or you might just get a little anxious in his or her presence. Either way—the relationship you have with your boss can add some weird stress on your job.
If you have a bad boss, it might not be best to just grin and bear it; one Oklahoma State University study found that employees who retaliated against exceptionally hostile bosses experienced less psychological distress, more job satisfaction and more commitment to their employer. However, you might want to clock some more hours with them—specifically, six hours a week. A recent study found that this is the optimal amount of time to spend with your direct supervisor, and that employees who do so are more inspired, engaged, innovative, and intrinsically motivated than those who spend only one hour per week.
If you do need to confront your boss about something uncomfortable, Carter says to default to old-school “I” statements. The magic formula: “I feel X when you Y because Z.”
Photo: Getty Images
Finding Time for Yourself (and Your Social Life)
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It’s no secret that having a full-time office gig takes up a lot of your time. But transitioning from a ~chill~ two-class-a-day college schedule to a standard 9-to-5 (or 6 or 7 or 8) schedule, can make you feel like all you do is work and sleep, especially when you’re plugged in 24/7.
“It’s simple: don’t work when you’re not at work,” says Carter. “That’s a mistake so many people are making these days. There’s no balance. If you’re out to dinner with your boyfriend and you’re checking your email, you’re really at work, you’re not with him.”
If you’re going to do something fun, do it—without checking emails or talking on the phone. We’re addicted to the constant stimulation that we get in busy work environments, and one of the best things you can do to refresh yourself outside of work is look for “stillness,” says Carter. Focus on one fun thing rather than trying to stay plugged into work while doing it.
You can also see if your company has any flexibility with scheduling—more and more companies are offering remote work on occasion or flexible hours depending on your needs. And one recent study from the American Sociological Association found that employees who were given more control over their work schedule reported greater job satisfaction and happiness, were overall less stressed and felt less burnt out, and reported lower levels of psychological distress and fewer depressive symptoms.
That Overtime Grind
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It’s 10 p.m. on a Tuesday and you’re still cranking away at work. It’s easy to feel like you have to prove yourself in the first few months or years after getting a job. And by working overtime (whether or not you’re getting paid for it), you’re not alone. In fact, a 2014 Gallup poll found that 50 percent of American workers are working more than 40 hours a week, with close to 40 percent working at least 50 hours.
“The Boston Consulting Group pioneered something called predictable time off, and I think that’s really important to establish,” says Carter. “People who establish predictable time off (meaning they tell people ‘I work out at lunch,’ or ‘I have dinner with my husband,’ or just ‘This is when I’m not going to be working’) see increases in their own work satisfaction. And they don’t end up working any less—they just end up working more efficiently. And the people that they work with even rate them as better to work with. They’re more collaborative and they get more done.”
If you really do need to work, just give yourself a break, says Carter. Close your laptop while eating dinner or go email-free at the gym, before you head home and start back up again. Before you even leave work in the first place, decide what you need to get done and what your time limit is, recommends Carter. Then make sure you unplug with enough time to decompress before bed.
Photo: Gety Images
Negotiating Your First Promotion
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Towards the end of your First Real Job Ever, you might be looking for a promotion. If you like your job but want to be considered for a higher position or pay increase, that can be a sticky (and stressful) conversation. “The danger is that if you’re new and already looking for a promotion, you can be seen as pushy or entitled,” says Carter. “Especially if you’re young. But the truth is, many managers don’t realize how long people have been in a role.” Her advice? Go in with grattitude. Start by expressing how thankful you are to have been in the position and learned so much, and then ask for advice and tips on how you can grow to reach the next step.
Photo: Getty Images
Deciding It’s Time to Peace Out
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Maybe you’ve been at your job for a few months and decided you’d rather crawl into a hole with no human contact than go back to your desk for one more day. (Try these 10 Tips for Being Happier at Work before you do anything drastic.) Or maybe you just don’t see any opportunity for growth at your current company and want to explore other options. Either way, leaving your current job can be tricky to navigate without leaving any bad blood.
“Gratitude is key,” says Carter. “Acknowledge and appreciate what people have done for you there. That can be hard if you’re leaving specifically because you feel like they haven’t done enough for you, but surely you can find things that you’ve learned and that you’re thankful for.”
The quickie step for doing exactly that? Write genuine thank you notes. “People aren’t acknowledged as often as you might think,” says Carter. “A genuine thank you is leaving on a high note.”
Photo: Getty Images
Maintaining Your Healthy Lifestyle
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When you’re fresh to the office life, sitting in one place for 8+ hours a day is mystifying: how on Earth have all these people sit still for so long, for so many years? Even if you feel 100 percent fulfilled by what you’re doing on your computer, it’s still a lot of screen—and sitting—time when you’re used to meandering about campus between classes. (There’s a reason people are looking at desk jobs as a factor in the obesity epidemic.)
1. Keep healthy snacks ready. A study by the Cornell Food & Brand Lab found that the closer you are to candy, the more likely you are to eat it. Keep junk food away from your desk and keep some of these healthy snacks on-hand instead.
2. Get on your feet. We don’t need to tell you twice that sitting is the new smoking, but did you know it can actually increase your risk of anxiety? Good news: a study by Louisiana State University found that reducing excessive sitting by about three hours a day could add years to your life. Grab a standing desk, or make one by placing your higher up (on something like a cardboard box) for intervals during the day. (Your boss will love your MacGyver skills, we promise.)
3. Get away for lunch. It can be hard to justify leaving your desk for lunch when you have 1,000 things to do and everyone else stays desk-side for their mid-day meal, but there are some serious health disadvantages to eating where you work; you’re likely to eat more, make poorer food choices, and bog down your brain function.
Photo: Getty Images
Taking the Time for Time Off
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Paid vacation is a magical thing that you definitely didn’t get as an intern or bartender at your college-town pub. But a shocking number of Americans aren’t taking their vacation days each year.
A study called Project Time Off is calling vacation a “casualty of our work culture.” They found that 55 percent of Americans did not use all of their vacation days in 2015, resulting in a countrywide tally of $61.4 billion in forfeited benefits. And for decades, Americans took an average of 20 vacation days each year. Starting in 2000, that number started to steadily decline to 16.2 days a year in 2015. Why’s that? If you’re currently sitting at your first office desk, you can probably relate to the two most common reasons: fear that you’ll return to a mountain of work and that no one else can take over your responsibilities while you’re gone.
“It’s actually not a loss of productivity because you come back with a better brain, millennials,” says Carter. “Research shows if you take a real (non-working) vacation, you’ll come back more productive. If you do it right, people are way more productive before and when they get back.”
So go ahead, take the vacation guilt-free, knowing that you’ll be a better worker because of it—just make sure you prepare adequately beforehand. Carter says millennials have a habit of pretending they’re not going on vacation, trying to stay plugged in all the time, and not doing the pre-trip prep work they need before leaving the office. Be honest—you’re going away, and you’re not going to work.
Photo: Getty Images