I read a lot of articles in magazines that have titles like ‘how to avoid embarrassing yourself at the office’ and ‘fashion to wear to the office’ and ‘how to make your desk into a more productive space’ and ‘things to do in the office that are completely ridiculous in any normal office but here’s the word office a few more times’. And these articles annoy my pants off. Because they cater to the slice of the population that works IN AN OFFICE and I don’t, and never have.
I’ve worked behind a counter, and behind a camera, and even on a stage. And now I keep the most ridiculous working hours of all in the most ridiculous venue of all. I work 12 hour shifts inside a truck (an ambulance to be more specific). I cannot use an article full of neat little life hacks about how to get a promotion when the article assumes you work – where? Oh yeah. IN AN OFFICE. If you do, great. But I do not and neither do a lot of people I know. So here’s something for all of them.
Keep it simple
Working 12 hour shifts, especially when there’s no guarantee you can take a bathroom break whenever you need to, makes you grotty. There’s no way around this, it just WILL happen. Grottiness creeps in gradually until, around hour 7 you feel kind of grimey and sweaty, and somewhere around hour 10 your mouth becomes like a sock. The secret is to do what you can to keep yourself feeling all fresh as a daisy – because life, especially life where you have to work and can’t just scream ‘sod it!’ and jump in the bath with a face mask on, just flows better and happier if you don’t feel half dead.
I take my toothbrush & toothpaste to work with me and brush my teeth midway through the shift. Sometimes people think it’s a little weird, but it gives me an instant boost of alive-ness. And let’s face it, you’re always more productive without the sock-mouth feeling. Also, if you have to work a shift during which you will eat literally ALL your meals for that day, it just makes good sense to brush afterwards. Other things I carry with me during long shifts includes sparkly lip gloss, hand cream & a nail file. If you can grab a quick moment to make yourself feel a bit lovelier during a long-slog work day (or night) then all the better.
Having said that…
My 2nd piece of shiftwork life hack advice is given based on the knowledge that sometimes, you just can’t fight nature. On a long night shift, for example, nature starts hating you at around 3 in the morning. And it doesn’t matter what happens or what you try, until you get back to your warm duvet and some hot running water, with no one making demands on you at strange times of day, you will look like you got hit in the face with a spade. So don’t look in the mirror. Just do not do it. It will only depress you. On a 12 hour night shift, I tend to begin avoiding mirrors just after midnight. It’s an ungodly hour. There’s just no point. Perhaps it’s better to convince yourself you look like Scarlett Johannsen/Tom Hardy and leave it at that.
Take the feline approach
So, a cat sleeps unless it’s busy carrying out a very important task, such as washing or stalking an imaginary beetle, yes? I view shiftwork in the same way. As it’s almost impossible to sleep on demand (IE up at 5am for a 6am shift so better turn in promptly at 9pm & go out like a light), my plan of (in)action is to sleep where I can, when I can. Which means – every moment I am not actually WORKING, I am sleeping. And as this theory still doesn’t actually guarantee you’ll get anywhere near enough sleep…
STAY AWAKE BY ANY MEANS!
A lot of people recommend coffee but I’m inclined to say that water is actually better at keeping you awake, alert & feeling more like a human being during shift work. And because water is really really boring, I play a game with myself called ‘if you drink a cup of water every hour then you may have a Creme Egg/some Haribo’. And it works because, while water is scientifically proven to be good for the brain, Haribo is scientifically proven to make the soul happy. And to make a shift go faster.
Buy a Thermos!
As Sunscreen is to Baz Lurrhman, the food flask is my most invaluable piece of advice. If I could only give you one tip for the future etc etc. Now, this nugget of wisdom probably won’t make much difference to you if you do your shifts in a shop or a bar or somewhere that has hot food-creating facilities. But to us traveling shift workers – those of us holed up in trucks and vans late at night – it makes a whole world of difference. Hot food warms the soul & gives you a boost when all hope of surviving the shift seems lost. Get a proper Thermos – it’ll keep your food warm for up to 8 hours and you can fit it in your bag & take it with you wherever you go. They are pretty hardy too. You can grab one from Amazon for under £20. You can also grab some drinks flasks in different sizes from Thermos to keep your tea hot.
And if you really need to bring fashion into it…
A lot of shift work jobs involve wearing a uniform. So all those ‘What heels to wear to guarantee a promotion’ articles are wasted on us. There’s also not a lot of room for personal style choices. It’s pretty hard to feel like yourself when you’re wearing the same thing as everyone around you. My uniform/fashion life hack tip is this: wear something underneath your uniform that makes you feel like YOU. It helps. I wear glittery underwear and knee socks with pictures of cake on.
And with that, I’m going to grab my Thermos & my cake socks and my Haribo and get back to work…
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