Dealing with a full-time co-op

Originally Posted on The Triangle via UWIRE

Photograph courtesy of Phil Whitehouse at Flickr

For the past two terms, I have been working at my first co-op which has also been my first traditional 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. office job. When I accepted the job I was incredibly excited. I had a busy interview process, and this specific job was my top choice by far. After the initial rush of getting my ideal first co-op, a small shadow of doubt crept over my elation.

“How would I operate in a traditional office?” “Is 9 a.m.- 5 p.m. as bad as people say?” “Will I become a full-time corporate robot slug doing the same exact thing every day?”

All these worries floated around my brain for the couple months between accepting and starting at my job. Though I was slightly apprehensive, I went into the first day with a completely open mind, willing to try this new schedule and briefly break away from student life. After six months, I can confidently say that working in an office for 40 hours a week did not kill me. The whole experience was overall very positive. I love what I do there, and getting to work with amazing people every day was the best part of my experience, but there are a few drawbacks.

The biggest takeaway was the time commitment. Working for eight hours a day can be an interruption to other activities and draws you away from being as involved on campus. Towards the beginning of fall term, I would go to work, come back completely exhausted, eat and then be completely unproductive before going to bed. It took a while to adjust myself to the schedule, get time to relax and be productive outside of work. To get my time together and feel like I had more control over the week, I started planning everything almost down to the hour. On Monday, I would try to lay out what I want to do at the end of every workday. Micro-managing myself took some getting used to, but it’s better than the week flying by without using my free time.

Working in the same place every day can also be tough. Last year I would go to classes in different buildings, do my homework at Saxbys or the library and hang out with my friends in Towers. I moved around all day and never worked in one spot for more than a couple hours. The first couple of months of co-op, it was pretty hard to stay focused. To combat lack of motivation, I try to work in different locations around the office. This might not be possible if your specific office uses desktops instead of laptops, but if you have the opportunity to move around I highly recommend it. Something as simple as having a different view for a couple hours changed my workflow completely throughout the day.

One thing I didn’t expect from an office job were physical changes. Sitting at a desk all day is a big shift from walking around campus constantly, so getting in as much movement as possible is essential. I make random excuses to get up and walk around like filling my water bottle, getting another cup of coffee or just stretching my legs. I also try to switch up my commute and get off at an earlier SEPTA stop to walk more or just have a change in routine. Another big shift was how work would affect my eyes. If you are going to be working at a computer for most of the day, I highly recommend getting glasses that filter out blue light to save yourself from screen headaches. Before I got glasses, my brain would feel a little fuzzy after looking at my computer all day so any protective wear to prevent that is worth a purchase.

Now that my six months is coming to a close, I have gotten used to working in a traditional office, and there are aspects I will miss once I’m back in class. Coming in to work at 9 a.m. and saying hi to people around the office while making my first cup of coffee is a routine I will definitely miss during spring term. The biggest perk in office life is spending the day with awesome people. Before co-op, I had work friends but our shifts would be different every week so sometimes we wouldn’t see each other for weeks on end. At the office, however, I know I’m going to work with the same people five days a week, and having that guarantee is a big comfort.

I have a word of advice to anyone embarking on their first full-time co-op: it is not as bad as it may seem. A job is what you make of it, and finding time to take small breaks during the day makes a huge difference in how the weeks go by. Remember to keep moving, stay hydrated and have playlists or podcasts at the ready to keep yourself entertained if you have a massive solo project. Try to have as many office buddies as possible; they make the biggest difference at any job and make the days move much faster.

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