how do I adjust to working 8 hours a day?

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I’m currently a college student interning with a firm for the summer and doing office work for the first time in my life. I am a good student, entering my third year this fall, but I’m really struggling with work. I am working a normal Mon-Friday 8-5 schedule, but I can’t focus at work. I find myself staring at my office wall or being tempted to check my phone for what seems like hours each day. I’m constantly tired all the time. I find my work interesting, but I can’t seem to manage actually doing it more than probably 3-4 hours a day.

My supervisor hasn’t made any comments about my productivity so far, but I’m not far enough into the job where they would be expecting a ton of work at this point. I can’t seem to work 8 hours a day, and I feel really ashamed about being paid to work when I’m not actually working. I take a lot of “breaks,” as in I go get some more coffee or do a menial task that requires I walk a bit, hoping it will help me focus, but it doesn’t seem to help. I’m just overwhelmed, and I feel like I have a poor work ethic that will catch up to me really fast. Do you have any advice for how I can train myself to actually focus all day? Or even focus a larger percentage?

Readers, what’s your advice?

{ 479 comments… read them below }

  1. fish*

    From personal experience: it can be overwhelming to think about going from 0 (where you are) to 100 (where you think you should be) all at once.

    Instead, focus on a few things each day that feel concretely achievable. With that in hand, you’ll increase your confidence and be able to take on more.

    1. Llama Wranger*

      I came here to say something similar. What everyone said below about only having ~4 hours of productivity matches my experience, but when I’m feeling really unfocused in the way you’re describing, I pick the 2-3 key things that I need to get done that day and pat myself on the back for doing those. Based on what you described, it sounds to me like if you can get yourself to feel good about having even one hour of really focused time (or one more hour than your current baseline), you’ll build confidence that you can do the work, and then build that up over time.

      1. willow for now*

        Also, figure out when you highest energy/focus times are, and schedule the toughest tasks for that time slot. Can’t really get into anything before two cups of coffee? Don’t open that spreadsheet yet! Wait until 2 pm if that is when you are rock star, and rock the heck out of it.

    2. Web of Pies*

      It might seem counterintuitive, but make sure you take the entirety of all of your breaks. Particularly lunch, take the full hour and leave the office…if possible go home. If not, go to a park or library or coffeeshop nearby…somewhere you can actually chill out. Read, walk, listen to a podcast, or do some other leisure-time thing. If you’re an extrovert/stimulated by others, get some coworkers involved. Experiment and see what works, and mix it up (go home some days and out to lunch with friends/coworkers other days).

      It’ll break your day into two more-digestible 4-hour chunks, and the true break really does make the afternoon much easier. Working through lunch is probably the worst thing you can do in terms of keeping your productivity/interest levels up for the remainder of the day.

    3. Pidgeot*

      Adding to this, focus on deliverables. Unless you’re on an assembly line making widgets, you probably don’t just put in constant effort for N hours then go home. You probably have things that you need to get done. Take those items and break them down into the component parts. For example, if you’re building a module, break it into (1) load project into editor, (2) get project running and tests passing (3) write stub of module (4) write stub of tests (5) write tests (6) write business logic (7) write integration test (8) code review (9) deploy.

      Then, instead of focusing on working for 8 hours, plan on getting items 1-3 done before lunch. And then 4-5 after lunch. If your manager is any good, they’re likely not judging on whether you have your nose to the grindstone for 8 hours, but what you’ve accomplished then. And if you can say that you’re 50% done with your task at the end of the day, that is more meaningful anyway. Plus, checking items off your list will make you feel productive, and may help you hit flow.

      1. Emily*

        Focusing on deliverables is unrated. This is important!!

        I’m very prone to getting sidetracked by minutiae. Having figured that out about myself I’ve changed my approach, including how I organize my to-do lists and asking for more details around goals/direction from my managers.

      2. Amaranth*

        I’d also recommend making checklists – and pick a couple things that are least enjoyable to get done before the first break of the day. Save a couple of more relaxing or ‘fun’ tasks for the afternoon block so that its not just something to dread after lunch.

      3. Franki*

        Entirely agree with this. I’m at work while I’m commenting here and I probably spent 2-3 hours yesterday randomly on the internet while at work (I recommend switching your browsing instinct from phone to your laptop browser, specially if you’re in an office. It makes is easier to switch back to work and also less obvious you’ve been distracted).

        Now – I work a very senior job (think just below C-suite) and my performance is always rated as high as possible. Sometimes I will do 8 hours of solid work, but only if I’m in 8 hours of solid meetings (and even then…). I’m more distracted this week because I’m just back off holiday so I’m readjusting to the office. BUT I am an absolute machine about prioritised to-do lists and deliverables. Whatever people need from me they get at or before the deadline. If I’m working on something I break it down into parts and think about how each part should go, so I often deliver more than was asked. I think about how things get done, so I frequently design and implement new processes which make lots of people’s jobs better/easier. If I spend a couple of hours on ask a manager in between doing that, literally no one notices or cares.

        The thing that made me happiest at work was deciding that it didn’t matter how little time it took so long as I deliver the value my employer wants from me. So maybe think about how you can maximise your 4 hours of productivity a day and relax.

    4. Jyn’Leeviyah the Red*

      Totally agree. 8 hours is really more like 4-5 of actual work. (I keep thinking of Peter in “Office Space” — “I’d say in a given week, I do about 15 minutes of real, actual work.”) Something that helps me is getting a planner or organizer that makes me happy and using it to set a prioritized list. I have a mild sloth obsession, so I found myself a daily checklist organizer that keeps me focused. Each day is a page, and I tear it off at day’s end. Nothing fancy or overwhelming, but it helps to check off my tasks and see evidence of getting something tangibly done.

        1. Persephone Mulberry*

          I would like to know more about this sloth-themed organizer, because I think my desk also needs one.

      1. wittyrepartee*

        PHEW. I always worried that I was the only one who wasn’t working the full 7 hours a day.

        1. Anonym*

          A friend who’s a senior executive overseeing 100+ employees across 10+ teams once told me “I expect about 6 hours of actual work from an 8 hour day. 8 isn’t realistic, but if I’m getting 6 out of everyone, I’m satisfied.”

          This helped me hugely as a high performer with ADHD who used to think that anything less that 8 straight hours of perfect focus and output was failure. It’s not. Also, we all have different patterns in how we work – my process is very varied and involves some spaceout time as well as breaks as needed, but I still meet and exceed my goals. Your goals are your metric, not how you spend each minute.

          1. Mockingdragon*

            Similarly, a former supervisor said she wanted us aiming for about 80% productivity unless something big happened. That’s around the number she expected people to be able to maintain without burning out. We were doing a lot of mental and intellectual work (editing) so it’s just not reasonable to expect to go all day without ebbs and flows.

          2. My Coffee's Cold Again*

            ^^^^ + ^ This this this this and more this. As a fellow high-performing ADHDer, I can attest to the impostor syndrome being very real, but it’s absolutely imperative that you allow yourself space to recharge in-between tasks. Nobody benefits if you burn out, least of all you. By contrast, you’ll do your best work if you allow yourself space to breathe when you need it; everyone wins. Take all your breaks. If you have downtime where there’s not much to do, don’t feel bad about just chilling for a bit.

            1. Solitary squirrel*

              This is at least faintly reassuring. I’m a 40something who still has all the problems the OP has despite many years of working full days. I am seeking an ADHD diagnosis but in the country I live in, it could take years (I’ve been on the waiting list six months).

              I tend to have bad days where practically nothing gets done, and hyperfocus days, but always hit deadlines. So I always want to know deadlines. I absolutely dread when someone says “How soon do you think you could have this done?” because I have NO IDEA, except that if I think it’ll take two weeks, it’ll actually take a week of not really getting started and five days of white-hot concentration that will leave me exhausted.

              However, I’ve now reached a level where people expect me to know how long things take and not be micromanaged, and I’m convinced if I underestimate on purpose I will crash and burn spectacularly. So I don’t really know where to go from here except hope I can go on medication and that it helps.

          3. James*

            “Also, we all have different patterns in how we work”

            Different tasks require different patterns as well. And that can be where the difficulty comes in. When I’m in “field work mode” I’m responding to events–either planning them, or dealing with them, or explaining them to someone. It’s expected that there be down time, especially in certain roles. The safety officer shouldn’t be running around like a decapitated chicken on a well-run jobsite!

            In contrast, in “office mode” it’s more of a slow trickle throughout the day. I’m writing a report, or reviewing one; I’m updating data or doing monthly financials. It’s less urgent, more constant, if that makes sense.

            Switching from one mode to another can take time and certainly takes mental energy. It always takes me a few weeks to really get back into “office mode”–just like it takes time to go from “work mode” to “vacation mode”. It’s ridiculous to expect that someone make that transition seamlessly!

            “Your goals are your metric, not how you spend each minute.”

            This is also very important. Some jobs really do require your full attention for 8 hours a day. Others require your attention for 30 minutes a day, spread out across 8 hours–and your attention is absolutely critical each time. Almost every job falls somewhere between those two. The question to ask yourself is, what is my task? It’s almost never to fill time (and when it is you can usually bring a crossword puzzle or something).

          4. Cari*

            Oh my goodness, yes, this!!!

            Especially as an ADHD high performer, it’s taken (is taking) a long time to understand that. And when you couple thinking The Project(s) is the only “real work” (that overhead and random duck tasks, etc., don’t exist), it’s a recipe for brutal burn out.

            I remember when my then-manager told me that 15 hours was about the most billable (project) possible in a 40 hour week for the kind of knowledge work we do. Blew my mind. Helped, too!

          5. SeluciaMD*

            This times a million. I’m a high performer but I tend to be most productive at weird times. I’m a night owl and, just as a random example, I love to clean at 11pm. Obviously during a normal work day in an office that’s not terribly helpful, but being able to recognize my own behaviors/patterns was life-changing. I realized I was just slow and unfocused in the mornings but a demon in the afternoons. So I scheduled meetings in the morning, or reviewing materials, catching up on reading/research, etc and then planned to use my afternoons to knock out a spreadsheet or compile data for a grant report or things like that where I knew I’d need both energy and focus. It made my days feel better and made me so much more productive!

            (And To Do lists with deadlines. Cannot function without my list.)

            WFH has been a godsend because my work is often stuff that doesn’t have to be done during “normal” work hours so I will often do personal stuff around my meetings during the day and then work for a couple of hours at night from like 9 to 11pm because I know I’ll get twice as much done in half the time. And as long as I’m meeting my deadlines and keeping things moving, it does not matter one whit how I structure my day. So figure out what pattern works for you and lean into it as much as you can. (And make that list! Checking things off is VERY satisfying and motivating!)

            Good luck!

      2. Rachel in NYC*

        I would also say- following on this- that it’s okay to have down time, if you have checked with people to see if you can help with anything.

        The best advice I ever got was an internship in college that’s welcome packet was actually for the summer associates from law schools- and was written by a law professor- and literally said, if you have nothing to do- ask everyone if you can do something. I did everything and anything that summer from organizing closets to writing motions, all because I always asked- is there anything I can do?

        and if there was nothing, my sitting at my desk and reading was okay- because everyone knew that there was nothing for me to be doing.

      3. Glitsy Gus*

        This. I have a Panda Organizer and I really like it. It has you pick 4 priorities for the day, then there is a To Do list for additional things. But the main point of the day is the Big 4. I have found this really helps keep me on track with the things I NEED to do rather than getting overwhelmed, getting down on myself for not doing “enough” or feeling like “I must do ALL THE THINGS!”

        Additionally, if you’re in the first couple weeks of your internship, chances are you really aren’t doing the “fun” stuff yet; you’re probably still in Onboarding territory. Cut yourself a bit of slack, it’s easier to be productive when you are doing something that feels more worthwhile than reading handbooks and going to trainings.

          1. EggyParm*

            I don’t think I can give you an actual link but put “Kawaii Pen Shop” in your search engine of choice and you too can enjoy the daily cuteness of tree-climbing animal fun!

      4. Numbers Monkey*

        I’ve repurposed my gigantic whiteboard at work into a gigantic kanban board. Watching the post-its move into done (and from there, into the trash) just makes my day. And it makes it easy to figure out what’s next to do.

    5. wittyrepartee*

      I’ve also found that whenever you start a new job, you’re exhausted. Especially if that job involves a significant change in your schedule. The first 3 months are kind of a wash energy-wise, and then things start getting better.

      1. Grilledcheeser*

        Exactly! I have 30+ years of work behind me, just started a new job, and I am exhausted by 11am! Mentally & physically. It is hard work, getting up to speed, and even harder when you don’t yet have built-in habits & “muscle memory” for certain tasks. When everything is new, *everything* takes energy … even just figuring out what to wear to work that day!

        1. a commenter*

          Perhaps a capsule wardrobe would help ease the mental load? President Obama took that approach so he could focus on his job rather than his clothes.

          1. Andrea McDuck*

            My idol in attire is Dr. Ian Malcolm … all clothes in black or grey so whatever he pulls out matches in every combination.

            My partner thinks far less of this system than I do.

            1. Still breathing*

              You can select a jewel or pastel color as your accent. Most colors go with black or gray. You can add (for example) one red (or green or purple or yellow or orange) item (shoes or jacket or sweater or jewelry or scarf) for when you are with your partner. The items don’t have to coordinate with each other bc you’ll only wear one of them at a time.

        2. TL -*

          On the opposite end, I keep on giving my intern a slightly-too-long task list because I don’t remember how long it takes if you’re at intern-level anymore! (Luckily, she’s very level-headed, so I’m like, hey this is the priority, just let me know how far you get, and it’s been good.)

      2. Chipotle*

        OMG, this might be me. I started a new job around Memorial Day (after being at my last organization for over 15 years), and I am so worn out at the end of the day now. I keep beating myself up because I was working tons of hours at my last job (one of the reasons I left) and I never felt so depleted then as I do now, even though I’m working fewer hours.

      3. SeluciaMD*

        This is so true! Back in my late 20’s I was unemployed for awhile after having done retail management (and the weird work schedules that go with that job) for the past few years. When I started my next job, it was a much more traditional 8 to 5 office job in Washington DC and for the first 3 or 4 months – I kid you not – I was so tired, that I’d come home from work, wash up, get into my PJs, eat dinner in bed and pass out at like 8pm. It really did take months for my body to adjust to the change in my schedule and sleep patterns (not to mention learning a new job!) and I just couldn’t believe how tired I was! But I eventually adjusted and I’m sure you will too. Be patient with yourself!

      4. Elizabeth*

        This. I actually took about 8 months off this past year (due to burnout+lockdown despair), and started a part-time job about a month ago. It’s only 3 days a week and it’s still tiring! Way more tiring than I expected in fact. It’s crazy because prior to my rather unlikely recent hiatus I have worked 40-50 hours virtually every week since I was 19, and now I struggle with fewer than 30 hours.

        Tbh OP, I now question whether *anyone* is actually cut out for 40 hours. Keep in mind that we got the 8 hour workday/40 hour workweek to prevent abuses and excesses against workers. It was supposed to be the new MAXIMUM, but instead many industries treat is as the minimum expectation. I really think as a culture we need a new push to further reduce the hours we expect people to sacrifice to labor.

        1. JJ*

          This whole topic just floors me, I’m a RN work 8-10 hour shifts (st times mandatory overtime IE have to stay a 2nd shift) and usually finally finishing charting on a “normal” shift takes a good extra hour. 90%of time there is zero down time, hardly any time to go to the bathroom much less breaks but the time flys! No boredom and it actually fits my ADD. No option but to finish fast tasks continuously.

        2. Flo*

          Seriously- there are SO MANY “9-5” 40 hour p/w jobs that could, realistically, probably also be done in 30 or even 20 per week. By that I mean, the same amount of work could probably still get done in that amount of time, especially with the adoption of some more efficient tools/ reduction in pointless meetings. But hourly workers often need the income that comes with those 40 hours, and there’s this weird cultural attachment to the 40 hour work week, so it persists.

    6. Designer*

      Have you heard of the Pomodoro method? (I think that’s what it’s called). — you take a 5-10 minute break after EVERY 20 minutes. This makes you much more productive, especially since you know you’ll get a mental break soon.

      1. E*

        Yes, this helps me a lot too. 25 minutes of work, then 5 minute break. Repeat a couple times, then take a longer break.

      2. Krabby*

        Agree with this. I am terrible at taking too many breaks and getting sidetracked, but I find if I actively build that time into my day I have way fewer issues and feel a lot less guilty.

      3. Sam*

        I do this, but in real practice it involves about 7 minutes of real work, then trying to find another tab to reference something, and instead bouncing to “Ask a Manager” for the next 15 minutes, and clicking “Surprise me” at the top if I’m out of new content. Is that the Alisonodoro method?

      4. PacketLoss*

        The Pomodoro technique is a lifesaver for me! I even use a timer I found online called (so I don’t have to manually set a timer for work/break times). I’ve also found that frequent movement breaks during the 5 min Pomodoro breaks really help me reset and refocus. I’ll stand up, stretch, walk around, or even work on a crocheting project for that 5 minutes (when I work from home at least).

    7. allathian*

      My boss has straight-up said that she expects 5 hours of actual productivity out of the 7 hours 15 minutes that are our nominal working hours, when we’re budgeting our time for projects. That certainly eases my mind and lessens my guilt about all the short and long breaks I’m taking.

      My job requires bursts of intense focus. Sometimes I manage to get into a state of “flow” and then the time just goes by unnoticed until someone or something interrupts me. Most of the time, however, I’ll work for a while, take a short break, even if it’s just to roll my shoulders, get some coffee, or go to the bathroom, before focusing on work again. I also always take a lunch break, because I know that if I didn’t, I’d pay for it in productivity in the afternoon.

      So, LW, maybe aim for about 5-6 hours of productive work instead of the 3-4 you’re doing now. That would help more than trying to aim for the pretty impossible 8 hours.

    8. Sparrow*

      I like this advice! “Complete X, Y, and Z” is a much more concrete and achievable goal than “work 8 hours straight.” Another thing I will recommend is to figure out when and how you work best and lean into that. I am not good with mornings and focus best between probably 12 and 5, so I try to arrange my schedule so that I can focus on getting things done during my best hours. When I can, I schedule any meetings for the morning because 1) it’s easier to force myself to focus in that setting than it is on my own and 2) it leaves the afternoons open. I also generally eat lunch on the early side so to keep those peak hours free.

    9. mkl*

      Omg, so true. I remember my first two months of my first job- I was so tired I could barely walk home from the bus stop. Here are a few ideas…
      1) Go really easy on yourself the first 3-4 months. No extra volunteering, no major after work obligations. Just easy going
      2) At the start and end of each day, give yourself 15 minutes of planning. Break your day into half hour increments, minus the lunch and two breaks and the planning sessions. As you practice, you’ll get better at estimating what you can do in a half hour and how long common tasks will take. Then just take the day in half hour chunks.
      3) for each half hour, do 25 minutes of work and 5 minutes of recovery.
      4) If you’re still very fatigued and very scattered by month 3, do a screening for depression and ADHD… both can make work WAY harder than it needs to be if they go untreated.

  2. mea*

    No one gets 8 hours of work done in an 8 hour shift. I think the average is closer to 4 based on studies. Figure out when your most productive times are and get as much work as possible done then (maybe first thing in the morning). Take a break then do the easy stuff for the rest of the day. Aim to get about 6 hours of work in per day, even if it’s really easy fluff stuff. Get your priorities clear from your manager and make sure you’re on top of those. Make sure you are well liked but not socializing all the time. Offer to help with things that come up for others (bringing in packages or stuffing envelopes or editing…), which can be an easy and approved way to take up some time with less energy.

    1. Ashley*

      100%. The whole idea of the 8-hour workday is flawed. Most people cannot focus for that long, and it IS exhausting. This is great advice.

      1. Anonym*

        Seconded! Excellent advice, and a well-rounded approach to being (and being seen as) a valuable team member.

        1. Amaranth*

          I’m wondering how best to convey a willingness to help without it sounding like OP has nothing to do, or somehow picking up the annoying chores permanently.

    2. cubone*

      Yeah the secret answer is: you don’t, because no one is doing it the way you think they are

    3. Person from the Resume*

      I agree. Work all 8 hours that you are at work is unrealistic, but I think the LW is right to want to up that number.

      Figure out what the most important and most urgent (items with a deadline) tasks and make sure you do them first. If you have a large long term project break it up into pieces and give yourself deadlines. I am terrible about non-external deadlines so i am not saying it’s easy, but it is impossible to cram a week long project into a Friday afternoon.

      Figure out when you concentrate best and when you don’t. Save the reading emails for when you’re concentration is lower and work on projects that require concentration when you’re most alert. You can also turn off email alerts and go on do not disturb, if part of your problem is external distractions.

      Finally just keep trying. Don’t give up and tell yourself today is a wasted day when you catch yourself. When you yourself not working/being lazy, treat yourself with grace, but just pick something to do and get back to work.

    4. Feta*

      This applies to office workers though. There are definitely nurses who do 12 hours of work in 12 hours. Or fast food workers/janitors/call center agents who are constantly rushing their whole shifts.

      Just adding that on. It’s weird … it seems like the more I get paid, the fewer hours I’m actually busting my ass working.

      1. Chris too*

        Yes! In the last couple of decades I’ve always done jobs with a physical component and I confess I’m surprised at how many people are saying oh, nobody works all 8 hours! I don’t know what you’re hoping to do but maybe for a career, something that has some physical work involved as well would help. I don’t mean labouring, but something like planning or scheduling work where you actually have to walk around and look at things? It doesn’t sound to me like you have a problem with your work ethic as you do want to get work done, but some of us have bodies that just don’t do well sitting all day.

        1. Steph*

          Thanks for pointing this out, Alison! I totally agree. I work in an office and would say that I am productive for about 7 hrs and 45 minutes of an 8 hour shift. My role is very demanding.

        2. MM*

          Yes, I agree with both sides of this. In sedentary office work, it really is true that barring extreme cases, nobody is actually doing 8 straight hours of focused work. It is also true that more physical jobs that have you on your feet, moving around from task to task, mean less downtime in my experience. Each kind of work is asking different things from you mentally vs physically; the trick is to figure out what works for you.

          It is HARD to just focus in on a screen, without physical stimulation or changes of scenery, for a whole day, day after day, indefinitely. If you assume that the problem is your own laziness and try to mentally kick yourself until you do it, it simply is not going to happen and you will be miserable in the meantime. I can only do it if a looming deadline or genuine internally-motivated interest has kicked me into hyperfocus. On the other hand, being on your feet is physically exhausting but in a lot of ways mentally easier, because you’re just bouncing from one piece of problem-solving to the next while your environment changes, you get physical stimulation, and you can see the results of your work right in front of you (the barn floor is now swept, or the orders have now been packed into the truck and the stack of totes is gone). I ended up concluding after many years that I simply am not suited for the usual 9-5 butt-in-seat office job. It’s not that I’m lazy, and it’s not that one kind of work is inherently easier or better. It’s that the sedentary 9-5 is cognitively bad for me, personally. (And when I say cognitively, I mean that to include the physical–cognition happens in your body.)

          OP, this may or may not be you, but I encourage you to try to think about your work and your behavior at work not in the moral terms of “lazy” vs. “good worker” but simply: can I learn more about what helps me be effective and what doesn’t.

          1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

            I like your take on this. I’ve done a lot of different jobs. There are some times in retail or food service or farm work when you are just standing there staring at nothing, but it’s more common to be working hard physically for 6-9 hours until every bone aches, even while you are bored out of your skull for long stretches of time. And with office jobs, you are sitting in a comfy chair, but you are trying to flog your exhausted into focusing just a bit longer, just another task…

            What you use gets tired. What you don’t gets bored.

            The most agonizing for me were data entry jobs. Data entry is every bit as boring as chopping big pile of carrots or folding big pile of shirts, but you can’t let your mind OR your body wander, and you can’t talk with your coworkers to pass the time, the way you can if you are doing manual labor.

            1. pagooey*

              I had a data entry temp job as a student, circa 1990–so it was a pre-Windows, DOS-based screen of blanks to fill out for each form. A few times, I actually dozed off at my desk, and I’d wake up to find every field on my screen filled with EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE EEEEEEE or whatever, depending on how my hands had sagged heavily on the keyboard.

              LW, I’m here 30 years later to tell you that it does in fact get better/much more compelling, AND that I so empathize with your experience, I’m having flashbacks. The transition from student life to “now you will sit in this chair 40 hours a week until you retire OR DIE” is a rough one, and it’s hard to see any nuances in the corporate career world when you’re standing on the starting line. Good luck!

      2. Steph*

        Yes, I am a little bothered by all the people who say that no one actually works for all 8 hours. I work in an office and my job is so fast-paced and demanding that I would say I work a solid 7 hours and 45 minutes of an 8 hour shift.

        1. Person from the Resume*

          Legit question … so only 15 minutes total each day of bathroom breaks, snack and lunch breaks, chit chat with coworkers?

          1. Steph*

            Yep, I usually eat my lunch while working. And there is not much chit chatting going on. So usually just a couple bathroom breaks and maybe checking an occasional text. It’s brutal. I miss my old job that was probably more like 6 hours of productivity in an 8 hour shift.

        2. Ellie*

          I’m the same, although it does vary. But I’ve worked 10 hour days where I’ve worked all 10 hours and been running to the toilet/grabbing a muslie bar when its time to eat, and that’s far more normal for me than these 4 hour days people keep talking about. I’m not saying its right, or sustainable, but given a boring day and a high-pressure day, I enjoy the high-pressure ones more. I feel energetic and focused. Watching the clock is horrible.

          I wonder if the OP’s problem is that they’re in the wrong job? Do they actually enjoy the day-to-day? Do they not have enough interesting work to occupy them? When you’re focused on interesting work, it shouldn’t feel like work. If this job is just a means to an end then I wouldn’t worry about it, but if this is your profession, maybe you should think about whether its really the right fit for you?

          If there genuinely isn’t enough to do, then what about either asking for more work, or setting up some training (even online research/training if there’s nothing available at your company). I spent a lot of time on coding forums in my early days as a recent graduate, and I don’t consider any of that time wasted. You could also concentrate on improving your network/relationships at work. Try to think about the times when you’re most productive, and then try to fill in the remainder with things that are low energy, but will help your career.

      3. singlemaltgirl*

        i was coming to say something similar. and really surprised at the number of people saying they are only productive 4-5 hours of an 8 hour day. in a warehouse, there are many people hustling their butt the entire time and the only ‘non productive’ time is where they have to take their time for safety (which i would argue is productive and is the work, too) and their breaks which are critical b/c they are run off their feet while working.

        i think the place where people can be lax or appear/be unproductive, is likely an office type job. and that’s not always the case. i know when i’m in the office, i’m working. that doesn’t mean i don’t chitchat with my staff – but often that’s to run ideas by them or with them, check in on how their work is going or just how they are doing (mental health wise) and find out what’s happening ‘in the office’ in general. i’m more productive when i get to work from home to focus on projects but as a manager, my staff like the open door policy and like to be able to take 5-10 mins to talk about an issue, problem, or run something by me before going for it if it’s outside of the norm.

        the most unproductive part of my day feels like meetings but they all serve a purpose and no one’s twiddling their thumbs and they are required for the type of work we do. i’m not a fascist dictator so getting input or providing input and collaborating in larger groups and other agencies is important. i just have a lot to do all the time.

        i wonder if that’s part of the op’s problem – they don’t have enough work to fill their days and they’re trying to fill the ‘space’.

        1. No Longer Looking*

          Remember to keep that in mind when you are evaluating your pay. Most people who are putting in a solid 8-hour workday are getting paid less than those who are wool-gathering 20-40% of their day, which means that your per-hour-of-work is skewed even less in your favor.

          1. TL -*

            I ‘woolgather’ at work some, but it’s honestly really critical – it’s often when I have a useful idea or figure out the answer to a tricky project. I’ve done farm work and office work and bench (lab) work and productivity isn’t necessary equivalent to hours spent actively working. And some of the value does come from the rarity of the skillset – almost any able-bodied person could have done the farm work, and a lot of people could do bench work, given the right training. Very few people can do the office work I do.

      4. Person from the Resume*

        I guess this applies to office workers and especially knowledge workers. If your primary job duty is to think and concentrate on something, you’re unlikely to be able to do that for 8 hours. Of course things like checking email and meetings can be a break from the concentration, but humans just need a break from that to actually do a good job.

        It does seem like it’s different for physical activities or physical labor; although, they need breaks for other reasons. Physical strain or unrelenting heat.

        1. Jess*

          Yes, this. In admin jobs, I rarely had more than 3-4 hours of work that required me to actually think; the rest was photocopying, sitting in meetings, tweaking spreadsheets to make them look nicer, and goofing around online. In customer service jobs, the volume of work was higher, but there was rarely anything I had to think hard about–I could generally chat with the people I was helping while enrolling them on a course/taking a payment/etc. My last job as an employee completely burned me out, though–I was working on an employment law information hotline, and due to a combination of bad management, funding cuts, and austerity, we were expected to take calls eight hours a day with minimal breaks. People burned out and left in droves.

          I’m now a freelance translator, and initially really panicked about how little work I thought I was doing because I simply couldn’t translate for eight hours straight. Once I learned that most people’s limit is somewhere around 3-5 hours of brainwork, I relaxed–and immediately became much more productive within those hours.

          1. allathian*

            I hear you. I’m also a translator. I find that I can only deep focus for hours at a time when I’m working to a particularly tight deadline, but I can’t do that for very long (weeks rather than months) without getting stressed and risking burnout. My work product is much better when I can take a bit more time and don’t have to focus so hard for so long at a time.

            Knowledge workers also subconsciously process stuff when we aren’t actually working, so the breaks also help the work flow more smoothly. Sometimes you get better ideas when you aren’t focusing on the work, but are thinking about something else. The problem with that, though, is that it’s pretty impossible to quantify the gains.

        2. Parakeet*

          When I did physical work (that involved going door to door) for a little while when I was much younger, I wasn’t taking much in the way of breaks, but I was spending a lot of time walking between doors (which I found pleasant as it gave me a mental break between talking to people). And when I babysat, I was always “on” in the sense that I was always responsible for children and had to always be prepared to do a new task, but there were certainly times when I was more actively engaged, and then times when a toddler was taking a nap or something and I mostly just needed to monitor them.

          These days I work a social services job where I often alternate between periods of intense work (e.g. direct and sometimes very emotionally intense work with clients or other service providers), meetings, and relatively chill times. I appreciate the slower times, and don’t feel that their existence means that my job isn’t demanding. As we go back to in-person work, there’s also going to be times when I’m in transit to, say, courts or hospitals, which is not a break but is less mentally/emotionally intense than having a supportive conversation with someone about their trauma and its effects.

          The rhythm of different jobs really does vary a lot! In ways that go well beyond whether a job is demanding or not, too.

      5. Seriously, folks*

        You don’t have to “bust ass” to be working. I’ve worked innumerable 8-hour shifts of steady work without having to stress even for a moment.

        1. allathian*

          Yes. We’re talking office work here, because that’s what the LW asked about. I suppose planning lessons and grading notebooks and exams could be considered equivalent to office work, but teaching engages a different part of the brain. My only experience of teaching was when I subbed for my old middle school English teacher for a few weeks when she got really sick. She had the lessons planned in advance, and I had basically no training to do it, but I was apparently the best they could get on such short notice. I expect that they would have been satisfied if I just supervised them and made sure they didn’t break anything or fight with each other… I supervised reading sessions and they watched some videos, but afterwards I heard that the teacher was really happy that I’d actually got them to work on the lessons as well. Middle schoolers can be cruel to substitute teachers. I do admit that I was exhausted after every day, though! I’m introverted enough that engaging with multiple classes of 30 or so students each peopled me out.

      6. Martha*

        Oh man came to say this! I’ve only ever done production work, not office work and we do, in fact, work 8+ hours per shift. In my case, in a bakery and the way it works is you have a list of what to do in what order and you do it. If you get ahead, you clean.

        In fact, now that I’m a SAHM I make my own production sheets for the work I do now. I am 1000x more productive when I have a list to look out every time my brain spaces out.

      7. Yes, I am the Librarian*

        “it seems like the more I get paid, the fewer hours I’m actually busting my ass working.”
        Yes! when I worked retail it was all day every day, even as a manager. Now, not so much.

      8. cubone*

        oh absolutely. I definitely have had jobs where I worked nonstop, but they were exclusively customer service, retail, etc. The LW sounds like it’s an office setting, but I can imagine comments like mine are insulting to non-office folks – sorry about that.

      9. Solitary squirrel*

        Yeah, I’m actually wondering whether my feeling that I should be producing the entire time is based on the years of food service I did when I was younger (side gig while at college/grad school). Then, I really was “on” my entire day. Couldn’t physically cope with it now.

      10. TardyTardis*

        Bingo! I worked far less intensely as an accountant (except for month and year end) as I did in accounts payable. When you have 1000 invoices coming at you each day, you just sit down and grind them out. Guess which one I got paid more for.

    5. Amber T*

      This exactly. When you have to switch between tasks, when you’re interrupted by someone stopping by to ask a question, when you have to get up to use the bathroom or get a cup of coffee, it will take your brain a little bit of time to adjust and reorient. That’s normal. No one can sit at a desk for 8 hours straight and just work consistently and effectively.

      I take the first 15-30 minutes of my day trying to figure out what tasks need to get done today and what’s coming up in the near future. In my job, I’m frequently pulled in 12 different directions, so I’m open with my boss about realistic timelines and expectations. “I can work on that, but that will be a Friday thing.” “Can we dive into this a bit more early next week?” “I’m planning on working on A, B, and C today, and C might flow into tomorrow. Is there anything else you think is more pressing that should be done first?”

      I also use the pomodoro method (25 minutes on, 5 minutes off) to work. In those five minutes, I allow myself to check my personal email, get up and stretch, check facebook or a game. But once those 25 minutes are up, it’s back to work. I have a timer on my desk for this sort of thing and it’s really helped. Sometimes, I’ll work 45 mins straight, sometimes I’ll take a 10 minute break.

      One other thing – your brain is probably in overdrive now because a lot of things are new. Not just what tasks you have to do for work, but remembering the woman in accounting’s name, was it Fred or George who told you they were golfing last week, where is your coworker’s daughter looking to go to college. Even minor office quirks – can I leave a few minutes early on Friday, is it ok if I run out to get Starbucks during lunch, should I wear a tie to that important meeting. These are things that will eventually become second nature and you won’t use that much energy figuring out, but you will for a little bit.

    6. HigherEdAdminista*

      First, remember that rarely does anyone in an office job work every minute of their shift. This is really key. Especially if you come from a background of having retail or service jobs (like many of us do) where downtime is sort of… almost prohibited, it can be a big adjustment. I know when I worked in retail, it could be busy the whole shift, but even if it wasn’t I wasn’t allowed to do anything but wait for more customers. If colleagues were around, some chit chat could take place, but not a ton. The biggest thing you could do was clean or restock items sometimes. Every hour of work in these settings is and feels like work.

      In an office job, there are meetings that take up time and there are bits of down time in between meetings that aren’t really enough to do more than answer a couple of emails. Additionally, you may have projects to complete that are totally dependent on someone else. Right now, I am waiting to cross a task off my list because there is literally one person who wants to contribute something to it, but hasn’t yet. I finished all my work on this weeks ago; there is nothing more I can do about it until they come around and finish their part. Another project I am working on involves writing a lot of text. I write for awhile and then my brain needs a break from that topic, and I might do something else for a few minutes (like write this comment) or go get a drink of water. It is just impossible to be productive for every minute of my entire shift. If you are expecting that of yourself, I would work on adjusting that expectation a bit. And in truth, even when I worked retail… there were times when there were no customers and everything was clean and restocked. What did I do in this time? I walked around the floor, waiting to greet customers and day dreaming. It wasn’t productive; it just might not have been as interesting as texting with a friend.

      One other thing that can be useful in more practical terms is to have an on-going list of things you need to work on and their deadlines. Whenever you find yourself drifting, remind yourself to check the list. I know there are things I need to do, but sometimes I just can’t remember them when my brain sees the reward of goofing off a bit on the horizon. In those moments when I find myself drifting, I try to physically reset (walk around for a few minutes, get a breath of fresh air or a drink of water) and then pick something off the list.

      Also, check in with your hunger and thirst levels. I don’t know the stance on eating in your office, but for most offices I imagine it is expected. If you are feeling it is hard to focus, have a little snack: a granola bar, some nuts, a piece of fruit and a hard-boiled egg, a cheese stick… it might be that you are feeling hungry or thirsty and need a little boost!

      1. wittyrepartee*

        Yes on the food thing. Bring healthy snacks to the office and graze during the day. It keeps your energy levels from falling off a cliff around 3PM.

    7. Pony Puff*

      I probably only get 4 hours of work done a day too. As an intern or someone new on the job even that might be a stretch because you don’t have enough work to do or an in-depth understanding of the job that allows you to enter a state of flow where you’re focused enough to not watch the clock. Allow yourself to not feel guilty about it and try to do work related stuff you kind of enjoy, like reading industry news, organizing, who knows – just stuff that makes you look busy with “work.”

      As for adjusting to the 9-5 thing, it honestly took me a long time to not feel tired anymore. Maybe a few months even, but there are obviously still days I’m tired after being stuck at work from 9-5 and then having to take care of things in my personal life. Eventually you will get used to it and find what works for you but of course you are tired right now, it’s a major lifestyle change.

    8. Firecat*

      Good point on the not working that many hours! I’ll also add to that numerous studies (and even letters to Alison) have shwon that a lot of people exaggerate how much they are working.

      I remember feeling super guilty when I first started working since it seemed like all my coworkers were working 60hr weeks! Then I found out that Stan actually schedules all his emails at 3pm before he leaves to pick up his kid to send out between 7pm and 10pm so he looks oh so dedicated. And Karen who had oh so much work that required 65 hours a week? Well I took over her role and finished it all plus more in 35 hours. And David who works each weekend? Well the one weekend I did have to work he was showing as logged on and working but was nowhere to be seen, didn’t answer any ofy texts or emails. Seems like he just logged in and had some sort of mouse jiggle apparatus to appear present when he wasn’t. I believe there is even or a letter or comment on here from way back about someone who got promoted by staying late typing up the dictionary (that wasn’t their job it was self assigned busy work to look important).

    9. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think it’s true that a lot of people don’t 8 hours of work a day, but I think this really varies by field/job. In most places I’ve worked, people who were doing well did work very close to a full 8 hours or, in many cases, more. (I have been in jobs where I absolutely did more than 8 hours of work a day.)

      I knew when I posted this that the OP was going to get a lot of “this is normal!” responses … but I don’t think that’s true across the board and *really* depends on her office (and encouraging her to think otherwise could be really problematic for her).

      1. BubbleTea*

        For a while I tracked my work closely, logging what task I was working on and pausing the timer when I stopped being productive. Some days I was productive for 90% of my work hours. Some days it was more like 70%. On occasional bad days it was under 50%. Tracking it actually made me more conscious and therefore more focused.

        1. EH*


          When I was working as a tutor and freelance web designer, you bet I worked every hour of every shift. But now I’m a technical writer, which is so different. My mentor started me tracking my time to the nearest 5min a few years ago (at the end of the day you total up all the work minutes and all the break/lunch/bathroom minutes and find the work-time percentage of the total). His baseline for acceptable productivity is anything over 50% – because technical writing is a very brain-heavy job. Our brains literally cannot do it for 8hrs straight a day. It’s like being in college for the liberal arts – we learn a ton of complicated stuff, then have to write detailed, clear, informative text about it. That uses up a lot of energy and can only be done for so long.

          I use a 20/10 pomodoro most of the time, and so far my managers and coworkers seem pleased with my work.

          Ultimately, I feel like that’s what matters: is your manager happy with your productivity?

      2. Amey*

        I agree, I’m finding these answers really weird. I don’t do 8 hours of work nonstop, but I’m certainly not spending essentially 30 minutes of every hour not working!

        I also think it’s worth breaking down what’s involved here – I definitely might have a bit of social chit chat at the start or end of calls or meetings with colleagues which isn’t technically ‘work’ but is actually really important to building relationships and understanding the people I work with which is essential to my work. I don’t consider this the same as wasting time on my phone or taking lots of long coffee breaks.

        I really would expect my reports to be working more than 4 hours a day and I think that’s a very normal expectation.

        1. Spearmint*

          As Alison said, I think it depends on the job. For example, 90% of my job is staring at spreadsheets, email, and Zoom meetings. It’s often tedious but also requiring mental work to complete. I don’t think it’s realistic to expect anyone to be laser focused 8 hours a day on that. On the other hand, if you had a more varied and stimulating job, perhaps it is more realistic (and even necessary) to expect 8 hours of work.

          1. Caboose*

            On the other hand, when things become too thought-provoking, you wind up circling back around to not having that many hours of work that you can do. I’m a software developer, and I can manage about 3-5 good hours of focused programming work in a day. If I get into that upper range, or even go for longer, that’s all my brain power gone for the day, which means I’m gonna drive like an absolute idiot on my way home and wind up ordering takeout because I literally cannot find enough brain cells to rub together to start to think about cooking.
            And being in software means that there *aren’t* other, simpler tasks that I can dedicate my time to when I start running out of steam.

            1. DataSci*

              Yeah, though more like five to six hours of focused brain-work here. It also means that I don’t consider the 2 hours or so of meetings per day I usually have to be “productive work”, and that something like a pomodoro would be absolute death on productivity – a half-hour break between meetings is generally spent doing something like catching up on work emails or editing a presentation, not actual productive coding. Quick breaks are horrible for flow-state work, and if I never worked in more than twenty-minute blocks I’d never get anything at all done.

              So, in a typical nine-hour workday, maybe two hours of meetings, five hours of productive coding, half an hour for lunch, and the rest for asking/answering co-workers questions, catching up on email, code reviews, etc.? Is that eight and a half hours or five? Depends on where you draw the line. It’s all necessary (except maybe lunch, which I take at my desk while working about once a week) but not all actually getting my deliverables done. And if I had a day of solid meetings, I’d definitely say “ugh, I didn’t get any work done today at all!” but that doesn’t mean I was slacking off.

              1. Anon academic*

                I’m an academic, and this description and analysis is much closer to my work than most of the others I’ve read here. Outside of “work,” I do a lot of reading to maintain currency in the field and prepare for new courses or new research projects. I think through challenges and provocative questions all the time. It’s part of life, and when I’m stressed in other areas, this aspect of my work definitely stagnates even if my “work hours” don’t. Email and meetings don’t feel productive to me, though I realize that they “count” as work. When people ask me how many hours a week I work, I have to say that there is no easy answer. I definitely don’t get paid enough (nothing like what people with comparable education and experience expect to make in other industries that require this level of dedication).

            2. Software Dev*

              Yep, this describes me perfectly—3-5 hours is about right.

              But I get ranked highly on speed and productivity on every review, because when I am working, I am very good at my job. Its been true in my experience that the more you get paid, the less hours you work, though—when I worked account management, I did 8+ hours a day. Simply the (unfortunate) reality—I now get paid a lot more to do far less.

        2. TL -*

          Yeah, a lot of my brain breaks are talking to people and it’s actually really helpful – it’s how I learn things I need to know and build relationships.

      3. Spearmint*

        I wonder how much of this, too, depends on how you define “working”. If you ask me how many hours of work I get done a day, my initial instinct is to say 2-4 hours. But in reality, that’s only the amount of time I spend in deep focus on long-term projects. I don’t factor in meetings, monitoring and answering email, planning my day, etc. as “working” because they don’t feel productive, but maybe I should. It’s a hard question. Is sitting in a 30 minute meeting where only 1o minutes of the discussion was relevant to me “working”? What about monitoring and answering email while flipping over to news sites/AAM? If those also count, then I think I probably spend more like 6 hours a day working on average, and some days almost the full 8.

        1. LizB*

          This is a great point! I think from the perspective of a student, you think of “working” as actively listening in class, writing a paper, doing homework problems, studying for a test — tasks that require intense focus and critical or creative thinking. There’s a middle ground, though, between intensely-focused work and goofing off, and the OP might not think of those things as “working”. Responding to quick emails, being in a meeting where most of what you do is listening, rote tasks like filing, being available to answer a call or an IM, are all in that middle ground in my book, and I would hope most managers would think of them as “working” as well!

        2. Tali*

          Yes, this exactly. Yesterday I spent about 30 min just going through email, updating to do lists, and doing other “meta” work and organizing myself. I suppose that’s work, it certainly has to get done at some point, but it feels different than diving into a focused project. Or when you have back to back meetings all day and at the end complain “I didn’t get to even touch my workload!” but of course you were working in those meetings all day.

      4. Anonym*

        It’s also really important to be clear and expansive about *what* is productive time. I know a few people who feel that if they’re not writing, meeting, or doing something very concrete, they’re not productive. But I’m someone who needs processing time, especially for strategic work. Sometimes that means going for a walk, or staring at the wall, or other things that don’t “look like work.” If I didn’t take what may look to others like a break, I’m not going to be able to deliver the insights, ideas or decisions that the team needs from me. Some of it is direct thinking/analysis, but some of it is explicitly not that – it’s the mental rest that makes good analysis possible.

        Everyone’s process is different, and hewing to a narrow view of productivity can only hurt people (and their output!).

        1. allathian*

          Agreed. I’m a translator, and sometimes when I’m stuck, taking a break and talking to a coworker or getting a cup of coffee is just what I need to get past it so I can craft a readable translation.

      5. Alli*

        I’m very surprised by how many people are saying they spend 4 hours of their 8 hour day actually working. I’d say I probably spend about 7.5 out of 8 hours solidly working. Once a month or so I’ll have an off day where it might drop down to 4, but that is rare. I don’t think I would feel ok about only working half of the time that I’m being paid to.

    10. Purple Penguin*

      Exactly this for office work. Four hours a day is the average of actual office work done in a day, so don’t be too hard on yourself.

      I’d also encourage you to take this opportunity to explore how you work and what type of work is best suited for you. For example, are you a burst of energy worker, do you work best slowly over time or a combination of the two? Do you work best in a fast-paced environment with lots to juggle? Do you need human interaction? There are tons of free tools out there to help you figure this out. Myers Briggs comes to mind as a starting point. There are also lots of so-called productivity apps to help you get things done, figure out how you work as well as to remind you to schedule breaks in your day (so important!).

    11. Beth*

      Yes, very much this. Being at peak productivity for 8 hours a day isn’t the goal!

      Figure out what times of day you focus best in (first thing in the morning? mid afternoon?) and try to really squeeze in as much work as you can during those times. Focus on the things that really need deep, sustained attention. If you can get up to 4 ish really productive hours, you’re probably doing plenty for an entry level job.

      In the rest of your workday, handle less focus-intensive tasks. Get caught up on emails, go to meetings (these may not always be in your control timing wise, of course), identify some things you’ll need to learn to reach the next level at your employer and see if you can find materials to learn them, develop relationships with coworkers (break room chats are productive, within reason!). There may also be tasks specific to your role that don’t take sustained focus for you; those are also good to do in your off-peak hours. These hours won’t be nearly as productive as your peak hours, but things will get done, even if it’s in 15 minute chunks with breaks interspersed.

    12. Recruited Recruiter*

      Adding on to this:
      Not all 40/week jobs have the same amount of work. At my previous job, there were three of us running at max capacity and struggling to get everything done. At my current job (same field) I am a department of one, and there’s not necessarily enough work for me to do at the pace I’m used to. At the first, I was not allowed to have any overtime, and now, I am expected to be on-site when the office is open (in case something I need to deal with happens) which results in a tiny bit of overtime every week. I am learning to go the opposite direction – from making 10 daily hours of workload take 8, no matter the toll on my mental health, to taking my 30 hours of workload per week and spreading it a reasonable thickness throughout the week.
      I am being able to much more thoroughly research recommendations and requirements, which has been really nice.

    13. Sled Dog Mama*

      Yeah, in my field once you have about 4-5 years experience you realize something very amazing, you can get the same amount of work done in a 8 hour day with colleagues in the office as in 4-5 hours with no one in the office. This is mostly because in my profession a decent amount of that 10 hour day is spent putting out fires and waiting on things to be given to you.
      I told a more senior colleague this shortly after I realized it and his response was “Welcome to the Club. Now you know why I work Sunday -Thursday.”
      Only a robot or a very few people can actually work for 8 hours in a day. My dad taught me this when I was interning at the office he worked in. He was a c-suite exec at the time and one day, after I’d been there about 2 months, he hauled me around to meet all his department heads and introduced me as the intern (my manager did this too but apparently dad had talked to her and wanted to teach me a very specific lesson). The lesson dad wanted to teach me? An 8 hour workday does not mean 8 hours of work in a well run company. He introduced me to lots of people who were taking breaks or having conversations about non-work things and they were happy and relaxed because they knew he wasn’t catching them doing something wrong he was just taking a break too.
      This is also the awkward time in my life when I began referring to my dad as Mr. c-suite exec instead of dad.
      Oh and for the record I was not a nepotism hire, I applied for the internship through regular channels using a different name and dad wasn’t on the selection committee, nor did I tell him I applied until I was selected. I also didn’t report to him or any one in his chain of command, they had their own interns to deals with.

    14. PT*

      Years ago, my work hired teen workers from the city’s summer job corps, and the number one thing I struggled to make clear to them was that they would have downtime as part of their job and that this was normal. A lot of them thought they needed to be working the whole time, and that if there wasn’t work for them to do, they didn’t need to be there. (But being teenagers, they’d of course express this in inappropriate ways, like sulking and then wandering off to Starbucks when no one was looking and then we’d have to send someone to check all of the coffee shops in a one-block radius of the building to find them.)

      This also applies to entry-level jobs, too. A large part of your job is being there so that you’re available when someone has work for you to do, not so much that you are doing work all the time.

    15. Quinalla*

      Yes and to add to it, look around at your coworkers and make sure you aren’t sitting around daydreaming and they are nose to the grindstone all day and vice-versa. With more knowledge work type of jobs, it is very important to make sure you are pulling your weight, meeting any deadlines, but you aren’t going to have many days where you are focused almost the entire 8 hours. I get those days sometimes, but they are rare and usually because deadlines are piling up and so I just put on some music, ignore email for 4 hours at a time and work. Most of the time, I’m taking regular breaks, having focus loss, etc.

      And yeah, just starting a new job especially transitioning from school to an 8 hour day is hard. It is very different pace, etc. give yourself a few months to adjust and try to focus on little improvements each week/month.

      1. wittyrepartee*

        Early at current job I looked around at everyone’s screens at 3PM, and noticed everyone seemed to be shopping. So… we work hard, but there’s off time. You can’t program 7 hours a day.

        We’re in our busy season now though, so nose to the grindstone while we pump out datasets and reports!

    16. Sarah*

      I’m seeing a lot of responses in this thread that are shocked that people aren’t working eight hours a day. I am in a very strategic and thought-heavy design job. I know I am one of my companiy’s top performers. I do a lot of writing, I do a lot of work with ideas to see how I can make them as clear and well-expressed as possible.
      Last spring, I tried to do thought-heavy work from40-almost 60 hours a week and I am still recovering from the burnout. All I did when I wasn’t working was stare at the walls because I did not have the mental capacity to even live a normal life.
      I do my best work if I don’t do that kind of thing for more than 30 hours a week. So it really does depend on the job.
      If you are in a highly creative or highly strategic position, productivity is going to look different than it will for other types of jobs. You need to make sure that whatever pace you are working at is something you can sustain.

    17. Esmeralda*

      Yep. Some days I find the office admin and ask her for one of the mindless tasks my coworkers give her that she really does not have time to do. (Bonus: she buys me my very favorite and somewhat expensive pens when she orders supplies for the office)

      For instance, shredding. Going through student folders for scanning to remove the stuff my colleagues should have removed. Adding paper to the copiers. Running a file over to another office (even better when it’s another building). Taking a shift at the front desk so the admin can take a break, or so she can focus on the scheduling.

      Also, since you’re new, OP, spend some time meeting with your colleagues. Especially if this wasn’t part of your onboarding and isn’t formally scheduled for you. Start with either the friendliest or (better) the most knowledgeable person in the office and ask if you can schedule a time to get together so you can learn more about the office/department/team. Meet with *everybody* (admin staff too!). Take notes, write down questions, follow up if you think of things later, ask them who they think you should talk with next.

      1. wittyrepartee*

        ALWAYS make friends with the admin. But yeah, I love b*tchwork. I can do something productive while listening to a podcast and resting my brain. When I was in lab, every Monday morning I’d go straight to the sectioning machine, and section like- 3 mouse hearts. It was fiddly work, but I didn’t need to think hard or talk to anyone. Everyone loved me for getting their samples back to them fast.

    18. Remote Worker and Dog Lover*

      Yes!! I wish I realized this sooner. I can get in about 4 hours of good, focused work each day. Thankfully, if you’re in an office there are ways to fill the remaining time. Meetings, follow-up from meetings, taking breaks to walk and stretch, getting coffee or tea, casual interactions with coworkers, etc.

      1. TL -*

        Tissue culture – I used to spend 2-4 hours a day in tissue culture, and I miss it so much. I got through so many audiobooks and podcasts just pleasantly zoning out and doing very routine work with my hands.

    19. OTRex*

      Yeah, that doesn’t apply to healthcare. I work 10 hour days, and it’s a rare occasion that I am sitting without ANYTHING to do. I am expected to be treating patients on the hour every hour except lunch, and when I am not, I am doing documentation, following up on emails, phone calls, and doing all of the random admin work my job requires (have collaborative discussions with other clinicians, creating patient resources, annual compliance modules, looking up research articles, working on projects I am supposed to do but am not given extra time to do, etc). Even on days when a bunch of patients cancel, I just get to catch up on the backlog of never-ending stuff.

  3. WonderMint*

    You have my complete sympathy!! I remember when I started working how difficult it was to be there for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. I thought 2 hour lecture classes were bad, this was a whole new level.

    That said, it will get easier as you adjust to working life. In the meantime, are you making to do lists and crossing them off? Is your supervisor giving firm due dates on deliverables so you can motivate yourself to hold a firm schedule?

    Motivation and engagement can be tricky to figure out. You say you find you work interesting, if I were you I would start with my favorite aspects first, taking into account due dates of course, and trickle down to the worst tasks. A body in motion stays in motion. Good luck!!

    1. CH*

      I agree that this was a big adjustment for me. I recall a particular internship where I was bored all the time. I loved the organization and the department, but they didn’t have a lot of work for me to do and some days were painfully slow… I even took a nap in the bathroom once a la Ilana Wexler.
      Things got much better when I landed my first full-time job, though. I had more to do, longer-term projects to get excited about, and more control over my work. It was still an adjustment to work full-time, but I do think there is a mind-shift between the internship and the full-time role.
      Basically, hang in there! It will get better!

    2. cubone*

      “ Is your supervisor giving firm due dates on deliverables so you can motivate yourself to hold a firm schedule?”

      Ding, ding. This is such an undervalued aspect of time management and productivity, and in my work with interns/early career staff, I notice a lot of them are quick to blame themselves for a “lack of focus” when it’s very clear their supervisor has given them NOTHING re: what priorities to focus on. That is what management is. Your managers job is to be clear about the goals, outcomes, and priorities, and your job is to execute them. Don’t rush to blame yourself for not being able to zip around all day getting **** done if you aren’t in an environment where clear, reasonable expectations of work priorities have been set.

    3. AVP*

      Absolutely this! I would also think about how you’re keeping your to-do list and deadlines organized, and find something that makes you happy to mark an item “done.” Something really simple – for ex, I get a huge boost of serotonin with the act of physically crossing something off my list, and have been known to use a special pen or buy a notebook I really like just for this. Some people prefer online take mgmt systems, google cal reminders, etc etc.

  4. bunniferous*

    Set a timer for 20 minutes. Focus. Then take a five minute break, then do it again. I adapted this from (I think it’s called ) Pomodoro. I do this myself when I have a longer task and it helps train me to focus.

    Think of focus as a muscle you need to build. You’ve got this!

    1. OneTwoThree*

      I was coming here to say this! I use the Pomodoro method a lot. I use the App called BrainFocus. I also try to get up during my breaks (bathroom, printer, stretch, etc).

    2. Mental Lentil*

      Yes, this is pomodoro! I bought a couple of cheap dollar store timers specifically for this.

      The human brain really does not work well for long periods of time. This helps break up your work into stretches that your brain can handle.

      FWIW, the 25/5 may not work for everybody. Some people naturally do 30/5 or 20/3 or whatever. The key to making this work is to find a work/break interval that works for your brain.

      1. Batty Twerp*

        There’s also the state of mind that (if you forgive the woowoo sounding terminology) is known as “flow”. It’s also known as being “in the zone”. If you’ve watched Soul, you know what I’m referring to and if you get into that frame of mind, don’t let your pomodoro interrupt you! It’s okay to go beyond 2o, 25, 30 minutes if you’re in a mental place where you can keep going. Then, once you drift back out of the zone, reward yourself. Have a few extra minutes just to let your mind decompress.

        1. ferrina*

          Yes! This is my experience too! I’ve got ADHD, and part of my battle is just getting started. Once I’ve started a task, I usually do great, but getting going and sometimes the first 5-10 minutes is just brutal. I use the timer to help get me in to the task, then almost always go past it and/or get the task done.

      2. RagingADHD*

        For deep focus, I need about 45-60 minutes, maybe 1h 10 or so. And then a 20-30 minute break.

        When you catch the wave, and aren’t trying to force it, you fall into a natural rhythm.

        1. TL -*

          that’s pretty close to my natural rhythm, although a lot of times my break is just a brain-lite task, like answering emails, formatting, etc…

    3. Former Llama Herder*

      I came here to recommend Pomodoro too! I have an extension called Marinara installed on Chrome that does the timers for me. I just started an office job after five years of teaching and the lack of structure has really thrown me for a loop. Pomodoro, to do lists and frequent movement breaks are all really helpful. I have also told supervisors that I work best with firm deadlines-like, even if a deadline isn’t necessary, I’ll ask them if I can send them something by a certain date to trick my brain into deadline mode. Give yourself grace, you’ve got this!

    4. introverted af*

      This helped a lot when I started working full time, but I found I needed to work on the timer less and less as I got better. Definitely start here.

    5. Cubicle_queen*

      Also available is a free desktop app called Tomighty– a little tomato icon pops up on your taskbar near your date/time. You can set the length of your pomodoro, a short break, and a long break. I set my pomodoro for 25 minutes, and use the ding as a reminder to refocus my eyes on something 20 feet away for 20 seconds (it prevents eye strain) if I don’t take an outright break. Or if I’m struggling to work, after a pomodoro I select a short or long break as permission to waste a limited amount of time.

    6. LadyByTheLake*

      I was also coming here to recommend Pomodoro. In fact, I need to set a timer right now because I have a ton of stuff to do but instead I’m checking AAM!

      1. Jen*

        I highly recommend pomodoro! I also recommend making a nice list of “brain breaks” for yourself — there are lots of breaks that look “work-ish” (getting up and refilling the coffee, rearranging your favorite pens, doodling in a favorite notebook), and having the next break to look forward to really helps me.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          I was a total convert when our office implemented 5S because I could take a totally justifiable 15 minute brain break to sort & standardize etc.

    7. Person from the Resume*

      The funny thing about that is when the timer goes off, I often keep working because I’m in some sort of groove.

      A lot of time, it’s the starting I have trouble with. A task seems overwhelming. But once I get started it is less overwhelming, and I don’t mind continuing.

      1. Joielle*

        Agreed! This is also how I treat cleaning or working out when I really don’t feel like it – commit to doing it for 15 minutes, and if I’m hating it at that point, I can stop. I can make myself do pretty much anything for 15 minutes. But usually, once I get started it’s fine and I keep going longer. This works for anything you don’t feel motivated to do!

        1. quill*

          Been using podcasts as a chore timer forever, because I CANNOT do anything boring (like the dishes!) most days.

    8. Caramel & Cheddar*

      LW, there’s an app called Forest that also has a Firefox browser extension that has the same functionality as described here. If you successfully make it to the end of your designated work period, you grow a tree! But if you don’t, you kill the tree. It’s really handy for this situations you describe like constantly checking your phone, etc. ; you can set it to restrict access to other apps on your device, so that if you’re inclined to check Twitter, it will warn you that you’re going to kill your tree if you do. I’m very distractable and have found it very helpful in situations where I really need to buckle down and focus.

    9. The Original K.*

      Love the Pomodoro method. I use it at work and at home. You’d be surprised how much cleaning you can get done in 25 minutes!

    10. Janet Rosen*

      And please don’t forget to stand up, stretch, and focus your eyes on something distant during those five minutes!!!! Our bodies and brains are one unified system and we are built to gaze out at the world and move in it.

    11. Just an autistic redhead*

      Yeah, and you can play around with the implementation as well. Sometimes I just set a timer on my pc for 1 hour… Not because I then take a break necessarily, but it gives me context for the passage of time. So sometimes I’ll just set it going again right away. It helps to figure out what time things take you generally vs when you’re juggling, and more often than not helps to gauge when you need to do “that thing you were going to do later”. Personally find it very helpful at times, and recommend playing with it to see what works best for you.

      1. LC*

        Being aware of the passage of time is super helpful. I’m so terrible at estimating how long things will take and also how long I’ve been doing something, so being able to see it visually makes a big difference.

        For me, the trick with this is to not beat myself up if I realize I’ve been on AAM longer than I meant (guiltily ignores the clock really hard) or that I’ve gotten distracted in what I’m working on and have ended up focusing on something that’s still a part of it but isn’t really the point. Just being aware of time can help.

        1. Just an autistic redhead*

          The one and only thing I miss about OldJob is the uncannily precise sense I developed at it of when I’ve been on break for half an hour. :D (It’s been several years, so that’s not quite there for me anymore.)

    12. middlemgmt*


      I struggle with this too, and I’m entering my 20th year in full time office work. when i know i’m not focusing like i should, this technique helps me immensely. I also like to schedule time on my calendar for the same purpose.

      Also, break tasks and projects down into smaller elements. like if you need to create a document, don’t make your goal to finish it in one sitting. spend 20 minutes on an outline or stream of consciousness to get your thoughts down, or filling in one or 2 sections. you can come back to it again after a break. then it won’t seem as daunting as a blank screen.

  5. Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii*

    Constantly tired could suggest depression or sleep disorder.
    But you need a doctor to diagnose and treat those.

    That said do you have any gut feelings on why this is happening (if its not a medical issue)?
    Do you wish you went into another field, is the work environment toxic, is it something you can quantify?

    1. ThatGirl*

      Eh, sometimes boredom or lack of engagement makes you feel tired – I’d say if the OP feels energized outside of work, that’s probably not the issue.

        1. The Happy Graduate*

          Agreed, jumping to those are very extreme especially with no context to suggest them.

          1. BlueberryFields*

            I agree with both. I was bored AND depressed when I started my first office job, ha. There was definitely some overlap between the two–but like Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii*, only a doctor can diagnose. Mental health issues can pop up in early to mid-20s, even when there haven’t been any before.

          2. Lana Kane*

            As someone who has dealth with sleep issues, I don’t think it’s a wild leap. It’s always worthwhile to discuss being constantly tired with your doctor even if you suspect more mundane reasons. Sleep issues can be pretty insidious and hidden in the background, and tend to be also easily explained away by other factors. And sometimes it’s something as simple as snoring cause sleep apnea.

            I’d urge the OP to at least rule it out.

      1. Office Sweater Lady*

        I agree, my first guess would be that the OP is bored! This isn’t unusual. The first few months of working (even when you just change jobs) can be kind of boring. It takes time and effort for your co-workers and supervisor to train you, especially if you are only there for the summer. They may not be concerned about your productivity because they are actually okay with your level of output given the amount of training/things you are capable of doing independently. You probably haven’t been there long enough to feel any ownership over your work product or have a good sense of the long term goals or cycles in which the work gets done, so everything seems disjointed. My advice would be to focus on the things you enjoy doing that are work related, especially if you have already done all the required tasks for the day. Anything that will get you producing/thinking creatively will help lift the boredom. Are there papers you could read? A memo you could write (even if it’s only for yourself). Perhaps you can brainstorm some material that would be useful as a training manual for other new people in your position. It will depend on the specifics of your work. I would say the feelings you are having are very typical for your age and level of experience, and the remedy is to start to learn more about the work and start focusing on finding ways to maximize the amount of time you spend working on the stuff you like most. Good luck, OP!

      2. wittyrepartee*

        Also, a lot of work environments are pretty depressing. As an intern, you usually get the yucky cave desk in the beige middle room.

    2. Suzanne Lucas--Evil HR Lady*

      Yes, this. If there haven’t been problems before, it’s probably not this, but I was having a terrible time focusing and using caffeine more than I would like and finally went to my doctor. I had a sleep study and–ta da!–found out I have sleep apnea.

      It is a huge adjustment to go from school to work, so it’s probably that, but if it doesn’t get better, check out the sleep thing.

      1. Michelle*

        I spent the last 20 years fighting what I thought was depression. Everything felt too hard, I struggled with focus and memory, I was irritable. On top of that there was guilt over feeling like I could and should be doing better, and anxiety about the things I was supposed to be doing and how frequently I couldn’t even remember what they were. I was in and out of therapy and on every med anyone would give me, but nothing helped. I just recently had a sleep study, and it turns out I have severe sleep apnea! Suddenly all the pieces are clicking into place. If this sounds like you, OP, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have it checked.

    3. SarahKay*

      Bear in mind you’re learning lots and that’s surprisingly tiring.
      If the tiredness is outside of work as well as at work, there are some basic things you can try that don’t necessarily need a doctor:
      – a sleep app to track how much sleep you’re getting / how good that sleep is.
      – are you likely to be iron-deficient (heavy periods if you are a person with periods) or family history? If so, try some over-the-counter iron tablets.
      – Do you get enough sun on your skin, thus enough vitamin D? Less likely in the US, but apparently most UK people can’t get Vitamin D via sun for Oct-early March because the sun doesn’t contain enough UVB at that latitude. If you’re a big fan of sunscreen this could affect you even though the US is further south. Again, you could try over-the-counter vitamin D for a month or so. (Incidentally, a medical friend advised to avoid the all-the-vitamins-and-all-the-supplements-in-one type pills as some of the ingredients will negate the effect of others.)
      I had a similar problem with tiredness in Jan-20 and the above suggestions were a huge help to me.

      If the tiredness is just while you’re at work that gets trickier, and I have no good suggestions, sorry :(

    4. Paris*

      It’s so so normal to feel wiped out at a new job! Think of all the adapting your brain has to do to get used to a new space, a new schedule, new people, new tasks. I think it takes at least six months to feel normal in a new job, and at least a year to feel comfortable and confident.

      1. ferrina*

        Yes- I’ve found that almost any time I start a new job, I’m wiped out for about three months as I learn the ropes.

        1. Tuesday*

          Yes, new jobs can be especially tiring! And switching from a student’s schedule to a straight 8 hour schedule left me really wiped out at first. Like the letter writer, I wondered how I would ever do it. The answer for me was just that I adjusted. I got used to it and felt less tired after a while. I also agree with what someone above said about finding the best times for you to do focused work versus less intense work. And the best times to switch back and forth. I think a lot of it is about finding your own rhythm.

    5. Firecat*

      Wow. That’s quite a leap. I vividly remember this struggle. In college you have 1-3 hour periods of being on followed by long breaks. It’s not surprising at all to hear that it’s a struggle to go from working 50 hours a week sprinkled over all weekdays, weeknights and weekends, to having trouble shoving that all I to 8am-5pm Monday to Friday.

      Heck I never had classes before 9am in college so even adjusting to being at work at 8 was hard.

    6. StrikingFalcon*

      Yes, there’s a range of things that can impact ability to focus, from low iron to insomnia to ADHD. Has difficulty focusing been a problem for you in school, or is this new? We’re you able to concentrate for long periods when working on papers or studying for a test (e.g. when you were motivated by a deadline)? Do you feel tired outside of work? Are you sleeping well? Do you feel rested when you wake up? Do you worry you’ll fall asleep while driving? If there are any concerns there, talking to your doctor might be worthwhile.

      But it could also be that it’s related to the shift in the work schedule. You say you’re not supposed to be producing much work yet, so what are you supposed to be working on? Do you have enough work to fill your time? Are you spending a lot of time on training videos (because no one can easily focus on those for 8 hours) or other tasks that are difficult to focus on? I struggle to focus on work when there’s not enough work or work that doesn’t require very much attention, but I can focus for long periods on other tasks, like writing code or reports.

    7. Budgie Buddy*

      I have sleep issues too and this is where my mind went, especially with the “constantly tired all the time.” That is overwhelming and I empathize a lot.

      Sleep/health issues may not be the problem, but they are worth checking out if the other ideas don’t help. OP may have been able to compensate before depending on schedule (sleeping at irregular hours, taking breaks during the day), but a 9-5 REALLY highlights when your sleep is inadequate.

    8. Anhaga*

      There might not be any sort of disorder happening–you might simply not be getting enough sleep! I’ve got a good 20 years on you, but I have noticed, vividly, now that I’m in a 9-hours-in-the-office job (I used to work remotely in an “invades every waking moment job”), that the less sleep I get, the worse my ability to focus is. If I get less than about 7 hours of sleep, the next day is absolutely terrible . . . I’m distracted, hungry, twitchy, etc. 7 hours or more and the day goes much more quickly, as does the work I need to do!

      1. quill*

        Weird, disturbing dreams are flavor of the week for me this week, and focus? Does not currently exist. I swear I got 8 hours of sleep, but the part of it that was REM did not do my brain any favors.

    9. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

      Maybe just try going to bed an hour earlier for a week and see if your focus improves?

    10. BluntBunny*

      I disagree with this I have had depression many times and don’t usually feel tired unless there is stress from work. OP is young, early starts aren’t really great for focusing and productivity. I’m not a morning person and I used to have a my breakfast in my car and then have my first cup of tea at the office, to maximise my sleep. I would spend the first half hour reading, replying to emails and sending any out that I didn’t get to the day before, while drinking my tea. My advice is to switch tasks if you find you are losing focus and only do one task at a time. Also if you are becoming frustrated take a break, we have a tuck shop and I used to look forward to my afternoon chocolate bar.

  6. Roscoe*

    I think, depending on your role, many people don’t “work” 8 hours a day. They are on the clock 8 hours a day, and expected to be available. But a lot of jobs, especially office jobs, that I’ve had (and I’ve been working full time 15 years) don’t really take 8 hours of work daily to complete. Some days you’ll struggle to do everything, other days you’ll have a lot of free time.

    I think a good thing to do though, especially being new to the work force, is find things that can be interesting AND apply to your job, even if its not work. In sales? Listen to a sales podcast. In finance? Read articles that may relate to it. There are other ways to be productive without doing the “actual” work

    1. Dasein9*

      Yep. I regard a modest amount of time reading AAM as “professional development.” Because it’s true.

    2. pamela voorhees*

      Exactly the case for me. What they’re paying you for is not necessarily eight hours of solid work, but eight hours of availability. There are days where I have, at most, an hour of work when I come in – but I’m being paid to be available at any moment of those hours in case someone walks in with a question, or needs something from our department.

      In down time, I either try to find new, useful long term projects for myself (professional development, etc, just like Roscoe said, or long term quality of life improvements for the department) or quiet, non-intrusive activities that aren’t visibly distracting that I can immediately set aside if someone needs something when I need a break (writing in a Word document, listening to a podcast, browsing idly online).

      The immediately set aside part is important though – if you’re having trouble digging yourself out of those light breaks to do actual work that needs to be done, that’s a separate problem.

    3. bishbah*

      I have a full-time assistant who was previously my part-time intern. When we doubled his hours, he had some similar struggles. I took this same approach and signed him up for a bunch of industry newsletters. Also, our company has subscriptions for everyone for LinkedIn Learning and Harvard ManageMentor, so I encouraged him to take full advantage of both during any downtime.

    4. SpecialSpecialist*

      Definitely look for professional development opportunities to fill the time when you’re done with your to-do list but still have hours to go until 5pm. Ask your boss if there are any books they’ve read that they found useful.

      Think about where you want to end up in work and look for videos and articles related to that. Leadership, communication, and management skills are good for anybody to study up on no matter where they are in their career. Also, with the way the world is now, anything you can learn about inclusion and diversity will give you a leg-up.

      LinkedIn Learning is a great resource if you have access to it. See if your company has an account for employees; if they don’t, put a bug in somebody’s ear! YouTube’s good too. I’ve watched soooo many videos about Excel and learned so much that colleagues come to me when they need help with Excel.

      1. SpecialSpecialist*

        Replying to my own message to add…

        My workplace dictates that we all log a certain amount of professional development hours each year. What we can do towards that time is pretty broad, which is nice. I encourage my team to block out time in their Outlook calendars each month specifically to make time for professional development.

    5. Lynn Whitehat*

      I was going to say, we are in a golden age of online trainings and education. Find something work-related and go learn.

  7. Fiona*

    As an intern, you may not have a full 8 hours of work to do each day. And also, nobody works 8 hours straight!! The important questions are:
    – Are you meeting your deadlines?
    – Are you making sure you’re available to receive work and projects? If you have downtime, are you letting people know you’re free?
    – Are you getting enough sleep?
    – Do you have your own self-learning (video training, documentation) you could do in down time?

    But to me, the first question is the most important. Are you getting done what needs to get done?
    If not, I would recommend trying the Pomodoro method, where you do a burst of focused work, and then a short break, and rinse and repeat.

    1. londonedit*

      I agree. Office jobs where you’d be expected to be nose-to-the-grindstone working for 8 hours straight are extremely rare. People take breaks – they go and make a cup of tea, they have a chat with a co-worker, they stand at the photocopier for a while waiting for their printing to finish, they take 10 minutes to check their personal email or Instagram or whatever. As long as you’re doing the work you’re being asked to do, and you’re being proactive about asking what you can help with next if you run out of things to do, then I think you’re probably fine.

      Also, it is really tiring when you start working like this – and that continues whenever you start a new job. Sometimes even whenever you get back from a two-week holiday! It takes a while to get used to getting up, going to work, coming home in the evening. And you’ll be taking in loads of information at the start, which will make you mentally tired too.

    2. The Happy Graduate*

      Agreed, these are the key points to ask yourself each day! Making a daily to-do list can validate that you are staying on top of everything and not letting things slip through cracks, and once the list is done just asking your manager quickly if there’s anything else you can help with will signal to them that you’re both productive and on the ball.

  8. Lelmx*

    I have an extremely variable workload week to week (most of my time is taken up with projects), and sometimes have very little to do in a particular day. I think “I’m not far enough into the job where they would be expecting a ton of work at this point” is a big part of your problem. I find the days when I am busy with meaningful work for all 8-9 hours go by a lot faster and I feel much better at the end of the day.

    During my low workload days, I try to fill my time with optional training, side projects, and putting myself out there for my coworkers to lend a hand, even if it’s outside my usual job.

    1. Nicotena*

      I also wondered how long OP had been on the job. If less than a month, I’d say just be patient and kind to yourself as you adapt to a new schedule, as it really is different to sit at a desk for 8 hours versus college or shift work you might have experienced before. If it’s been 6 months and you’re still feeling this way, that’s when I’d start looking at the tips the other commentators are offering. The “not far enough in” line made me think it may have only been a short time.

    2. Greg*

      Delete the social media apps from your phone. Remove the temptation.

      Get up every hour. Take a walk around. Get coffee or water.

  9. Carly*

    Oh, I remember this adjustment! And being so very tired after a full work day in an office setting. I had worked in food service throughout my teen years, but that was fast-paced and on your feet. Nothing like eight hours in a chair at a computer and in and out of meetings. Just validating that your experience is normal!

    I also think it’s important that someone tell you early: no one is really productive for all eight hours of the day. Take this time to find out your peak working hours, and figure out what to-do lists and planners and organizational systems work best for you. Pick three concrete tasks to complete in a workday, and gradually increase your to-do list as you get more comfortable scheduling your own days. And if you feel lost and confused — don’t be afraid to ask your boss for time and workload management support and ideas! You’ve got this. No one is productive all eight hours and if they are, well, good for them, I guess! :)

    1. Prof_Murph*

      Yes, the adjustment from college to working world can be quite jarring. Try not to be be so hard on yourself as you make the adjustment – I recall it took me about a year after graduation to get into the swing of things and a new schedule. Try to keep a regular schedule outside of work too (e.g., go to bed and get up at the same time every day, etc.). In college, it’s easy to do things like pull an all-nighter or stay out late, but that doesn’t translate well to the working world.

  10. Miri B*

    Here’s the secret: nobody (or very few people) do 8 hours of focused work a day. Depending on the study, people typically max out at somewhere between 4 and 6 hours of “productivity” per day, no matter how long they sit at a desk.

    Breaks are part of the workday, of letting your brain chew information and reset and come up with new ideas. Chats with coworkers are part of the workday. Menial work-adjacent tasks are part of the workday. Waiting for the next piece of work to come in is part of the workday.

    You can definitely work on your focus or your schedule if you’re unsatisfied with it, but first make sure that you’re not holding yourself to an unreasonable standard.

  11. STEM researcher*

    It may not be the amount of work that is the challenge, but the type of work. I have always been an excellent student and I did really well in college classes. However, when I did internships in college I felt pretty disengaged; I wasn’t enthusiastic about the tasks I was assigned. I ended up trying out research (STEM field) and finding it much more to my liking – it is different from taking classes, but there are similarities in that you get to manage your schedule how you want. I also like that the work is always changing and I am always learning new things. I’m a recent PhD grad now and am only considering research jobs because I know that other types of work are likely to be much less fulfilling and thus lead to me being a worse employee.

      1. Brandy Alexander*

        Came here to say this. Maybe office work just isn’t your thing? I felt like this at my office job so I switched to teaching. Now I’m always on the move, never bored but still exhausted. Is there another type of workday you think you would enjoy more?

  12. ThatGirl*

    A few thoughts…

    I’m 40; I’ve been in the working world full-time for 18 years. I almost never spend a full 8 hours dedicated to work every single day. There’s almost always time for coffee breaks, chats with coworkers, email/social media checking, plus things like meetings and more formal “work socializing”.

    But that said – you’re an intern, and this is supposed to be about learning. So can you talk to your coworkers, and find out more about their jobs? Attend meetings to learn more about company projects and processes? Do LinkedIn learning classes related to your chosen field? Explore things that really interest you related to the work you’re doing? Ask your manager for ideas too, if needed.

    Quick story: I did two internships in Manhattan back in college. At the time I thought I was just supposed to show up and do what they asked of me and not much more. Now I look back and see all the potential I wasted – I should have asked to sit in on editorial meetings, or how to do certain things the company did, etc. I could have learned so much more, but I wasn’t used to taking initiative. So don’t do what I did – take some initiative, ask for ideas and help learning new things, and go from there.

  13. Dust Bunny*

    I recall my workload in college to have been much more taxing, and longer on days when I had labs, than an eight-hour workday, but maybe the difference for you is that it changed every hour or two where work doesn’t?

    A few thoughts:
    1) How are you sleeping? You say you’re tired all the time but it’s not clear if this is boredom-tired or if the tiredness is making it hard for you to concentrate. If you’re not sleeping enough, or not sleeping well enough, then that may be the problem and not your workday.

    2) How was your attention span in school? Sometimes stuff that didn’t bother us in one environment catches up to us in another, so maybe a condition that was manageable when your environment changed frequently is getting in the way now that it doesn’t. This doesn’t immediately strike me as ADHD or anything, but if there are other possible symptoms that didn’t get mentioned here, it might be work exploring.

    3) How is your life going outside of work? I’m feeling a bit burned out myself even though I don’t have kids or most of the other things that other people are really struggling to manage. My social network got yanked out from under me and WFH was doable but not awesome. Maybe pandemic life is hitting you harder than you realize and there is at least a temporary element of depression or burnout in play here.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      And, yeah–I don’t do eight hours of focused work a day, either. I don’t spend very much time on breaks or peeking at AAM, but periodic distractions are totally a thing. And that’s from somebody whose job is probably more engrossing for her than average (a lot of the stuff I do at work parallels stuff I do on my own time).

    2. PeanutButter*

      “This doesn’t immediately strike me as ADHD or anything,”

      FWIW, the falling asleep when you’re bored even when trying desperately to stay awake was one of the things my psychiatrist immediately zeroed in on during my ADHD diagnosis. I had been evaluated for narcolepsy and a bunch of other stuff as a kid because I’d go from wide awake to busting my nose on the desk when the subject changed to one I wasn’t as interested in. He said he hasn’t seen any papers or research looking at the connection but enough of his adult ADHD patients have had this symptom he always includes ADHD in his differential diagnosis for sleep disorders now.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        I am not remotely familiar with any of this to have suggested a stronger connection, so I thought it was safer to just mention it in a “don’t assume it’s not this” sense.

        1. PeanutButter*

          It’s the reason that even before COVID I rarely went to the movies…I CANNOT stay awake for a film, even one I enjoy and love, without the ability to occasionally get up or knit or do SOMETHING else while watching it. If I can’t, I’m snoozing away no matter how well-rested I am.

      2. Solitary squirrel*

        Really? Helpful to know. I am on the waiting list for an ADHD assessment and have done this all my life. I’ve resorted to all kinds of things to make myself uncomfortable in boring meetings so I wouldn’t zone out and nod. Not a problem in my current job, thankfully.

    3. quill*

      Regarding #2: a change in the amount of natural light available can really mess with you. If you went from school where you had to go between classrooms, most of which had windows, to a cube under artificial light, your brain may be deciding all times are sleep time.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Or a college campus where you are literally walking outside between buildings.

        I personally have awful sleep habits–which is ridiculous since I really do like sleep and have no trouble at all sleeping once I actually go to bed–and am often tired and distracted because of it. I’m fortunate that it’s not a medical issue, though; it’s just “DB, when will you ever learn?” issue.

        1. quill*

          I just have “quill’s brain is incapable of following the recipe for sleep chemicals at sleep time and awake chemicals at awake time” going on.

          Because my brain’s head chemist is very bad at their job!

            1. quill*

              I have a family history of being bad at sleep but believe me, when the “responsible” choice about the matter doesn’t help, you don’t make a lot of responsible choices about your sleep schedule.

  14. Blisskrieg*

    I think we all have days like that. Aside from examining big-picture items such as whether this is a pervasive issue throughout your life (although it sounds like school is going well) or whether this type of work is right for you, there are certain tools that can really help. I use an app called Forest (it gives you a plant for every increment of time you’ve spent concentrating–it’s a lot of fun). I know there are others out there as well.

    When I am having a hard time concentrating, I also envision the old quote: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” That helps me dig in and after I’ve gotten started I realize I can continue working more and concentrate.

    Some people also concentrate better at different times of day or on project-based rather than hour based. After you get out of internships, you might want to consider positions that allow flexibility or work from home.

  15. Chloe*

    Here’s a secret…an 8-hr work day isn’t actually 8 full hours of work, at least not in most office jobs. Concentrate on doing your job *well* as opposed to doing it *constantly*. It can be helpful to have clear guidelines about what you’re expected to accomplish in a given day or week, so you can better understand how long it takes you to do what’s required. It’s also worth remembering that if you only just started, you likely aren’t being given as much to do as you’ll have when you’re more settled in.

    1. Hyacinth Bucket (Pronounced Bouquet!)*

      Ooh I like this approach. Yes, as long as you don’t need to bill a certain number of hours, get your work done to the best of your ability. Part of your job is also building relationships with your peers, being amiable, and taking little coffee breaks to make sure you don’t burn out.

    2. Nanani*

      Well said. An office job does not work like a job where there’s always SOMETHING to do (like cleaning or prepping). A lot of it is going to be sitting around and thinking and planning. And sometimes there just isn’t work to do, if your tasks depend on someone else being finished with theirs or can’t start until X decision has been made at higher levels.

  16. Meep*

    I was always paranoid about this for awhile. It didn’t help that my (first) supervisor at the time would call me from her office and tie me up for 2-4 hours a day telling me how “we” needed to focus and keep pushing ahead. She had been up working since 4 am and stopped working at 8 pm. (It was all a lie. She was on her phone the entire time.) During the pandemic, it was worse and I had full-blown panic attacks while working from 6 am to 8 pm because she would gripe at me for 6 full hours about how we cannot let it slow “us” down and how hyper-focused she was.

    Reading Joel on Software’s article about Code Switching helps. Basically, the idea is your brain is always on even when you aren’t actively thinking about something and if you have too many tasks your brain has a hard time (code) switching between tasks because you have to remember what you did and where you are going. It is a problem that everyone has to deal with. Spending those “idle” hours getting organized and writing detailed notes help you code switch faster but if you have a dozen small (or often large) tasks, it will still be difficult.

    Also, stop comparing yourself to others and how much work you are getting done vs. them. I promise you that they are equally worried they aren’t getting as much work done as you.

  17. Hyacinth Bucket (Pronounced Bouquet!)*

    Oh man, I’ve been in the workforce for years and still struggle with this. I work in an industry where I have to bill by the hour, and if I goof around too much I end up at work for 12 hour days trying to get my 8 billable hours.

    I found that I LOVE crossing tasks of a physical list. So I end each day by making a to-do list for the next morning. I try to make sure I have a mix of substantial work that needs to be done, and some smaller tasks that can be more like breaks. My goal is to cross everything off that list. If I achieve that, I get a little treat for myself – a glass of wine after work, treating myself to lunch the next day, or letting myself veg out with a videogame after work. My sister uses stickers as her reward – she has some beautiful shiny ones that she puts on her calendar for the days she meets her goals.

    1. DG*

      I was tracking my to-do list digitally in Outlook, but I recently bought a little weekly to-do list pad from Paper Source and it’s really helped. It’s harder to say “meh, I’ll just push this off to tomorrow” when the to-do item is written in ink under today’s date!

    2. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

      I had this–I went from never having worked 40 hrs to billing time as a paralegal. And my attorney called me up during my first week to ask why I wasn’t billing 8 hours! First of all, there’s nothing in my inbox and I’ve barely been trained, so I spend a lot of time poking around old files to see what needs to be done and how to do it. Second, like, back off! I’ve worked here four days and you know I have no prior experience!

      I had a nervous meltdown and was out within 7 months. I still don’t work 40 hrs, but I am much more comfortable in less high volume-accountable work.

    3. Llama face!*

      I came here to say (physical or digital) lists too. I find that in work where I have a significant amount of unmonitored time I am much more productive and on-task when I have a list to put some order in my day. Often I make the list at the end of the previous work day but if not I do it first thing when I get in. I do it in my personal life too; weekend to-do lists are especially important since I often have a fair amount I want to get done on weekends but I also am a terrible procrastinator.

    4. Ama*

      To do lists can be really helpful, and I think one thing that new to the 9-to-5 world employees sometimes don’t get taught is that planning out your time *is* part of what you get paid for. I try to set aside a little time each week (I find this is a good Friday afternoon task most of the time) to make sure I have time to think through my to do list.

      One other thing that is a valid part of a 9-to-5 schedule is organizing information so you can work more efficiently. For example, if I realize that I am constantly having to pull a specific set of information that I’m always going to have to look up to get correct (for example, account numbers for certain expenses), maybe it makes sense to put that information somewhere I can get to it more readily, or make notes in the file where I get it from so I can more quickly identify it). For very involved projects that I do regularly I also have template checklists I pull out — I can update them as needed but it’s nice to have a record of “what I did last time” so I don’t forget anything important. Those can take time to put together, too.

    5. Storm in a teacup*

      OMg your handle made me crack up! I now have a Hyacinth Bu-cket earwig running through my mind!

      Also came here to say I totally agree lists and planned To-dos are a great way to stay on track and feel a sense of achievement (and to help alleviate any misplaced guilt you’re not doing enough).
      If you feel you don’t have enough work, it’s worth asking for more or for opportunities to shadow people / attend meetings as a learning experience etc.
      Finally going from college to working full time is an adjustment, especially if you’ve never worked on an office environment before. I would give yourself 1-2 months to settle in.

    6. PT*

      I keep a physical list in Word, and I print it out at the start of each day (dated at the top.) I scribble on the paper list all day (crossing things out, adding things to it, taking phone messages on the back of it, all sorts of things) and then as part of my close-out-the-day-routine, open up that Word document and update it for the next day based on the changes I made to my paper list that same day. Then I put the paper list in a file.

      I started doing this when I had an a-hole boss who was the type to make you justify what you did today. That way, I always had a rough list of everything I did that day (obviously, if I took care of something immediately it wouldn’t go on the list, but if I had to make a note of something to do later, it did). I also started filing my various meeting notes with the day’s to-do list, which came in very handy when said a-hole boss started doing things like changing my pay rate at random and engaging in blatant discrimination. I had an easy way to consolidate a dated list to hand to HR. He got fired.

  18. RabidChild*

    The transition from school, where you’re onto the next thing/class/etc. inside two hours to work, where you must focus on perhaps the same thing constantly can be tough, and I feel you.

    I’d advise asking your supervisor for more to do/more variety of tasks, or to be allowed to sit in on meetings about projects or work issues that will further your education/understanding of the field. Being an intern means you’re supposed to be learning too, so you should ask for exposure to all sorts of things so you can begin to fill in gaps to your knowledge.

    And guess what–the work day for many folks is interspersed with meetings and other things all the time. Many folks aren’t expected to sit and grind at their desks for 8 hours a day–it would certainly drive me up a wall!–and neither should you.

    When I ran an intern program at a former employer, we’d devise a project for that summer’s intern class to work on together–in one year the challenge was to create a marketing plan to target their own age group (and yes we used it), so perhaps there’s opportunity for you to do that as well with your peers?

  19. mcfizzle*

    With our interns, we found it was very helpful to specifically tell them to put their phones out of site, and only look at it on breaks.
    As to staying on task, even now, at the age of 40, I essentially hold myself “hostage” when working on repetitive tasks. Such as “I can take a break once I reach line 150”! That gives me a concrete goal to reach without seeming overwhelming, and then I get my “reward”.

    1. fueled by coffee*

      Seconding this – I set my phone to “do not disturb” and leave it in a desk drawer so I can’t see it while I’m “working,” which helps lower the motivation to spend all my time on social media, which will *always* be more interesting than work. Then I check my texts/social media/whatever on breaks.

      Also, depending on the nature of your work, are there things you can do simultaneously to make it more interesting? If you’re doing a lot of menial intern-like tasks (filing, stuffing envelopes, making photocopies, etc.), you could probably listen to music or a podcast at the same time to make the time spent on tedious work feel a little faster. I obviously don’t recommend doing this for cognitively demanding work that needs your full attention, but sometimes it’s worth acknowledging that work is boring and just needs to get done. Otherwise I find myself waiting around for lunch or 5 o’ clock instead of being productive.

      And I’ll second everything that everyone has said above about getting firm deadlines from your supervisor. Having a bunch of tasks that need to be completed at the end of the summer (for example) can make it hard to feel like any of them are a priority, but could you set up some interim deadlines to get components of the work done? Like, “I’ll send in 2-3 pages of this report each Friday” or “I’ll file 40 documents each day,” which might help you feel more productive than vaguer deadlines asking you to turn in a 20 page report and finish a stack of filing by the end of your internship.

  20. ATX*

    It takes time to build good habits like working and not wanting to check your phone. As someone your age, you are likely very addicted to your phone (aren’t we all) and checking it is some form of instant gratification. Putting your phone away helps, setting limits on how long you can be on apps, and blocking website on your computer help (Facebook/IG, for example).

    I second what others say about the Pomodoro method, working 20 minutes then taking a break (I personally do 45 min work session with 15-20 minute breaks).

    Other than that, it just takes time to get used to working 8 hours a day. I’m a big fan of taking breaks whenever I need to. I walk around the office, go to a different part to work or play around on my phone/watch a show, go outside for a walk, run an errand (even if it’s just to get gas or go to the store).

  21. chocolate lover*

    I think you should cut yourself some slack. It is a different type of schedule than you’re used to, and it can take some adjusting. Don’t kick yourself, it’s unlikely the issue is your work ethic.

    I work with college students going on full-time internships/co-ops. The solid 8 hour day is unlike a typical student schedule, where you might be in class for a couple hours, walk back to your dorm for a little while, work for a couple hours, go back to class, etc. Most of my students are more mobile during the academic semester, going to multiple places and doing a different activity, which breaks up the routine. Adjusting to being in the same place, doing the same type of activity all day, is different. Many students have told me that change in schedule was more tiring than they expected.

    There’s no “easy” fix for that, it may take time to adjust and find your own personal rhythm. There will probably be some trial and error while you figure out what works for you. If you have control over your own schedule or how you handle your projects, maybe you could experiment with chunking out different amounts of time for each project, and see what works for you? For example, maybe you find you can’t stay focused for a particular activity for more than 2 hours, so than you switch to something else and go back to it.

  22. Oryx*

    Try the Pomodoro Technique. Decide on a task, set a timer for 25 minutes, work on that task until the bell rings, then take a short 5 minute break. After 4 of these (so roughly 2 hours), take a longer break of like 15 minutes.

    I think there is this belief that if we work 8-5 we are expected to actually do work consistently for that entire duration, and that’s honestly not just sustainable (though I acknowledge there are certain jobs and industries where that is the expectation). But breaks are actually good for us, even just short 5 minute ones where we can scroll through Twitter or watch a few TikToks (although if you’re like me you need to set a timer for those too ha).

  23. Tuckerman*

    You know how in college it helps to vary your tasks? So you’re not reading a chemistry book for 6 hours straight, rather you’re attending a lecture, then doing flashcards, reading, writing papers, etc. You can apply that to your work schedule. Schedule easy tasks after more grueling ones. Know the time of day when you’re most focused and put your hardest work there. Also, create deadlines for yourself if nobody gives you one.

  24. Dasein9*

    Not too many people are actually doing work every minute of the 8 hours we’re at work. Regular breaks are excellent for boosting productivity and there are times we’re chatting with co-workers, etc. (In many fields, this means we’re building relationships, which is also part of work.)

    Staying focused can be tough for even the most dedicated of us, though! I find the pomodoro technique works really well when my attention is prone to stray. (There’s a description in the Wikipedia article on it.) Keeping track of my time and how I’m spending it also works pretty well.

    If you choose to keep a record of how you’re spending your time, you can do it on your phone if you don’t want your boss seeing it. (There are apps to help, but you can also just use a notebook app on the phone.)

    Take a look at how your coworkers are spending their time and take a cue from them. In particular, see if you can match your behavior to the colleagues who have a good reputation for doing their work well.

  25. Saint Dorothy Mantooth*

    My biggest advice would be to be patient with yourself. It’s tough to transition from school/college schedule to a office day schedule, and what you’re describing sounds exactly like what I went through at that stage in my life.

    You’re already doing some things I would recommend–taking breaks, walking around a bit. If you’re able, I might also recommend experimenting with different ways to arrange your tasks. Like, if you can manage 30-minute bursts of productivity, would it be possible to stack a bunch of short tasks at the beginning of the day so that you can line them up, knock them out, and feel like you’ve really accomplished something? You could also use this technique to overcome the post-lunch energy slump (which is a constant struggle of mine).

    If you’re allowed to wear headphones at work, it might help to experiment with which types of music really help you focus. I find that I can really get in the zone if I’ve got the right soundtrack.

    But the most important thing to remember is that change can happen slowly, so be kind to yourself if it takes you time to adjust.

  26. iamthelola*

    Work in “bursts”. Set a timer for an hour and focus just on working. Then take a break from focusing on work for 15-20 minutes. Rinse and repeat until the work day is done. Most folks don’t put there heads down and “work” for 8 hours every day — we take lots of breaks. Chat with a coworker, grab a drink, walk around for a minute to warm up, go the bathroom, stretch, etc. My guess is that you’re still used to working in “class” time allotments — which are probably an hour to an hour and a half. So start with an amount of time that’s close to what you’re used to, and increase the time/decrease the breaks over the next few weeks until it’s all feeling more normal. (Its completely normal to feel this way when you jump into the work world, by the way, there’s nothing wrong with you because you feel this way.). And your day should always include a few breaks!

    It might be worth checking in with your doctor about lack of focus and/or tiredness… all sorts of things can cause that, including low thyroid (my issue) and sleep apnea. Getting my issue sorted out didn’t magically end all my tiredness and other symptoms, but it made them a whole lot less and I was able to adjust for the times when they did happen. Good luck!!!!!

  27. I'm A Little Teapot*

    First, no one actually works every minute of every day. That’s one reason why a lot of people found their productivity going sky while working from home. The 2 minutes to say hi to people while getting coffee adds up. It’s quite possible that you only actually have 3-4 hours worth of work in a day too.

    Second, you will build stamina. You will be exhausted by the end of the day, but it will gradually lessen.

    Third, it sounds like you’re attached to your phone a bit too much. Just about everyone is. The enforced break from your phone will actually help with that, and you’ll adjust. You will get used to not checking your phone!

    Also, the best focus comes when you’re not getting outside distractions and you have a plan/general idea of what to do. You’re an intern. You quite possibly don’t have a plan/general idea of what to do. That will naturally break you out of focus mode.

  28. Colette*

    Some thoughts:
    – Are you getting enough sleep? Like 7 or 8 hours a night?
    – Do you have enough work to do? It’s pretty normal for people to take mental breaks/get distracted when they’re not busy.

    1. Dave*

      The sleep schedule shift from school to work can be huge. Try to keep the same wake / sleep hours on the weekend so the morning alarm doesn’t cause quite so much drag. Like kids, routine can be helpful when it comes to sleep schedule and feeling awake. Keep water and snacks at work if you start feel drowsy.

  29. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    Oh boy. From what I see, this sounds like it might be a motivation issue, but a few things to check first.

    1) Are you somebody who doesn’t have to put in long hours of studying to get through your classes? Maybe you haven’t built up the mental muscles to spend 4 hours in a row doing nothing but sitting down and staring at paper.

    2) Is it a time of day thing? Do you find that you only sign up for afternoon classes and study late into the evening, and struggle with getting motivated in the morning?

    3) Even if you didn’t spend time studying, surely you’ve had to put in long stretches of time working on essays or projects, practicing a sport or musical instrument, etc. – right?. So how did you maintain focus when doing that? Can you get into the same mentality at the office as you did when writing a 20-page essay the night before it was due?

    4) Are you excited about your field of study? Does this company that you are interning with have anything to do with that field, or is it just a job? If they are related, may this is a sign that you aren’t as interested in that field of study as you thought you were.

  30. Elliot*

    A few notes:
    First, think of focusing on work for 8 hours a day like an endurance task. You wouldn’t try to go from walking a few laps at a track to running a marathon in a week. Likewise, it’s hard to go from focusing in a 1-hour college class to focusing at work for 8 hours. Give yourself grace to build up this skill.

    Second, I have never met anyone who focuses for 8 hours straight at work. We all need breaks. Breaks can be something job-related, standing up and refilling your coffee or water, grabbing a snack, or saying hi to a coworker! When I feel mentally blocked, I often take a moment and read some industry publications – this helps me regain some excitement and offers a break from the task at hand. I’d consider setting a timer and trying to work for 55 minutes, then taking a 5-minute break. Eventually, you can work 85 minutes, with a 5 minute break, and so on.

    Working straight through for 8 hours sounds miserable, no one really does it, and it would actually hurt your productivity. Give yourself some grace, try to limit your breaks, and give it time!

  31. justpeachy86*

    I would say, make sure you are actually getting the sleep you need. I know I was frequently burning the candle at both ends during that stage of life, making workdays more difficult.
    Also, see your manager or other folks in the office that you think are displaying the qualities that you like, and ask for their advice on transitioning to workdays from school. How do they structure their days (in the office and away), how do they stay motivated, how do they prioritize, questions like that. Being an intern you are able to outright ask questions like this and it can be super helpful.

  32. spoops*

    Fun fact: almost no one is actually 100% productive during their workday! People are not machines, and do get distracted/need to take breaks. Do not feel bad about breaks!! 3-4 hours of solid productivity is great, and you should feel good about the things you are accomplishing. The work you do prepping for projects also counts as work – don’t forget to count that time as well.

    It’s also VERY hard to transition from college work (short sprints of productivity) to office work (distance running). If you think you’re getting too distracted, treat work like a study session. “I’m going to work on [project] for an hour, and then I’m going to stretch, get up, eat a snack, and come back.” Your supervisor hasn’t said anything about your productivity, but you could also ask them for a progress report. “This is my first office job, and I want to make sure I’m achieving professional standards. Could you give me some feedback on my performance.”

  33. Spicy Tuna*

    How is the pacing of your work? Do you feel like you have enough tasks to fill the time, and deadlines to keep it moving? I found that making to-do lists and breaking large tasks into small ones helps with the productivity feeling, because I can cross off more items and see the progress of my list. In an internship, this might be more difficult to do if you don’t have enough tasks.

    Intern or not, being new to the company presents learning hurdles. After you settle into a rhythm, those items don’t affect your focusing capacity anymore, and you can use that brain space on your actual work. This is hard to do in a short-term internship…I don’t know if this is universal but that’s been my experience.

    8 hours in a row is a LOT more than what you’re likely used to. Taking breaks is okay if you need them. Give yourself some grace to adjust.

  34. Aquawoman*

    You don’t have a poor work ethic–people with poor work ethics don’t mind if they’re not productive or care about delivering work.
    You might have some habits that need adjustment, or strategies that could help. I think we’re being trained into short attention spans by screens. But 3-4 hours a day of actual work is actually fairly normal per the studies.

    1. ecnaseener*

      Great point, the work *ethic* is clearly there if you’re asking for help. You’re just having trouble living up to that ethic.

  35. TooTiredToThink*

    I have soooo many thoughts/questions. This sounds incredibly familiar to me! But then, I was recently diagnosed with ADHD 20 years into my professional life so… there’s that. I am NOT saying you have that, just that, for me there was finally an answer as to the why. But I’ve seen the following with other people:

    1) Are you working really fast those first 3-4 hours and burning yourself out? Or are you working a decent pace? I’ve seen folks who will be super productive and then… not. Now, if you are getting the same amount of work done as others do in an 8-hour shift, that might not be the worst thing.

    2) Are you disengaging fully during your lunch break? I (and others) have found that doing something that recharges me during my lunch break fixes the afternoon slump. Some read. Some nap (got a car you can nap in for 15 minutes?). Make sure to eat your lunch.

    3) Give yourself a bit of time. You’ve been a student for 15ish years and have been used to doing work in 2-4 hour chunks. It does take a bit of time to get out of that mindset and into a “whole day” mindset.

    4) Gamify your day somehow – give yourself a goal for your afternoons. Decide if you want to reward yourself with a treat (a candy, a movie, whatever…) if you get that goal completed. Trick your mind into looking forward to accomplishing something in the afternoon.

    I know there’s going to be a lot of great ideas from others!

    1. Kne*

      I second this. ADHD affects everyone differently, and some people with ADHD excel at school, and later have trouble focusing at work. One of the tools I found most helpful is to listen to people with adult ADHD talk about their experiences and see what they’re going through and how you sympathize (YouTube or TikTok). Doing this is the opposite of good advice for clinical diagnosis, but it can help you recognize symptoms in yourself that don’t mean what you thought they did. There are also some simple quizzes you can take to get a feel if this is even worth bringing up with a doctor.

      I’m not saying you have ADHD. As lots of others have pointed out, the symptoms you describe are incredibly common. Being productive 4-6 hours per day is all that most people can handle. But undiagnosed ADHD is more common than most people would expect.

      Sometimes all it takes is recognizing the symptoms and coming up with habits to get you past them and back to feeling productive. For example, when my doctor asked me “How does your lack of attention to detail, especially for repetitive tasks, affect your job?” My answer: “I automated everything I could, and run compilers/spell checkers/etc. to catch most of the details I miss.”

      Don’t suffer through 30 more years of this before taking steps, like I did.

      1. Koalafied*

        It’s also true that people who don’t meet the clinical standard for ADHD diagnosis can benefit from some of the same cognitive tools/strategies that those with ADHD do. The skill of being able to initiate, direct, and terminate your focus intentionally exists on a spectrum, from people who are really great at it, to people who are OK at it, to people who are not so great but not horrible, to people who are bad enough at it to warrant a diagnosis. People in who are “OK at it” and especially those with borderline “not so great but not horrible” skills don’t struggle differently than people with a clinical diagnosis, they just struggle less, meaning the same tactics can help regardless of the amount of struggle since it’s the same kind of struggle.

        Some books you might check out –

        * Delivered From Distraction: Getting the Most Out of Life with Attention Deficit Disorder
        * Thriving with Adult ADHD: Skills to Strengthen Executive Functioning
        * You Mean I’m not Lazy, Stupid, or Crazy?!: The Classic Self-Help Book for Adults w/ Attention Deficit Disorder

        1. quill*

          Also there are a lot of other things that can have similar symptoms to ADHD without the same root cause: chronic stress (see: everyone this year), seasonal depression or seasonal fatigue, most brain disorders that have anything to do with dopamine availability…

        2. LC*


          I’m a huge fan of the How To ADHD channel on youtube because she’s amazingly helpful for people with ADHD but so many of the strategies she talks about could be beneficial to anyone who struggles with those types of things, no matter how big or little the struggle is.

      2. FormerProducer*

        Hi hello I am another adult ADHD friend! Finally got diagnosed at 32.

        Funnily enough, I’d actually used a lot of ADHD management techniques for years at work because I had very similar problems to the letter writer. Maybe that should have been a clue that I had it, but instead I spent 10 years being embarrassed that I was just “bad at life” and “unmotivated”. Bad plan, don’t recommend.

        Anyway LW, I second (third? tenth?) using timers. Set a short (SHORT) timer and race against the clock to get as much as possible done during that time. Put on some intense EDM or whatever music gets you going and knock out as much as possible in 15 minutes, then reward yourself by checking your phone or going for a walk or having a snack.

        If you have a task that is so boring/complicated/intimidating that it feels impossible to do, break it down into tiny individual steps and write each step out as a list so you can just do one at a time.

        ADHD coping techniques can be really helpful for non-ADHDers as well, so I’d do some research and try a different technique every week and see if anything sticks. Good luck!

    2. thisgirlhere*

      Agreed that we should not armchair diagnose, but OP could look into their mental health (even if it’s not something like ADHD). It sounds weird, but a therapist may actually be able to help with this transition and practicing focus techniques. And train OP not to beat themselves up over it! This is normal for everyone at least some of the time. Also, what was your quarantine like? I’m having trouble getting back into an 8 hour day and I have 10 years of practice. If you’ve been at home/isolating etc, you could also be recovering from that.

    3. Gigi*

      Me too! I didn’t get diagnosed until I was 26, six months into my first traditional office job. I realized after the diagnosis that my previous non-profit jobs had me bopping from school to office and working with kids, so all the changes in my day worked around my neuro-divergence. Once I was stuck behind a computer or in meetings all day, I slowly imploded. OP, you may not have ADHD. But get it checked out just in case. If you do have it, you’ll save yourself years of feeling like a hopeless failure in disguise. Just knowing there was a *reason* that I couldn’t focus saved me huge amounts of anxiety. Good luck to you!

    4. Student Affairs Sally*

      Fellow later-in-life ADHD diagnosis here! I would echo everything that’s been said here, but I also have a clarifying question for OP: are you mostly concerned about the number of HOURS you’re working (or not working)? Or are there actual TASKS or responsibilities that you need to do that you’re not completing on time because you can’t focus?

      If it’s the former, I honestly think your best bet is to a) adjust your expectations. Like a lot of people have said, most people in office settings don’t work nonstop for 8 hours every day. b) recognize that it will get better with time, as you get used to this kind of schedule (and also as you get more comfortable in an office and learn more about what to do – your boss may give you bigger/more interesting projects). And c) be kind to yourself. This is a difficult transition for most people, and especially if you are neurodivergent or have mental health stuff going on (not saying that you do, but IF you do).

      If it’s the latter, this is something I’ve struggled with a lot with my ADHD brain. Making a to-do list is not enough for me – the list will just sit there and taunt me while I procrastinate on AAM or reading industry publications (hey, it counts as professional development, right?) instead of doing the things I need to do. And then I feel guilt and shame about being so unproductive, which tanks my motivation, and it becomes a vicious cycle. What works for me, although YMMV, is to do the to-do list as a first step. Then, I take the to-do list, figure out the deadline for each thing (either a real deadline or one that I create myself just to have some sort of end point accountability), estimate how long I think each thing will take me, and then actually block off time on my Google calendar to do each thing. My mantra is “if it’s not on my calendar, it doesn’t exist.” Google will pester me with notifications and reminders until I actually do the thing. I do still sometimes procrastinate or take a mid-doing-the-thing break to check AAM or look at Reddit for a minute, but then I eventually will get a reminder of the NEXT thing I need to do and it nudges me back to finish the thing I was working on. I’m 1,000,000% more productive with this system than I was just making lists or even using a paper planner (because paper planners don’t give you reminders). In my last position there were more meetings, and I would often block off time as just “solo work time” but I wouldn’t specify exactly what tasks I would do, and that wasn’t as effective as actually putting “Mailmerge letters and send them to students” or whatever as my calendar event. Sometimes I skip the list altogether and, when I think of a thing I need to do, I just find a time on my calendar and block it off to do it. I color code my calendar so that I can easily tell meetings where I need to physically be somewhere from time to work on a particular task, and sometimes I have to shift around my task-time to accommodate meetings, but that’s usually not too big of a problem. And if I finish a task early, which happens often, I usually will let myself take a break until a reminder for the next task pops up.

  36. Katie*

    It’s definitely an adjustment getting used to 8 hour work days after being a student. Something that was helpful for me in terms of managing tasks and staying productive in my first office job was to create a to-do list with three priority levels – high, medium, and low. I sorted all my tasks into these levels, which was helpful in making sure I tackled the high priority tasks first. It’s also really satisfying to cross things off a checklist! Once you complete the tough/more time sensitive tasks, you won’t feel as guilty about taking a bit of a break.

  37. no*

    I find writing out an actual list on a piece of paper and keeping it on my desk helps. As I accomplish a task, I cross it from my list. I also do up my list the night before so that when I come in I know right what I’m going to do, instead of trying to work up the motivation to just…do it. Seeing the list with the items crossed off is very satisfying, and before I know it the day is done.

    1. Gaia Madre*

      Oh, yes, lists absolutely! I also make a short list at the end of each day for the following morning, to help me “get started” – that seems to set me up for success.

      1. New Job So Much Better*

        Yep agree on lists– no other small task is so rewarding as crossing a task off the to-do list.

    2. another Hero*

      other folks have mentioned to-do lists for the satisfaction of checking things off (I feel that!). I agree with you that also being able to look at the list and see what needs doing can help with focus too – that’s a huge benefit of them for me. plus I imagine they might help op notice if they actually don’t have enough work to fill their time, be aware of what tasks they’re putting off and focus on those at more productive times of day, etc.

  38. Roscoe*

    Other folks have some great suggestions, but one thing I did for a while when I was having motivational problems that helped a lot was that I started keeping a list of what I had actually done that day. I had a txt file that I’d put the date in every morning, and every time I finished a task (or a significant part of the task, I’d just put a line in there about what I did. Something like “Ordered supplies for X project” or “Figured out why Y is happening” or whatever work-related stuff was taking up my time. It served a few different functions:
    -Something to check when I was feeling low-productive–often even when I felt that way I was getting a decent amount done, relative to how much work I had to do!
    -A record to check, should it be needed, of when I completed something
    -Motivation to do things so I could put them on the list if it was looking a bit scant
    Ymmv, but hope that helps!

  39. Catabodua*

    Another vote for using a Pomodoro timer. You can find a bunch of them free online. It’s really helpful to keep you focused and on task for short bursts of time.

  40. JMcFundraiser*

    I had a similar conversation with my direct report who is in her first role post college. She had similar concerns, particularly in this remote environment. I explained to her that you will have lots of disruptions to your day, and sometimes you need those mental breaks to help you perform better. I also told her to expect a different level of disruption when we return to the office in the form of “water cooler conversations.” She and I have been to the office twice now with 1-2 other colleagues (masked, socially distanced) and she was able to see first hand.

  41. Boof*

    I’m going to take LW at their word that they are really MUCH less productive than they think is normal; I totally agree with some of the commenters that it’s normal to take a few breaks and not work 8hrs straight nonstop. BUT LW says maybe they’re working well for 3-4 hours out of 8 hours; 50% distracted time IS too much!
    Hopefully you can talk with a health provider; any prior concerns for ADD? Meds and coping mechanisms might help. The fatigue is concerning too; are you getting enough sleep, or any concerns for a sleep disorder? (ie, sleep apnea)
    The final possibility; if the work is reeeeally boring then maybe asking for more/different tasks, or setting a timer and timing breaks (ie, 15 min break every 2 hrs, probably ok!!)

  42. Isben Takes Tea*

    Dear OP, you are not alone! The truth is we’re not built to focus for 8 hours a day; so many people rely on caffeine, sugar, or other stimulants to try and force it, but we’re not robots. Our focus and productivity is will shift in and out throughout the day, and over days of the week. It’s also hard when you don’t have hard deadlines or projects that take the kind of mental investment that requires a high level of focus; if it’s just performing low-level tasks, of course it will be hard to focus! I’d say adjusting self-expectations and investing in some self-compassion is the first key.

    I suffer from the same problem; in practical terms, I’ve found that pausing apps on my phone when I wake up or right before I get to work is the best front-line check. I still pick up my phone dozens of times, but I see the grayed-out icon and it’s a reminder that it’s not phone time. :-)

  43. No_woman_an_island*

    This isn’t entirely helpful and is mostly for solidarity, but it’s called work for a reason. If everyone loved their jobs and felt fulfilled every second of every day, it would have a different, much more flashy name! Working a full 8 hrs a day for 5 days a week just sucks sometimes. Find me anyone who disagrees. That doesn’t mean you don’t/can’t like your job. Jobs for most people are a way to pay for the other things in life that they enjoy or deem important.

    Some days are so busy that 8 hrs isn’t enough. Some days are so dull that you can’t believe you haven’t been there for 15 hrs already. Find the balance. You’ll get into a rhythm. But know that most people feel the same way you do…even the veterans who have been doing this for 24 years (but who’s counting?).

    1. Koalafied*

      This reminds me of one of my favorite Red Forman sayings: “Work is work. If it wasn’t work they wouldn’t call it ‘work.’ They’d call it, ‘super wonderful crazy fun time!’ or ‘skippety-doo!'”

  44. Gaia Madre*

    You are not alone! I’ve been working for 35 years and this still happens on some days. At this stage, there probably isn’t 8 full hours of work for you to do, but you might be able to break it up with a few online training courses. I find that when I have something very specific to do, I can and do focus. In addition to online training courses, you might be brave and ask for an assignment that you can see through from beginning to end – that also is motivating for me. Good luck and don’t be too hard on yourself. We all have those days, and it is so much harder when you’re new.

  45. nonbinary writer*

    I wonder if some of the zoning out/desire to check your phone is coming from being generally understimulated. Are you able to listen to music while you work? Chew tasty gum? Sometimes just having an additional pleasurable sensory input can make a meaningful change on focus.

    1. oh no*

      Definitely a good thing to try. Before I got diagnosed with and medicated for ADHD, music and strongly flavoured tea were my go-to for keeping focused.
      (Not saying you have ADHD, LW…but yknow, if you have the resources to get an evaluation it may be worth it. But even if not, the coping mechanisms, like this one, may be of use to you!)

  46. Evian*

    Your situation reminded me of my first internship. I found it tough to do regular 8-hour workdays when I was used to having a more flexible schedule. And I was constantly wondering if I was doing enough work, because I could barely fill 3-4 hours with the work that I was given. I now know that the reason for this seeming lack of tasks was because I was interning during the quiet period (this was in public audit) and there simply wasn’t that much work to go around.

    If you’re concerned that it may be perceived that you could be doing more in an 8-hour day, you could (1) catch up with the others interns to see what they are working on to gauge what is ‘normal’ and (2) have regular check ins with your supervisor and feel them out – ideally, you would be having these check ins throughout the internship already. As for feeling tired, my only feedback is that I had this too and it did get better as I became more accustomed to being in an office for that amount of time and managing the ebbs and flows throughout the day. Hope this helps!

    1. AnonPi*

      Exactly what I was thinking, most interns aren’t given but a few hours worth of work in a day. For someone like me, and potentially the LW, it’s maddening to have all those extra hours with little to do! So you become disengaged, bored, tired, grumpy, etc.

  47. Campfire Raccoon*

    I had a really hard time adapting to sitting all day (and still struggle with it).
    -Go to the gym at lunch.
    -Take walks at break time.
    -Get a fitbit-type band that reminds you to stand up every hour or take X number of steps.
    -Eat breakfast, but avoid carbs/sugary items. Don’t eat a heavy lunch (2PM crash!).
    -If you can, your day so you aren’t doing a repetitive task all at once OR you do the most important/tedious tasks when you are at your most awake. (I can’t do data entry after lunch.)
    -Talk to your co-workers/boss and see if there are physical tasks you can help with (filing/delivering boxes/organizing whatever).
    -Ask your supervisor if there are any “interesting” but non-emergency projects you can take on in your free time (This is how I learned SQL back in the day AND ended up doing a company-wide business personal-property tax audit).
    -Communicate with your boss/coworkers so they know you aren’t just wandering off and/or being flaky. I bet they have little physical projects they’ve been putting off that they are dreading and/or don’t have time for.

      1. No_woman_an_island*

        Ha, I actually chew gum when my workload gets overwhelming. I think it takes away the edge of anxiety so I can focus and get everything done. Yay, gum!

  48. Sasha Blause*

    After a while I got used to being tired and mentally dull all the time. I had to learn to accept that my life had changed, and that I couldn’t hang on to the memory of the person I used to be.

    If you’re in an office or a cubicle, holding a low lunge for 1-2 minutes every half hour really helps. Start now and be diligent, your hip flexors will thank you in 10 years. It’s so much harder to get that limberness back once it’s gone, I’ve been working on it for years.

    Also, if you can afford it, maybe consider getting evaluated by a psych who specializes in adult ADHD? I really relate to the trouble focusing. Have you ever experienced the feeling of “intrinsic motivation” and “satisfaction of a job well done”? I hadn’t, not until I started treatment. Common wisdom is that one builds momentum by starting a task, and feels so much better once after finishing task, but… I never felt anything other than mild relief from anxiety. I thought “the satisfaction of a job well done” referred to that smug, superior feeling of patting yourself on the back for not being like those lazy people who don’t force themselves to struggle through their duties. My brain refuses to dispense the reward chemicals, so now I use store-bought, and life is a little less painful. Anyway, if you have similar feelings about motivation and reward, I’d def recommend finding a psych who specializes in *adult* ADHD.

    1. Bean Counter Extraordinaire*

      “I thought “the satisfaction of a job well done” referred to that smug, superior feeling of patting yourself on the back for not being like those lazy people who don’t force themselves to struggle through their duties.”

      It doesn’t? Huh. Looks like I might need to make an appointment then….

  49. Double A*

    I just listened to a podcast with the author of a book called “The External Brain” and she talked about what the human brain needs to be productive. So a few of things you’re doing a really good! Taking movement breaks is really helpful. Maybe try to actually take a longer walk.

    The podcast was a recent episode of the Ezra Klein show if you’re interested in looking it up. It might help you reframe how you think about productivity and embrace some of the strategies you’re using instead of feeling guilty about them.

  50. anon1*

    Hi OP! This was me for a LONG time, except I was getting like maybe 2 hours of work done every day. It really came to a head at the end of grad school when I had to be self-driven to finish my thesis, and when I started a fully remote job in the pandemic. I ended up getting diagnosed with ADHD, which is something I had never considered until the past year or so, and it makes SO much sense. Maybe do a little research and see if it feels like it lines up! But the constant exhaustion and inability to focus was (and is) a huge thing for me, because so much of my energy is spent trying and failing to focus and then beating myself up about it.

    1. Victorian*

      Adult-diagnosed ADHD office professionals unite! I was diagnosed in college at 21

      OP – There are Facebook groups, Instagram pages, and TikTok accounts/hashtags I like to look at to help me not feel so “different” and understand not everyone is neurotypical. Lots of accounts also give advise for accomplishing tasks. You should consider speaking to a doctor. If you are female, you have a high chance you were never diagnosed because we are able to successfully mirror personality traits and societal norms and it’s only when we find something we struggle at we begin to see possible symptoms.

  51. Victorian*

    I am ADHD so I take meds to help, but even then I still have some days where I can not focus. The best thing I can do on those days is make a list of a few things I can accomplish, even if they are small, and then I feel so satisfied crossing them off the list. As far as the actual focus, I have a timer that I use. I work for 25-30 minutes, then when the timer goes off I can stretch/get coffee/read a couple pages of my book/play a game on my phone. But then after 5 minutes I set the timer again. It’s called the Pomodoro Technique. You can get a chrome extension for it, but I don’t like extra notifications/sounds form my computer so I have the kitchen timer sitting on my desk.

    All that being said, some days you just won’t be very productive. That’s human nature. We all have off days and we all get bored. You just have to figure out how to make most days work for you.

    1. Celestine*

      Hello my fellow person with ADHD!

      Some days focus is just impossibly difficult. Do you also find during those times that focus is almost *physically painful* to maintain?

      1. Victorian*

        Yes!!! I hold so much tension in my neck/shoulders/eyebrows on those days. I’ll end up with serious muscle soreness from fighting my own attention demons lol

  52. Persephone*

    Oh my! I don’t work hard for eight hours straight! Yes, I am productive all day, but that’s not the same thing.

    Some tasks require focus or are challenging, and others aren’t. Don’t feel like you have to be doing the hardest things all the time. It makes sense to switch between things! Answering email is still work. So is helping somebody stuff envelopes. Talking with coworker about how to approach a problem, that is work too. I perform best when I have large blocks of time for my harder thinking tasks and I do smaller administrative tasks (email, HR forms, annual trainings, email etc) before and after those blocks… Or else I get brain fried.

    Use this opportunity to learn how you work best. Watch the other people and see how they work. Talk to them, if you feel comfortable, about how they approach their day’s work. You can talk to your manager too! You are young and if your workplace is at all healthy, people will know you are figuring it out and may still be figuring out what works for you. Use this experience to help define what you look for in you next job too!

    Also, everyone has slower periods. I’m super stress right now (we have a drama llama) and just not as productive as I usually am. I’m focusing on a backlog of easier, shorter tasks. Things are still moving forward, and it’s not a problem. Also, I keep a list of to-dos. It is incredibly helpful and uplifting to mark things as done! It also helps me see the progress I make.

    Good luck!

  53. a*

    My first boss at my current job once said “we put in a good 7.5 hours a week here.” I don’t think anyone ever really expects 8 hours of productivity in an 8 hour day. But to maximize attention and output, I find it best to break things up into batches. When I find myself getting bored or distracted, I switch to a different task. My work requires periods of intense concentration, and if I’m not in the mood, forcing myself will only lead to mistakes. So I find something else to do in the meantime – reading journals from my professional society, checking stocks of supplies that I’m responsible for ordering, doing a different aspect of my main job, reorganizing my files, completing training related to my field (i.e. half-watching webinars :) ).

    On the other hand, it may just be that office work is not for you – you might need something a little more active. I worked at several low level office jobs during summers. I would complete the projects I was assigned quickly, and then my bosses would have to make work for me to do. Some of the things I did were useful (entering information into a key word database probably helped with my ability to get good results in my internet searches), and others, while not useful skill-wise, nonetheless taught me about what kind of work I wanted to do (Do I want to file things at the courthouse? No! Do I want to get out of the office on occasion? Yes!). I think it’s important to get your main tasks completed well. The rest of the time should be spent figuring out how this experience can be used to help you determine what your future work life will look like.

  54. Red Wheelbarrow*

    Like many commenters here, I have a lot of sympathy for you! An eight-hour workday can be really tough if that’s not the way your brain works best. Outwardly, I did quite well at my full-time jobs, but the exhaustion and struggles with motivation made me miserable.

    This may not be helpful in your situation, but after struggling with full-time work for years, I eventually built a career that combined part-time and freelance work in two different but related lines of work. My average work week varies from 10 to 40 hours, usually averaging 20-30, and having two different types of work helps keep things interesting. There are major disadvantages, though–my income is modest even with a generous hourly wage, and I have no benefits beyond those legally required by my state. It’s worth it for me, but it might not be for everyone.

    1. Red Wheelbarrow*

      P.S. Self-motivation can be a major pitfall in freelance work, so it’s worth giving some serious thought about whether that would be a problem for you!

  55. Forrest*

    Fifteen years in, still can’t do it. I found a job where a normal week has about 10-12 hours in meetings with colleagues, teaching or doing one-to-one appointments with students. That sets the structure for my week, and I fit teaching planning, emails, longer projects, working on documents etc around it in 1-2 hour bursts.

    I really struggle in summer, when all the teaching and student meetings stop.

  56. Olives*

    When I first started working an office job, I would constantly get sleepy in the afternoon and be close to falling asleep! The reality is that your first job is not likely to be a really intense one where they need a 100% productive workweek from you all the time to avoid causing problems. That plus the fact you’re just getting used to the schedule means you’ll take some time to adjust and you might be sleepy if you’re not super busy. I found it took a few months to fully get over, but just do your best to meet objectives, ask for feedback, and keep your sleepiness to yourself in the meantime. This is more common than you’d think but nobody wants to admit they struggle with the schedule to avoid looking like a slacker.

  57. anonymouse*

    And this is exactly why Alison tells college students that employers look for work experience. There is significant culture shock.
    There is structure, but less guidance.
    There is very little, “Now is TPS time. Work on this until 10:15, go to the bathroom, get your stuff and be in the meeting at 10:30. After the meeting, go back to your desk and enter data until lunch.”
    There is very much, “here’s some work for you to do. If you have questions, let me know, ”
    The environment is overwhelming.
    We have all been there.
    You are asking all the right questions.
    I am reading all the replies because I’ll learn something, too and I’ve been in offices for three decades, not three weeks.

  58. BlueberryFields*

    Echoing all of the above. I’m an early-30s office worker, so I can only speak to my experience.

    It’s an adjustment. Going from college (where you set your own schedule) to 8 hours a day in the office (or sitting in your bedroom at your desk) can really stink. I didn’t start drinking coffee until I worked in an office, because it gave me something to do. You’ll eventually get used to it, just like you got used to being in college.

    However, this is the perfect time to evaluate if “this” is what you actually want to be doing. I don’t recommend quitting your internship and signing up for grad school, that’s an expensive way to figure out you don’t like that “thing” either. But you can walk away from the end of your internship with a list of pros/cons about this particular type of work. Do you like large offices? Are you more productive when you’re tucked away from your coworkers (and the coffee maker)? What is going to make you happy and successful in your next job? And then when it comes time for the next job, you can be aware of any “red flags.”

    The Pomodoro Technique is helpful when you need to get stuff done. It might also help you to break up your day with some work related trainings (LinkedIn Learning, if your org offers it) when you have down time, or just need a mental break.

    Not that any of us can diagnose you from your note, but I’m an ADHD-er myself. It’s always important to stay in tune with your mental and physical health. If you feel down or hopeless, this could be a good time to have a chat with your doctor. Some mental health issues wait until early 20s to surface.

  59. Anona*

    I’d ask your doctor about being screened for depression. Difficulty concentrating at work has been a symptom of mine.

  60. Llewe*

    I really don’t want to diagnose you over the internet, but consider talking to your doctor. There may be a sleep issue or a concentration/attention issue. I had problems with all three. After really struggling for years and lots of tears and anxiety about this, my doctors (my PCP and psychiatrist) recommend “better living through chemistry”. Made a huge difference. I’m NOT at all suggesting to run to your doctor immediately. There are tons of good ideas here by other people.
    Wishing you well.

  61. introverted af*

    Another option here – make sure you talk with your manager about how things are going. Ask if you’re meeting their expectations or if they have any concerns as an open-ended question, and see what they say. Then you can lead into this and say you’re struggling. You’re an intern – you’re supposed to be learning, and overall office norms is part of that. If you don’t have a relationship where you wanna discuss this with your manager, see if you can find another mentor person to discuss ideas with. I would really suggest asking a person that does what you want to do, and/or a younger person in the office if possible who went through this adjustment recently.

  62. Reluctant Manager*

    As an intern, you’re probably not getting the kind of interdependent relationships with your colleagues that help you see your work as part of a larger effort. Even if you sound up in a job where you were just doing clerical-type work that isn’t inherently interesting, needing to do it so your buddy in accounting can send out a big invoice, etc. gives the work more context.

  63. Wendy City*

    Reminder that no one works 8 hours solid a day at an office job. (I have a whole other rant about how the easiest jobs I’ve ever had have also been the highest-paying, but that’s for another day).

    Also, most humans do best when we work in fits and starts – chunks of being super productive paired with chunks of downtime. Here’s what’s worked best for me when it comes to increasing the length or frequency of the productive chunks:
    – Set timers for both productive times and down times. Start with a nice long down time, maybe 45 minutes for every 15 minutes of productivity. Slowly increase your productive time until it’s a more even split.
    – Stay in touch with your boss about their productivity expectations of you! Because a true 40-hours worth of work is pretty rare in an office setting, it may be you’re blowing expectations out of the water right now. It may be you have a busier office than I do and they need you to up the ante a little bit. Either way, keep talking to your boss about it to make sure you’re on track.
    – Figure out what time of day works best for your productive stints, then structure your day around that. For me it’s the period after coffee and before/into lunch, so I’m the queen of a late lunch because I know once I eat, I’m going to be less productive. I try to schedule meetings in the afternoon, or do something that means moving around, or pull up AskAManager/an industry podcast/something that’s not “work” but still has work value.
    – Take advantage of as much flexibility as your boss or office will give you. A late start, physically being in the office less than 40 hours a week, an earlier leave time, whatever they will give you. In my experience this improves my productive sprints and makes me feel less exhausted/burnt out.

    1. Meghan*

      The farther up I’ve gone up in pay, the easier the job has become! I remember working for $6.25 as a grocery clerk and having to trudge through the snow to help people put groceries in their car. AND I couldn’t accept tips.

      Now I work in a lab and can read AAM all day for more than triple the pay.

  64. Persephone*

    One other thought… My experience has been that the amount of time one is expected to spend ‘on work’ changes based on the type of work. I’d you are pushing paper (HR, finance) that might be different than if you are, say, writing computer code or devising marketing materials. The more creative the work, the less time is spent actively making output and the more is spent thinking, collaborating, bouncing ideas around, etc.

    Others might have different experience though, but that’s what I’ve seen.

  65. Ex College Student*

    I second all the people saying you don’t actually work for 8h on an 8 hour day. Focus on achievements. What are the top 3 things you can get done today that will make your day feel accomplished? Or 4, or 2, adapt to your type of work, ofc. Do those, and your day was productive, even if it didn’t take you 8 hours.
    Also, I fully believe that working 8 hours a day is not the ideal for most people, and it is a system set for failure, so I wouldn’t held it against anyone that didn’t adjust to it. I believe I would 100% be more productive in a 6 hour workday, but we are not there yet.

  66. SnapCrackleStop*

    Lot’s of great insight, clarifying questions, and strategies in the comments!

    Here’s a little thing that helped me when transitioning to work from home. This will vary a lot from person-to-person, but I find that doing a short mindfulness mediation when I sit down at my desk (beginning of the day, after lunch, etc), helps me concentrate for longer stretches. It isn’t magic, but it helps me.

    I also keep a “distraction notebook.” During periods where I really want to be heads down, I write down distracting thoughts that pop up. When I take a break, I work my way through that list for anything that needs a follow up (make a calendar appointment, look up a fact, send myself a related article to read later, eat a snack). It is easier for me to let go of the distraction in the moment if I have a reliable way to follow up later.

  67. ecnaseener*

    One family of tricks is to find a way to make tasks interesting.

    – challenge yourself to do X amount of work in Y minutes, maybe with a reward (See also: gamification)

    – construct a silly narrative in your head, like this filing task is actually a decoding puzzle to get into a fantasy dungeon or whatever

    – mentally explain what you’re doing and why you’re doing it to an imaginary observer: an alien who knows nothing of earth culture, or a time-traveler from the past, etc.

  68. Celestine*

    This may be too far outside the realm of work, but I’d seriously consider if you should be assessed for ADHD. If you find the work interesting and still can’t focus on it, find yourself taking a lot of little breaks to do something else (which is actually a comping mechanism suggested for people with ADHD), then it’s something to consider. Take it from someone who knows, if you do have ADHD then getting diagnosed and treated can change your world, including your working world.

    1. Empress Matilda*

      I was going to suggest the same! The inability to focus on work, even when it’s interesting, is a huge indicator for ADHD.

      That, plus “pandemic brain” as Dark Macadamia suggested below, plus the fact that you’re an intern and this really is a normal part of the adjustment from school to work – chances are you’re doing just fine under the circumstances. Obviously I’m not your manager, so you should definitely check with her! But try not to worry too much – it sounds to me like you’re right where you should be at this point.

  69. Chickaletta*

    What everyone else has said, but also you mention checking your phone a lot. That could be part of the issue. As someone in their mid-40s, I’ve experienced desk life both before and after smartphones, and I can tell you 100% that my attention span has declined markedly since owning that damn thing. I’ve gotten used to having new information flashed before my eyes every 2-3 seconds by scrolling through social media, and crave that new content several times an hour. It sucks a lot and I have done a lot to try to break myself of the habit. Nonetheless, it makes it harder to focus on tv shows, movies, conversations, articles, and just about anything that requires concentration. So, if you are struggling to focus, that might be one area of life to examine.

    1. Sambal*


      I’m honestly surprised at how many people are suggesting OP look into getting tested for ADHD before taking a closer examination of how their daily activities (like smart phone use) could be reshaping their attention span.

      1. Empress Matilda*

        I can’t speak for everyone with ADHD, but for me the smartphone is very much the symptom rather than the problem. Like Chickaletta, I’m in my mid-40’s and have experienced office work both with and without a smartphone. (I’ve even experienced it without the internet, if you can believe it!) And I can say with 100% certainty that even before I had the instant-gratification machine, I still couldn’t focus on work that wasn’t exactly the right degree of interesting. I could sit in a blank room with nothing but a typewriter, and still get distracted – by the feel of my clothes, or trying to remember how long since my last haircut, or looking for patterns in the ceiling tiles. It’s not just a matter of wanting to focus but not having the discipline – it’s literally a complete inability to focus, or to switch tasks from one to another.

        Also, because adult ADHD is still poorly understood and often misdiagnosed, I think a lot of us have heard suggestions like “just put away your phone!” and “you just need to be more disciplined!” Those are often the first line of attack for NT people, but they don’t work at all for those of us with executive functioning issues. And probably enough of us saw ourselves in the OP’s short letter, that it’s worth making the recommendation. In any case, there are tons of free ADHD screens out there on the internet, so it won’t cost them anything to do a quick self-test. Worst case, they conclude it’s definitely not ADHD and they can rule it out as a concern, or they conclude that it might be ADHD and it’s worth pursuing from a medical perspective.

        1. Sasha Blause*

          Yes, so much this! I’m 36 now, diagnosed ADHD at 22, got my first smartphone at 25, and I struggled just as much before the phone.

          Sitting in the college library’s private study booths with my books, laptop, and no wifi? I’d write a sentence or two, then get lost tracing my finger down the little dips where the cinderblocks were joined. Enjoying the smooth and bumpy texture of many layers of paint. Poking the tips of my hair into the weird little holes. Reading felt like trying to pick up of those water wiggler (aka water snake, water fidget) toys.

          It was a problem all my life, but I only got dx’d as an adult because I was a girl-child. That meant I was expected to be quiet, polite, and proper at all times. I heard a lot of “oh you’re off in la-la land again! stop doing that! stop going off to la-la land! pay attention!” etc but I could figure out what that actually *meant*?

          Yeah no. Blaming the phone is a cheap copout. Some of us are just born messed up.

          1. Sambal*

            Totally fair.

            But OP is a college student who most likely has had a smart phone for all of their adolescent years and also most likely has no comparison point.

            I think both options (amongst all the other fantastic comments) deserve consideration.

          2. LC*

            Oh, hello me! The comments from you and Empress Matilda are both spot on.

            So many people (even some professionals unfortunately and don’t even get me started on how the diagnostic criteria are absurdly out of touch and only frame it in terms of how it negatively affects others rather than what’s actually going on with the individual) only associate ADHD with a small male child bouncing off the walls, and the way that girls are often socialized teaches us how to mask at such a young age. Add in that so many of our symptoms are more internal (if my outsides behaved like my brain, it would have been picked up by the time I was 10) and it adds up to a lot of us getting to college or our first job or the first 20 years of our careers having no idea why our brains are the way they are and that we aren’t broken or lazy or defective. That’s a lot of unlearning we have to do.

            A lot of school type stuff was pretty easy for me when I was growing up and I wasn’t particularly hyper, so since it never really impacted anyone (parents, teachers, classmates, etc.) negatively, no one considered it. I just started believing that everything I felt and experienced was super normal and most people handled it no problem, but I was spectacularly bad at dealing with it and therefore I was defective.

            I didn’t even consider ADHD till I was 24 when I was one bad test away from not graduating college. My life started including more and more things that didn’t come naturally to me, and I had absolutely no idea how to handle that.

            I graduated high school at 16 and then took eight years to get my bachelor’s degree, which actually makes a lot of sense now, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to fully undo the damage I did to my psyche with all the things I internalized about myself. Figuring this out a few years earlier would have saved me a lot damage.

            (Sorry, I have Big Feelings about this and am terrible at editing myself so apologies for all the text that’s probably going way off topic.)

            1. Empress Matilda*

              (Sorry, I have Big Feelings about this and am terrible at editing myself so apologies for all the text that’s probably going way off topic.)

              Honestly, I feel like this should be in the DSM for key indicators of ADHD! *So many* of us have big feelings, big vocabularies, and a complete inability to self-edit. :)

        2. LC*

          “You need to just pay attention!”
          “Why can’t you just focus!”
          “Just stop getting distracted!”

          I’ll take Things That Aren’t Helpful (And Are Possibly Harmful) To Say To People With ADHD for $17,000,000, Alex.


          I could sit in a blank room with nothing but a typewriter, and still get distracted – by the feel of my clothes, or trying to remember how long since my last haircut, or looking for patterns in the ceiling tiles.

          lol yep. A lack of distracting things definitely won’t stop me from getting distracted.

  70. DrMrsC*

    I’ve worked in an appointment based healthcare for 25 years. In some jobs when I had open spots on my schedule or a patient cancelled the expectation was that you “found something productive” to do. In my current office, as long as you are caught up on everything, you can pretty well do what you please during those open blocks as long as you are still reasonably available. For example, something like browsing online, catching up with a coworker, or having a cup of coffee while you read in the breakroom or at your desk is fine – you can be easily available if something comes up; changing your clothes and going out for a run is not. I think most offices have some fluctuations too. On Monday this week I was out straight with back to back patients and barely had time for a bathroom break in my 10 hour day. Yesterday, I had cancellations and only “worked” for about 4 hours of the 10 I was paid for. Long story short, office norms matter.

  71. Engineer*

    This is totally normal! A few years after I was on the job, I was at an intern happy hour, and the interns asked us what the biggest adjustment was coming from school to career. A fellow coworker said, “not taking midday naps, and staying awake the whole day.”

    A HUGE light bulb went off for me. I literally could not stay awake and focused all damn day for 8+ hours, and I still have issues with being tired/bored. Your body will eventually adjust, but keep in mind you still need to take breaks. You’re also not expected to work every single second of those 8 hours. Every hour try and get 1,000 steps in, drink lots of water, chat up your coworkers. Since this is an internship, see if you can schedule quick 1 on 1 meetings to ask people about their career development, and what they do at the company. Take a 15 min break after every 2 hours. Take a nap in your car at lunch if you really need it.

    As you get to know your coworkers more, you’ll have more to chit-chat about. Also ask your mgr if you can take more work on. This is totally a normal part of transition from university life to career.

  72. Meghan*

    I really recommend keeping a routine. Get up the same time every day (even on the weekends!), go to bed at the same time every day. Try to keep when you eat the same time. This really helped me with my grogginess at work. I’d stay up because I wanted to do all this stuff that wasn’t work, but it just ended up putting me in a bad cycle.

  73. Dark Macadamia*

    I just want to say that some of this is likely Pandemic Brain and not an indication of what you are/would be like under normal circumstances. I feel this way a lot too lately – like it takes two or three attempts to start cooking dinner because I just cannot focus on a task, I watch/listen to things while I fold laundry because otherwise it’s like the chore is a slippery surface and my brain can’t get a firm foothold. If you’r

    your work allows, would it help to have music or a podcast as background noise? Are there other things that basically help you sit still a little longer so you can get more done? My main advice is just give yourself a lot of space to struggle without beating yourself up about it. No one is productive all the time, especially right now.

  74. OutOfOffice*

    As an intern, my guess is you’re probably not in the same quantity/length of meetings as full time employees, either – that’s built into the usual 8 hour work day. The meetings break up that period a lot, at least where I work (I habe about 2-4 hours of meetings a day, some working and some informational/administrative and some project). I’m also in operations and support, so it may be different, but as you progress you may find 8 hour days with meetings thrown in isn’t ENOUGH time!

    1. Firecat*

      Meetings can definitely help to break up the day. One approach could be to ask the internanager to help you set up meetings with leaders at the company to learn about their career paths. I was able to score time I very high up calendars fory interns that would have been impossible for even myself to get. Job shadowing is another option.

  75. Chronically unfocused*

    I’ve had this issue since I started working office jobs. I was also diagnosed with ADHD earlier this year (not the cause for everyone who can’t focus on work, but it was for me), and medication has done wonders. Some things that have helped in the meantime:

    1. Not working for 8 hours a day. Most people don’t. You should start worrying if/when you’re struggling to hit deadlines, but especially so soon after you start it’s not a big deal.
    2. Having interesting things to work on. I can’t for the life of me focus on things that are boring or tedious or useless, but if it’s compelling I’ll end up losing track of time and taking lunch 2 hours late.
    2b. Having things to work on. I had a job where I simply could not think of things to do with my day and it was the worst!
    3. Listening to podcasts (or music). I like podcasts when I’m not doing a lot of language processing (i.e. reading or writing) and music when I am. It occupies enough of my background thinking that I can put the foreground thinking to use.
    4. Monitoring external factors. I tried a medication earlier this year that totally fried my systems for a couple days, and I got almost nothing done. Being tired or hungry or sick or stressed or whatever can make it really hard to focus on the things!
    5. Designating work space. This may or may not apply to you, but it’s a lot easier to focus on work when the space you’re working on is ONLY for work. If you’re working from home on your couch where you play video games, some part of your brain is always going to be saying “we could be playing video games right now…”
    6. Noticing when you find it easier or harder to focus. Do you do your best work right after a fresh cup of coffee? Or between 10am and 2pm? Or when no one talks to you? Or when you just left a pleasant chat with a coworker? In work and outside it, I often have to sort of trick myself into doing things by creating the right conditions.

    In my experience, probably the LEAST effective way to sustain focus is to feel guilty all the time about not focusing and constantly criticize yourself for something you don’t know how to change.

  76. Firecat*

    I remember this struggle! It takes time.

    When I needed a big break I would offer to get coffee for the team. Between taking their orders collecting the money, driving, then delivering it could be up to 1.5 hours of away from computer time.

  77. Jcarnall*

    Make a list of things you need to get done that day\that week.

    Have a proportion of tiny and easily achievable goals (“I will leave no unread emails in my inbox”) as well as bigger productivity goals. Tick them off and note time\day achieved. At end of each week, make a short report noting what you accomplished that week. These are all personal non-shared notes.

    When you’re due for your first assessment, you can use these notes to say what you’re accomplishing at work, and does your manager think this is OK or should you be getting more done, and if so, what\how much? Taking frequent short breaks is a good idea, by the way.

  78. Not So Super-visor*

    The TO DO list is my biggest helper– every time that I’m want to space out or scroll endlessly on my phones, I look down at my list and ask myself if there’s something else that I could tick off from my list instead.

    1. Not So Super-visor*

      I also find it helpful to work in some “brain breaks” here and there too. For me, these are work adjacent tasks like checking industry news or reading up on Ask A Manager

  79. Empress Matilda*

    Depending on the type of work you’re doing, it’s possible that “productivity” isn’t an issue at all. Unless there’s a specific requirement to handle X things (teapots, data entry, lines of code, inbound calls, etc) in Y amount of time, there’s a good chance that your manager is interested in the quality of your work, rather than the quantity. She’s probably also looking for “soft skills” like your ability to meet deadlines, ask for help when you need it, and get along with your coworkers.

    Also! Did you know that most knowledge workers only “work” about 4-5 hours a day anyway? Even if they’re in the office the entire time – things like checking emails, going back and forth to the washroom and meetings and so on, all take time. And if your job requires any sort of analysis or critical/ creative thinking, that often happens during times that don’t look “productive” in the traditional sense.

  80. Ramblin' Ma'am*

    This is partly why I’ve unexpectedly found remote work so refreshing! Many jobs don’t require 8 straight hours of actual work. Nor can the human brain concentrate on a task for 8 straight hours. But in the office, I felt like I constantly had to look “busy” regardless.

  81. Lynn*

    I had a lot of trouble adjusting as well. Right out of college I lived with my mom for a few months (which was a godsend, because my work wanted me to start about a week after I graduated & I had to move cities) and she is a saint and she cooked for me while I was useless for about 3 months.

    Starting a new job is hard because you’re adjusting to the schedule, and you’re also having to constantly, all day, learn new concepts, processes, and people, and trying to be productive while doing it (Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman talks about how the brain is engaged with new tasks and is a long but interesting read). Try to rely on habits as much as possible during the adjustment period — pick your clothes in advance, meal prep, take the same route to work even if it isn’t the fastest.

    In work itself, try to find opportunities to gamify what you’re doing, give yourself plenty of credit for what you do, and see if there are any opportunities to volunteer yourself for work you think is fun, even if it’s not directly related to your core job, and maybe plan time to network with new coworkers over coffee.

  82. eons*

    It may seem way too simple but lists really help me focus. Instead of looking at my desk and thinking “hmm okay what next?” I look at my list – then do a separate list for today’s ‘action plan’. When my mind starts to wander at inappropriate times, I look at the list and try to re-focus.

  83. LaDiDa*

    There is a technique called the Pomodoro Technique. You set a timer and work in 25 minute increments, then take a 5 minute break. During that 5 minutes get up, get coffee, check your phone or AAM, whatever. Then set a 25 min timer and work again. This helps you break down what you need to get done in manageable chunks.
    This technique is especially helpful for ADHD and other executive dysfunction.
    I tend to work in 45-60 min increments and take 10 minute breaks. Give it a try!

  84. alligators*

    I agree with getting your most important tasks done early when your energy levels are higher, but throughout the day, when you’re flagging, look at something called the pomodoro method. There’s a lot of variations, but the important part is setting small time management goals. This way you’re not looking at a big pile of work, you’re looking at something that you commit to working on for 15 or 20 minutes, with the reward of a 5 minute break right after. Making the next task seem really achievable can help get you out of the rut.

  85. Macaroni Penguine*

    Generally speaking, rule out any medical conditions that could be affecting your concentration/productivity. For example, ADHD can make it more difficult to focus on one thing for a long period of time. Or a basic blood screening can rule out some conditions that might make you feel tired (anemia). There’s also reviewing your basic sleep, diet, and exercise levels. One my partner had trouble sleeping, and that was probably connected to the giant pot of coffee he was drinking at 5:00pm. If the biological side of things seems okay, maybe your productivity concerns are caused by something else.

  86. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

    Had the SAME problem with my first 8-5. Honestly I felt cheated, like I had to sit around when there wasn’t enough for me to even do, I was bored out of my mind and my manager wasn’t communicative at all. I was making extra spreadsheets and reformatting information to look at it from different angles just to have something to do. Turns out the entire department was laid off within six months because there just wasn’t enough work to go around . But once I started working from home at a different, more creative job due to the pandemic, I could focus SO much better! (For reference, I was working as a recruiter at the 8-5 and switched to a full-time journalism position that required more of my brain, and it made the difference!). AND to second some comments above, I was also diagnosed and treated for a sleep disorder.

  87. James*

    What I found works for me is to plan my day and vary the things I do. For example, I’ll work on llama reports from 7 to 10, then from 10 to 1 I’ll work on teapot design, and from 1 to 4 I’ll work on filing and organizing my shared folders (I work through lunch by preference). That way I’m not doing the same thing the whole time.

    The other thing I do is have a fairly small coffee cup. I drink more coffee than I probably should, and having a smaller cup A) limits my coffee intake, and B) reminds me to stand up and walk around. That helps. There’s a lot of evidence that moving helps your brain, so not sitting all day is a good thing.

  88. StephThePM*

    I have an intern right now who is in college. I have about 24 years of experience. I recommend that you reframe your thinking to “I am available to work 8 hrs a day” and “these tasks are what my manager has requested that I do in these 8 hours.” If you don’t have tasks to do, see your Manager. If you have tasks that you’re finishing quickly, double check them so you don’t have errors. Ask how to improve the work, etc. I suspect you don’t have enough work to do or you are finishing faster than your manager expects. I refuse to make up stuff for my intern to do so we likely pay for hours she’s not “working” but I think about it like, she’s available to me. I try to keep her busy learning or doing but sometimes, I just can’t- without making up meaningless things to do. I include my intern in higher level mtgs than she’d normally attend as a FT entry level employee. I also expect that she comes to me with questions or when she’s not busy.

    Your role is to get priorities, boundaries, tasks and assignments from your supervisor and to execute them, learning as much as you can, delivering as much value as you can, and communicating with your supervisor when you have questions. Consider asking for more work to do, a specific area of interest or skill you want to develop, or ask to attend mtgs or for another person to ask whether they have stuff you can work on. My intern requested a specific responsibility and while I haven’t been able to do it as we don’t have that specific work right now, I tried to make it happen and was impressed that she asked for the experience she wanted.

    Even today, if I’m not busy, I get unfocused. I have learned to accept and appreciate lesser busy times as I have learned it is cyclical and the company always wins. Sometimes, I have 4 hrs of work…sometimes it’s 16….sometimes it’s 12.

    Good luck!

  89. Domino*

    If you’re anxious about not working enough, I suggest the highly entertaining book “Bullshit Jobs: A Theory” by David Graeber. The anonymous stories from people working in self-identified “bullshit jobs” are fascinating, and will make you feel better for getting ANY work done in a day.

  90. theletter*

    It’s pretty normal to feel restless and anxious in one’s first office job. Office jobs are notorious sedentary and many people ultimately regret too much ‘acclimation’ to the process of sitting in a big office chair continuously for 4 to 5 hours.

    Standing desks can be extremly helpful in getting your physical stress to match the mental stress, which will help your breaks feel more restorative. You don’t have to get an expensive standing desk! Many people grab big box to prop up their computer.

    Taking a walk on your lunch break or volunteering for any physical tasks that come up can also help balance out the mental/physical stress ratio.

    It’s very true that 8 pure hours of work is actually rare – one thing that many people will do is divide tasks into a matrix of important/unimportant vs. urgent/non-urgent. The things that are important and urgent should probably get done during the time of day when you have the most energy. Many people like to save the unimportant/non-urgent stuff to the end of the day or the end of week. I’ve been trying to encourage people to set up ‘burn out’ times late on Friday – schedule light trainings, gentle presentations, pie-in-the-sky discussions, stuff that lets you reflect on your work and then shut down for the weekend.

    You didn’t mention interruptions, but I’ve found that interruptions can play a key role in the work day – I hate getting interrupted once I get into the zone, but sometimes I need a balance of zone to distraction to keep going. Music/podcasts/ambient television can help with that. Tasks that are especially repetitive or need ‘two minds’ can sometimes be taken to a group setting and shared with work buddies.

    It might be of value to see if you’re the victim of ‘drive-bys’ from your colleagues – being forced to switch tasks unexpectantly and frequently can be extremely tiring for some people. If you get a lot of ‘drive by’ tasks from random people and it deflates your energy, see if there’s a way you can minimize it.

    Conversely, a coffee/tea/whatever break can be a great way to get your energy back – if you can have a quick water cooler chat with a colleague, it can be revitalizing.

    I feel that it’s super important to get a strong separation between work time and not work time. You shouldn’t be checking in when you’re on vacation/sick/evenings/weekends – even mentally! Put your thoughts on a post it, stick it in your work backpack, put the backpack back in the closet, forget about work until Monday.

    1. Domino*

      “Conversely, a coffee/tea/whatever break can be a great way to get your energy back – if you can have a quick water cooler chat with a colleague, it can be revitalizing.”

      Obligatory plug for the Scandinavian concept of “fika”! I wish it were normal here.

  91. Never Sleeping Beauty*

    I think it’s really normal to feel this way in your first job. I remember starting my first full time job after college and feeling guilty, like I was getting away with something.

    Now, over 10 years into my career, I realize this is pretty normal. You’ll probably have days where you ARE busy and where it seems like there’s not enough time to get everything done, but for the most part things will ebb and flow. I have a list of tasks that I have to get done each day, a combination of regular tasks and one-time things that are time sensitive. If I get those done, I make sure I’m available if anyone needs me, but otherwise, I don’t really worry about it.

  92. CRM*

    I can relate to this so much, OP. I struggled a lot with the hours in my first full-time job. Nobody talks about how difficult that transition can be, but it really is tough.

    I think there is a lot of good advice here from others, but I would like to add a few things:

    1) Taking breaks is okay, mentally and physically! 2pm is when my brain starts to shut down and I have a hard time focusing, so at that point I usually get up and go for a walk, sometimes even get outside just for a change of pace. I would make myself a cup of tea or coffee, or walk to a bodega nearby for a pick-me-up snack. I would highly recommend doing stuff like this. Also, if you can help it, take an actual break for lunch! Even if you are just browsing the internet at your desk.

    2) Podcasts are your friend. If you have easy/menial tasks to do, pop in those headphones and the time will fly by (of course, make sure that headphones are acceptable with your office culture first!).

    3) Measure your productivity by the tasks you are able to accomplish in a day, not how many hours you worked. For instance, lets say yesterday I solved a bug in an automated process, finished and sent out a weekly report, answered emails, and was actively engaged in 3 meetings. All of that might have taken no more than 4-5 hours of my time, but I would call that a very productive day!

    4) Internships are sometimes inherently slow, and it’s okay to have down time! Make sure to let your manager know that you are available for more work if that is the case, but otherwise there isn’t much you can do except for try to keep yourself occupied. If there are work-related activities you can do, such as an online training, that is preferable, but even then you are likely to have a few hours where you just need to keep yourself busy.

    Good luck, OP! I’m sure you are doing just fine.

    1. James*

      “2) Podcasts are your friend.” or Audible as well. These are books-on-tape. When I’m doing routine stuff where I need to not make errors but where I’m not actually thinking about the information I’m processing (it sounds weird when I put it like that, but it’s a thing that happens) I’ll put on one of those books. is free, with public-domain works; Audible has a better selection of modern works. You can also download apps on your smartphone/tablet that allow you to check out audio books for free from your local library if you have a library card.

  93. EngineerDE*

    It gets better! I’m 41, and just started a new job about 3 months ago after being at the same employer for 12 years. I don’t feel productive at all and feel the same guilt. Everyone here knows what they’re doing, and they expect me to know what I’m doing too, which is fair, but my work hasn’t ramped up yet and everything is lower urgency than in my last workplace. The only days I focus more than 4 hours on work are days with more than 4 hours of meetings. But I’m adjusting, and I know things will get busier. I confess that one thing that really helps is controlling my caffeine, which helps me with focus after lunch.

  94. Lacey*

    All the sympathy. I remember making the transition from college student to full time office worked and it was BRUTAL.

    It’s just hard to get used to. But, like others have said, most places are going to be ok if you take breaks to stretch, grab a water, do a moderate amount of chatting. And eventually you do get used to it and it’s not a big deal anymore.

  95. Data Analyst*

    My dad used to work in rehabilitation psychology (like rehab for people who have had an accident or injury, not drug rehab) and so he knew a lot about how work affects your brain and all that. He would talk about work hardening, which is the process of getting used to working again when you return from an injury (or something like that). When you’re in the work hardening process you can only really do work for a couple hours at a time. But you can apply it to starting work for the first time, or starting a new job – you have to get conditioned and used to it and it taxes your brain tremendously. Even if it’s just the fact of sitting at the same desk for ~8 hours a day – it’s a huge lifestyle change. It can take months to get used to it. You’re also having to put on a professional self for that whole time – it’s not like being a whole different person, but it is a slightly different version of yourself, and doing that for 8 hours is also exhausting. I think this really is just normal (and kind of an indictment of the 8 hour workday which sucks and doesn’t make sense). It will probably get better. Also the more actual work you have to do, the more the day will go quickly. Don’t despair, you’re not a terrible employee.

  96. Mr. Cajun2core*

    As many others have said, it will come in time and with practice. I recall when I went from working 8 hour days (5 days a week) to 10 hour days (4 days a week). At first those last 2 hours were hell! However, I adjusted to it in time. I can only imagine what it is like for you. You will adjust to it in time.

  97. Jennifer Strange*

    OP, does your internship offer enough variety in the work you do to switch gears when you start to feel tired/bored? I’ve found that being able to switch from one thing and focus on something else sort of gives my brain a bit of a wake up because now I need to re-calibrate (this is assuming all projects are of a similar priority and none of them have a looming due date).

    I also find that setting specific goals for myself helps. Like if I’m going through a spreadsheet to add information into a spreadsheet I’ll break the information down into sections of about 20-25 each. When I get through a section I allow myself a short break to grab water/look at my phone/check the news for about 5 minutes, then go back in.

  98. asneakiermailman*

    Just sympathy here :-) I dropped out of full-time work to have children, since I’m the primary caregiver. After a few years I re-entered on a part-time basis with one 8-hour day every other week and that one full day really takes it out of me! It’s hard to imagine how I’d manage doing five of them every week, and your letter really describes my feelings on it. So I suppose it eventually becomes routine after a period of transition!

    I’ll be revisiting this thread when it’s time to resume full-time work myself.

  99. Nora*

    When I was first transitioning from college to work (8 hours in front of a computer, largely data entry) I would make myself a little task schedule that mimicked my college schedule. I would spend 30 minutes checking and organizing and responding to my email, then a short break, then work on a task, then a short break, then ask my coworkers questions/learn something new, then lunch, etc.

  100. HSTeacher*

    I love that all the comments I have read so far haven’t put down the LW. Love the positivity!

    I was interested in whether the LW is an introvert, because you say you are so tired. Related to that, what is the set up of the working space?

    For me, an introvert, 8 hours of working near people is simply exhausting and draining. Open working spaces are *the absolute worst.* I realized later in my 20’s that having to be “on” so many hours a day was just not a good fit for me because I need to recharge alone, be “off” for a few minutes, and that constant sounds and conversation make me feel overstimulated, which makes me feel irritable. I used to be “on” all hours with the public and coworkers; now that I switched careers to teaching, it’s much better. I get to school early to have alone time to prepare for the day, have my own “space” in my classroom where I can close the door and “hide,” make sure to take my planning period alone and sometimes lunch alone in my classroom, and while I’m still tired and need to decompress after work, it’s better. If there is too much stimulation, I also can’t focus as well.

    You can still work in an office as an introvert, but recognize that getting out for a few minutes a day will help, and finding a quiet space to work or decompress is key. Good luck!

  101. anononon*

    This is EXACTLY how I felt when I started working 8-5 summers in high school. Then I took 10-ish years of working my own hours, and when I started again it was hard again. I would literally sit at my desk and almost fall asleep. My suggestions are to 1: ask for more work if the issue is you don’t have enough to do– even propose a project if you need to. 2: work to make the work meaningful. I’m a fan of writing out a guide of how to do my job, or all of the people I’ve met so far and what their roles are/how they connect to help me better retain what I’m learning. And it may help the next intern, too!

  102. PivotPivot*

    I would also make a real effort to get enough sleep. If one is constantly fatigued, it is really hard to concentrate. Everyone has had great suggestions, but that is a tangible that I know, for myself at least, makes a night and day difference.

    1. Llama Llama*

      For my entire adult life the expectations of the corporate world have bashed against my internal circadian rhythm. My most productive hours of the day are 4-7pm and 10pm-12am and sometimes later. I am a night owl who, despite how hard I try, I don’t fall asleep early unless utterly exhausted. And then I am right back to up late the next day. A 10:30-7 work day is my sweet spot, but even better has been the flexible work from home schedule of the last year and a half. It’s made me totally rethink my career and what I want from it.

      So – something else for the OP to think about. You don’t have to work a 9-5. Work is changing rapidly and the butts in seats, 8 consecutive hours a day mentality is also changing.

      1. LC*

        I’ve always been a night owl too, and I keep waiting for my body to get tired of only getting 5 hours of sleep every night and it’s in its best interest to just freaking fall sleep earlier.

        I was unemployed for almost a year and being able to sleep my natural sleep schedule (about 7.5 hours between 2:30am and 10ish) every day was amazing.

  103. Cora*

    Compared to what I considered “hours spent studying intently in school” I definitely agree that I get 4 hrs of that type of serious work done in an 8 hour day. So if I work school-studying-style for 4 hrs, and then get some odd tasks (email, filing, cleanup) I consider that a full day.

    You do know how to study for chunks of time, maybe 2 hrs max at a time, but between meetings and getting coffee you can have a similar schedule.

  104. Ace in the Hole*

    As others have mentioned, no one in the office is working 100% of the day. We all take breaks. As long as your boss is happy with your productivity, you’re doing fine. However… I can totally sympathize with how exhausting and demoralizing it is to suddenly go to full time work!

    Here’s what helped me:

    – Set your expectations right. It will take a long period of adjustment… when kids start school we give them a whole year to adjust to being in a classroom half the day. Give yourself the same leeway now. Be kind to yourself if you have to let some things slide both on and off the clock – it’s okay to rest instead of folding the laundry, or order takeout instead of cooking.

    – Set work times and break times (for independent work, not meetings and stuff). Timed breaks can be better for your mental state than freeform breaks, because you have clear expectations for yourself. Start with 15 or 20 minutes of work followed by a 10 minute break. Use a timer, and actually stop doing work when your timer goes off. When 15 minutes feels easy, increase the work period OR decrease the rest period by a few minutes.

    – Ask your supervisor or a trusted colleague for clarity on what’s expected of you right now and what would be realistic goals for productivity.

    – Keep in mind that different people have different processes/workflows. Some people have a slow methodical style of work where they will work consistently for hours. Others are more effective in sprints… being super productive for a short burst and then needing a cooldown break. And sometimes people need empty time to brainstorm or think deeply about something before they can produce anything tangible – thinking that might happen most effectively while staring at a wall, walking, or doing menial tasks. A good employer will understand that there are a wide variety of work styles, and will judge your performance on results vs how busy you look.

  105. __ID__*

    Just a thought – get tested for ADHD at your university. It’s probably free or very low cost.

    I’m not saying you have ADHD – but I have struggled with it most of my life and was also undiagnosed. I got good grades, though and always got work done on time – even if meant an all-nighter and a great deal of stress.

    Again – not saying that you have ADHD – but get tested while you have low cost resources.

    I also echo what others say – no one works all 8 hours of the day. Best of luck!

  106. berto*

    I’m 45, 20+ years of white collar work, and aside from a few times in my career, I rarely actually “work” 8 hours a day and rarely am even present for even 40 hours a week. Yet I have been promoted many times, even to senior executive levels and it was never an issue even once. My current boss and many bosses I’ve had work 60,80, 100+ hours and are rarely as productive as I am.

    Want to know the secret? I’m more responsive, work faster and do better than my peers. I can focus long enough to get my job done and get it done right the first time. I know when to block out distractions and when to relax and recharge. Most people, sort of flit from thing to thing and never complete anything. Then they realize they missed a detail or made a mistake, and have to switch back and fix it. They spend too much time in unproductive meetings or doing unecessary overwork because they think it’s “great work” but no one will care.

    The reality is, the 8 hour day for office workers is an artifact of another era and there is no good reason to conform to it. Remote work has been a godsend. I also dropped out of the executive track and specialized in my area of expertise which can be done remotely. Ultimately, I plan to either become independent or a part-time worker.

  107. LizB*

    I highly recommend the podcast Before Breakfast, which offers lots of smart tips for productivity and happiness in the work world… and also points out that basically nobody gets 8 hours per day of focused work done five days a week. It’s just not something most brains can sustain for that long. An episode I recently listened to was titled “You will run out of steam,” and discussed how important it is to understand when in the day you have the best capacity for focus and high-quality work, and making sure you spend that time doing the important stuff. Checking email, filing, churning out rote data entry, etc. is not worth spending your highest-energy time on; it can get done at another time of day, when you have just enough brainpower to make it happen and not enough for something that requires creativity or writing skills or whatever. For most people their productive time is in the morning and they go downhill after lunch, but everyone is different, so pay attention to when in the day you feel your best and focus on getting high-priority tasks done then when possible, and then count that as a win! You don’t have a bad work ethic, you’re just a normal human.

  108. LizLizM*

    Haven’t had a chance to read through all the comments, but just wanted to say that as an intern, you might not be given as much work to accomplish as you would if you worked as a full-time employee. So being bored is complete understandable and explains the urge to check your phone, stare at the wall, zone out, etc. Even when I started my current job 2 years ago, I spent the first 6 months *not* doing anything, and it made me feel tired and frustrated all day. Until I had plenty to do each day, which kept my attention and engagement. So please know this is normal.

    That being said, the adjustment from student to employee is HARD. I remember coming home from my first week of an office job after college and thinking…now what? I felt weird for not having homework to complete. It took me a long time to get used to leaving projects unfinished for the next day. It’s a total lifestyle shift, so grant yourself permission to spend time navigating it. You are definitely not doing anything wrong or feeling anything abnormal.

    As for practical advice, try the focus strategies that others have suggested for focusing for XX minutes, and then taking a break. Also, get enough sleep. Which, I know is both an obvious suggestion and sometimes an unrealistic one depending on your personal life schedule. But if you’re used to staying up super late in school, it might be time to rip the band-aid off and go to bed on time. My first job was a book editor; I learned FAST that I needed a full night’s sleep so I wouldn’t get tired while reading all day. It was hard, and no fun, and took a few weeks to adjust to (both going to bed on time and re-training my brain not to fall asleep while reading), but it’s set me up for a much healthier lifestyle in my 20s and now 30s because I’m getting enough sleep regularly. Lastly, talk to your manager to see if there are classes/certificates you can take while on the clock that increase your skill set. Your manager may well be aware that there’s not enough work to keep you busy 40 hours a week, and therefore might be okay with letting you earn a certificate that increase your skillset–especially if you’re on the short list to be hired full-time after graduation!

    Good luck, though. This is one of the hardest transitions that no one warns you about. Hopefully you get a ton of good ideas from these comments!

  109. SassyAccountant*

    Not trying to do an arm chair diagnosis here but I want to mention, have you ever considered the possibility of having ADHD? It’s not as straightforward as the average layman THINKS it is so you’d be surprised. I just turned 43 and I was diagnosed only a few months ago. I spent years thinking I was lazy, stupid, had a bad work ethic etc. because I couldn’t consistently sustain myself at work, at home and my personal life. I was also overall a solid student but if you really delved into my history you’d see the flags and issues over my whole life. It’s entirely possibly that everyone else’s points are correct/valid but I thought it maybe worth mentioning if only because if it turned out you did have ADHD I wanted to save you another 10,15 even 20 years in the workforce struggling like I did.

  110. kate.*

    First, it’s normal to be tired. And it’s a sign that something needs to be adjusted. So, good on you for recognizing this. Moving from college life to full-time work life, I think, takes adjustment. And one area that needs to be adjusted are sleeping behaviors. After 20 years of full-time work, I also am tired by the end of the week. It can be exhausting. But, I recommend adjusting when you go to bed and taking more time to rest on weekends when you need to.

    If you’ve already made that adjustment and it’s not working, it’s also fairly common for young adults to develop hypothrydism, which can cause tiredness. Talking with a family doctor and doing a simple blood test might give another reason AND SOLUTION for the tiredness.

  111. Llama Llama*

    Before anything else I will say this is the perspective of a salaried employee and might be different if hourly.

    This is such an interesting question. Working from home definitely made me realize that I can get everything I need to get done in about 4-5 hours a day UNLESS it was something physical (I work with volunteers outside in community gardens and that takes up a set amount of time). But I mean all of my office, computer based or phone call work. That’s most days. Some days things are very busy or there are important deadlines that require more but on an average day I don’t need 8 hours to get everything done.

    But then I felt guilty – I have 8 hours to work I should be working. And that work that I was completing USED to take 8 hours when I was in the office. Now that we are coming back I am realizing how my mind shifts based on my location. If I am at the office, I am at work. And if I am at work physically than I am working. All the time spent in the office is work time because I’m not doing something else I would rather be doing (whereas at home if I stop working and do something else, it’s inherently not work time). But if I go into my co-workers office and we end up chatting about work and it devolves into talking about personal life that’s still work, if I am sitting at my computer waiting for something but available for someone to pop in and ask me a question, that’s work. I am giving 8 hours a day to this company by being present and that’s work.

    So basically, I agree that no one is working every moment of their 8 hour work day in an office (obviously there are other kinds of work that require different things). There are tons of tips out there to help schedule, focus, organize, etc. But I bet that whatever they have given you to work on isn’t super pressing because you’re the intern and depending on what kind of manager you have there may not be enough checking in to realize what’s up.

    Other random thoughts – the 9-5 is a grind. It really is. Another thing work from home has taught me is how much I hate waking up early, getting ready for work, and commuting, just to sit in a chair and stare at a screen. Consider that maybe a different career path is more right for you. It’s funny, I got into the environmental sciences because I wanted to work outside and not be at a desk annnnnd here I am. Promotions man.

  112. Nom*

    First, I would say make sure you are getting enough sleep. Try getting at least 8-9 hours a night for awhile and things improve (if you’re doing that already, see other tips). try also experimenting with getting up a different times – i’m a lot more productive waking up at 8 than at 7 even with the same amount of sleep.

    I suggest looking into some productivity techniques such as Pomodoro. Pomodoro doesn’t work all that well for me personally but it has a lot of advantages – you only have to stay focused for short bursts.

    If you are working from home during the pandemic, it may be just that working from home isn’t for you. I feel this way working at home but not at all in the office.

    One thing that keeps me away from my phone is putting it in another room (if I’m at home), or in my purse if I’m at the office. out of sight out of mind works well for me. I have a basic smart watch so i don’t miss important messages but i am not tempted to scroll instagram mindlessly.

    If you can, try a sit-stand desk. if i feel myself losing focus, i stand up, and vice versa.

    Make sure your work is interesting and meaningful to you. easier said than done but i saw some other good tips on here.

    1. Nom*

      My comment is assuming you have enough work to fill your day, based on your letter. others have commented that you may not have enough work to do, if so, that would definitely explain your lack of focus :)

  113. Nanani*

    Honestly, it sounds like you don’t have enough to do.
    Can you either ask for more volume, or create tasks for yourself?
    For the latter make sure it doesn’t affect other people, like don’t take it upon yourself to colour-coordinate files that were alphabetized, or anything like that. I mean a self-directed project like “learn to do more stuff in X software.”
    Engaging your brain should help you stay engaged overall!

    Another aspect is to pay attention to your body’s rhythms. Are you consistently tired at a specific point in the day, like after lunch? Don’t count on being able to focus during those low-energy periods.

  114. Betteauroan*

    You’ve got to get it together and quickly. You are only doing 3-4 hours of work and you’re getting paid for an 8 hour day? Your bosses may not have said anything yet, but surely, they must notice you aren’t being very productive. You say you like the work, so sit down and do it. Get up early so you have time to drink coffee, listen to motivational youtube or podcasts, go to the gym, something to get you physically stimulated so you are raring to go when you get there. See if there is someone there who can be your mentor, someone who can provide guidance on time management and task organization. Make a list of things you need to do at the end of the day so you can dive right in when you get to work in the morning. How is the workload? It sounds like you may need some training as you are rutterless and don’t seem to know what you’re supposed to be doing with yourself. Ask your boss for guidance. You are new. They don’t expect you to know everything and I’m sure they want you to ask questions and be confident in your role. Don’t stay stuck. Or you won’t have this job for long.

    1. Firecat*

      They may or may not notice. It depends on the office workload. As a lot of people have pointed out the average office worker puts in 4 hours of productive work. The rest may be spent on meetings, bathroom breaks water coooler chats, browsing industry forums, aam etc.

    2. berto*

      I have never, ever seen anyone fired for not working enough hours. I have seen people fired for all sorts of other reasons but never once. In fact, the majority of folks I have worked with in my career would probably be considered underperforming in a truly high-performing workplace. US work culture is not very results-driven outside of sales and a few other roles, it mostly is focused on the social element of work instead.

    3. Empress Matilda*

      I agree with everything from “Get up early” to “Don’t stay stuck.” But like berto, I think it’s highly unlikely that OP will lose their job for not being productive enough. Especially as an intern!

      If there were a specific expectation to do X things in Y amount of time, I’m sure OP would have mentioned that. But since they didn’t, I think we can assume that “productivity” isn’t a key success measure for this particular job. Which means they’re not likely to be fired for it. OP is obviously struggling, and I agree the first course of action is to ask their manager for help. But framing it as “do this or you’ll get fired” is overstating things by quite a lot.

    4. Nanani*

      “Get up early” can badly backfire if OP isn’t a morning person. Being an early riser or not is NOT something that should be judged (as long as you’re not sleeping in past your work start time or something egregious like that). Morning people aren’t more virtuous than the rest of us – Not to put words in other commenter’s mouths, its just a trap a lot of people can fall into.

      If you’re getting up early to do ~stuff~ then being tired at work, it may be worth adjusting your schedule so you can sleep a little later in the morning, like doing your next-day prep, such as, picking out clothes, packing lunch, making sure all your stuff is in your back and ready to go, before bed.
      If your morning workout leaves you tired in the afternoon, switch to working out after work.

      None of these things have to be permanent! Try for a while, see what impact it has on your overall well-being, try something else.

  115. SJ*

    This was a huge problem for me (academic hyper-achiever who then flailed terribly at office work because i just could not focus when I wasn’t skipping from assignment to assignment like in school), and in my particular case absolutely nothing worked except eventually being diagnosed (in my 30s) with ADHD and starting meds.

    In my personal experience with a severe version of this issue (straight A’s at extremely competitive schools and then burning out of office jobs every 6 months for several years), that’s what it took.

    The other tips help now (pomodoro as someone mentioned above, checklists, etcetcetc) but pre-meds, for me, this was a problem intractable by willpower/planning/non-meds tools alone.

    Another issue that I have come across lately is underchallenged burnout (don’t recall if that’s the exact phrase) — basically you can get burned out from overwork/stress but you can also get burned out from being constantly underchallenged, basically needing to force yourself to not do things for large stretches of the day because there isn’t work to do (say you got it all done because you’re just fast at it / expectations are low / it’s a slow period in the job / whatever) but you can’t just… leave… because you’re at work…

    So just validating too that it can be really, really exhausting to function in that kind of environment. It sounds weird to say, like ‘oh I’m so exhausted from… not doing anything…’ ?? but it’s for real a thing. It takes a lot of energy to go against your own instincts to do things, when there’s nothing to do and you can’t leave.

    I don’t know if any of this will be helpful to the OP or any other comment readers but there you go.

    1. Ozzie*

      Underchallenge burnout is a phrase I’ve never heard before and will be looking into – thank you! My job is either “everything is on fire and needs to be done in the next 10 minutes and also 6 people are asking you unrelated questions” or “well there’s probably a spreadsheet that needs updating” and has been this for the past, ehhh… 3 years? I suffer with the oscillation, but especially when it’s slow I just check out entirely. Will be looking into this for sure.

    2. LC*

      I love this comment, and I love how this question has brought out so many of us with ADHD. I very much see myself in what you’re saying and there are some good reminders in there for me.

      It can be so validating to see how much it resonates with other people with ADHD and I absolutely love hearing from them about their perspectives, their experiences, what’s worked for them, what hasn’t. Hopefully this all is useful to OP, but it’s definitely useful to me.

    3. allathian*

      Underchallenge burnout, a.k.a. boreout is a real issue. It’s very hard to focus on anything when you’re bored.

  116. Canonical23*

    I’ve talked to my friends extensively about this before – we’re all in our mid to late 20s and most of us have made that transition from college to 8-5 work. Here’s some tips/things to keep in mind:

    1) Work is *so* much different time-wise than college. You probably have college days scheduled that are longer than 8 hours – I remember plenty of times having a 9 AM class, and also a 5 PM practice for the academic team I was on. I was probably on campus from 8AM to 10PM. But the difference is that it’s all in chunks. Classes are rarely longer than 2 hours, you get breaks, you get to walk to different rooms, you run into friends to talk to, you’re in clubs and teams and groups. If you suffer from focus issues, this sort of schedule can be really engaging. Even if focusing isn’t hard for you, it’s still a huge transition to go from long days with tons of breaks and moving around to a straight 8 hour shift where most of it is expected for you to stay at your desk. Stick with it, it gets easier, but it takes time. For my group of people, we probably all spent about 2-4 months getting used to the different time commitment expectations.

    2) Most office jobs are “butt in seat jobs” – you cannot be expected to work for 8 hours straight without stopping. This is another big adjustment from college because there’s a lot of pressure to make use of all the time you have – study in that 15 minutes break between classes, find a time to meet for that group project, etc. I think it’s important to adjust your mindset to be more results-based in the working world – ask yourself at the beginning of your shift what a productive day would accomplish. Then figure out how to space that productive work over 8 hours. That might mean occasionally “goofing off” by looking at the news or scrolling through old emails or even, yes, staring off into space.

    3) Build relationships. Unless you’re in a particularly stuffy office, most people spend a part of their day talking to their coworkers/employees/bosses. Stop by your boss’s office and ask if they have any work for you to take on. Get to know your coworkers and ask them if they need help on anything. Ask if you can shadow someone or cross train. Sometimes you have to take initiative, especially when your position is not front-and-center (as it’s easy for a boss to assign you some training materials and then lose track of time and not following up).

    4) Think of work that you’ve already done and see if you could improve it. Create documentation as you go along so that your replacement will have an easier time of things.

    5) Since this is an internship and you are probably expected to learn things, spend downtime doing professional development. Read the publications from your field’s professional organizations. Find training documentation for jobs you’re interested in at the firm and read through them.

    6) Finally, I don’t mean to armchair diagnose by any means, but a lot of your experience sounds like mine before I went to a psychiatrist and was diagnosed with depression and inattentive ADHD – particularly the tiredness and the willingness to do the job while not always being able to muster up the energy to do so. If after trying a few different approaches to the issue, you still have these problems, there’s nothing wrong with finding a therapist or counselor to talk to them and see if it’s something you should investigate further.

  117. CatPerson*

    To me it almost sounds like you don’t have enough to do in your job. I have worked side-by-side with full-time employees even though I was certain that they didn’t have a full-time job! You didn’t say what your work consists of, so it’s hard for me to judge if this might be the case.

  118. Cat Lady in the Mountains*

    First, I think it’s worth acknowledging that we’re all trying to work in the middle of a global pandemic that is escalating again. It’s legitimately hard to focus when we’re all worried about family/friends/our own health.

    But also – work blocks! Look at your major buckets of work for the week and schedule blocks of 45-60 minutes each on your calendar to get them done. Treat them as “meetings with yourself.” Put your phone away and close all internet tabs (or even disconnect from WiFi) for the work block. It can help to alert your manager when you start doing this, in case you need to be more reachable for interruptions.

    Then during the “in between” time — you’ll have a backlog of other things to catch up on (responding to emails, printing a document, stopping by a coworker’s desk for a quick question etc.). For me, those small tasks feel more urgent when there are 20 of them that I have to knock out before my next work block, rather when there are two that I can do “anytime today.”

    If you have meetings, and it’s culturally legit in your workplace, try doing them without a screen in front of you. So if it’s virtual, call in from your phone and go to a room without a computer. If it’s in-person, don’t bring your phone or computer. Take notes on a physical notepad. This has helped me re-train my brain to not be constantly distracted.

  119. Happenstance*

    1. Your body will adapt to the 8-hour schedule but it may take a few months. But feeling exhausted at first is totally normal!

    2. Spending a significant part of your workday puttering around, getting coffee, chatting with people, looking up recipes, etc., is not that unusual. I’m not saying you should just relax and goof off all day, but in my experience, most people with desk jobs are not actually working 8 hours a day.

  120. Kylie*

    I attended a training seminar last year that taught that people in general are more analytical and capable of intense focus early in the day, and those capabilities decline in the afternoon. It recommended completing all work that requires focused thought and analysis early in the day, and saving routine/administrative tasks for the afternoon when you’re less focused. I’ve found this to be true for me.

    Sometimes I’m hard on myself for spending time on mundane tasks when I just can’t find the motivation to take on more challenging tasks. But I just remind myself that work is work and it all has to get done at some point. As long as I’m not missing deadlines, it’s OK to work at my own pace.

  121. Really Just a Cat*

    LW, are you the kind of person that is highly efficient when you do sit down to get work done? If yes, then a long-term strategy might be to look for jobs/offices that are more productivity-based, rather than work-hours based. Aligning your job to your work ethic might be easier than the reverse, which is what you are looking for advice for.

    I say this as someone who like you, finds it very challenging to work 8 hour days on a regular basis. I just don’t have it in me. I can go 12-14 for crunch times, when deadlines are near, but there are days when I just don’t have that much work that needs to get done, and work very little. The best thing I can advise you if you find yourself in a job where that’s okay (as I have), is to let go of the feeling of shame over it. It’s incredibly freeing.

      1. Really Just a Cat*

        Academia. I thought about going to law school, but knew a profession where you have to bill by the hour was not a good choice for me. So I got a PhD, and learned in grad school how to be a highly efficient worker, and carried that over to being a professor, a position that gives me lots of flexibility to choose when and how I work. I have days where I’m in the zone and work nonstop for 10 or 12 hours, and days when I do little more than reply to emails. As long as the work gets done, and done well, it doesn’t really matter how I spend my time.

  122. Bookworm*

    Lots of sympathy for you, OP. Shifting to a FT job can be overwhelming. I’d say without other issues (medical, etc.) I’d suggest you check in with your supervisor for feedback anyway. That can give you guidance. If they’re fine with your performance, you may just need time to adjust to the job, the schedule, working FT, etc.

    That said, the other comments are on target. You’re likely not “working” for 8 hours straight. There are always other things that get in the way: the machine is jammed, you need to talk to someone for help, some menial task *does* need to be done, you have to clean, etc. I’ve found that most jobs that don’t give you any kind of “breather” and really does have you working (with a lunch break) all that time is unhealthy/needs more help/something else is wrong, etc.

    You may just need more time to adjust. And that’s ok. Good luck!

  123. Robin Ellacott*

    It depends on the job; it sounds like OP has to rely on themself to initiate tasks to some degree. If your job involves something like answering the phone or serving customers, you are more likely to stay busy because tasks come to you in real time.

    I stay on track best when I tell people “I’ll get the decision to you on Wednesday” or tell everyone that I do specific regular tasks on specific days.

    Some people have trouble starting something but will plug away industriously once they start it, some people have trouble staying focused once they start, etc. My issue is starting, which is why the above works for me. It may help OP to figure out where their block is and try to create some kind of external push at that point, like a friend who you’ve asked to check in with a buddy system, or electronic reminders, or a schedule others can see, or whatever works best. I’m afraid the solutions will mostly be specific to the person and depend on their own habits.

    But OP, you can figure this out! Track yourself for a while to see when and how you’re going sideways, then hopefully some possible solutions will appear.

  124. Teapot Wrangler*

    I’d echo everyone suggesting the Pomodoro technique but would also suggest reading Getting Things Done and keeping your phone in a drawer or bag most of the time so you’re not tempted to look at it!

    I think a possible source of your worry is that there’s work and work. What I mean is that I have a tendency to not count meetings or filing emails or CPD as “proper work” but it is still work in the sense that it is work-appropriate and work would be happy to pay me for it.
    Try to think about when you have the most concentration and do your proper work then and save setting up an email folder system, reading industry news, tidying your desk, updating your Waiting For list etc. for when you’re not feeling so energetic.

    Good luck!

  125. Nonny Moose*

    OP, I’m not too much older than you and I’ve held all kinds of office jobs, including one that had me so busy/stressed that my hair was falling out. Even in the worst case I found myself tapping out around 4 hours when it came to individual work (other time may be taken up by meetings, travel, etc.)

    If you think you are not doing enough try asking yourself these questions:
    1. Are all of my daily tasks complete?
    2. Have I spoken to my manager about additional (feasible) things I can take on?

    If your projects are on track and you are showing that you are engaged, you’re most likely okay. Many many many people are exaggerating how much they are actively working anyway.

  126. mdv*

    I’ve just returned to the office after working from home throughout the pandemic, and although it is *exactly the same* as it was for the 21 years I worked here before the pandemic, I AM EXHAUSTED. You have to get acclimated to it, just like anything!

    Also, echoing what a lot of people stated above — no one actually gets 8 hours of straight work done in an 8-hour work day! I have periods of time where I absolutely have to work all the hours straight through for weeks on end to get certain things done on a tight deadline, but that is not at all sustainable long-term.

  127. Linda Evangelista*

    As an ADHD person (and keeping in mind that this is different per individual), I actually found myself way more unfocused and prone to understimulation/boredom when I was at a job where I had little to do. The few tasks I had to do felt like pulling teeth to complete. I’m now in a job where I’m much busier on the regular, and it totally works for me (and helps that there’s enough variance in my tasks that I don’t get bored with any one thing). I also have to log hours for my work (consulting) – I do this on a paper tracker sheet so I can plan better, and it helps keep me on task.

    It could very well be that you’re starting an internship and don’t have a whole lot to do yet! But it’s also tough to adjust to the daily grind after being in school.

    Anyway, no one gets 8 hours of work done per day, every day (or most days, or any days). There’s ultimately going to be some downtime in an office job. And try not to feel guilty about being distracted, its human. :)

  128. Lotus*

    I’m going to be that commenter:

    I’m not armchair diagnosing but if you think it’s a serious problem, I would try to rule out ADHD via psychiatric evaluation (or some other psychiatric issue). I just have to mention this because I have the same exact problem with working consistently throughout an 8-hour day and I recently got diagnosed with inattentive ADHD.

    That being said, there are some workarounds. If your job is project based, just focus on doing them well and your performance should be fine.

    To do lists are everything. Keep track of all tasks that need doing as well as their deadlines. This will ensure you will get them done even if you aren’t consistently productive.

    Stay away from jobs that are focused on maximizing output (like sales), because those jobs will absolutely judge you for not being maximum productive every second of every day. I also prefer not to work in for-profit jobs for this reason, and will be sticking to public sector or nonprofit work for as long as I can help it.

  129. Knope Knope Knope*

    First off, take the language of shame out of this. That will only cause you to spiral and there is nothing shameful about this. An internship is not the same thing as an entry level job, it’s a learning experience. You’re learning to adjust to a new phase of life as much as anything else, so you’re really doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing. You may also be learning that this exact field or type of environment may not be right for you. I personally did 4 internships before finding a company size and specialty of my field where I was happiest. Then I actually made my way through two different specialties in my career before finding the nice where I really thrive. I’ve been in this specialty for over 10 years and still may switch as the industry evolves. Don’t look at this all as a negative reflection of you, but as information that will help you find the best work environment for your interests.

    That said, here is some concrete advice that helped get the most out of my internships.
    -Get feedback. If you’re not having regular check ins with your supervisor, ask for them.
    – Meet your core responsibilities without reproach, then treat the company as your oyster. Make sure you are meeting expectations and ask for feedback on what you could do different/better. Use your spare time (it’s very common for interns to have spare time). to research the company. Look at projects, clients, programs that are going on that interest you. Then ask about them at your catch ups.
    -pitch your own work. Managing an intern is actually a lot of work, so supervisors will often ask for help they need but can let the idea of robust intern experience fall to the bottom of their priorities. If you identify your areas of improvement as well as areas of the company that interest you, pitch your own work to your supervisor. You’ll be doing them a favor, showing initiative, and improving the likelihood of a more fulfilling work experience.

  130. The Dogman*

    From my time in office work (which was a while back admittedly) 3/4 hours of productive work in an 8 hour shift is pretty good for a lot of office work.

    Most of my coworkers only really worked for 40-50% of their time in the office as I remember it.

    OP just check in with your supervisor or manager and ask if your productivity AND quality is up to standard, if it is don’t worry about it, if it isn’t ask for guidance.

    And relax a bit too, you are not obliged to worry about work outside of the office hours, you can if you like but I don’t recommend it!

    Good luck, take it easy!

  131. Missy*

    As intern you may not be doing a lot of WORK, but more about learning. (In fact, one of the rules for interns in the private sector is that they can’t be a replacement for hiring a worker). You may have tasks to accomplish and deliverables but it shouldn’t be exactly like what it would be if you were an employee. Some of the things the internship is teaching you is soft skills, like arriving on time, working around others, and learning to accomplish tasks on your own.

    Make a list of what tasks you are supposed to do any any deliverables due and when. As long as you are getting those things done then you are okay. Also, recognize that in some jobs and roles you are being paid to be there in case something happens. You are the extra pair of hands that jumps where things are needed, but that means that sometimes you aren’t doing anything in particular. Or you might be paid for your expertise. Probably not as an intern, but there are jobs where people really just sort of sit around all day on call just in case. I’m an attorney and there are large parts of the year where I’m basically being paid to be completely available in case someone has a legal question on my specific area. At the end of the day maybe I literally didn’t do anything but read a book. And for a long time I felt like I was not accomplishing enough or that I was somehow a fraud, but therapy helped me realize that the knowledge I have, and my keeping up on the expertise in the area, is something worth being paid for so that when they need it I’m here.

    1. Ozzie*

      This is a huge one – being paid to be available is something that isn’t talked about too much. (because it seems like many places operate under the old food service adage ABC – Always Be Cleaning – except with menial tasks that are mostly just busy work.) Agreed that as an intern, this likely doesn’t apply, but it is a thing in the larger workforce.

  132. Ozzie*

    I’m also on team “definitely can’t do 8 hours of work”. I’ll quickly parrot above that figuring out your most productive times and scheduling your more important/concentration-required tasks for those times is important. And that, honestly, no one is getting 8 hours of work done in an 8 hour day. We’re humans, not machines.

    Something else that helps me focus, personally, is having something on in the background. You obviously have to make sure this is ok in your office environment, but I find that music or a podcast really helps me focus. (This can also distract people – either yourself or those around if you can’t wear headphones – so ymmv) Maybe for you it would be white noise instead, or needing to have actual quiet and you have noise around you – but finding a way to stop my brain from totally tuning out helps me focus more, especially on repetitive tasks.

    1. Divergent*

      Podcasts through headphones both help me focus, and have the added benefit that people think I’m on a call and don’t disturb me while they’re on! I need to be sure to have periods where they’re off and I engage, but it’s sure nice not to be interrupted during some specific tasks and then have to figure out where I dropped the thread to answer someone.

  133. Lotus*

    I want to add another point!

    Make sure you’re measuring your productivity by your company/organization’s performance standards for your job – not the number of hours you work. If you are unsure what these performance metrics are, ask your manager. As long as you are meeting your manager’s expectations, they are unlikely to be too concerned with how many hours your are working. Again, this somewhat depends on the nature of the job. Sales jobs metrics are heavily dependent on output, but not all jobs are.

  134. ADHSquirrelWhat*

    Take a good look at your sleep schedule, too! Are you getting enough sleep? Is your schedule consistant across the weekend? You can’t stay up ’til one on the weekend and then get to sleep at 10 Sunday night if you’re like most people ….. not saying you can’t go out, but take a good look at your sleep cycle if you’re tired all the time!

    Also your diet – are you eating enough protein, etc. Personally I eat horribly when I’m fending for myself, because I just can’t be bothered – but your food is what powers you, and if you’re not getting what you need, you’re going to be trying to run a computer from the power of a hamster wheel. Thinking takes more energy than you’d think! And not having food service makes the effort of figuring out food take /more energy/, which adds to the problem.

    Good luck!

  135. Jammalama*

    This will probably get lost in the comments but – maybe it’s possible our letter writer is learning a valuable lesson? Perhaps office work is not for them. I worked for many years in a fast paced, on your feet, making snap decisions job and when I moved into an office job in the same industry I thought, this will be great! A set M-F 9-5 schedule, no working holidays, sitting at a desk, actually wearing nice clothes to work. And it turns out… getting work done at my new jobs feels like a slog where as at my old job the day would fly by. I have made it work and am still learning how to do this (and reading comments about how much actual work you do in an 8 hour work day is very enlightening!) but I think ultimately I am someone who does better in the faster paced environment TBH.
    Sounds like our letter writer is young and could maybe pivot careers. I have always kind of kicked myself for not doing something more active (like nursing for example) as I’m too old to change careers at this point. But I think it’s worth thinking about.

    1. MyDevon*

      I made a similar comment. Office work is not for everyone. Or maybe we can handle different environments at different points in our careers. Im getting to a point that with aging and a preexisting medical condition I may have to change careers.

    2. Flower necklace*

      I agree. I’m a teacher and can’t imagine myself in an office job. Teaching has its downsides, but it’s never boring. That’s one of the reasons why I decided to become a teacher in the first place.

  136. Divergent*

    I used to do manual labour, paid hourly, so the switch to an office job with salary was pretty difficult for me. Some things require thinking about when I’m not doing anything physically, and some things require letting sit in the back of my mind while I do other things. Often answers will come to me in the evening while I’m doing completely non-work-related stuff and am not “clocked in”.

    To facilitate those types of tasks, I keep a running list of “mindless physical jobs” such as the data entry that needs doing quarterly, sorting and filing my papers, watering my office plants. I can do those when I just cannot think. When I give my attention permission to do its own thing then often I’ll suddenly figure out the right phrasing for the beginning of that sensitive email or the right structure for that spreadsheet. Often, too, the office admin will have a store of this kind of job and they frequently welcome help.

    So my best advice is, have a list of things to do that just don’t require focus or thinking, where doing those things will give your mind a break and you can do work without thinking about it. Can you listen to podcasts while entering data or filing and stay accurate (some people can! some cannot!)? Those are my treat days, the reward for getting a lot done. They’re also the antidote for the burnout I feel after big intellectual pushes.

  137. Tracey*

    Make yourself a list of tasks you want to accomplish each day and then document any questions or concerns getting those accomplished
    Setup times with peers/full time employees – check if this is okay to do – on what they’re working on and get to know the department and business you’re interning for
    Discuss work with the person coordinating your work and any output they’re expecting and timelines to get there

    Lastly as others have said going from school to a job can be a big leap and change and it’s understandable. Try to do work focused work but if you’re hours are not filled with work and you’re waiting on an assignment from the internship, I often did school tasks to fill my day as I still then felt productive.

  138. Oli*

    You sound like me before my ADHD diagnosis. Its under diagnosed in women and in people with inattentive type. I wish I had got checked out before a decade in the workforce

  139. Liz*

    I’ve been in the workforce going on 35 years, and I STILL struggle to stay focused, esp. the last year, working from home, etc. I’m pretty sure I have other things going on that affect my ability to focus and concentrate, but what I do, esp. when I’m feeling especially antsy, is set a 15-20 minute timer. And really try and focus on just doing work during that time. not checking my phone, getting up to flit about, etc.

    I make lists too; it helps me when i can cross stuff off and SEE that I’ve actually accomplished things.

    I also do well with more structure. I have a number of weekly tasks, and while it doesn’t matter WHAT day they are done, for the most part, they do need to be done every week. So I choose a day, and time, and assign that task to that time.

    I also, as others have said, don’t stress about getting it all done every day. Some days I am much more productive than others, others I can barely manage the bare minimum that needs to be done. I go with the flow, as I know I will get it all done. The hardest things for me are tasks that have no set due date but “soon” or ‘no rush” I either discuss a definitive date with my boss, or assign one myself. Because if there isn’t one, esp. if its something I don’t enjoy doing, I will procrastinate until the cows come home!

  140. Just Doing My Best*

    My situation is a bit different, but I think it accurately captures the reality of the working experience.

    My boss requires that our team be available from 8:30am-5pm for work that comes in throughout the day. However, she doesn’t expect 40 hours of work from everybody. She expects roughly 22-25 hours of billable work from everyone, which is about 4-6 hours of work a day.

    This allows for us to work in the times that are most flexible to us (for me, late mornings to early evenings) but still get things done and bill enough to stay open.

    (Industry is marketing if that’s relevant.)

    1. J.B.*

      That surprises me with billable hours. My first job we had to be billable 40 hours a week, with much of it really boring. I was quite happy to leave that stress behind.

      1. Just Doing My Best*

        The two women I work for are almost definitely contenders for being ‘Best Boss of the Year’, because they prioritize a healthy work life balance AND healthy work expectations. For them, it’s not realistic to expect us to sit at our desks for 8 hours a day and pump out 8 hours of billable client work. Thankfully, they did the math for us and figured that 22-25 is where everyone needs to be per week for the business to succeed.

        As an employee, I feel better knowing what the range is I need to hit, because it’s not easy to be creative knowing there’s a clock running. I feel more successful at the end of every week, because my boss is realistic and clear about her expectations, since I feel like I’m turning in 25 hours of quality work vs 40 hours of trying to fill up a time card.

        Clearly communicated, realistic expectations for the win!

  141. pretzelgirl*

    Not sure if it’s been mentioned but what about a standing desk? Sometimes this helps me.

    Also get outside and go for a short walk every few hours. Even in the winter (if there’s a place where you can walk without trekking through snow). Fresh air and sun helps me immensely.

    And yes, very few jobs work an entire 8 hours straight through without stopping. So don’t feel bad at all. This can kind of trip up some new grads who are painted a picture of constantly grinding all day.

  142. Delta Delta*

    I feel effective if I schedule something (meeting or a court hearing or something) and then see what I can get done up until the time of that event. I like to make a to-do list because I love crossing things out. Then I see what I can do on my list before my event. Another thing I used to do in college was the water bottle trick. when I was studying I’d fill up my water bottle – a big 32 oz Nalgene. I’d drink the contents of the bottle, and when the water was gone I would get up and take a stretch break and refill the bottle. And, of course, I”d need to hit the loo, so there’d be a natural break in my day. This might be a trick to try with work.

  143. pretzelgirl*

    I also want to add (if this is allowed at your organization) go ask your administrative assistants if they need any help. Maybe filing, data entry, watching the front desk for a few hours, organizing some closets/cabinets, running mail or errands. I am not sure they type of internship you have but I think EVERYONE (yes even lawyers, IT people, niche positions) should do some time in an internship inan administrative role. Not only will this teach you about the how the business operates it will give you some respect for those that do this role. So many people don’t really understand what AAs do (or don’t do for that matter!). Not only will you learn alot but your AAs will stinking love you and move mountains for you if needed.

    1. pretzelgirl*

      I should clarify that if you need a break from your current work, and feel like doing something else would help your focus. Or if you are running out of things to do. But I would def make sure its allowed.

  144. Atalanta0jess*

    It’s hard!! Things that help me are:
    1) Stimulation – standing, moving, listening to sounds (I can’t do music, but I use a lot), snacking
    2) Pomodoros
    3) Blocking out my time so I know what to work on. I lose the most time when I’m between tasks and procrastinating figuring out what’s next (uh, like right now.) Alternately, making a to-do list with numbers telling me what to do first.
    4) Building in accountability – e.g. meetings with people that are pre-scheduled before my thing is done, so I have to do the thing before I see them.
    5) taking REAL breaks, not “look at something different on the screen” breaks.
    6) The book “how to break up with your phone”
    7) Putting my phone away, either far from me, or in a drawer

  145. Rachel*

    I think it just takes practice, let me give you some detail. I worked as a waitress for 15+ years after high school and mid way through decided to go back to college and get my degree (PT school / FT work during this time). Waitressing is hours of non-stop running and then an hour-ish clean up/finish up at a much slower pace. I got so used to that type of schedule even during double shifts where you do it twice in 1 day, that when I finally got my first ‘real’ job in accounting, it was so hard to keep focused for the whole day straight all day. It took me a year to change myself to a medium pace all day long (hopefully that makes sense). My advice is TIME / experience will help.

  146. Skeeder Jones*

    I can be easily distracted during the work day too. Something that helps (both for work tasks and life tasks like cleaning) is to break something down into small 5 minute tasks. I am a lot more eager to take on a 5 minute task than a 30 minute task. I make a list with all of these smaller tasks and usually after finishing one (and getting to cross it off, my favorite part), I am motivated to accomplish more.

    I also start each day asking myself the following questions:
    What do I absolutely need to get done today?
    What do I feel confident I can accomplish today?

    Then I just take those items, break them down into clear tasks/deliverables that are quick. It is far easier to take on things like “review all slides and update product name” and “remove irrelevant/out of date info from slides” than face a task of “complete PowerPoint update for product X”. Accomplishing even a few things is a strong motivator for me to keep grinding away at my list.

    Hope this helps!

  147. Gnome*

    You’ll notice that AAM gets hundreds of comments…. During the work day. We are all taking a break for a few minutes to read and comment… And there are all the folks who just read.

  148. Susana*

    LW, are you being given enough to do? That might be part of it. When you’re in a job pst-graduation, there’s a sting likelihood that a) you’ll be given more to do, and b) you’ll have general goals and a mission that will result in you coming up with things to do.
    But sometimes college-era jobs just don’t require that much work – at least not constantly. And look, it’s pretty human to get tired and less motivated when you don’t have something to do. I found this especially true when I was freelancing: activity begets activity, and malaise begets malaise.
    Can you ask for a project – or maybe identify some project or task yourself you can do?

  149. This is what breaks are for*

    Honestly, this is what breaks are for. Make sure to take a 15 minute break. But also take a 3 minute stretch break. Stand up, stretch, get some blood flowing.

    Now, is the job you are doing very boring. Part of my job is data entry, I hate it and I need to clear my head more often whenever I’m doing data entry.

    Years ago I had a side project that I could do at my leisure, so I decided how long to work on it. What I determined, I couldn’t work on it for more than 2 hours in a day. My productivity took a nose dive if I tried to do it more than 2 hours, so I made sure to limit the time I worked on that project. You may need different tasks throughout the day.

  150. LC*

    being tempted to check my phone for what seems like hours each day

    This might sound counterintuitive, but try just … checking your phone sometimes. If it’s something that is consistently on your mind, just checking your phone for a few minutes here and there could get rid of that particular distracting thought for at least a while. I don’t do well with timers (one thing about us ADHDers, we’re all different! Pomodoro is a disaster for me) so I’ll do something like, okay I’m just going to check my notifications then get back to work or I’ll read this one article or I’ll check the weather for this weekend so I can get it out of my mind.

    I’m constantly tired all the time.

    I’ll let you know when I figure this one out, lol. My body just won’t accept that I need to wake up at 8 so I really, really should sleep before 3am. But there is one thing that’d be worth considering. You also mention getting more coffee during the day, do you have a hard stop time for consuming caffeine? I never felt that caffeine affected me too much, so even though I didn’t drink much, I drank coffee at any point in the day. Once I said “no more caffeine after 10am,” it helped.

    Also, drink more water.

    I feel really ashamed about being paid to work when I’m not actually working

    This is hard. This is a real, really insidious and pervasive thought, and even 10+ years into my professional career, I still struggle with this daily. For me, therapy has helped me break down the deeply internalized thoughts about how I’m just a bad adult and definitely deserve the shame I feel.

    A couple more general thoughts:
    – If you need more work or you need deadlines or you need more training on something or you need help prioritizing or – ask for it.
    – Look into the concept of body doubling.
    – When you’re overwhelmed, try to take a moment to figure out what exactly it is that’s overwhelming; it can be really useful to put a name to your thoughts/feelings/etc.
    – If your supervisor seems overall competent, try to take them at their word (or lack thereof) that you’re fine. See if you can schedule some time (at least once but hopefully recurring) to talk with them and ask for their perspective on where you are vs. where they think you should be.

    And this isn’t quite an answer to your question, but how I deal with this is figuring out ways to work with my ADHD rather than against it (which is … still a work in progress). Regardless of whether or not someone has ADHD though, some of the things you mention might benefit from some of the ADHD coping skills. I would super highly recommend checking out the How To ADHD channel on youtube. She is all around fantastic, but she has a ton of videos that give some really solid strategies for life that might vibe with you.

    I might be projecting, but I want you to know that you aren’t defective. This stuff is just hard. And sometimes the way someone’s brain works makes it a lot harder. Find what works for you and don’t worry if that’s not what works for others. Be kind to yourself.

    Also, drink more water.

  151. MissFinance*

    This may seem counterintuitive, but I actually on purpose distract myself with music or an audiobook if I’m doing a repetitive task (I wouldn’t recommend it for you quite yet since you’re new) to keep myself from getting bored and having the urge to check my phone or do something else. It helps me focus on the task at hand and not stare at the walls. I find if I don’t have earbuds in, I can’t focus, and my managers know I get my work done.

    Also, even though you’re only a few months along, you can ask for feedback from you manager. Check in, express some of your concerns, see if they align with any they might have. Your manager will know better than you what the expectations are for this position 3-4 months in.

  152. Michelle Smith*

    Some jobs don’t have 8 hours of work to do a day, but you’re still expected to sit at your desk and look busy. Get practicing faking it.

    1. Tuesday*

      Paradoxically, I find a job with too little to do can be more tiring than a job with a bit too much to do. I end up feeling sluggish.

    2. CR*


      Everyone is diagnosing OP with depression and ADHD and here I am thinking “This is just what working in an office is like.” The movie Office Space is a classic for a reason.

  153. New Mom*

    OP, I feel like I could have written this letter and I’ve been working 8 hour days for ten years (six in an office setting). It’s so hard, and I feel like multiple times a year I get worked up about how our society expects us to spend so much our our life working when it’s really not possible to be productive for that much time. I feel like a six hour work day would make so much more sense but it’s not super easy to find employers willing to accommodate that AND provide benefits. Sigh. I keep looking out for jobs that are in my realm that are 75%-80% with benefits but I have not found one yet.

  154. today's guest speaker*

    I’m an attorney and I second some of the comments above mentioning maximizing your productivity by doing tasks that require the most brain power during the times when you’re the most naturally focused. For me, that’s in the morning. I save the easier or more repetitive tasks for the afternoon when it’s easier for me to lose focus. Also, I’ve found that using ASMR or ambient noise/music really helps me stay on task. I use The Miracle Forest or Ambient Worlds on Youtube. While radio music with lyrics easily distracts me, more ambient background noise drowns out distractions and gives the bored part of my brain something to be entertained by so I’m not tempted to break away and look at my phone or chat with coworkers.

  155. Rory*

    I also agree with the people saying some offices require a full day of productive work. I work in legal services where our hours worked are billed to the client, so to say you’re working when you are taking a break is literally fraud. We are expected to work 9 hours a day and I do take breaks so I am usually at the office closer to 10 hours, but not all of them are work.

  156. p Smith*

    I have very rarely accomplished more than 3-4 hours of “real work” during a day, and I’ve held down many jobs at many levels. I think what we often forget is that a lot of the typical work day is made up of chit chat, snacking, wandering to get water, and being in not-very-productive meetings that all effectively give your mind a break. I think if you find yourself doing 3-4 hours of actual work each day, you’re doing great. Working for a full 7 to 8 hours is unreasonable and unsustainable.

  157. Ahdez*

    Interning is not the same as a real job that’s a good fit for you. I remember being SO bored at some of the jobs and internships I held in college. In some cases, they simply didn’t give interns enough work. In other cases, I felt no urgency – precisely because interns don’t always do great quality work, they often get stuck with boring tasks or tasks that are not time sensitive or all that necessary. A perfect recipe for boredom at work. I totally disagree with the people saying no one does 8 hours of work a day – totally false in many fields. But I do think that fewer INTERNS have 8 hours of substantive work.

    I still work most of my time in an office, but my job also includes some travel and field work. I am in a very fast paced environment, and I love it. I enjoy being busy, and I am rarely doing the same thing every day. You might not have found the right job/field fit for you yet, or in your current role, you aren’t at a level where you’re doing interesting, challenging work.

  158. Koala dreams*

    It’s difficult starting a new job, even if you already have experience from other jobs. It’s a new environment, new people, and a lot of new things to learn. The habits you brought from school doesn’t work as well at work, and you need to find new habits.

    After a while, you get used to your job. You’ve learnt how things are done in your organization and know who to ask for help when you get stuck. And then your employer sends you to a lecture or a course and you wonder how you ever could’ve been a student. How do students manage?! (Okay, I’m joking, but only a little. It’s tiring being a student.)

  159. MMB*

    Sitting in a chair staring at a computer screen can actually be very tiring for your body and eyes. As other commenters have noted, take your breaks, make a “to do ” list that varies your work squeezing smaller easier tasks, or ones that allow you to get up and move, in between bigger tasks, and if possible try some gentle stretching at your desk. Tight muscles in your back and neck can actually contribute to feelings of tiredness and lack of focus. There are tons of videos and articles on basic gentle stretches you can do while sitting at your desk or during one of your breaks without drawing a ton of attention to yourself.

  160. nelly*

    Im on The same boat! Heres what ive learned that help me:
    To do list.
    Get up and about, move your body when you feel stuck.
    Eat! And drink! Enaugh!
    Don’t get lost on social media or mindless internet!
    And biggest: it’s okay not to be productive 8hrs a day.

  161. Marzipan Shepherdess*

    This is going to sound so, so basic because it is: do your best to get enough sleep. Most of us need at least 7 hours a night – some can make do with a little less once in a while and others need 8 hours nightly to really refresh and recharge. This is true at ANY age – we’re ALL less well able to focus and concentrate when we’re sleep-deprived.

    Also, does making “To do lists” work for you? (I find them invaluable!) Several commenters have noted the importance of zeroing in on deliverables, and this is a good way to keep them in perspective. Write down the key tasks for the day (checking with your manager, if necessary, to determine what’s high priority, what must be done ASAP and what can be done when the higher-priority tasks have been completed) and check them off as you complete them. It’s amazing how satisfying it is to see all those check marks at the end of the day!

  162. Workerbee99*

    It took me several years to learn how important sleep, a healthy lunch and staying hydrated was in order to be productive throughout the day. Go to bed at the same time every night for 6 months, including weekends. Drink a glass of water every few hours. Don’t eat heavy or greasy food in the middle of the day. Those 3 things make it so I can get through the day without feeling unmotivated or tired.

  163. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    Hi OP.

    Boy, all of these responses are overwhelming too, huh? Lots of great people saying “Do this!” “Try this!” “Go see this person!” and how on earth do you put it into a workable plan?

    Here’s the thing: what you are doing right now is GREAT. You went out and found an internship to help you get a sense of what working life can be like, when you’re still in college! Do you know how far ahead of the game you are just by doing that? Go you!

    You’re also thinking critically about the job itself, wondering why it’s not meeting your expectations, why you even have those expectations, and most importantly, what you can do about it. That sort of attention, reflection, and active choice to improve is HUGE. Those attributes will serve you very well throughout your whole career.

    The suggestions are all great, but some will work, and some won’t. That’s just the difference between individuals, and doesn’t represent failure on your part if some suggestions don’t work for you. The good part is that there are several you can try. By the time you graduate and start a “real” job, you likely will have found something that works — and even if you don’t, you’ll still an informed idea of what you’re going into.

    You have a problem in front of you, and you are committed to fixing it, in part by reaching out to people who have more experience. Your plan is to use that info to improve, and not make the same mistakes. That situation alone means that you are going to be EFFING AWESOME in your future career.

  164. Girasol*

    It’s a major management skill to find exactly the right mix of valuable work for a group of people of varied skill levels and areas of expertise such that each one works no less than 8 hours a day so they’re steadily productive, but no one is working longer than that so that they feel overworked and used, and as the workload rises and falls the business is not churning staff hiring and firing. Add a temporary intern to the mix adds even more challenge. If the intern does what is asked promptly, offers to help when seeing a suitable opportunity to be of use, and doesn’t bug the manager by asking several times a day for something to do when things go slack, that should be fine.

  165. Sam*

    I feel this!!

    I studied for crazy long hours in law school, and just assumed a 9-5 would be easier. But I really benefited, as a student, from being able to set my own schedule – even though I was working 50+ hours a week, I could take as many breaks as I wanted and sleep in if I wanted. An office job was a really tough transition.

    The biggest help for me is something I still struggle with: putting my phone away, especially during my breaks! I’ve discovered that having my phone nearby makes me slightly less productive if I use it when I’m supposed to be working, and hugely less productive if I spend my breaks reading bad news on Twitter instead of refreshing myself. I like to read a light book, or go for a short walk, or chat with a beloved colleague.

  166. Urbanchic*

    OP – it is 1000% normal to need to time to adjust to an 8 hour work day. My first year out of undergrad was really tough – but more than 15 years later I have way better staying power :). My top tips – diet, water intake, and activity matters. You are essentially fueling your brain to stay active in a very mundane setting. Try to eat healthy snacks, and drink a ton of water. if you can take a 30 minute walk or do a quick bike ride mid-day – or frankly at any point in the day – it will help so much with mental acuity. Since I work from home now, I do a 20min bike ride mid-day and I am 1000% sharper for afternoon meetings. Make a list at the start of each week about what you want to accomplish, and break that down into daily tasks. Be super clear at the start of the day what you want to accomplish – I even estimate the time it will take me to do a task (15min, 30min, 60min+, etc.) (understanding there may need to be interruptions). Then strive for 50 minutes of focused work, then take a break. If that feels like too much, do 30min, then a 10min break. Stand up, walk around. If you have to be on email 100% of the time, its understandable, but try to limit how often you are checking your email (maybe do it 1x an hour). If you feel like there’s not enough work to do, ask what you can be doing to help. If there’s no feedback on that, spend your time reading anything about the firm you can get your hands on. Bios of colleagues, org charts, files available on the shared drive, annual reports, shareholders/partner letters, etc. this will get bettter! enjoy the summer!

    1. Urbanchic*

      Oh – and I did start drinking black coffee when I started working. This helped me jump start my day. Coffee helps me in the morning, and a short work out helps me focus in the afternoon. :)

  167. atgo*

    Focus is something that you build, as other commenters have said. Tons of good advice here.

    Celebrate the wins when you accomplish something, and give yourself some space to not be 100% productive all the time. Nobody is, honestly. It may look that way, but everybody’s just doing their best all the time and we’re not robots.

    We live in a world that involves a lot of multitasking and changing attention, and the brain is conditioned for that. Training it for attention is an ongoing thing, and an uphill journey these days. I find it helpful to limit my multitasking, doom scrolling, and TV in favor of deeper engagement with activities (in my case, playing with my dog, cooking, making art). I also meditate regularly and practice holding my attention in that way, which has really helped me notice when I need a break vs. when it’s just a habit of changing focus.

    Be easy with yourself – you’re doing great.

  168. RagingADHD*

    Nobody can sit and focus productively on the same thing for 8 hours straight. Even ND folks like me who slip into prolonged hyperfocus aren’t going to be getting good work done that whole time. The brain and body just aren’t built for that.

    You need to switch things up and move around sometimes to be refreshed. You just need to experiment and find the best balance that works for your job and your brain.

    1) Play around with task batching and time blocking. Most jobs have different types of tasks. Try grouping them together in different ways to see which way makes you more productive and keeps your focus longer.

    For example, if you have several different files that all need the same multistep process done to them, you could either process one file at a time from beginning to end, or you could take a group of files and do step 1 on all of them, then step 2 on all of them, etc.

    There are a lot of different philosophies about which approach is “best,” but in practice it depends on the nature of the work and your own temperament / thought processes.

    2) Observe your energy & concentration levels to see how they cycle & change throughout the day. Try to match your highest-concentration tasks to the times when you have the most focus, and do more rote work when you don’t.

    3) Harness the power of those breaks by planning them deliberately after a certain amount of focused work (pomodoro technique).

    4) Gamify your productivity by tracking your work time and/or work output, and give yourself little prizes or rewards for meeting goals. Ramp up your goals gradually.

  169. ERJ*

    Pomodoros. Basically, set a timer for 25 minutes and focus on the task at hand for that long. Then take a 5 minute break. During that break, you walk around, get some water, go to the bathroom. Completely disengage from the task. Then you come back for another 25 minutes. Mileage may vary and there are plenty of people out there who go with a 20/10 method (20 minutes of work, ten minute break). You also might find that you can focus on certain kinds of tasks longer than others. But having that structure can help a lot. Ultimately, it just takes practice. But keep in mind that breaks can be productive as well. Sometimes you need to step away to wrap your head around the problem you’re dealing with.

  170. Blue Eagle*

    Sorry that I don’t have ideas for this LW but my advice for others who are in high school or college is to work a full-time job during summers and/or work part-time (if you can) during college. My experience with staff has been that entry-level graduates who do not have the background skills of either working 8 hour shift during the summers of high school and college or balancing college studies with a part-time job is that they have the same issues as this LW. And the job doesn’t need to be some fancy office job – working at a restaurant or fast-food place or in a grocery store stocking shelves, etc, etc would also be good experience.
    Of course not to mean that all college graduates without prior fulltime background have this issue but almost without exception I’ve found that those who had trouble focusing for the 8 hour day did not work during summers of high school or college.

  171. Killer Queen*

    To validate your feelings, this is so difficult! I have been working full time for just over 3 years now and I still feel like I am adjusting to it sometimes.

    Also just to reiterate what everyone else has said: no one really works for 8 hours in an 8 hour workday.

    People may disagree with me here, but don’t be afraid to take longer breaks if you need to. Go for a walk outside for like 5-10 mins. You can even do that a couple times per day. I have a hard time staying awake at my desk sometimes and this really helps. You don’t need a task to do to get up and walk around a bit and stretch your legs!

    Honestly as long as you are hitting your deadlines and your manager isn’t telling you that you are having productivity issues, then you are doing well! Just try to be as productive as possible when you do feel the most motivated.

    1. Killer Queen*

      Also I have an Apple Watch that encourages me to get up and move for about a minute every hour. It’s been good for me to move around every hour and not be too sedentary. Maybe setting a timer to do that every hour will help you focus as well.

  172. A Pinch of Salt*

    CAR NAPS!!!! Years ago I started a job where I spoke my 2nd language all day. I was exhausted by lunch everyday.

    Started curling up in my car for an hour to sleep in a Wendy’s parking lot. No joke…made all the difference.

    I’m anticipating more CAR napping when I have to go back to the office.

  173. MyDevon*

    I was the same way, but for me its simply working in an office environment. For the past 5 years I work in a job that is physically active and requires working outside. Definitely not everyones cup of tea, but I went from being a mediocre employee to a top performer.

    OP this may not be what you struggle with but sometimes it just requires allowing your body to adjust while also being forgiving of yourself. You will have better days than others.

  174. I'm just here for the cats*

    This really depends on you and how your company works and if you are able to set your own schedule where you don’t have to do specific tasks at specific times. But here are a few suggestions

    *Try Time Blocking
    *Find out when you are most productive (when are you the most alert and able to focus). Schedule the most complex or hard to do tasks during that time. Then do other tasks that don’t take as much focus in the other times.
    * Try setting a timer. Make it a game that you will do x amount of work in x time. When the time is up reward yourself.

    Just remember that 8 hours of work does not mean that you are diligently staring at your screen the entire time. 8 hours work does not = 8 hours of output (unless your in something like manufacturing where it does). In most jobs there are going to be times where your not productive. Where you go for a walk browse your phone, whatever. It’s just normal. As long as you are getting a reasonable amount of work done you should be ok.
    If you haven’t already, go talk to your boss. Make sure your on the same page on amount of work outputs. In your mind you might think 50 pages of work (for example) is what everyone gets done every day, but in reality most people get 20 pages done. Make sure you know what your expectations are. Ask him how you think you’re doing and if there’s anything he can suggest.
    good luck

  175. Janet*

    This might sound a bit counter intuitive, but the best way for me to stay focused — and for time to fly by — is to be really busy. The more I have to do, the less I wander around and watch the clock and feel tired or want a snack, etc. Sounds counter-intuitive, but maybe it would help to look for more you can do?

  176. My Coffee's Cold Again*

    You’re not alone in this! Working 8 hours STRAIGHT is not something humans as a species do naturally. It does have a learning curve, and how that curve works out is different for everyone.

    ADHD made it extremely difficult for me in my first 4-5 years of employment. I had trouble performing any task for longer than 2 hours at a stretch; hyper-focusing meant I’d spend all my brain cells in the space of a few hours (and to be fair, I’d do *excellent* work during that time…setting myself up for people to expect miracles from me at all times, which made me feel even worse when I not only failed to deliver but failed to do much of anything at all after a certain point in my day). I’d burn out and basically be a zombie until I went home. Sometimes I’d even start to feel sick and have to beg off early. It sucked.

    What ultimately helped was getting hired to do a job in which *waiting* was a large part of the process, during which time I could do something fun–but not disruptive–to recharge my brain. When my phone rings, I’m all over it, and the client gets 100% of my attention. Once I hang up and finish my documentation, I’m watching a movie, or doing some exercises, or playing a (pause-able) game until the phone rings again. If I have leftover energy, I use it to do e-mail, fill in my timesheets, do online training, etc. The immediacy of the phone ringing is a great prompt to kick me into work-mode and focus my attention, and the finality of hanging up gives me the space I need to tie things off and know that task is “done.” And since I’m *expected* to wait for my next call, I don’t feel bad about doing so.

    This might not be exactly the same for you, but the point is that not all jobs, even interesting jobs, work well with your working “style.” Everyone has one. People who are great at focusing for long periods would probably hate the start and stop and pause and rinse/repeat that works great for me. It would feel like whiplash to them and they’d suck at it. That doesn’t mean either of us are bad workers, we’re just different people who are good at different types of work.

    So the best thing you can do is try to figure out what your style actually is. What kinds of things can you spend all day doing? What makes them easier to persevere at than your current job (think: hobbies)? What jobs can you think of that follow a similar pattern (you might be surprised by the answers)? Can you tailor your college degree to work towards those types of jobs? If not, is changing your degree an option?

    Those are the questions I’d be asking myself. I went to college for an art degree; I’ve never used it. I wound up in lab automation and IT, and a few certifications have been more than adequate to net me decent employment in that field. Many people wind up having similar experiences (not using their degree, but leaning on practical and stylistic abilities to get hired into jobs they can maintain and live on).

    I know what I can and cannot do, and I know what I can do that most other people can’t. That’s the most important thing, I think.

    Don’t give up just yet on your current job; see where it goes, and learn what you can. If you find a method of focusing on it without exhausting yourself, great! If not, don’t sweat it too badly if it doesn’t work out. Most first jobs don’t, and that’s not any fault of yours. Learn and move on. It’s takes a few tries, usually.

    Good luck! I’m certain you’ll find something you both enjoy can can pace yourself at in a way that doesn’t burn you out.

  177. Catherine*

    One piece of advice I’ve followed is to get up and stretch every half hour or so, even if I’m working on something, unless I’m in the middle of a meeting or on a deadline. I’ve also had a manager in the past who would set an alarm to remind himself to stretch, and sometimes he would take a brief stroll around just to move. If your workplace is okay with it a short stroll might be best. But either way stretching when you’ve been sitting a while is definitely good for you even if you aren’t struggling to focus.

  178. Mangofan*

    Some assorted tips that have worked well for me:

    For generally boosting energy levels:
    – Make sure you’re getting enough (and restful enough) sleep
    – Exercise enough (ideally in the morning) that it makes you feel energized, but not drained
    – Try to get at least 2-5 minutes of sunlight
    – Avoid eating meals that will make you sluggish (too much fat unless you’re eating an entirely keto diet; too many simple carbs) for breakfast or lunch
    – I generally end up meditating or taking a nap in the late afternoon, because my energy dips

    For productivity:
    – Use the pomodoro technique: set a timer for 25 min, commit to doing one thing for that period, then take a 5 minute break, then repeat. After you do 2 of those, take a longer break. Log how many you do – it kind of becomes a game.

    1. Alexis Rosay*

      Agree on exercising in the morning. Once I started biking to work, I started the day off super energized, whereas before I was sluggishly checking email and counting the minutes until I could go to the local coffee shop.

  179. Justin*

    In addition to all the good suggestions above, you might also want to consider your non-work habits. I’ve been working for 20 years at a high level and I’ve found when I’m really unfocused at work (including the last few weeks) it’s because my brain is being overstimulated outside of work.
    For example, I’ll have a stressful day and decide to escape in an evening of TV shows, YouTube videos, social media, etc. If I do that too many days in a row I find myself doing all three at once with nothing keeping my attention longer than a few minutes. Going from that situation to concentrating for hours at a time at work is very difficult. Even worse, the more unfocused I am at work the more stressed and the more likely I am to continue the behavior (classic downward cycle).
    I don’t know about the OP, but I would imagine for the generation entering the workforce now, continual smartphone notifications, endless interesting content to scroll through and a huge range of entertainment choices is automatically going to make most work environments incredibly bland by comparison.
    The solution for me is to turn all of it off for a day or two and read, listen to music, take a walk, etc. and basically make myself bored. After that I find that my ability to concentrate and my enjoyment of work increases substantially.
    Best of luck!

  180. Gabby*

    Look into alternative career paths that don’t involve sitting in the office all day. Read the 4 hour workweek and 168 hours. Start thinking outside the box as to what your work future had to look like – your only option is not to sit in an office twiddling your thumbs for the rest of your life. I’m so much happier since I left the office environment. I also only really worked 3-6 hrs a day in the office and at least now I don’t have to pretend I’m working when I’m not. When I’m not getting productive work done I’m living my life not at my desk – hiking, reading, etc. It’s so freeing to not have to be chained to a desk for 8 hours a day just so you look like you’re earning your paycheck.

  181. LizM*

    It seems counter-intuitive, but breaks are important. I like the pomodoro method. If I need to do focused work, I’ll set a timer for 20-25 min, and then take a 5 min break. I’ll get up from my desk, walk around, get some water or coffee or stretch. Then every 3-4 segments, I’ll take a longer (10-15 min) break.

  182. June*

    Anyone working four hours of an eight hour shift when there is work to do is really taking advantage of their employer.

    The way to get through a work day is to compartmentalize it. I just have to work four hours until lunch. I can do that. I just have to work two hours to break. In an hour I can work on that task that I like. Etc.

  183. Alexis Rosay*

    Pretty baffled by people who say they don’t work 8 hours per day, but also don’t count attending meetings and answering emails as work? I’m sure it varies by field, but in my job where there’s a ton of relationship-building, answering emails and being in meetings *is* considered work. Yeah, it’s not the most challenging thing in the world, but it really adds up and takes an enormous amount of time. I only work less than a full day maybe once every few months.

    1. Beth*

      To me, it’s not that meetings and emails AREN’T work–it’s that they don’t FEEL like work time. They’re not particularly focused, they’re not very difficult, and they don’t generally advance my to-do list much; they feel more like the fluff that I have to sort through in order to get back to the meat of my work.

      When I’m being hard on myself for not being ‘productive enough’, I’ve often found that one part of that is that I’m not giving myself credit for doing those parts of my job. I need to remind myself that it’s not expected for me to be doing really intensive, focused, exhausting work for 8+ hours a day. I’m expected to do that for part of the day, but all the time it takes to wade through the fluff still counts as work time. It’s not me slacking off; it’s building relationships, staying aware of the big picture (including what others around me are working on), asking and answering questions that help things go more smoothly, and learning about things that will be on my to-do list in the future. Just because it doesn’t feel like intense work doesn’t mean I’m failing at productivity.

  184. forgotmyname*

    My husband has a really demanding job and a high work load. When we were first dating, I asked him how he does it. And he said, “You just get used to it.” I’m really into fitness and he said, “It’s like running or exercise. In the beginning, it’s really hard, but the more you do it, the more it becomes just something you do.” And it doesn’t take that same kind of willpower or exertion. It just becomes a habit. That made so much sense to me. I’m not talking about burnout. He also used to say, “They call it work for a reason. Otherwise they would call it leisure time.” And that resonated with me too. It kind of changed my mindset that work is work, and you go in and work hard to earn a living and then you enjoy your leisure time as well. Once I stopped fighting it and just kind of recognized that working a work day is something that adults do, it just became something I did too.

  185. Christina*

    It helps me to listen to some music or depending on the type of work a podcast. Put your phone in a drawer or your purse so you’re not distracted by notifications.

  186. Kay*

    For me, time goes very slowly if I am a) not busy or b) don’t have a clear objective for the day. I work in tourism, not an office, but I think some of that carries over. Find the pattern to your days- are Monday’s full of meetings and high mental load? Do Fridays drag on because everyone wants to leave early? Schedule your days however works for you: a simple to do list, half hour blocks, etc. but try to keep the mental load similar across days. That way you don’t have time to get bored/be unproductive. I

  187. Kimberly*

    I know others have said this already, but it sounds so much like ADHD. Getting treated (doesn’t have to be meds and if it’s meds, shouldn’t be SOLELY meds). Getting treated has changed my life significantly. I was beating myself up feeling the same way as you. It’s horrible, and I feel for you. This may not be what’s going on with you, but do t be afraid to seek a professional opinion. It couldn’t hurt!

  188. Scarletb*

    “Overwhelmed” stood out to me, OP. I remember feeling that way in two different contexts – one where the actual work available WAS far more than a standard workday, but another where I had a lack of surety about a) what I was doing and b) what to do next, so transitioning to the “next step” was really hard. And when it was really hard, that’s when I found it harder to make myself DO, and I’d do something distracting to not have to deal with not-being-sure for a little while longer.

    For me, being sure about purpose, steps, etc, is all very useful and helps with focus – heck, when I’m unengaged I have sometimes quite literally started falling asleep. It’s a pretty weird feeling, because I’m not *tired*, it’s just like my brain’s gone… not enough going on, guess you don’t need me for this.

    When I know exactly what I’m doing, I can comfortably work on it in multi-hour blocks (which is bad in its own way, because moving and looking away from a screen every now and then! Good for basic health!). It’s mentally tiring, sure, but because it’s engaging and I’m invested in the outcome, that produces its own energy.

    There’s also something about being in a stage where you’re not just DOING the thing, but also learning HOW to do the thing. That’s way more tiring than doing something you already know how to do! You’re building the boat while sailing it. If you ARE getting through enough of what you need to get through, maybe go a little easy on yourself, because some of your working-capacity is likely being taken up with learning, and there are inefficiencies which will go away when your knowledge and “fluency” in your work improves.

    Like, I would not expect a new person on my team to be instantly smashing out the stuff because they’re going to be spending time adjusting and learning – we’re a large organisation with a lot of layers and acronyms and processes, interfacing with other large organisations also mostly made up of acronyms, some of which are pretty similar… so even the way people TALK can take a while to get used to.

    Hope things get better for you, OP! Since you’re just starting out, I’m willing to bet it will :).

  189. Maxy*

    I definitely echo folks saying you should talk to your doctor, if that’s something that’s available to you. “Constantly tired all the time” sounds to me like you’re really exhausted outside of work too, and that could be caused by SO many medical things (a lot of them covered in the comments, ranging from your iron levels to your mental health to your thyroid), so I think it’s worth bringing these symptoms to a doctor. Who knows, maybe you just need more vitamin D!

    Outside of that though, I also agree that you should talk to your supervisor and/or team members. An internship is partly to help you learn about the culture of work and your specific industry, and I think it’s totally appropriate to ask something like, “what does your workflow normally look like?” And don’t be afraid to ask for different projects, to sit in on meetings, and other things you’re interested in.

    What are your friends from college doing now? Are any of them in a similar internship or working in the same field? It might be easier to hit up an old classmate to ask some of your questions about workload than to ask your supervisor, and to get a sense of what other workplaces might be like.

    But, most importantly, you are not alone! I hope you take that away from these comments. Adjusting to change is really hard, work is often really hard; but this is just your first step into this new phase of your life, and even if this internship or this chapter of your life does kinda suck, with time you will find what you like and adjust! Good luck!

  190. Still breathing*

    It helps to organize your day if you can. The majority of my work falls neatly into 3 categories: send complaints/comments from customers to the llama groomers, send the groomers response to the customer, and administrative tasks all around. The responses have to be reviewed and approved before they can go out but I handle internal coms and admin tasks alone. I give myself 2 deadlines per day to send docs for approval so it keeps me focused on that first thing in the AM and right after lunch. Admin time is next, followed by emailing the groomers, then emailing customers if I have something to send. Between tasks I do something physical: restroom, copier, jumping jacks at my desk, whatever. Fresh air at lunch is a requirement too. If it’s time for X and I don’t have X to do, I take 10 minutes to do something personal or prepare for my side projects and then move on to the next task type.

  191. Editor*

    Take weather and office climate into account when considering your own productivity. I become very sluggish in oppressively hot weather, even if I am in an air-conditioned building. Wiping my eyes with a damp handkerchief or tissue seems to help wake me up.

    It was always hard for me to settle at my desk in the spring. Then I read something about how some people are sensitive to barometric pressure and its fluctuations. I wasn’t sure this was the explanation until we got transferred south, where spring was a month earlier, and my inability to settle cropped up a month earlier than it had up north. Whatever the trigger was, it was weather related. During those times, I made a lot of trips to the water cooler (and, as a result, to the toilet). But behaving like a jack-in-the-box did help me because on the way back from the water cooler, I would re-sort my priorities for the day and refocus when I sat down. This was, though, before the Age of Bottled Water. I guess now I would just take a short walk to refocus my eyes away from screens, including my phone, or slip into the stairwell to climb up and back down a flight.

    So, figure out the metrics and priorities of the job, use checklists and productivity tips, and be aware of weather and sleep patterns that may affect your concentration.

  192. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    Be kind to yourself. No one gets 8 hours of work done in 480 minutes. Some days are going to be more productive than others, too.

    It’s harder to do on-site, but if something is distracting you, I often find I work better after resolving the distraction.

  193. Jenn*

    First of all, if you’re concerned about this it shows that you do have a work ethic but just need to create some stronger habits. Don’t beat yourself up. When I started wfh I had similar problems – I’m a natural break taker and since I bill clients hourly, I bought a little cube timer with sides you rotate for different tasks and at the end of the day you have a picture of how your day was spent. I learned how much time my breaks were taking and was appalled! I then got an app called focuskeeper that is on a 25/5 cycle. So I focus for 25 min and when it goes off I take a break. It helps because 25 minutes isn’t that long, and 5 min break is long enough to step away. Hope this helps!

  194. Beth*

    Start with making sure you get more sleep and are eating regularly. Consider taking vitamins if you don’t already. I was ALWAYS sleep-deprived when I was a student.

    It will be easier to work on your work habits (and there have been some great suggestions here) when your underlying energy levels have a solid foundation of self-care.

  195. Anna*

    Actually do not worry about this! It’s very normal. Office jobs arrest practically set up to be inefficient so many people work like 4 hours and puts around the other 4. Also, there’s a symbiosis to how much work you have/your agency in that work/and your ability to concentrate. When I was entry level I sometimes only had 2 hours of work a day…they just weren’t really giving me more tasks bc I was junior. The more senior I got, the more I got to be in control of projects, so having more work wasn’t a problem in terms of concentrating bc I was genuinely invested.

    Lastly but not leastly: never feel bad about “being paid to work 8 hours when you’re not working”. This is a trap. You’re paid to do a job! As long as you do that job, you’re doing what you’re paid for. Reclaim your joy, kid!

  196. cheeky*

    Sounds like a typical office internship to me- the art of looking busy is well known to former interns. To be honest, I think a lot of people in office jobs work this way but don’t say so.

  197. That One Person*

    As a night owl I’m not fond of the 8-5 deal, but I also appreciate the stability it’s brought and the fact I can get some things done after work. That said a good sleep schedule can definitely help, but remember the quality of said sleep is good too. Also personally I find sitting at a desk all day to be very boring/tiring in its own right, so honestly getting up to get water or use the bathroom are nice excuses, as are getting up to use the printer. Since my biggest fatigued point tends to be sometime post lunch, maybe on the last part of your lunch break take a short walk near the building or catch something like 10-20 minute nap in your car if possible. Whichever feels like it might help more that day.

    Sometimes there’s also simply downtime. It might not always be the case, but if it is make use of some of that downtime to do either simpler tasks like a spot of desk organization/clean up, or just use them as a break to indeed check your phone/read a quick blurb website/whatever it is you enjoy doing. Just try to make it something you can break away from easily and quickly. Some of my personal examples may involve playing Pokemon Go for a brief moment (with phone sound off just in case the game resets my sound settings) because even just seeing what’s nearby or catching someone real quick is a nice and brief brain break, staring at photos of my cat so my mind can wander to some of her funny or cute moments and gives me a spurt of endorphins, and sometimes I go somewhere else in the building to enjoy looking at the scenery out of a window away from desks. Small blips of happiness to let the mind wander as it likes to do.

  198. RB*

    Hey, LW! I could have written this same exact letter every day since work-from-home started. I don’t think this is about being an intern. Unfortunately, I don’t have any great advice except to just try to settle into the groove of an 8-5 office life, if that is where your career is expected to take you.
    For me, while working from home, I’m able to make up the time in the evening when my focus is better, but working in an office, that’s probably not an option.
    One thing is to think of your day as increments of one or two-hour chunks, and have a task you plan to do in each of those. Or have certain things planned for morning and certain other things for afternoon. In other words, find little ways to add structure to your day. Good luck!

  199. restingbutchface*

    As someone with ADHD, I feel supremely qualified here :)

    1. I don’t ever work 8 hours a day. The idea makes my head spin. I work for 30/60 minutes. I only have to worry about keeping myself on task for an hour, max. Then I can do something else (also work related) for 60 minutes. I guess I do 8-10 hours a day but if you give me 8 hours to send one email…. it won’t get sent. Give me 5 minutes and I’ll send the email, redraft a report and start on a slide deck.

    2. Don’t buy into the culture of performative overwork. If you’re turning out 4 hours of solid work a day, that’s more than the average (2.78 I believe). As long as stuff gets done, at a high quality, don’t worry about it. Be task oriented not hours worked orientated :)

    3. Accountability buddy. Just anyone (preferably) outside the organisation who expects you to tell them what you’re doing that day and expects an update at lunch and end of day.

    Basically, I am motivated by four things – pressure, novelty, interest and competition. Which is pretty standard for ADHD people. What motivates you and how can you game your brain into chasing that reward?

    Last thing… in case you think that you are the odd one out and everyone else is fine – that’s simply not true. I’d say the majority of people have techniques to stay on track. If it was inherently natural, they wouldn’t need it. Source – managing lots of people with the same concern and also, having access to people’s internet history. That super busy looking dude across the hall? Trust, he’s been on Reddit for 6 hours.

  200. Aleesha*

    I agree with all of the other comments here! I’d also add that I think it’s totally normal to feel this way when you’re new to the workforce and you’ll adapt to it sooner than you think! I felt this way at all of my graphic design internships. (I’d get a relatively simple brief and then putz around a bit taking my time with it and taking lots of breaks to get more coffee, use the bathroom, or stare off into space.) A huge factor is feeling that you don’t have very much to do. As your workload ramps up and demands more of your attention, it makes the day fly by faster and boosts your energy a bit too.

    But also, I think the jump from student to full-time worker is a really jarring transition for everybody! You go from dividing your time between lots of activities and working in shorter sprints, to focusing all of your attention and energy in one super-demanding place. It’s the first time in your life that you’re ever actually forced to sit still. And office work does not generally give you those little milestones and rewards that a semester of school does, so you have to create them for yourself. That’s difficult to do at first until you have a better handle on your working style and the field you’re working in.

    In the mean time, try not to be too hard on yourself or take too many things to heart. It’s easy to feel like you have to prove your worth and start kicking ass immediately, but that isn’t realistic. Take a breath and allow yourself to adjust. Your actual job right now is to show up, pay attention, and learn as much as you can. Not just about your current role, but what you ultimately want and need from a work environment.

  201. Shocked Charizard*

    Not to be melodramatic but I feel like all these comments of office people admitting they only spend half their time at work actually working while getting paid more than all these other workers recently dubbed essential who have no choice but to work non-stop is…a very poor reflection of the society we live in.

    1. Sleepless*

      I…hate to say it, but I agree. I have never really had an office job, except a PT job in a bank when I was in college. My jobs have all been in animal hospitals and labs.

      I work absolutely wide open, non stop, for 10 to 12 hours or more (I do usually get a lunch break), but not always, and many of my colleagues never do. The closest I get to a break is when I’m writing charts, but I’m interrupted every few minutes by people asking questions. Otherwise I am in constant motion, doing procedures and exams, talking to clients in exam rooms and on the phone. I have to get everyone to not interrupt me for five minutes sometimes, so I can interpret lab work or X rays or similar cognitive tasks. I got (calmly, professionally) upset at a receptionist awhile back who wrote a phone number down wrong, and I wasted 3 minutes I needed to spend elsewhere.

      I honestly had no idea that people who sit at desks worked at this leisurely pace. It does clear up a mystery for me, though. I do bookkeeping for my husband’s business, and our accountant friend who taught me the ropes couldn’t believe how I got every task done BAM RIGHT THIS INSTANT when it was due; on the other hand I’ve often been puzzled when other bookkeepers/accountants took days to weeks to get back to me.

      I work about 35-40 hours a week and I’ve never understood how it was physically possible to work 60-70 hour weeks like people do during deadlines. Huh.

      Not criticizing; if that’s the nature of the work, then there you go. I just had no idea.

  202. Per My Last Email*

    I’m wondering if as a summer intern, OP has really been given 8 hours of work per day. In my experience, we would put new interns on introductory projects with the knowledge that it might take them longer than an employee who had been there for awhile. Interns also wouldn’t attend as many meetings as regular employees so it would make sense for some downtime to be happening. If OP is finishing their work early, then the lack of focus might just be a lack of things to do. In that case, I’d ask for an additional project or ask to shadow another person/department to learn about what they do.

    If it’s really a focus thing, as in work isn’t getting done to meet deadlines, then there are a lot of time management strategies to try like Pomodoro Technique or breaking things down into smaller steps and checking them off when they’re done, or adding screen time restrictions to your phone to break the habit of social media scrolling. Beyond that, it’s normal to have *some* downtime in an office, especially if you’re in an engaged to wait kind of role where you need something from another department before you can continue working.

  203. Fernie*

    Pomodoro timer! It’s a great way to get a feel for the number and duration of breaks that is reasonable.
    No one works flat out for 8 hours straight. Depending on the type of work you’re doing , if you have between 4-6 productive hours per day, that’s plenty.

  204. Scott D*

    If you can, break your day in half. When we were in the office prior to going remote, I would go in a half hour early so I could take a 90 minute lunch. When the weather was nice, I’d change and go for a walk or run for an hour. When the weather wasn’t so nice I’d go to a nearby gym for an hour. The extra half hour gave me time to shower, change, and have a quick bite to eat. That made the entire day tolerable.

    Now that we’re full-time remote, I’m project-based rather than time based, so I tend to work from 7-10 AM, walk my dog for an hour, work from 11-1, take an hour for lunch, work from 2-5, bike or swim and then have dinner and then, after dinner, answer a few emails and call it a day.

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