Sometimes our lives veer out of control. Our parents or kids get sick. Our marriage falters or fails. Natural disaster strikes. But we still have to go, function at work – and perform.

function at work

10 things you can do to function at work when your life is a mess

1- Go ahead and vent.

One best friend

Find someone outside of work to vent with

It helps to release your stress and complain sometimes. But don’t vent at work. Ask one of your friends, who you don’t work with, to be your sounding board.

2- Break down work tasks into manageable assignments.

Writing a 12,000-word white paper will feel daunting. Writing the intro or table of contents will feel less so. Set a timer on your iPhone for 20, 30 or 60 minutes – whatever you think you can manage. When the timer goes off, take a break.

Read: How brain fog can feel like your losing your mind

3- Tackle some smaller assignments.

If big tasks just feel like too much no matter how you approach them, tackle some smaller assignments. Clean out your inbox. Organize for a future project. Just do something because a) it will make you feel more in control and b) you are getting paid to work after all. You have to function at work, even if it’s in small chunks.

4- Keep a notebook and pen with you at all times.

Stress can affect your memory so keep notes

Take notes in meetings. Make to do lists. You cannot rely on your memory when you are stressed.

5- Take a personal day.

If you keep thinking, “I just need a day to handle all this stuff in my life,” take it. One productive day out of the office is better than five distracted and unproductive days sitting at your desk.

Read: 5 tips for handling being unhappy at work

6- Use email rather than the phone for personal correspondence whenever possible.

Optics matter so pay attention to how you are showing up at work. Of course you’ll need to deal with personal issues on company time, but be discreet about it.

7- Find, or ask for, a buddy at work.

Make sure you have some solid support

When I reduced my hours during a family situation, I struggled to coordinate with some of my team members who were working in another time zone. So I asked my boss for backup. She assigned another co-worker to support me. He knew what I needed and followed up with our teammates to make sure I had it by the end of the day. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

8- Remember your clients are not your friends.

You may have a warm, friendly relationship. You may even socialize outside of work. But when you are on the clock, the customer comes first. If they ask how things are going, give them the Cliff Notes version, not War and Peace.

Read: 4 ways to improve your relationship with your boss

9- Respect the flex.

During a crisis, you need flexibility. Remember it’s a two-way street. If you ask for flexibility, you have to be flexible. It’s your responsibility to make sure your flex schedule meets, not only your needs, but your organization’s needs too.

10- Change your perspective.

Try thinking about work as a mini-break from whatever you’re dealing with in your personal life. Wear nice clothes. Go out to lunch. Life will be waiting for you when you get home.

 This post was adapted from a post at

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Liz O'Donnell

About Liz O'Donnell

I am a working daughter and working mother living in the sandwich and committed to helping other women as they balance their many roles in life. A recognized expert on balancing eldercare and career, I’ve written about the issue in The Atlantic, Time, and Next Avenue. I’ve been interviewed about the topic on WNYC, and many other radio shows and podcasts. I am also the author of the book Mogul, Mom & Maid: The Balancing Act of the Modern Woman. In 2009, I started the blog which I ran until 2015. Hello Ladies was named a top 100 website for women by Forbes, a Best of the Net by Working Mother Magazine and a BlogHer Voice of the Year. For more about me visit