Thompson Rivers University

How to survive your first day at work (and beyond)

September 22, 2023

That first day of a co-op term can be stressful, but careful planning will reduce anxiety.

Taylor Patton completed three marketing co-ops, one with TRU World and two with Career and Experiential Learning (CEL).  As she wrapped up her third and final co-op term, Taylor reflected on all the advice she received on how to survive your first day at work (and beyond).

Figure out first-day logistics  

That first day can be nerve-wracking, so figuring out dress codes, location, start times and travel routes ahead of time will reduce any mystery and anxiety. Ask the recruiter or hiring manager about points of contact and meeting places for when you arrive on the scene. If you drive, ask whether parking is free or paid, premium or general. Track this info to avoid second-guessing yourself and write down any information and action items you learn during training and onboarding. 

Set a precedence on day one  

Prepare a to-do list at the beginning of each shift, sorting the tasks in order of importance and urgency. If you’re working on a larger project, break it down into smaller steps to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Then, check items off as you go through your day. A clear understanding of your day-to-day work will help maintain momentum, increase job satisfaction, foster productivity and support reporting to your manager. 

Taylor Patton

Make your breaks count 

If you catch yourself zoning out, struggling to focus, or getting frustrated, it might be time for a break, which ensures more productive outcomes in the long term. TikToker Laura Whaley recommends “doing something for yourself, filling up your cup even if you have had the busiest workday. Remember that you cannot pour from an empty glass.” 

Try moving your body during lunch. For those working on campus, there are free fitness classes. You can also enjoy a cup of tea, creative play with felt and the colouring wall, or even nap (a nap sounds great now, don’t you think?), in the Wellness Centre.  

If you don’t feel like breaking a sweat, you can still get away from your desk. Find a quiet place to read a book, or listen to an audiobook or podcast. Invite a colleague out for coffee or a walk. If it fits your schedule, meet a friend for lunch. 

To maintain energy levels, nourishment and hydration are key. Eat regularly, drink water and reduce caffeine intake to avoid crashing later in the day. Listen to some calming music to help ground yourself; I recommend Spotify’s Deep Focus playlist (other co-op students recommend everything from lo-fi to nature soundscapes to heavy metal). Be mindful of your breath if you’re tense, agitated or low energy. 

Plan and prepare to make life easier  

To get your day started in a good way, eat breakfast or drink a smoothie. Pack your lunch, snacks and water bottle the night before to reduce prep anxiety or morning stress. I recommend leaving protein bars and fruit cups in your desk drawer to help supplement your snack selection between trips to the grocery store.

While some people find it energizing to exercise before work, that doesn’t appeal to me as I am not a morning person and enjoy my beauty sleep. I prefer to work out in the afternoon to have something to look forward to at the end of my day. 

Set healthy boundaries to maintain a work-life balance

Now, this is easier said than done, but don’t take work home with you – unless your manager asks for help under particular circumstances – and refrain from ruminating about the day. If your thoughts are bubbling up then email yourself, or write your thoughts down so you can focus on those concerns the next day. Work is a big part of your week, but there is so much more to life: spending time on hobbies, interests, goals and relationships outside of those 40 hours will have a positive impact on your mental health.

Connect with Career and Experiential Learning

Enhance your education with career-related work experience — in the classroom or in the community with the help of CEL:

  • Connect with a coordinator to explore co-op options and experiential learning opportunities.
  • Schedule a peer-to-peer mock interview.
  • Attend networking events to meet potential employers.
  • Receive support with resume and cover letter writing.
  • Sign up for Career Connections, email, or check out to learn more.

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