So you made a New Year's resolution to quit smoking. In case no one has said so: Good for you! Your lungs will thank you in the not-so-distant future. But first, things are going to suck for a while.
Get ready for the headaches. The spontaneous fits of rage. (Yes, you will feel rage.) The anxiety. The spewing of phlegm as your lungs clear -- some quitters even complain of flu-like symptoms. Lack of focus. And, perhaps most ominously for entrepreneurs, the abject loss of productivity.
Advice for people quitting smoking tends to center on dealing with cravings. The thing is, quitting smoking is as much about cutting out cigarettes as it is about what you do with their absence. If you're an active smoker, those little cancer sticks for which you've developed such a deep Stockholm Syndrome type of affection fill some pretty critical roles in your life, especially at your job.
They keep time for you. They're your excuse to take a break. They're the rewards for getting things done. They're breakfast, maybe even lunch. They allow you time to reflect. For a smoker, cigarettes are practically a necessary part of your work routine. Take them away, and all of a sudden your day has lost any semblance of structure and time seems to freeze.
I speak from experience. About a month ago, I quit smoking for the fourth or fifth time in the roughly five years since I'd joined the pack-a-day club. Every time I've quit, the experience has been a little different, and each time, it's gotten a little easier. What remains consistent is that work seems impossible once the structure of smoke breaks is removed and the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal start to kick in.
There are ways to more or less stay on top of your stuff at work when you quit smoking. Here are some tips to help you cope with the gaping hole cigarettes will leave in your life, without completely sacrificing your value to society. Throughout the process, keep in mind that you'll adjust and eventually find a non-smoker rhythm with work that serves you just as well as your previous approach.
Shake up your commute.
Remove reminders of that old pack of 20 ex-lovers from your morning route. Clean out your car. Walk down a different road to get to the bus or metro stop. Switch from walking to biking. Carry your coffee with you as you walk, rather than drinking it before you leave -- it'll be nice to have something int your hands. Just start your day with something different, because once you arrive at work, avoiding reminders of the life you're leaving behind is going to be difficult.
Chew on anything.
Bring what you need to the office to satisfy cravings and oral fixation needs as they pop up. Chewing gum is an obvious choice, but there are other options as well. Stocking up on tea at your desk and keeping a mug on hand is helpful. Taking a sip of a warm beverage is a little like taking a drag. Pack carrot or celery sticks.
You might at some point find yourself inexplicably standing up at your desk and heading to an unknown destination. This experience probably relates to some weird muscle memory of getting up to go smoke. Do a few laps, maybe step out side, and then return to sit back down. Turn those smoking breaks into walking breaks. Or bathroom breaks. Or any kind of break that does not involve smoking. I used to go outside and drink a cup of tea in my old smoking spot.
Go out for lunch.
Just as you shouldn't forsake breaks, you should do what you can to maintain the sense of structure smoking gave you. Meetings are a great way to maintain a schedule and distract yourself from cigarettes. If you don't have any meetings scheduled, plan to leave the office for lunch or dinner. However you do it, break up your day and squeeze in a few changes of scenery.
Plan your day.
If you have a job that will let you plan ahead, do so. The key is to not overload yourself with more tasks than you can reasonably expect to complete. Make a list of tasks each night prior to work the next morning. Be sure to know what items you need to prioritize. The reality is that you're going to have trouble focusing and you may not be as productive as normal the first week or so. Having a list of to-dos will take some of the thinking out of working while your mind is running slower than normal.
Get a box of tissues.
You may cough up a lot of disgusting stuff the first few weeks. It might help to explain to coworkers that you're quitting smoking so that they don't think they're at risk for catching whatever bug is going around. Try to take advantage of bathroom breaks to purge your lungs so that you don't gross folks out too much. This is less about helping you focus and more about courtesy to those around you.