Five Things I Learned while Working from Home

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Lessons from Shelter-In-Place

 

Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

One of the benefits of my job is that I work from home one day a week, and have been doing so for just over seven years. It’s a wonderful perk. If I ever chose to move to a different job, I’d want to be sure I retained this same benefit as it goes a long way toward my mental health.

As a confirmed introvert, working from home on Friday allows me to get my job done while having a little break from my very extroverted team of peers (all of whom I adore, in measured doses).

So when word came down from my leadership that we are to work from home for the foreseeable future, I though “pfft, no problem, I’m already a pro at this.”

On Day One, I approached my now shelter-in-place working from home days exactly as I approached every work from home Friday, and that was my first mistake.

Since I believe in growing from my mistakes, here are five things I have learned and want to share from the first week of working from home every day:

#1 You must have boundaries 

When working from home just one day a week, the boundaries between work life and home life were never an issue. I’d get up a little later than usual, make the short commute down the hall, and do my job. Since the end of Friday is also the end of the work week, at 5:00pm I’d log off and enjoy my weekend time.

Now that work from home is every day, it’s too easy at 9:45pm to think “oh, you know, I could just dash off that email to my boss that I forgot to do earlier” or when I’m obsessing over the current news at 3:30 in the morning, “I could take one more look at that PowerPoint draft.”

To be honest, it’s very likely that I have used “putting in extra work” as a way to deal with my anxiety over the current events. It feels like I am doing something about it, but I’m not. It’s an avoidance and over time will wear me out when right now I need to find ways to stay strong.

In short: Boundaries must exist between work life and home life.

#2 You must have boundaries

Since my husband is now my coworker five days a week, and since my husband is my absolute favorite person in the world, I find myself wanting to spend time with him as we usually do after work or on the weekends.

This means sitting together, drinking coffee, talking over all the things on our minds, including but not limited to: how cute our cat is, our thoughts on movie, television, or literary characters, what to have for dinner, and most importantly whether or not feeding peanuts to the crows and bluejays in the backyard will cause them to protect us, as a fierce corvid army, when the zombies rise…you know, normal couple stuff.

But if we spend too much time in our usual weekend pattern, then I am not getting work done. Then again, if I spend too much time doing work (see #1 above) then I’m not spending needed time with my husband.

Once again: Boundaries must exist between work life and home life.


Photo by Yann Allegre on Unsplash

 

#3 You must have boundaries

As part of my job I support a team of technical people who are dispersed across the country, so I am very used to using video conferencing daily, whether at home or not. When this new stay at home edict came down, I was already set up on the app, had a good camera to use, and a speaker for sound.

Not so for my peers. For the most part using videoconferencing is new for them, and I find myself giving mini tutorials on every meeting we have.

Our IT department is now conducting four one-hour long trainings a day on how to use the videoconferencing service, but my peers seem loathe to take a course. “Too busy,” they say. So instead they are relying on me to help them. In every meeting.

This is not sustainable. I love to help people but I can’t get sucked into this vortex. Instead of jumping in there when they have troubles, am now sitting on my hands when someone says, “I can’t figure out how to share this document” or “Why can’t I see everyone?”

If they ask me directly, I will help, but if they are just muttering and fumbling I stay quiet because the best way to learn is to do it for yourself. The user interface isn’t really that hard, it just takes a little time to get comfortable with it.

The one exception: The times when a participant has both their phone and laptop dialed in which produces that horrible ping back and forth that escalates into a high teeth grinding sound. The audio equivalent of standing between two mirrors. I cannot restrain myself from jumping in to sternly say “Phone or Laptop, not both, mute one!”


By Elsamuko from Kiel, Germany — inf, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40716759

 

#4 You must have boundaries

At any break at work, I find myself looking at the latest headlines. On every call my peers want to talk about the headlines. In the kitchen while making lunch my husband and I talk about the latest headlines, “So, did you hear that…”

All of this fuels my anxiety and managing this is a big factor in my ability to stay safe and sane, and to be an active, productive employee.

Many years ago I took a meditation class and the instructor told us: “You don’t have to watch, read, or seek out the current headline news. If there is something you need to know, it will find you.”

It has been almost 20 years since I first heard this gentle guidance and it is more true today than it ever has been.

#5 You must have boundaries

On Friday work from home days, I tend to dress pretty comfortably. Yoga pants with a not terrible shirt. Fluffy socks and slippers. Loose but comfy (okay, ratty) sweater.

This is fine once a week, as Friday is the most causal day at work by far, but this is not sustainable for me five days a week. It is really true that clothes impact how you speak, how you hold yourself, how you feel. Clothes matter.

Now, I’m not saying put on a three piece suit and hard shoes every day, but at least wear the kind of “business casual” clothes you might wear to the office. Get up, take a shower, comb your hair, put on some work clothes, maybe light makeup if that’s your thing, and present yourself well. You’ll get your mind right to sit down and do some work.

Then when the work day is done, by all means, jettison yourself right back into those comfy home clothes. You’ve earned it.

We have no idea how long this current stay at home edict is going to last. so it is important to build good boundaries now to help stay sane over time.

And just because you work from home, don’t neglect washing your hands!

Hey, you: Stay safe and stay productive!

This item first appeared on Medium, find more of my work @karenfayeth over there

 

The Serendipity Of Nature Photography

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One little camera. One little bird

 

Photo by the author, ©2019 Karen Fayeth

This weekend I found myself at the UC Botanical Garden and marveled again at how rich it is with subjects to photograph. Gorgeous trees and plants, winding walkways, seasonal flowers in bloom, epic views of Strawberry Canyon.

I have taken many photos here and find endless new things to photograph on each visit.

Plants are easy, but photographing wildlife is a bit more difficult. For me, at least.

I know the old adages, one that patience is required in shooting wildlife, another that one should expect to take a lot of shots to get to one good image.

I’ve been shooting long enough to know better. But I’ve also been me long enough to know that patience isn’t always my virtue.

Under the auspices of “the best camera is the one you have with you” I tend to shoot a lot on my iPhone. There is hot debate on the topic in the various photo clubs I belong to. Some of my fellow photographers see iPhoneography as a perfectly acceptable medium and encourage the ease and accessibility of on-the-fly photos.

Others of my peers scoff and say they will never accept iPhone photos as legitimate (really, seriously, in 2019 they say this). In that particular photo club I strip the exif data off of my photos before posting to our monthly theme review. They won’t look at my photos if they know for sure it’s an iPhone photo.

So while I shoot a lot on my iPhone (the header image, for example), I also feel the limitations of the hardware. The light has to be good to get anything worthwhile. The image quality, even in good light, is not always the best. And zoom? Forget it, the pixelation from the software zoom is more than I want to deal with.

About a year ago I decided I wanted a camera that was a little less than my big boy camera and a little more than my iPhone. After some research, many reviews read, and lots of waffling, I finally settled on a Sony Cybershot. It’s cute, fits into my pocket or purse, and has a real optical zoom versus a software zoom.

It’s a neat little camera and does a whole lot more than point-and-shoot devices used to do. In fact it’s scary how good simple pocket cameras have become.

I’m still learning the Sony and it surprises me every time I give it a try.

Like, for example, this photo:

Photo by the author, ©2019 Karen Fayeth

I was enchanted by this little bird at the botanical garden. I have no idea what type of bird that is, I’m not that good at identifying species. My husband and I watched it flit from branch to branch, often coming quite close to us. The light was good, but the movement was way too fast for an iPhone. (though my husband used Live Photo and that worked pretty well)

I tried pulling out the Cybershot and fiddled with settings. I found one I hadn’t used before called “reduce motion blur” and gave it a go. I tracked the little bird, zoomed in and quick took a snap expecting very little.

No planning the shot. No endless patience waiting for the bird to turn in the right direction. No one hundred shots to get one good one.

One snap, one photo. Got it.

Because I’m naturally superstitious when shooting, I took another photo. I did so thinking I knew more than I did with the first photo, so I must be able to take a better photo, right?

Truth is, I had much less luck on the second shot (note the bird butt in the top left corner):

Photo by the author, ©2019 Karen Fayeth

And with that, I gave up. Yes, I took only two shots and got one worth keeping. How often does that happen? For me, not very often. It was a good reminder lesson in allowing serendipity in my photography.

Maybe knowing a bit more when taking the second shot turned out to be a hindrance? Maybe on the second photo I was trying too hard?

In photography, I can get rigid about the shot I want to make. I have been known to see a shot evolving in real time and then pressing too hard when trying to take the perfect version of it.

I can get obsessive and fire off image after image and come back with nothing worth looking at. In those moments I wanted the photo to be something I was not capable of producing.

Sort of the divine struggle of photography, right? To produce an image that is how you saw it in real time.

What have I learned from this serendipitous nature photography moment?

  1. Right place, right time. Meaning let the image happen the way it wants to evolve.
  2. Don’t press, just let it flow and let it go. If I don’t get the shot I wanted, okay to try again, also okay to move on.
  3. It helps to know your camera. In this case, I tried a new setting, but knew pretty well how to use the features of the camera including zoom, focus and settings.

It is not hyperbole when I say that little bird is among the best wildlife shots I’ve ever taken (the first one, not the bird butt one) in that it comes very close to how I saw that beautiful late afternoon winter sun on the green and yellow and brown botanical garden.

True, wildlife photography isn’t my main focus, and practice would certainly improve my images, but dang if I’m not pleased with that photo of one little bird taken with one little point-and-shoot camera.

Does it have less value since it wasn’t taken with a “real” camera? (scare quotes used on purpose. Isn’t any camera a real camera?) I don’t think so. Others might disagree.

But I like it, and that is what matters the most. Trying to shoot something I think will please someone else is always going to be hard road with no destination.

One of the things I love about photography is that it is both so easy (just get the exposure triangle right!) and so very difficult.


Note: I have done no post processing on any of the photos in this story. I could certainly fiddle with all three of them, but that was less important for me and not quite the point of this story.

Redux: A Treatise on Monday…or Everything Old is New Again

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Five years and one day later, Facebook saw fit to remind me of my history: A Monday in 2013 that I don’t actually remember, can’t pick out from the rest of the over 1,800 days that have passed since then, and was, I suppose, wholly unremarkable.

And yet, the early morning hours were remarkable enough to get my brain going and some writing done. I re-read my own words on a Sunday with Monday looming large and realized that other than riding the train to work every day, the sentiment remains much the same.

I have a big deal meeting at 8:00am today, and the Monday ahead has me quite thoughtful.

This post has aged well, so I’m happy to share it again today. It still works.



A Treatise On Monday
Originally posted January 28, 2013

Written this morning at something like 5:45am


And so we find ourselves back at Monday. Ah Monday, both the beginning and the end.

I have sad, tired, squinting, groundhog eyes as the alarm goes off. I’m begging the world not to pull me from my burrow. Please don’t shine that bright light in my face.

But I’m pulled from my burrow anyway and instead of a prediction the world anticipates my arrival at the train station and my seat on the next ride into the city.

The bright light turns out to be a beautiful ray of light, glimmering off the slowly rising sun.

All possibility is in Monday. Will this be a good week? Will this be a bad week? Will it rain?

Monday is everything and nothing. A blank canvas ready to take the paint.

What will I make of my Monday? What will I achieve? How will I stumble and will I recover gracefully?

It all exists here in these quiet pre-dawn hours. The sun hasn’t even said hello yet and here I am, writing. Scribbling the words that want to exit my head.

There is already acrylic paint on my hands from a project that is due Thursday morning. I had to get some early painting done so I can hit that deadline.

In this Monday, all things are possible including finishing a painting that is due in just three days.

Oh my.

I feel strangely happy today. What the hell is this? How unusual for a Monday morning.

The weekend was weird. I was cranky and then he was cranky and then it was Sunday night and another two days of not working were jettisoned to the ether. Monday turned the corner and sat down for a visit.

So here I am again loading a backpack for work, stumbling around to find my badge and my phone and my sense of self-worth.

I look again at my canvas and already I fear I have screwed it up. Don’t they say in art there are no mistakes? Just roll with it and incorporate the error. OCD and art are not friends. This major but fixable error must wait until later tonight to find its cloak.

There is a train to catch and a Monday to face. I’d rather stay home in my studio and put gorgeous turquoise paint on a willing canvas. Can I do that for a living?

You know, a girl can dream, and so I will dream as BART gently sways. When I disembark dreams stop so reality can start.

But no matter, I can dream again, later. Dreams don’t die easy.

And dreams don’t wait for the weekend.









Image from The Miracle Journal.




Monday, redux

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Blame it on Facebook and its algorithms that like to remind me of things from the past. For the better and for the worse.

I re-read this one over the weekend and thought “yeah, that one needs a re-post.”

So here we are, when Monday, January 30, 2017 feels a lot like Monday, January 28, 2013



 A Treatise On Monday
Originally published January 28, 2013


Written this morning at something like 5:45am


And so we find ourselves back at Monday. Ah Monday, both the beginning and the end.

I have sad, tired, squinting, groundhog eyes as the alarm goes off. I’m begging the world not to pull me from my burrow. Please don’t shine that bright light in my face.

But I’m pulled from my burrow anyway and instead of a prediction, the world anticipates my arrival at the train station and my seat on the next ride into the city.

The bright light turns out to be a beautiful ray of light, glimmering off the slowly rising sun.

All possibility is in Monday. Will this be a good week? Will this be a bad week? Will it rain?

Monday is everything and nothing. A blank canvas ready to take the paint.

What will I make of my Monday? What will I achieve? How will I stumble and will I recover gracefully?

It all exists here in these quiet pre-dawn hours. The sun hasn’t even said hello yet and here I am, writing. Scribbling the words that want to exit my head.

There is already acrylic paint on my hands from a project that is due Thursday morning. I had to get some early painting done so I can hit that deadline.

In this Monday, all things are possible including finishing a painting that is due in just three days.

Oh my.

I feel strangely happy today. What the hell is this? How unusual for a Monday morning.

The weekend was weird. I was cranky and then he was cranky and then it was Sunday night and another two days of not working were jettisoned to the ether. Monday turned the corner and sat down for a visit.

So here I am again loading a backpack for work, stumbling around to find my badge and my phone and my sense of self-worth.

I look again at my canvas and already I fear I have screwed it up. Don’t they say in art there are no mistakes? Just roll with it and incorporate the error. OCD and art are not friends. This major but fixable error must wait until later tonight to find its cloak.

There is a train to catch and a Monday to face. I’d rather stay home in my studio and put gorgeous turquoise paint on a willing canvas. Can I do that for a living?

You know, a girl can dream, and so I will dream as BART gently sways. When I disembark dreams stop so reality can start.

But no matter, I can dream again, later. Dreams don’t die easy.

And dreams don’t wait for the weekend.









Image from The Miracle Journal.




Just Gimme Some Bread, Man

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It is a dark, gray and drizzly day here in Northern California and to be honest, that is a good thing. I say that even as my mood can best be described as poopy. The fact that the earth needs the rain doesn’t preclude a little blue mood to go with the not-blue skies.

To be honest, in March, this is what the Bay Area is supposed to do. It’s supposed to rain. So I’m grateful for the rain.

But still, I’m cranky.

Days like these make me want to stay in bed all day and only come to the surface for something tasty to eat (then dash back under the covers).

Last evening I watched an old episode of No Reservations when our host, Anthony Bourdain, was in France. At one point they showed warm hot loaves of bread coming out of the oven. Of course now all I want to eat is gigantic loaves of warm bread smothered with butter.

But alas, the butter is a non-starter for me with the lactose intolerance and all. And well, we all know bread gets a bad rap these days.

Later in the show, the host was eating some gigantic meat-on-meat madness type of meal and I said to The Good Man, “I…I just don’t think I could eat that. I mean, I would try, but oh how my stomach would hurt.”

What the hell has happened to me? I remember the days when I would and could eat everything from flaming hot green chiles to milk products to fatty meats washed down with a lot of beer and wouldn’t even blink an eye.

Now as I ponder yet another birthday coming along in a few months, I realize what a little lily I have become. A hothouse flower who can’t eat things too hot anymore (damn my GERD) and can’t eat milk products (well, I can, but it’s an unpleasant outcome) and I sure do eat a lot less meat than I used to because my tummy just can’t take it.

Alas! What has become of poor Karen? I don’t even know who I am anymore.

I suppose it’s all a part of the cycle of life. I mean, I have tried and digested a lot of good food in my life. I don’t hold back, I’m willing to give most foods a shot but I have become a lot more circumspect in how I nosh.

A “good” meal can be great in that moment and can then ruin my whole day. So I eat a little less quantity and a little better quality and I wonder what else I’m going to be a candy-butt about in this great life.

First world problems. I got ’em.

(And give me time, I’ll get over myself. I always do.)








Image found here.