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.
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!”
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!
A little cocoon, snug in a fur coat, warding off the shiver. A magnolia blossom, in very early stages. What is gray and fuzzy now will soon be creamy pink, fragrant and bold, seemingly overnight. Soon. But not yet.
In that one corner of the yard, I’d forgotten the daffodils that grow wild. Their leaves have come on bold and green with the promise of emerging stalks soon carrying butter yellow blooms. Soon. But not yet.
I stop and smile. I remember that December 21st was the shortest day of the year, a milestone that now lies in the past. Even though this weekend promises torrential rain (which the California soil will gladly drink up), gray skies, and gloom, the fact of the matter is that Spring is on its way with rush of color and fresh leaves, activity, joy and warmth.
The sunshine of my favorite season will soon come to push back the gloom and cobwebs in my mind and replace it with tulips and lilacs and California poppies.
I will photograph and paint and pick and sniff all of the riotous wildflowers that California has to offer. I will smile when I see them growing in the unlikeliest of places.
Oh so very soon I will bask in the Spring warmth and smile at the clear skies and feel happy as the sun sets later and later each day.
It’s funny the things that stick with you. The seemingly forgettable details or moments that you look back on with fondness.
This past weekend, I returned home to New Mexico after a far too long two-year personal drought. Life, work, whatever, gets in the way (no excuse is good enough).
The occasion of my return was the high school graduation of my oldest goddaughter. At almost 19 she is no longer that curly-haired blonde toddler who captured our hearts. She is a smart, sassy, funny, talented and gorgeous woman and I’m a bit weepy right now just typing that. I’m so proud of her.
I have been working too many hours and it’s fair to say I dragged my ragged self onto a plane, glad to go home. Sometimes I feel like I wander a little too far away from New Mexico. I forget the foundation of my soul and going home never fails to readjust my mind, my very DNA. It gets me back to remembering who I am and what matters.
Plus I eat good when I’m there, and green chile itself will help anyone get right.
Each time I go home, I’m overwhelmed at all of the things that have changed since the last time I was there. El Paso is growing fast. The area around Las Cruces too. More cars, more buildings, more people. It’s crazy.
So then I start to seek the familiar. What hasn’t changed. What is there that I remember so I can have a touchstone. A “hey, there that particular thing is, just where I left it.”
The feedlots in Vado, for example. I was pleased to find them there, cows huddled under the water misters. The inevitable cow scent on the breeze.
The Organ Mountains. Craggy, uneven, and absolutely gorgeous. I see those mountains that once watched over my college education and smile, glad to say hello again.
So today at work when I was homesick, missing my best friend and the peace of her back patio, I started going through the photos on my phone to help me with the pain.
Did I find photographs of vast mountain landscapes? Did I see the faces of my loved ones? Did I have a whimsical photo of a cow?
No I did not.
All of those sorts of photos are on my actual camera. Weirdly, I took very few photos with my phone on this trip.
So I will share with you the two photos I did take. Memories I’m carrying in my pocket to remind me of home. This gives you an awful lot of insight into my muddled mind:
First, a photo of my goddog. I may have taken one or two photos of him in the past.
The gray hair around his eyes and in his muzzle makes my heart hurt, just a little
The second will take a little more explanation.
You see, to get back to Las Cruces, I have to fly into El Paso and while that’s not my town, over the years I’ve even grown a bit fond of that crazy place.
When I stumble off the airplane and into the terminal I find that nothing much has changed. Then my heart softens a little when I see the genuinely godawful carpet in ELP’s main terminal. Seriously, it’s so bad, it makes me sentimental.
Nothing says “welcome home” like lizard carpet. Apparently, I was so overcome I had to take a photo.
Not conducive to overcoming a hangover
And now I’m glad I did, I just found out today that the infamous ELP carpet is due to be replaced, like this month! Yipes.
That means next time, I won’t be greeted at the door by the funky lizards. And as my goddog isn’t getting any younger, one day I’ll roll up to my best friend’s house and won’t get to experience his side-angled lope and velvety soft ears.
That’s too much to consider. Right now, I will rest easy knowing that hideous lizard carpet and beautiful brown dog eyes remain just where I left them. I feel my connection to home, which makes sitting in this dull gray office just a tiny bit easier to take.
Here it is, Sunday, January 7th and I’m staring down the barrel of Monday.
It’s time to get myself back into gear.
You see, not only does my employer shut down between Christmas and New Year, but I was also able to scrape up enough hours to take this past week off. I’ve just had seventeen glorious and fun filled days away from work. Days of setting my own agenda. Of not looking at work email. Of working on photography at midnight if that’s where the fancy took me because I could sleep in the next day and the next one after that.
Last week I existed in a fabulous sort of limbo land. 2017 no longer, not quite 2018. It suits me.
All good things must come to an end, and so must my extended vacation. Tomorrow, reality slaps me across the chops, as reality is prone to do.
This morning The Good Man and I left our warm and cozy home to venture out into the rainy, wintry cold for Sunday breakfast. Pancakes to bid adieu to vacation and bonjour to 2018.
Through visible breath and rubbing hands together I looked up and saw a bright red maple leaf shellacked to the windshield. “Hey that’s pretty,” I said and took a quick snap.
Now, I realize that in this simple winter image I somehow exactly captured my mood. No more holly jolly songs and soft Christmas lights. No more Santa and wrapping presents and warm cookies baking in the oven.
It’s now winter, plain and straightforward. No more looking forward to the holidays, instead we look to Spring. I have a lot of (needed) California rain to endure this year because that is what the Bay Area does in winter.
This is the long slog, when it’s still dark early and foggy mornings and shivery cold.
But soon. Yes soon, the world moves into winter so we can know the spring. Daffodils and cherry blossoms are just around the corner, but for today it’s a sodden leaf in cold rainy hazy blue surroundings.
So I won’t lose hope. Tomorrow may loom large, but I will pop back to the surface like a bobber and keep swimming. I will have great successes and I will fail a lot too. I will be mad and sad and happy and grumpy and overtired and all the things I was on December 21 when this wild leave from work began.
Okay 2018. I put you off as long as I could, but you are now top of my To Do list and I’m going to tackle you.