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!
After finishing a big meal at a local Chinese restaurant, along with the bill came a few fortune cookies.
I should pause here and say that I love fortune cookies. Not only the crispy sweet treat but also the slip of paper inside. I have many faves tucked into my wallet, taped to computer monitors, and floating around my desk.
I love the jokey fortunes, the sort with sharp wit, even the solemn words. I love it all. Yes, I’ve even bought lotto tickets with the lucky numbers on a fortune cookie fortune. Didn’t win, didn’t matter.
But on this day, when I cracked through the sweet cookie shards and unraveled my surely personal fortune inside, I was left puzzled.
Let the sun shine on your soul? Not be be pedantic, but…how though? How does one get sunshine into one’s very soul?
Later that same day, I noticed my cat lying flat on her back letting a sunbeam from a nearby window warm her tummy, and I thought maybe she was on to something.
I tried standing outside facing the sun. I thought sunshiny things. Googling the phrase found me a fellow kindred spirit on Yahoo Answers from six years ago asking the same question, and who received some pretty lame responses like:
…live happily and lighten others in your lifetime with your joyfulness
Is that it? Do I let the sun shine on my soul by being happy and joyful? By actively brightening other’s lives? I’m not sure that is correct, actually.
Shine the sun on your soul is an imperative. It asks me to take action, and that would be more in line with the bit of advice quoted.
LET the sun shine on your soul, as the fortune says, is more passive. It means allowing something to happen. To get out of the way. To raise the window shades and allow that sunbeam in to warm your furry (or not-as-furry) tummy.
As I type, I am recalling a recent day when I was staring deeply and meditatively into the fridge, willing something delicious to appear (such as, but not limited to: Chinese leftovers) when I felt a distinct warmness on my buns. The back of my front. The sittin’ parts.
Fearing I’d backed into the oven, I whipped around to realize it was the warm late morning sun toasting my personal dinner rolls. It was nice. Like a loving and warm unexpected, but not unwelcome, caress. Ol’ Mr Sol may not have been shining on my soul, but it certainly cheered me up a little on a cold winter day.
Is that the answer? Is it both as simple and as complicated at that? Step out of the shadows, throw open the windows, and warm both your ‘tocks and soul in the rays of that bright gaseous star? Both figuratively and literally.
Is that really the path to a better life?
Hell, I don’t know. I certainly don’t have the answers.
This morning I woke up, and it was August 26th. Late summer, but still summer.
Then I went to the kitchen, and everything changed.
First this happened:
BOOM! Suddenly Autumn. That’s it, I’m ready for sweaters, warm mugs of tea, falling leaves and warm roasted chile tucked into a melty cheesy tortilla.
And my home smells like my fair New Mexico, the best air freshener in the world.
1) The chiles were procured in the Bay Area but certified to be from Hatch (if they passed off Anaheims, so help me….)
2) Roasting in the oven < Fire roasted, but The Good Man put the nix on a flamethrower. The discussion continues.
3) There’s not very many in this batch, but we’re just getting warmed up. Pun intended.
With Thai Basil Tofu, potstickers and spicy eggplant simmering in my tum, I excitedly reached for my fortune cookie, ready to crack it open and read my fate.
I have a mild obsession with fortune cookies and the wise and occasionally silly words inside. I have several of the small slips of paper tucked into my wallet. A few are taped to my work monitor. Some just drift around in my writing workspace like tumbleweeds of clever words intended to poke and prod at my mind.
So it was on this day, celebrating the birth of the kind and patient woman who gave birth to The Good Man, that I cracked open a fortune cookie and found…
“A real patriot is the fellow who gets a parking ticket and rejoices that the system works.”
Okay, okay, now wait just a second here. This is not fortune. This is propaganda.
Believe you me I’ve never, not once, rejoiced in a parking ticket. And living where I do, parking tickets are something that find their way into my life more often than I appreciate.
One short Google search later I discovered this happens to be a quote attributed to a man named Bill Vaughan.
Fine, okay. Who in the hell is this Bill Vaughan?
According to Wikipedia, he’s an American columnist who wrote a syndicated column for the Kansas City Star from 1946 to 1977.
We break here for the requisite Roger Miller sing along.
I drive a big old Cadillac with wire wheels, got rhinestones on the spokes
I got credit down at the grocery store
And my barber tells me jokes
I’m the number one attraction every supermarket parkin’ lot
I’m the king of Kansas City, no thanks, Omaha, thanks a lot
Kansas City star, that’s what I are
Yodel-deedle ay-hee, you oughta see my car
Aaaaand we’re back.
So I read the rest of the Wikipedia page trying to understand if this Vaughan guy is a communist or what. Because that quote, ooh damn. That runs a bit into a political spectrum that I’m not sure I run toward.
Turns out Mr. Bill Vaughan was sort of a quippy guy. Here’s some others attributed to him:
“A citizen of America will cross the ocean to fight for democracy, but won’t cross the street to vote in a national election.”
“Suburbia is where the developer bulldozes out the trees, then names the streets after them.”
“The groundhog is like most prophets; it delivers its prediction then disappears.”
“If there is anything the nonconformist hates worse than a conformist, it’s another nonconformist who doesn’t conform to the prevailing standard of nonconformity.”
Ok, I might be warming up to this guy. Still not sure what he’s doing in my fortune cookie, though.
Maybe the business of fortune cookies has gone from slight puns and fake Confucius quotes to smart, scholarly, and thoughtful fortunes.
To that I say: Harumph
I may be a bit a traditionalist when it comes to the fortune cookie. I guess I’ll just have to keep going to the kind of restaurants where they can be found in order to do additional (delicious) research.
While we’re on the topic, here’s one of my all time favorite fortune cookies. I got it almost a decade ago but it still rings true:
Birds are entangled by their feet and men by their tongues
Now that one is a thinker! And a little more fortune cookie-eque. With all due respect to Mr. Bill Vaughan.
The 26th of February. That what today is. February 26, 2016.
My, my, how time does fly.
Speaking of flying time, I see that the last time words were posted to this space was in November. That was like, yesterday, right?
Nope. 26th. Of February. Of 2016. Whew.
Well, okay, gotta try to shake that off and keep rolling. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this little ol’ blog. It used to be that I’d knock out a post every weekday. Then three times a week. And then nothing since November.
Been wondering what got in my way.
Three things, really. First, I got a little worn out. I’d pushed The Muse and it was getting harder to think of interesting ideas to write about. Eventually The Muse asked me to give it a rest.
Another contributor was starting a different job. I used have a free lunch hour where I both ate and knocked out the words for this blog. In my new job, I am in so galldarn many meetings each day that my lunch break is now me eating while my staff streams in the door to grab a few moments of my time.
Finally, I started wondering a little bit about the fate of so-called long form blogs in an ever-shortening attention span world. I read an article a few years ago declaring blogs dead in favor of tweets and Tumblr. I kind of took it to heart.
So I let my word field lay fallow. And maybe that is okay. It needed some rain and some decay and some time to become fertile again.
One of the most compelling reasons that I started this blog was to be a place for writing practice.
Practice, practice, practice. When I kicked off these pages back in 2007 I felt like I had something to say and needed a venue, so I made my own.
Over many years I wrote something every weekday and watched my writing both inside and outside the blog become stronger, sleeker, and more concise.
While I still benefit from all of that work, the last few times I’ve been working on a short story, I’m noticing the flow just isn’t there. It’s always an uphill climb but without the many days a week practice to keep me limber, the hill got a little steeper (and a lot more pedantic).
There is a widely debated theory that it takes ten thousand hours of practice to become a master at something. I am not sure that is true because any artist I know would say you never master your medium, no matter how much or how hard you practice.
But what I do know is that as of the moment I am putting these words into print, there are over six hundred thousand words that I created and added to this blog. That hasn’t taken me ten thousand hours to create, but it’s still not nothing. It’s something that matters and something I am proud of.
Last weekend while I was sprucing up the blog and giving it a Spring cleaning (I’m kind of in love with this shade of blue) in preparation for my return to the words, I looked hard at that number in the footer of this page and thought to myself “I’m not done.”
And so I’m not.
One added benefit is that I get to grab those crazy thoughts from my mind and get them down. There’s good stuff in there. No more trying to blog it out loud to my kindly understanding spouse or my long-suffering coworkers.
So here I am, back for today and hopefully back again soon. I want to push out my elbows and make the space in my world for the words, the practice, and the ever wonderfully agonizing quest to get better at what I love to do most.