In My Big Fat Greek Wedding, patriarch Gus is convinced Windex can solve any problem. I think bookcases are my own private Windex. We own three of Ikea’s five-by-five bookcases, and I take up half of that real estate with my books, crafts, yarn, and fabric supplies.
My husband would probably tell you that I use up more than half of the family bookshelf space. Since this isn’t his blog, we’re going with my story. Ha!
I love the way big bookshelves section off spaces. As Maya Middlemiss so aptly said in her excerpt from her bookFinding Your Edge, “There have to be edges, where the workplace stops and the home begins.”
And I find myself needing those edges as I transition from a private office with a door to an open space in my new living room. My enormous bookshelf is a “wall” that separates me from the dining area. Soon I’ll set up small shelves for my office plants and hang up my calendar. There may not be actual walls, but my office will be visually distinct from the living room, and that’s all I need for now. We’ll see what happens in a month after I’ve lived with my office for a bit. A new place is an opportunity to try new ways of working and I’m going to take full advantage of it.
What’s That Douglas Up To?
Mostly recovering from moving during the Pacific Northwest heat dome. Vancouver normally has only a couple of weeks of true heat, so most homes lack air conditioning. Heck, some businesses don’t have air conditioning. There were blackouts and fires, and people died in their overheated homes.
On a more personal level, the temps were almost high enough to kill our pet rats. I spent a lot of time keeping them cool with a constant supply of ice and cold fruit. And our movers almost didn’t come because some of them fainted from the heat the day before. I am incredibly grateful they felt up to moving our stuff for the few hours they could give us. I’m also grateful for my friends who came over and helped us get everything out of our house, so the movers only had to load the truck from our yard.
That’s how you know your friends really like you. When they’re willing to come out in the heat during COVID to schlep your stuff.
On a more writerly note, I had a piece of literary flash fiction show up in National Flash Flood Journal on June 26th, entitled A Command Performance for the Only audience that Matters. What I wouldn’t do for an unexpected sprinkler to run through right now. The heat dome is off plaguing other people but it’s still hot for Vancouver.
I might settle for a margarita slushy machine. Do you think I can find one that comes with a fainting couch? I’ll let you know if I figure it out.
Note from Teresa: Today is my moving day! Fellow remote work advocate MayaMiddlemiss has graciously agreed to step in this week with an excerpt from her newest book ‘Finding Your Edge: Establishing and Maintaining Your Boundaries When You Work From Home.’ I think you’re going to enjoy it.
While most people end up working in one particular space or location, part of the joy of working from home is that you can be a lot more flexible, and indeed I urge you to think about the space you have around you more creatively than you might be able to in somebody else’s building.
Perhaps there are different parts of your working day, or different activities, which lend themselves to different locations? Reading and research can be done just as well from a sofa, standing meetings at a bookcase or a kitchen counter, to switch up the energy and vary your working day.
A word of caution on the boundaries front, though. While this can work very well, particularly for highly integrated homeworkers, you might want to keep a few hard edges here.
I go out of my way to consider different needs and avoid being prescriptive, and I often find myself in a quirky blend of irritated and amused by the various ‘Rules for working from home’ articles you find, which are frequently written by columnists who never do so regularly. I believe that when it’s your home, no real rules apply other than your own.
I do encourage you to think through your rules though, and at the very least have a couple of red lines you will not cross, where work cannot be permitted into your personal life, time, and space.
The Rules type listicles will say ‘Never work from your bed’ – which you might want to consider. Perhaps you have to work from your bed though, because you’re sick and you’re on a deadline, or your central heating is broken and it’s the warmest spot. Perhaps instead there’s one favourite armchair where you love to read magazines and watch TV, and instead THAT is the boundary you will impose, and you’d rather sit on the floor than ever work from that spot. This is really important, so protect that space, ensuring that it will always signify home/not-work whenever you sink gracefully into its familiar upholstery.
Or you may have a favourite view out of the window which common sense might suggest is a good location for your desk, but actually, this aspect is so personal and relaxing to you that you’d prefer to turn your desk to the wall and save that vista for non-work appreciation.
There have to be edges, where the workplace stops and the home begins.
The Rules also say never work in pyjamas, or even wear full-on business dress to ‘go to work’ from home. This one has never worked for me in any way. I regard clothing as highly functional, and the function of clothes for working from home is to be comfortable and appropriate to the ambient temperature, plus whatever else I might be doing that day. This could mean a slightly smart top if I have an important call, or it might mean swimwear or yoga pants or whatever other healthy thing I think I might be more inclined to do later on. It might even mean both.
For me, it will never involve a suit or anything similar, but if it helps you to go to work in formal wear, then go for it. Just like you might be more confident in that online meeting if you wear full makeup, or a perfume that no video-conferencing platform can yet convey the effect of, even if you download the latest version, if helps YOU feel more confident or professional or beautiful, then have at it. Wear a ballgown or fancy dress, or yes, even your PJs if they are comfortable the rest of the time, because it’s YOUR home, your work, your mood, your boundaries, and that’s all that matters. You can always pretend you left a filter on Zoom by mistake, if you accidently show up to a work meeting in your Monsters Inc onesie.
Alternatively, change into your PJs to signal to yourself that the work is at an end and the day is done, if that helps.
Here are some ideas for creating boundary conditions. They won’t always make it into an odd-numbered clickbait listicle of ‘rules’ on popular websites, but you might want to think about instigating the following:
· No TV or radio on in ‘the office’/during office hours, in shared areas. Anything which creates distraction will just make the working day longer and less productive anyway.
· No eating at your desk – take a proper break for meals, even if it’s a few feet away. I observe this one as strictly as I can, but obviously coffee is an exception and can be mainlined at any time.
· Stay off work-related messaging and social media during the evenings at home (or at the very least, during mealtimes).
· No work apps on the front page of the home screen of your phone (see tech and boundaries, below).
· No removal of chargers, cables, post-it notes, highlighters, or ANY OF MY STUFF from my desk, at any time. Not even when you’re just borrowing it and I wasn’t there to ask and you really need it right now and anyway… “You weren’t even using it Mum!” Anyone with teenagers in the house, can you relate to this?
In a recent Atlantic article, The Hidden Toll of Remote Work, author Arthur Brooks argues that “going fully remote forever could exacerbate one of the worst happiness disasters of the pandemic.” He quotes statistics from Buffer’s 2020 survey (which uses data from 2019) to show that remote workers struggle with loneliness and collaboration.
It’s undeniable that remote workers can struggle with loneliness. It’s also true that working in a traditional office is an important component of some employees’ mental health. But recommending that all workers resist transitioning to permanent remote work is a step too far: “If the office permanently closes, consider whether your employer has your best interests at heart, and if you can, think about moving to another company.”
That last quote, in particular, gets under my skin. Office buildings weren’t invented because someone asked themselves, “Hey, how can we make our workers happy?” They did it to increase productivity and control the working environment. A company isn’t a family. It’s a unit designed to make money. A company should be ethical, and the best ones hope you’re happy, but they aren’t your mother.
Let’s Put Down the Pitchforks
Before we ask folks to join a back-to-the-office revolution, let’s first consider pointing people toward the tools they need to ward off loneliness no matter where or how they work. That information is out there. I know because I’ve written some of it. But I’m not the only one. There is a veritable army of people waiting to help you make the jump. Working from home isn’t synonymous with isolation. If you like working remotely and are motivated to make connections with people, you can learn how to do so.
Someday the pandemic will be over, and those of us who love to work remotely will once again spend time with the people we met in our communities because we weren’t chained to an office.
In the end, we need workplace choice. If Mr. Brooks wants to work from his pre-COVID office, I hope he gets the opportunity to do so. But I don’t want to be forced back into a traditional office because someone else doesn’t like working from home. That would be as ridiculous as insisting everyone should raise children because some people enjoy doing so. Instead, let’s respect each other’s differences and work together to create humane workplaces, no matter where we sit.
What’s That Douglas Up To?
The big news is that we’re moving this summer. My husband is finishing up his PhD, and so we’re moving away from campus. The Vancouver housing market is pretty insane. And oh my goodness, the applications! It was like applying to college. We had to write a personal essay, talk about our extra curricular activities, and submit references. I wish I were kidding. I’m surprised they didn’t ask for a lock of hair and a vial of blood.
In between looking for places to live, I wrote stories for the book of essays about my family’s pandemic year. I also did a voice-over for my micro-fiction piece Spores, which will be appearing in the audio-lit mag Micro at some point in the near future. I found them while researching audio literary magazines as part of an upcoming project. More on that later. Meantime, check out Micro. They’re doing some fun things.
I hope you and yours are coping as best as you can. I’m rooting for you!
On March 29th the New York Times ran an article from Matthew Haag entitled Remote Work is Here to Stay. Manhattan May Never Be the Same. In it, Haag reports that “As more companies push back dates for returning to offices and make at least some remote work a permanent policy, the consequences for New York could be far-reaching, not just for the city’s restaurants, coffee shops and other small businesses, but for municipal finances, which depend heavily on commercial real estate.”
If New York wishes to fund the services that keep the city functional, something has to give. Either everyone needs to go back into offices in the city (which isn’t a good idea before we achieve widespread herd immunity) or government officials need to rethink where they get their revenue.
Businesses are Incentivized to Keep Remote Work
Rethinking a city’s revenue mix is the strategic thing to do. The pandemic has been billed as a once-in-a-hundred-year event. However, assuming that the next catastrophe will happen in our great-grandchildren’s lifetimes (and therefore is something we can leave them to deal with) is short-sighted at best. Climate change has already led to more destructive hurricane and fire seasons. Many ofthemajorcitiesoftheworld grapple with housing shortages.
Hefty real estate costs and adverse weather events give businesses solid reasons to offer remote work options for their employees. To put it bluntly, remote work is an important part of a company’s risk management. Remote work offers businesses the opportunity to lower costs and continue operating during disasters. No CEO in his or her right mind would give up that advantage.
If cities want to recover from the pandemic and remain relevant, then they need to operate as if employees have more choices about where they live and work. If a white collar employee can work from anywhere, then they don’t have to live in a 500 square foot basement apartment with eight other people.
It’s Time to Think About Cities Differently
People have to want to live in a city for other reasons. Personally, I love cities. Nightlife! Culture! Restaurants! I’ve lived in some great ones–New York, Los Angles, and the San Francisco Bay Area. Currently I live in the suburbs of Vancouver. It’s quiet, and boring, and exactly the sort of place I need to stay because it has a good school for my kids and I can afford things like music lessons and summer camps. I would move to downtown Vancouver in a hot minute if 1) comfortable housing was affordable 2) there were good schools for my kids and 3) there were reasonably priced, family-centric activities to participate in.
Families move out of cities and into the ‘burbs because cities aren’t set up for anyone but the wealthy or the single. Let’s change that dynamic.
The technology that enables remote work has been with us since at least 2009. The only thing standing in the way of mass migration of white-collar jobs to remote work has been the old-school management mindset. The pandemic wiped away a great deal of that “remote doesn’t work for MY company.”
New York isn’t dead. No city has to die. But if the world’s cities want to keep up (and keep the revenue rolling in) then they need to shift along with the times.
What’s That Douglas Up To?
I’m in a toxic relationship with my printer. The thing generally refuses to print anything and blames me for the issue–it says I’m out of paper when I’m not. Then, just when I’m ready to throw it away I decided to try printing something one more time. And you know what? Magically it starts working. But not for long. Oh no. Just long enough that I hesitate to throw it out the next time it fails to perform.
There are very few times I wish I worked in a traditional office, but dealing with failing home office equipment is one of those times. I would LOVE to hand this problem to someone else to deal with. Sadly, I need to break up with my problematic printer on my own.
I wrote a running-themed quarantine piece back in March 2020, and it took until February 2021 to find a home for it. In Zombie Run, I talk about finding safety as a woman running during quarantine.
And last but not least, Bombfire just published my 100 word story Spores, which is a weird take on past experiences affecting the way we see the world.
I procrastinated about writing on my book this week, which is not good. Instead I wrote something else while will be showing up in Quarantine Review some time in August. I’ll share that when it comes out.
In Dr. Seuss’ book Oh the Places You’ll Go there’s a moment when the unnamed character ends up in the waiting place. People go there to wait for their ship to come in, for a break, for a job, for that fateful phone call. Seuss makes it clear that you should get out of this place as soon as possible because life stops in the waiting place.
In other words, don’t wait for life to give you what you want–go get it! I read this book to my children when they were small. Two things occurred to me. First, is this the message you want to send a toddler? They already run after what they want with reckless abandon.
The second was this: Sometimes the best thing you can do is wait. This Pandemic is a good example. The vaccines are out and the world is in the middle of the largest logistical undertaking of our time. The best thing we can do right now is to keep our social distance from folks outside of our households, and wait our turn for the vaccine.
Kenny Rogers Gets It
The older I get, the more I’m convinced we need a children’s book based around The Gambler, as sung by Kenny Rogers. Because really, all of us need to “know when to hold ’em/know when to fold ’em/ Know when to walk away/know when to run.” His advice predates Marie Kondo, telling us we need to learn “what to throw away, and what to keep.” And let’s not even go into how important it is to accurately read people’s faces. That’s a lot of wisdom in a few minutes’ worth of a country song.
Or maybe we need to tell people that it’s okay to wait when they’ve done enough. It’s okay to take rest breaks when you’re looking for a job. There are only so many applications you can submit in one day and retain your sanity. It’s okay for managers to offer an appropriate amount of support to their employees, and then wait for them to either complete the task or ask for help.
Successful remote workers know when to hold off on that snarky email, know when to walk away from their computer at the end of the day, and know when to run and help their colleagues.
You have to make good decisions when no one is watching. That’s a lot easier to do when you periodically take a moment to reflect on what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it. Which is easier to do if you give yourself some down time. So don’t be afraid of the waiting place. Sometimes you’re exactly where you need to be.
What’s That Douglas Up To?
I gave a short keynote for Flexjobs on three strategies job seekers can use to land their next job. This was extra fun because it gave me the excuse to talk to three very lovely people who used informational interviews, networking, and LinkedIn to find their jobs. I will get the recording for this in about a week and I’ll share it here if that interests you.
On Monday P.S. I Love You published my personal essay Every Stitch a Goodbye Kiss. It has nothing to do with remote work and everything to do about crocheting stuffed animals for my kids, knowing that someday they won’t want them any more.
Last week I gathered all the articles I’ve written on Emotional Intelligence (EQ) in the remote workspace, and started making an outline for my next book. I can’t say too much about it yet or my brain will think I’ve written the dang thing and stop bugging me to write it. This would be a no bueno situation.
And finally, I’ve taken a lot of walks along the beach near my house. The end of December and beginning of January were wet and grey, and the sunshine is a gift. It was also an opportunity to take my own advice and reflect on where I am, and what I want to be doing.
Stay well friends. I’m writing this on the eve of Biden’s inauguration in America. I’m hoping the day will be uneventful and that my friends in DC stay safe. We’ll all just have to wait and see.
I love new notebooks. The blank pages are fresh and ready for anything. And while we can’t say that 2021 is exactly like a brand new notebook–we humans are definitely starting this year with some holdover scribbles–there is room for new things.
Hopefully, you kicked 2020 to the curb in a way that works for you. I bought a nice bottle of ice wine and a zoom ticket to The Second City’s Happy Hour show. The cool thing about living in Pacific Time while watching stuff that happens in Central Time is that I can pretend I’m the sort of person who is cool enough to attend evening shows AND still go to bed on time. I beat the system, yo.
This is going to be a fairly short blog because I’m neck-deep in Family Party (otherwise known as my anniversary) planning mode. I can’t tell you what I’m making because I found out my 11yr old reads this blog. I’ll post pictures after January 4th.
Let’s jump into the first of two things I want to tell you about.
I’m On the Fearless Leader Summit
A rather lovely person named Narelle Todd is putting on a no-cost summit January 4th – 24. She’s a long time remote businesswoman and author who decided to research HOW women entrepreneurs and small business owners can work remotely AND build a strong and vibrant team. The result is a series of succinct interviews (between 15-30 min) with people who work in the remote space.
I’ll share the link to my segment when I get it, but I encourage you to watch all the videos. They’ll be released one at a time over the course of the month. Topics include:
– The power of your leadership in creating a highly effective remote team;
– How to delegate and stop doing the jobs you hate in your business;
– How to release control and perfectionism as the Jill of All Trades in your business to build a kickbutt team that serves your clients just like you;
– How to automate your business so you can spend more time with family;
– The struggles business owners who are parents/carers have adapting to working remotely and how to overcome them; AND
– How to setup your business team for success right from the start!
I hope you enjoy the summit! And now for the last thing I wanted to talk to you about.
New Year, But the Same You Is Good Enough
You’re pretty great just as you are. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t exercise or eat more vegetables or whatever it is you’re thinking about doing. Just that you should pick something from a mindset of joy instead of punishment. COVID didn’t kill you. You’re a ninja! Pick a healthy thing to celebrate surviving.
And only commit to it for 48 hours. Or maybe 24 hours. Then, once you hit your goal, keep going if you want. This is how I picked up my running habit in 2014. I downloaded a couch to 5k app and promised myself that I would stop after the first 15-minute session if I hated it too much. My stretch goal was to use it three times over one week.
It’s a lot easier to try new things when you don’t invest too much time/money/emotional pressure into the whole venture. Because you might just hate running or green smoothies or that Coursera course with the fury of a thousand suns. If that happens, drop that bad boy and find something you like better. You didn’t get married to that green smoothie. It’s okay to quit it. To this day, I take bus money with me when I run so I can bail if I need to.
And for those of you who like explicit permission, I’ve made a badge you can use whenever you want:
A blog is a funny thing. I write, and hit send, and my words go out into the internet like a bubble into the wide blue sky. I know there are readers at the other end–I’ve spoken to some of you–but I don’t know when you read what I write. So I don’t know if anyone has noticed that I switched publishing my posts from Thursday/Friday to Tuesday.
Before the pandemic I wrote these posts over the course of 5 days, in the hour in between when my day job ended and when I picked up my kids from school. Now–well. That no longer works, even though my kids are back in school. So I switched my blog to Tuesdays so I could write over the weekend and focus on research for the blog during the week.
And that worked great two weekends ago. It worked less well this week because I caught a cold from my son. Do you remember when getting sick wasn’t terrifying? Fortunately several kids caught the cold at the same time, and one of them was tested, so I know this isn’t covid.
Which is a long explanation for why I have one short thing to say to you about remote work, and this is it:
Professional Communication Is a Little More Nuanced When You Work Remotely
Every few months someone puts out lists of words you need to eliminate from your writing. There are entire classes that teach you how to write pithy business communications that get straight to the point. I’m not knocking that information Everyone should know how to be direct and professional.
But remote workers need to know when to put those rules aside and let their personalities shine through. We don’t see each other as often as colocated employees. Our writing, therefore, has to both convey business information, and help people get to know us. And you can’t do that if all of your communication has been calibrated for maximum efficiency.
Manage Your Soundtrack
Ideally, your colleagues should “hear” your voice when they read emails and instant messages from you. This doesn’t mean you need to crack a joke with every email. If work were a dinner party they wouldn’t pay you to be there.
I’m inviting you to consider where you can inject a little humanity into your written communication. Sometimes that’s as simple as starting an email with ‘I hope this day is treating you well.’ Or perhaps end your email with ‘I appreciate you!’ Depending on the message, you might add some contextual colour. If I have to ask somebody I don’t know well for something they’re late delivering, I sometimes add in a message at the bottom of my email that says ‘And since it’s really hard to convey tone in emails, I want to let you know that this isn’t me getting annoyed. These are crazy times. If you need some extra time, I can give it to you. This is me sending supportive vibes.’
Sometimes, though, a work-appropriate informal email will go along way toward building goodwill. I made a friend at work when I sent am email to someone after a presentation that looked something like this: “Hey Brenda, fab presentation. You has mad skillz.” This email breaks at least three rules, but you know what? “Brenda” didn’t mention any of them. We ended up trading emails back and forth, and we’re friends to this day.
Sometimes we have to button up and send formal emails. But every once in a while, give people a peak at the less formal you. You’ll make make it easier to get things done at work, and forge friendships along the way.
So technically Fall doesn’t begin until Sept 22. But if it’s September and you or someone you live with is back in school, psychologically, it’s Fall. The changing of the season is a good time to take stock of yourself and your remote work. But don’t worry–this isn’t going to be one of those checklists that assumes you have any free time or bandwidth. It’s an opportunity to reflect in whatever moments you have.
How Much Bandwidth Do You Have?
Hint: If you laughed when you read that sentence, then the answer is ‘none,’ and you are nearly done with this step. You know what you have going on in your life right now. Some of you are trying to work while virtually schooling/homeschooling your children. If that’s your situation, I have a badge for you:
The only thing left for you to do is let go of the idea that you should be able to manage your kid’s schooling (whether online or homeschooling) while killing it at work, without breaking a sweat. You aren’t a bad caregiver. You are, in fact, amazing. Full stop. No exceptions. Rock on with your bad self.
If you find yourself with more bandwidth in September, I encourage you to take some time to think about what you need more of in your life. This doesn’t have to be profound. It may be that you really just need a nap. Or, in my case, I need to work on a health issue that got pushed aside at the beginning of the pandemic. The important thing is to make sure your aspirations don’t exceed your bandwidth.
Perhaps you have enough bandwidth to help other people. That leads into the next question to ask yourself.
How Are Your Friends and Colleagues Doing?
Whether or not you have extra bandwidth, it’s good to check in with your friends and colleagues. You might not be able to do anything with the information, but at least they’ll know you care. If nothing else, you can send each other memes and other gallows humour to help you through the current craziness. A text or email that says ‘I was thinking about you. Hope things are less crazy’ can make people feel seen. This is super important when we’re all living our lives remotely.
And if you do have extra bandwidth, you might try to help. Recently, an childless acquaintance reached out to a group of us with an offer of help. She suggested something specific-that she could look stuff up on our behalf. It was a very specific and thoughtful form of support. You can also show support by being calm. Anxious, overwhelmed people can be short-tempered and rash. The biggest gift you can give someone in that moment is your forgiveness.
Do You Have Your Supply of Happy-Makers?
Covid hasn’t gone away. There will be days when our uncertain situation will weigh heavily on you. You’ll need a small cache of simple things that make you happy. For me, those things are yarn, chocolate, and books. Whenever I feel anxious I crochet hexagons. They’re simple enough that I have the pattern memorized, but interesting enough that I get a little break from whatever’s bugging me. As a bonus, I will have a hand-made blanket at some point.
As you see, this isn’t a complicated checklist. But if you take a small amount of time to check-in with yourself, your friends and family, and your supply of happy-makers, you’ll enter fall on the right foot.
Stuff I’ve Published
This week’s published writing is all comedy. Some of you might suspect that I use comedy writing to cope with the Pandemic. You would be correct. On Thursday my humorous nonfiction piece Dye-ing for Alone Time, a Henna-Made Talewent live on Sallymag. I wrote this piece in April with no idea where to place it. My writing often has humorous elements, but it was the first intentionally funny piece I’ve written for publication. This was the story that pushed me to take satire classes with The Second City.
On Tuesday I published volume 2 of Good Girl, Aggie! This is my advice column written by Aggie Green, the mascot of the comedy magazine Greener Pastures. I had no idea if other folks would like Aggie. Imagine my delight when I had messages from people I don’t know, thanking me for giving them something to laugh at. I don’t know if there will be a third Aggie column. We’ll see.
The kids started school. I’d like to say that I did a ton of stuff during the 2.5 hours that they were gone (the first day was a health and safety orientation) but I don’t believe in lying to you. I sent emails to people who were waiting on me for things. I stared at my screen and thought of nothing at all. The fact is, I’m so accustomed to being interrupted that I’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to focus. I expect I’ll get that back again if Covid case counts stay low enough in Vancouver that the kids stay in school. If I had to make a prediction, I predict that the kids come home to online school in November. So after a few days of recovery, I’m going to use the child-free time to write as much as I can.
That’s it from my neck of the woods. I’ll see you next time.
I made chili the other night in my Instant Pot. It’s a pretty easy meal, and I get a lot of good press from the kids when I make it, so chili shows up in the Douglas house often for dinner. I’ll play with the types of beans I use, but on Tuesday I used all kidney beans. The kids like their chili topped with cheese and chopped raw onions (I am as flabbergasted as you are about this. Raw onions? They’ve been known to turn up their noses at bananas that are the wrong shade of yellow) so the chili was a very pretty deep red with dots of yellow and white.
Part way through chopping the onions my eye started itching. My hand twitched toward the vicinity of my eye, but as is so often the case these days with all of us, I reflexively squashed the urge to touch my face.
I was busy loading chili into bowls while stopping the kids from eating the cornbread before I put it on plates, so it took a minute for me to realize that social distancing saved me from rubbing onion juice straight into my eyeball.
We’re still in the middle of a pandemic, but I’ll take all the opportunities for gratitude I can get. I had a few good ones this week.
Flame Thrower Store
On Wednesday the entire family went for a walk in the afternoon sunshine. This sounds idyllic, but as any parent can tell you, you have five seconds of peace before the children start fighting, complaining, or fighting and complaining while trying to crawl all over things that don’t belong to them. Or one tries to run ahead while the other walks as slow as possible. At one point I threatened to give my son extra pages of math to do if he didn’t straighten up. He replied that he would just go to the flame thrower store and get a flame thrower to burn up all of his math.
The entire family had a good laugh over the idea that someone would open up a flame thrower store at all, let alone one that was open to children. My son didn’t even seem to mind the gentle ribbing. He’s an extrovert and any attention is better than no attention.
I won’t lie; trying to work and parent and home school all at the same time is tough. But in the middle of the stress, there are golden moments of relaxation that I wouldn’t access without kids. None of the adults I know want to talk about how to turn wood into weapons that Ewoks can use. I’m not sure I do either, but I love getting a sneak peak at how my child’s mind works.
I was also pretty excited that the ebook version of Working Remotely: Secrets to Success for Employees on Distributed Teams is free through April 21st in both the US and Canadian Amazon stores.
My book is traditionally published. This means that I’m not fully in charge of what can be done with it. My publisher is great, and I get royalties every time someone buys a book, but I can’t decide to make it free unless my publisher agrees. Not only did my publisher agree, they asked me if we wanted to make the book free before I got up the nerve to ask them. Feel free to download a copy, and tell your friends. I’m glad to help folks who may need some pointers during this crazy time.
The Writing Well Isn’t Dry, But It’s Slow Flow
In his book Creative Quest, Questlove describes his creativity as the state of cultivating openness vs trying to pull something up from the depths. For me, creativity is a little bit of both. I have to be open and notice things, but then I have to let whatever it is percolate through me before trying to write about it.
This process requires a certain amount of solitude and silence. Both of these have been in short supply during the pandemic. I’ve been trying to work within my constraints–I wake up early and read in bed, and go running as often as I can–but it’s hard to notice things when someone wants to talk to me every moment of my day.
It was such a gift to sit down last Friday and decide to write, and to actually have my creativity cooperate. I wrote half of a story in a few hours, and then finished it on Saturday with very little fanfare. I hope some day soon I’ll get to show it to you.
There are a lot of things to be upset about these days. Sometimes though, it’s good to act like artists of our own lives, and choose to focus on the small good things that surround the bad. What are you grateful for? I’d love to hear about it.
On Tuesday I was making lunch for my kids when the song We Speak No Americano came on, and we had to pause lunch to hold a dance party. It wasn’t a planned thing. I just started grooving while putting mayonnaise on bread, and glanced at the children to see that they were also dancing. Nobody was fighting or complaining. We didn’t even say anything to each other. We just danced.
It was a perfect moment in a week that’s had it’s ups and downs. At one point this week I shouted “No I’m not making cookies! I realize I make this whole working and parenting thing look easy, but it’s not!” It was not my finest moment. I made up for it a day later by teaching the kids to make apple pie.
These are stressful times, and we’re all going to say or do something we wish we hadn’t. All we can do is pick ourselves back up again and try to do better. I find that it’s a lot easier to be patient if I find small ways to recharge. I thought I would share some of the things I do when I need a break. After that I’ll share some of the articles I wrote to help you if you find yourself working at home for the first time.
Ways to Recharge
Craft. Long time readers of this blog know I like to knit. There’s something life affirming about creating an object stitch by stitch when the world seems to be unraveling. Some people stress bake. I stress knit. I once knit an entire sweater in three weeks because doing so kept me from saying some truly unfortunate things.
If knitting isn’t your thing, try something else. Many people swear by drawing or sewing or painting. If you don’t know how to do any of these things, you can find lessons on You Tube. Now is a great time to pick up a new skill.
Workout. I love to run. Not everybody does, and some of us can’t leave our homes right now. There are a lot of exercise apps out there that can help you break a sweat and work through corona-angst. I can’t do HIIT or I get injured, so I focus on stretching and strengthening when I work out indoors. There are a lot of folks streaming exercise routines over the internet. Try a few things until you find the activity that works for you.
Connect. I said this last week but it bears repeating. Find people to call or text. Talking to others gets you out of your own head. Humans are social creatures, and you need to feed the beast.
But please, for the sake of everyone, don’t feed the beast by yelling at people online. Instead, look for ways to help. Serving others is empowering during a time when many of us are feeling a little powerless.
I try to help by writing how-to articles. And I’ve been on a writing bender because giving people tips they can use helps me cope. Here are some of the things I’ve written, or interviews I’ve given, to try and help ease the shock of working from home unexpectedly.
If Your’re Working From Home Unexpectedly, This Might help
Last night I published Tips for Managing Temporary Remote Teams in The Startup on Medium. I published it there instead of here because more people will see it if they need it. In that article I talk about management do’s and don’ts, and what you should think about when transitioning to remote work.