In 12 feet, you will arrive at your destination.
12 whole feet.
That is my morning commute now. The distance I have to walk from my bed to the day's work. An effortless skip across the dark wooden floors of our 650 square foot slice of paradise.
You'd think that distance would excite me. That I'd feel liberated — finally able to escape the slow moving assembly line of cars on the 405.
I don't. There's a sense of longing that ties itself in a knot deep in the pit of my stomach. I miss the rush of the morning. The rumbling of the engine as I accelerated on the highway. Headed somewhere to do something great. The sigh of relief as the clock struck 4:30. The walk to the car, rain or shine, or the condition we can call "Seattle", where you're not really sure what it is outside.
282 days. That's how long I've been working from home.
Before the pandemic (COVID-19) hit, I'd spend the first four days of my week commuting to an office. The last day of the week came as a bit of a happy surprise. The one day I could unplug from meetings and communication and get some deep thinking done. Now all the days seems to be another recurring episode of "Will it Blend?"
Today is Wednesday. Or is it Thursday?
Though this year has brought us all a perpetual shade of uncertain gray, I've found solace in a daily routine.
I hope that laying out what I'm doing to cope with reality right now will help you too.
I start everyday with some silence. If you're a part of my daily life you know that slowing down and staying quiet is particularly hard for me. I'm a verbal processor and speaking my thoughts helps me comprehend.
It wasn't until I didn't have a commute that I realized I needed space to clear my head. It was easy when I worked every day in an office to get outside for a walk or run around the block. With a pandemic raging all around us, it was much more challenging.
Being cooped up for several months has given me an opportunity to be more self aware. When I wake up, my brain immediately goes into overdrive. I'm thinking about all the things I have to do today, trying to keep up with the latest headlines and getting ready.
This isn't healthy.
So, I adopted a simple routine: Breakfast Coffee Silence With a few minutes of meditation to start the day, I'm less tired, stressed, and have a clear mind.
I can admit that I was a little skeptical of meditation, but I can admit taking the time to be more self aware works. You'll find that your actions are more intentional and you feel less rushed.
Some great resources for mediation
Get Some Headspace : 10 Minutes Can Make All the Difference Insight Timer
Get Shit Done
One I've taken the time to clear my mind, I focus on the most important things I need to get done today. I resist the urge to check Slack or my email. I focus on that thing for the next hour or so. I found that when I left this stuff to the end of the day (because that's when I have less meetings in general), my mind was tired and I got almost instantly frustrated when I got stuck doing a task. Since I've shifting my important work to the front half of the day, I feel less frustrated and more productive.
In many cases, I'm a much more helpful partner once we get to communication and having meetings with others. I've just completed or worked on the things we'll be talking about and so my focus is already there.
In a work from home environment, or any work environment for that matter, communication preferences matter. As I've made the transition from in-person to fully-remote, I find that asynchronous communication is far more efficient and satisfying. For me, context switching is a major time suck. If I'm deep in thought and I get an instant message notification, I can't help myself but respond in a timely manner. This derails my thinking and makes me feel discouraged. I've taken steps to remedy this roadblock. I dedicate 10 am to noon everyday to communication. I write my emails, respond to slack messages, and attend synchronous stand-ups during this time with few exceptions. Otherwise, I have notifications and interuptions turned down to keep my brain turned up.
After what tends to be a meeting and work (get shit done) heavy morning, I need a break. I could make some lunch and sit in front of the TV or play some video games. I've definitely done this in the past. But I've felt guilty about not bettering myself during this time. As you'll see in another section of this article, I'm committed to fitting my "work" into working hours and not working nights or weekends. By fitting my personal development into the lunch hour, it gives me a chance to work on a passion project in the middle of the day and switch my brain off for a bit. If you know me, you know that often times I'll be working on something for work and come up with some other thoughts/ideas along the way. This time slot is about taking time to pull those ideas out of my head and put them somewhere vs. letting them bounce around in my head like a pinball machine.
It's hard, but after lunch I put down the passion project that I'm working on, but not without marking down a few to-dos for later if I feel up to it. This helps me remember what I was thinking and gives me some concrete goals for next time. After "powering down", I pick up where I left with work. Since I spent the few hours before lunch focusing on communication, it's likely that I'll have a few action items to take care of.
Once I've taken care of a few things. I dedicate the last part of the day to planning. I reflect on what I got done today, what I need to focus more on, and what I'll do tomorrow. This brings me a sense of peace and puts my mind at ease as I rock into a final resting point at the ned of the day.
After I've planned my next day, I make a clear break from work. I don't work away the night or weekends any more. This was definitely the biggest change for me when I moved from a marketing agency to an in-house role. Having a clear work life balance is something that you should strive for. I feel happier, more clear headed, and considerably less stressed. I make sure that my team is clear on my expectations. I'll start work at 8am and be done at 4:30pm every day. Please refrain from contacting me before or after my working hours unless it's urgent.
It helps that I work with a team who subscribes to these rules too. Setting clear boundries for me has been an important part to not embracing the workoholic in me. Everyone wins when you focus your productive energy into those working hours and relaxing during the other time. This helps to curb any burnout you might feel.
Don't underestimate the nurturing your body needs. I've found that when I don't excercise (even if it's just a walk around the block with the pups), I feel stuffed into a corner. I feel agitated, stressed out, and unhappy. Cliche as it may be, the "runner's high" is a real thing that I embrace as much as I can.