Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Plague Diaries, Issue 58: May 12, 2020

Today is one of my favoritest days of the year--my Eldest Sister's birthday! Rather than bemoan yet another special occasion spent in exile, away from dear ones, instead, in her honor I thought I'd do a bit of a special thing here on the Plague Diaries--have Eldest do a guest post! So instead of hearing my weary, mopey voice blathering on about the end of the world, or cats, or how the world will end in a plague of cats, you get the privilege--yes, privilege, I say--of "meeting" Eldest Sister, one of the most beguiling and original voices to echo across the Internet.

Eldest Sister, otherwise known as Sarah E, or Mlle Ghoul, is quite the gadabout online: she's infamous as the creative genius behind Heal Yourself, Skeletor (have you noticed the proliferation of Skeltor memes, tshirts, and other sundries in recent years? You've got my sister to thank for that) but more importantly, she is prolific on her own blog and website, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter, to say nothing of her frequent contributions to Haute Macabre. She's soon to be a published author (and not that self-published stuff, either!) In other words: Bitch gets around. 

But most importantly, she is the absolute goddess of working from home. She's done so quite successfully for close to a decade. and can certainly tell us a thing or two about a thing or two. Which is to say: here's how she manages to work from home--and how Apocalypse 2020 barely made a stir her world!

"I have been working from home for my current employer since October of 2012, and though now I have my act relatively together in terms of working alone, remotely, it was definitely a transition. As someone who would rather be left alone while I am working, and who doesn’t give a hoot about hanging with coworkers, it wasn’t the absence of human interaction that gave me issues, so I am afraid I can’t speak to that. Wooooo, no more employee Christmas parties! No more awkward small talk! THANK GOD.

What actually worried me was more along the lines of producing results without my boss, in-person, breathing down my neck. Or being able to prioritize and manage projects without being distracted by “home stuff”; being able to communicate effectively and efficiently (I worked in a small office and we yelled through the walls at each other when we needed something); setting boundaries and not overworking. I spend a lot --A LOT-- of time on the phone with my boss. Sometimes I feel that he must think that if he’s not bending my ear, then I must not have anything to do, and I’m just, you know, sitting around waiting for him to call. This is...not true.

Many of these things are issues that I still struggle with, even 8+ years later, but I mean, I still have my job, so I figure I must have figured out some systems and procedures that work for me. I think most importantly though, is that I have realized that I really need a solid foundation from which to start each day, and which will put me in the position for success from the very beginning before I even lift a finger for that day. And while yes, I am writing about these suggestions in the context of my workday, I think ...if you look at it in a broader sense, it’s just good common sense stuff for every day. Whether you’re working or not. And I realize that many folks are not working right now, and that is an unfortunate position to be in. Ugh. What a weird and awful time. I think what I have sussed out for myself is helpful in terms of just being able to exist and function, regardless if there is work to be done or people to be seen or if you can’t even see a point to anything at all, in weird and awful times, or just in the normal course of life. All of these little things help me when I can’t figure out what that point is, and they help me keep going, anyhow

At the risk of sounding cheesy, I need to structure my day around the principles of what I like to think of as R+R. Not Rest and Relaxation--what do you think this is, a vacation? No, we’re working! From home! But still working! So: Rhythm, or a strong, regular, repeated pattern (of movement or sound, says the dictionary, but we’re expanding the definition to fit our needs) and Ritual, or, a sequence of activities, or a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order. In short, I need to cultivate a routine that I do regularly. I guess R+R could stand for Regular Routine. But I like Ritual Rhythms. Or Rhythmic Ritual! Or all the Rs, whatever.

For me this means waking up early. Early enough so that I can do the following things: take a walk, wash my face, make the bed (this is maybe the MOST important--if I don’t make the bed, it plagues me all day long) clean up the kitchen if I didn’t do it the night before, start coffee, record my dreams, have time to read and drink my coffee for 30 minutes to an hour before the work day starts.

For me, this is an optimal morning that got both my blood and my brain moving well in advance of being at my desk, and at the very least I got my reading and exercise in early, so even if the whole day goes off the rails and I end up working until 9PM, at least I already gave myself the opportunity to do those non-negotiable essential things for me. To coin a phrase from Amy Landino, even though I have to spend a large chunk of my day working, at least I got to start the day off 'on my own terms.'

I have to make sure I get a little something to eat before I start my day. Not as soon as I awake...the thought of that makes me vaguely ill, but sometime a few hours after. I am not one for sweet breakfasts, so I can’t do cereal or smoothies or breakfast bars; I might instead eat a hard boiled egg, or a slice of toast with almond butter or avocado--and usually that’s good enough, fuel-wise, to get me started for the day. Pictured here is some sort of bread that I made with leftover fruits and oats and to be honest it wasn’t the best tasting thing ever... but I thought it made a nice photo!

I need to make sure that I am dressed before I sit at my desk. It might be tempting to work in your pajamas but you’ll probably find pretty quickly that practice works better in theory than reality. Or maybe that’s just me. But I personally feel that there’s nothing grosser or less professional-feeling than taking phone calls and writing emails, bra-less, in the same clothes you’ve slept in. And I don’t even have a very professional image to uphold! It’s not like I’m on Zoom meetings all day or anything like that. I work with a small team and we Skype maybe once a week.

Getting dressed makes me feel grounded and connected to reality; it flips that mental switch and signals a shift in my day that I’m about to do the thing that, you know, puts money in the bank. So I strongly suggest that you do not go through the motions of your day in a bed-headed, half-sleep, pajama fog. Put on pants and a clean shirt --at the very least, in something you’d feel okay being seen wearing in public, outside the house--and take a moment to dress, in some approximation, like you’re about to do the thing that makes you money. Unless you make money with your clothes off. In which case, more power to you.

It took me a very long time to loosen up with regard to working from home. I was used to working in an office where if you weren’t on the phone, it was dead silent. No one had music playing, or god forbid, headphones on, listening to music or whatever. I ate lunch quickly at my desk, I didn’t take a “lunch hour” and I certainly didn’t eat lunch off-site. I rarely even walked away from my desk, except for a bathroom break. I didn’t even wear perfume--which I love to wear!-- because my boss was allergic, and very crabby about it, if you happened to forget this.

When I began working from home, I at first adhered to many of these conditioned, in-office habits, but as I slowly realized there was no one around to bother with my music or perfume, I began to shed all of those practices which didn’t make sense anymore. I wear my perfumes now, sometimes, sampling three or four of them throughout the day! There’s no one to notice or complain about it, so why not make my day a little more sweeter and pleasant-smelling? I burn candles and incense and run my essential oil diffuser, too! I now listen to music while I work; there’s no one around to give me weird looks with regard to the eerie pan flutes,  ghost wails, or doom metal sounds coming from my cubicle. I have art and knicknacks displayed prominently, in every shelf and on every wall of my home-office, which I never could have gotten away with in a more traditional office setting. Taxidermy and memento mori make people uncomfortable, who knew? But now that you can add different backgrounds in your Zoom and Skype meetings, who is even going to know?

 I have the freedom now to create a much more pleasant environment in which to hunker down and weather the work day, and I am finally okay with fully taking advantage of that. I still eat my lunch at my desk, though. I know work from home gurus tell you to step away and set some boundaries and eat lunch at the kitchen table, but I haven’t worked my way up to that yet. I’ve worked from home for close to a decade now, so I have a feeling I might never get there.

Lastly, I mentioned some initial concerns with regard to prioritizing and managing my projects and though I haven’t yet found the perfect system that works for me, what I have found--and this is probably just common sense to a lot of people--is the practice of writing things down. What a novel concept, right? Believe it or not, it’s just been in recent years that I have begun to do this. Before I was writing lists and scheduling appointments on calendars, etc., I somehow thought that I was...just supposed to innately remember everything? Like...it was somehow cheating...at life...to write reminders and make to-do lists and things to see visually, to motivate you to take of your obligations and responsibilities and to finish your projects and reach your deadlines? I guess I can be a little dense. Because it just never occurred to me that I could do this. It only took about three years of my annoying baby sister extolling the virtues of planners before I figured out that maybe, this once, I should listen to her.

Now I have a personal planner and a notebook for work to jot down notes and ideas and whatever might need doing, and hey--how about that! I get things done! Don't tell Baby Sister I was right, though.

These are a handful of things that helped me settle into a work from home routine, and which continue to make the workday a little easier the longer I spend time working this way. But they are also things that just...make life a little easier, you know? Wake up early enough to do the things you want to do before the day starts in earnest. Get dressed and signal that shift in your mindset from dream-time to do-time. Scent your person and your space with lovely fragrances, listen to pleasing sounds, surround your space--whether it’s your office or even your bathroom!--with things you like to look at. These things just feel good! Write things down, you can’t expect yourself to remember everything! And above all, be kind to yourself; it may take you to  get it together, and that's okay. By the time you have built a solid routine for yourself, it might turn out that your workplace has reopened. Or perhaps your employer will have concluded that working from home was a positive situation with benefits that outweigh having a team in an office, and you’ll stay put.

Either way, hopefully, like me, you’ll find that you don’t have to make things harder on yourself than they have to be, and perhaps with a few of the tips I have mentioned here, you may even make them easier. Good luck!"

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