If this pandemic has given us anything, it’s time, right? At least that’s what I understood it was supposed to be. I have never wanted to work from home full time. I struggle with separating work time and personal time. Unfortunately for me, it’s usually in favor of working way more than I should. The way things started out for me during all this was worse. I was working on a project related to this whole thing, so the hours were long and the days didn’t matter. It wasn’t until a few weeks in that I nearly rage quit, and my supervisor stepped in and forbid me to work the next day, which happened to be a Sunday. Once we delivered the system to the doctors, things calmed down. I also advised my boss that I was drawing a line and not going to do that going forward.
That’s when I started to do the math. I, like so many others, wanted to figure out how much extra time I’d have on my hands and what to do with it. I cut almost an hour of time in the car driving to and from work. I cut another hour because lunch would be at home now and no longer somewhere near the office. That’s two hours a day Monday through Friday. Not to mention no more having to iron or prep office attire. Now, I can shower, throw on whatever and get to work. That’s at least 10+ hours per week! I’d be saving any amount of time we’d spend waiting to be seated at a restaurant for dinner a couple times a week. The time to wait for food, etc. Lord knows I can’t go into Target for less than an hour at a time and we did that at least once a week. Time to plan how to spend all that new free time!
My To Do list started simple, then grew very large. For starters, I had started reading the second Witcher book, so I would definitely finish that. I wanted to meditate but never found the time. I missed photography and would pick that up again. Oh, and all that meal planning and getting my food intake on point would be easy now. I would clean out every closet and cabinet. Under the bed, yup that too. I would scour the internet for research to build my ideal running plan for when races were finally allowed. I will update my resume and finally try to make my LinkedIn profile right. I’d blog, probably every day. I have a library of podcasts that I have been waiting to listen to. Japanese, yup I will finally finish that Rosetta stone I have done on and off of for years. I would cook amazing breakfasts with bacon and tamago (no, not tomatoes, that’s Japanese for eggs. See! I am already working on it. This is awesome!). Productivity is about to go through the roof! I even made a schedule with blocks of time in which to do these, plus a hundred other things.
So far, I have accomplished none of them. Well, I did a blog post or two, but that probably would have happened anyway. I have been feeling like a roller coaster lately. I’ve been working from home for at least ten weeks or so at this point. One week, I will feel energized and get some things done and the next I will feel like I am fighting off depression any given day. I will wake up on time, work out, eat right and clean out a dresser one day and sleep in, eat a cheeseburger for lunch, and barely want to move the next. I wasn’t sure what was wrong with me. I assumed something was, because that’s how I roll. I’d beat myself up, have a stellar week or two and think I have a handle on it, only to come crashing down again. That’s when I did the one thing I know I am good at. Research. (I know, shocking.)
I am not going to site any articles or studies in this post. I am good at research but don’t feel like writing a dissertation here, but what I found made me feel better. One important thing I was reminded of when doing the research, is that I am the only me there is. I know, not something you’d think you need to be reminded of, but we do need a reminder. There is no other person who is going through this exactly the way I am. There is no other person going through this exactly the way you are. It’s easy to compare yourself when you hear that so and so just repainted their house or began cooking gourmet meals every night with all their spare time. Maybe they can’t work from home, maybe the don’t have kids, maybe they always worked from home and live alone. Maybe they are just as shook up and did those things to pass the time, or maybe they are really awesome at balancing it all out. Good for them. They are not you, and they are not me.
The other important thing I was reminded of, is that our body responds to stress as stress, regardless of the source and type, be it good or bad. We have a long history of programming in how to handle stress, and that has not changed. Even if we are no longer running for our lives from some creature who wants to eat us, but facing an important deadline. When I think about how much easier working from home should be, it’s not. The same people that would have walked up to me and interrupted my thought, now virtually tap me on the shoulder and interrupt that thought. None of that really changed. The difference is that I am no longer in an environment dedicated to work. The walls that surrounded me before, quite literally cut me off from anything but work. Many of us are experiencing a kind of sensory overload like never before. I have my amazing kiddo sitting right next to me in the office, and sometimes, he needs some help. It may be in the form of a question for his home schooling. It may be in the form of me having to give him a gentle nudge to get back to work. It may be in the form of the kid just needing to talk to someone about his gaming adventure, because he’s not hanging out at the bus stop anymore with his friends. I think about how all this is affecting him on a daily basis when I see him struggling to stay on task. Some days, it’s hard for me to get into a groove and work well, I can’t imagine that as a kid.
I learned in my research that we don’t have to be productive during this downtime. Stressors around us have been amplified whether we want to be affected by them or not. I read about how the psychology of all this comes into play, and they are right. I worry. I think about things opening back up. I certainly don’t want to live in fear and want some things to get back to normal, but I also want to make sure I do what is right for my family. I don’t want to ever look back and think that someone I love got sick because I just “had” to go out to dinner because it had been so long since I’ve been out. Almost every day I worry about making sure I am doing enough at work, while still making sure my kiddo does enough for the best possible grade he can get. I worry about what his first year of high school will look like. All of that is stress. So is trying to pretend it’s all normal. I overstress because I often try to remind myself how lucky I am to have these “first world problems”. I remind myself to be grateful for what I have, every day, but in such a way that I am not scolding myself for being worried, for being human.
For a while, I tried to figure out where all those planned hours went. Some of that saved commute time went to sleeping in out of sheer exhaustion. Some of went to just chilling on the couch watching a you tube video. Some of it went to our family workouts every Tuesday and Thursday. Many of those lunch hours became table time for the family to eat another meal together. That time we would have spent waiting at a restaurant or at Target on the weekend went to tinkering with our favorite crafts, or learning how to play Pokémon cards. Some of that time, I can’t even account for. I have no clue where it went. None of that was in my plan, and most people would not consider any of it real productivity, but almost all of it alleviated stress in some way shape or form. We don’t have to be “productive” during this whole thing. This is a weird time and something none of us have ever experienced. What we need to do, is show ourselves some grace and do the best we can to come out of this on the other side healthy and happy.
I changed the name of my to do list to “Ideas of things to do”. If I feel like doing something, and don’t know what to do, I can skim it and see if anything clicks. If I don’t feel like doing any of that, and just want to veg on the couch, then that’s what I’ll do. I’m trying to no longer worry about being productive during my “off” hours. I’m pretty productive otherwise so I’ll just take them, well, off! Yeah, I may never get to finish that Japanese Rosetta Stone, but like I said, I did learn to play Pokémon, and hat’s close enough, right?