There are two main settings for people at work: Always available, or mainly concentrating. Those of us who need helmet time to get anything done are starting to realize that almost nobody else has the luxury of signaling, “I need to focus so come back later (or not).” Now that many of us are working from home, sometimes for the first time, we’re going to have to design a new set of signals to communicate our availability.
If you have kids at home, teach these concepts as a game. Kids tend to be hardcore rules lawyers, especially the little ones, and there’s always one who loves being the warden or bad cop. Choose your little Enforcer and have fun.
The #1 best respected signal in the tech world is: headphones. Wearing headphones signals to everyone that you are doing deep work. Interrupting someone who is working with headphones on is discouraged and should only be done if it’s truly urgent.
Note: discuss with all members of household a painstakingly precise definition of what “urgent” means. May vary by household.
Again, former nanny here, kids like structure. They like to know how to get a win and they like being able to predict important things, like How do I get him in trouble? and When is the next snack time, it’s been 18 minutes already. Many colleagues and roommates are pretty much the same as preschoolers, only taller.
I normally work at home with my parrot, who is much shorter than a preschooler but also more devious, louder, messier, and more inclined to chew through things such as metal, or the baseboards. Birds are very into elaborate protocol. Cats, I dunno, you’re on your own as far as setting cat guidelines.
My husband has been sent home to work with us. He is on teleconferences anywhere from 3 to 8 hours a day.
Did I mention that our apartment is 650 square feet? And there is no wi-fi elsewhere in the building?
Since we are both often on overlapping calls, our first priority is making sure we don’t interfere with each other’s audio. This unfortunately includes both our work, and ordinary household tasks like fixing lunch or running water in the sink.
After a week of turning our little shoebox into a coworking space, we’ve used our understanding of lean manufacturing principles and business productivity to devise a system. The goal is to communicate without communicating. Just like a hotel might ask patrons to signal the state of their towels by either leaving them on the floor or hanging them up, we want something that we can check at a glance.
This is what we’ve come up with:
A whiteboard with a basket of colored dry erase markers, an eraser, and a spray bottle of cleaner. I set it up in the living room in landscape format, and drew a line down the middle. We each write our call schedule in blue ink, with red ink available for important notes.
The first day we did this, we realized that all his calls were in the morning and most of mine were in the evening, so one or the other of us would need quiet for over twelve hours straight.
Four colored manila folders that I dug out of our file box. I cut them in half along the fold so we each have a matching set of green, yellow, and red. The other color is orange.
Green: Working, but open for conversation
Yellow: Deep work, do not disturb
Red: On a call, quiet please
He displays his cards at his desk, where he does most of his work. I put mine on my side of the whiteboard since I tend to range from room to room.
The orange folder is to slide under the bedroom door to say it’s safe to come out. (I take calls in the bedroom, but we also sleep different hours, and I don’t want to suddenly burst out the door and unintentionally interrupt a presentation).
The idea with using all this visual communication, rather than texting, is that we’re often doing stuff on our devices and a text message can be disruptive. Visual signals are faster and easier.
Signals also work for little kids who can’t read yet.
If someone in the household turns out to be color-blind, or not everyone in the room speaks/reads the same language, a similar effect can be produced using shapes or objects. Maybe a favorite stuffed toy faces the room for an all-clear, but faces the wall when... ugh that’s creepy, never mind. Ask your kids what they suggest.
This type of flag is called an ‘andon.’ They are used with great efficiency in manufacturing environments, and they work well at home too. For instance, if there is an empty bottle of shampoo, the last person to use it puts the empty bottle on the counter, and the person who makes the shopping list sees it and makes a note. Even pets can learn to communicate this way, like the dog who picks up her leash with her mouth, or the cat who stands next to the empty bowl.
We’ve found that using workplace practices at home helps us to feel more respectful of each other. We are able to run our household with few or no conversations about who does which chore. These practices have helped us have more fun on vacation, too.
When our daughter was at home, the three of us could work quietly together for hours at the same table. I would write, my husband would write code or review drawings, and she would study. It was a very cozy feeling. No doubt it served her well when she went off to college and had to share space with three roommates in one apartment.
The thing about quiet time vs. the usual free-for-all is that there’s no reason to ever stop. Everyone deserves to be able to concentrate or take an important call. Everyone should be able to read quietly or take a nap without being disturbed. Respect is like anything else: give what you wish to receive.
We got a head start on this whole social distancing/work from home thing, because my husband was already home sick. Further, we suspect that we may have already been exposed to COVID-19, which is extremely sinister because the symptoms were relatively mild. I had to talk him into staying home one more day, so he didn’t cough on anyone, and that was the day they sent everyone home.
“They” meaning basically every engineering firm in our entire region.
This is the moment that every shy person, introvert, and/or helmet-time person on a maker schedule has been waiting for, the dream of a lifetime! Think how much more productive everyone will be! Think how much more we’ll all get done!
A real discussion from our bedroom:
Him: I’m worried if it’s ethical to go to morning classes at the gym. [the gym next door that is five minutes away]
Me: You worked twelve hours today and you’re concerned about taking a 6:00 AM gym class?
The problem for most “people like us” isn’t working at home, it’s NOT working at home. Like, around the clock. We’ve had to institute a formal sign-off procedure with at least three steps. Close work laptop. Eat meal. Take shower.
My husband and I met at work. We were casual lunch buddies for ages before we ever considered each other in a romantic context. Fourteen years later I sometimes still feel like, “OMG, kissing a colleague, so wrong” and I’ve actually dreamt about [censored] in a conference room.
If anyone were prepared to share a 650-square-foot home office, it would be us. Our apartment is essentially a hotel suite in almost every respect except that we have to change our own towels and we have a bigger bottle of shampoo.
There have been... some complications.
The first is that we’re ridiculously excited to be work buddies again. We keep making the mistake of turning to each other and talking. The other day that led to taking turns trying to knock each other on our butts with a compression strike to the midsection. (Acting out a highly dubious scene from a TV show). It had escalated rather quickly when his phone rang with a business call. Oops!
(If the above sounds alarming, we are both belted in multiple martial arts and we would never lay hands on each other in a disrespectful context, partly because I’m much farther along in Krav Maga and situational combatives).
The second complication is my little parrot. If you know Noelie, she is deeply obsessed with teleconferences. Often she has met at least a couple of the participants, and she recognizes their faces. She *knows* those are her real friends on the screen. She will throw a conniption fit if she isn’t on the call, which means imitating electronic sounds at 70+ dB until someone picks her up and puts her on camera where she can see herself.
She also has a theory-of-mind issue. It goes something like this. “If you are quiet, it’s quiet time, therefore I will be quiet. Alternately: if you are making noise, it’s noise time, therefore I will make noise.” Rule is in play whether you are on the phone, watching a movie, or running the blender. WHOO, NOISE TIME! She will start her daily practice session, which consists of an hour of chattering, kissy noises, whistles, beeps, electronic sounds, hammer strikes, and even ping pong games. If you think a daycare or kindergarten is noisy, may I introduce you to my personal one-bird band.
In practice, one or the other of us has to grab the bird and entertain her during a call. Since we are often on dueling conference calls at the same time, she is milking the situation for all it’s worth, beeping her little diva heart out.
When we try to take calls in the main section of our apartment, we interfere with each other’s audio. That generally means I need to get up and leave the room, and that means either the bedroom or the shower. No wi-fi in the hallway.
You wouldn’t think so, but all of this ad hoc alternative-mode productivity has produced a very upbeat, carnival atmosphere. We are strangely more accessible and getting probably 50% more work done than we would during a normal week.
[cite declaration of 2020 as year of “no normal weeks”]
It’s mayhem, and some of us actively enjoy mayhem!
Crisis mode = not boring
We have had to set new policies to try to respect each other’s boundaries. What I’ve been learning this year is that nobody respects a middle-aged lady’s mental bandwidth. Nobody!!! Not age peers, not other women, not elderly people, not teenagers, not professional colleagues or random members of the community, nobody. My husband included.
I was on an emergency conference call, dealing with a high-priority novel systemic issue. My husband started waving his phone at me from across the table, talking to me about the stock market. I grabbed the first thing that came to hand, the cover to my tablet, and held it up between us. He leaned over to peer around it and try to make eye contact, so I moved it again. DUDE!
After the call, he apologized. I told him it might seem strange, but I do occasionally have real work to do, as often as an hour a week! (Joke, go ahead and guess the real number). I’m not afraid to pull rank on him during the workday, as long as we can reconnect and find each other as friends later that evening.
What we’ll probably wind up doing is holding a standup meeting each morning, arranging our schedule so that we both have privacy for our respective calls. We’ll probably both wear our big headphones, like he used to when he worked in an open-plan office. We actually have a folding screen that we could set up as a room divider.
We’ll get through this weirdness together. We’ll have to, one way or another, since we are each other’s designated contact on our living wills and advance care directives... Emergency room buddies, nurses pro tem, sworn companions with a blood oath between us. In sickness and in health. We just have to improvise the part about “at work or at leisure.”
(apologies to Tom Lehrer)
[to the tune of “We Will All Go Together When We Go”]
When you go to the hospital
From Coronavirus transmittal
You will know COVID-19 has come to you
Though you doubted the pandemic
Now you wish for something chemic-
al, a vaccine or a cure to see you through
(You wish they’d hurry)
No more face masks, no more tissue
Gee, your family will miss you
You left the house and then you touched your face
For if the cough that sprays on you
Gets your friends and neighbors too
In three months we’ll lose half the human race
And we will all cough together when we cough
For we could not afford to take time off
Might have been some deterrence
Now we will all cough together when we cough
We will all hack together when we hack
There’ll be too much morbidity to track
We will spread our pneumonia
From New York to California
All our Netflix marathons will fade to black
Oh, we will all wheeze together when we wheeze
There’ll be no ambulance despite our pleas
We will trade “see you laters”
From our matching respirators
No inheritors will claim our legacies
And we will all plague together when we plague
We’ll have left our last wishes rather vague
We will cause a complication
With the city’s sanitation
Let no one judge our hygiene but The Hague
Oh we will all ill together when we ill
No research funding, no vaccine, no pill
Just sing out a good nighty
When you catch C O V I D
In the afterlife you can skip the bill
Oh we will all phlegm together when we phlegm
There will no longer be an us and them
We will spread our contagion
To each Hoosier, Yank, and Cajun
We’ll unite in global chaos and mayhem
We will all go together when we go
Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco
When we all become infectious
And the hospitals reject us
Yes we all will go together
When we all go together
Yes, we all will go together when we go
In times of trouble, it can be hard to remember that such a thing as “luck” exists. Janice Kaplan decided to research the topic from an analytical perspective, not being a natural optimist, with the goal of finding out if she could learn to be lucky. How Luck Happens is the delightful result.
The first thing that becomes clear in the research and writing of How Luck Happens is that Kaplan gets tons of help whenever she asks. People keep saying Yes to her request for interviews, giving her extra time, and connecting her with other well-placed people. She recognizes that this is her way of making extra luck. Over and over, these successful people list off how they’ve been lucky in their own lives and how they do their best to pay it forward, which is clearly a way to become even luckier.
This was an exciting book to read, because I see myself as a lucky person even though I have lived through some pretty serious misfortunes. There are a lot of tricks to it, and one of them is learning to think in counterfactuals. “If X had happened instead” or “If Y hadn’t happened.” For instance, last month my husband had a terrifying and very painful eye injury and we spent the night in the emergency room, where we both picked up either a bad cold or the flu and were sick for a week. Anyone would consider that bad luck; you wouldn’t even have to qualify as a pessimist. The counterfactuals, however, go on and on. We felt so lucky that we have health insurance, that this happened near home instead of in the backwoods or on vacation or overseas, that we have antibiotics in our century, that there were numbing eye drops, that his vision was saved and his eye healed completely, that we’re both able to work from home so I could take care of him, that we ranked so low on the triage list that a lot of people in much worse shape got to go in first. Rather this than the kidney failure...
THEN we realized that we were even luckier than that, because this happened early enough in the year that we got “the flu” (or whatever) and we missed COVID-19.
How Luck Happens does a great job of explaining the concept of luck, which includes what I would consider to be ‘good fortune.’ Kaplan does an amazing job of demonstrating how to create your own kismet and generate serendipity. I also loved how she started looking for ways to create lucky circumstances for others, something that my husband and I do all the time and which it is thrilling to see explained and encouraged. Nothing is more fun.
I hope this book is wildly successful and that readers start testing these ideas right away. Maybe writing this review will throw a little extra luck my way?
Sometimes the seed of opportunity that we plant doesn’t blossom into luck until weeks or months or even years later.
“Real luck occurs at the intersection of chance, talent, and hard work,” I said.
You have to believe you’re lucky to take the action that will make you lucky.
The real trick is to recognize those moments of luck moving forward.
The grit and fortitude and steely resolve that come with being passionate make positive things happen. Putting your desire out to the universe just means that you know what you want.
You get lucky when you admit what you want and go after it.
Futurism is such a solace in times of trouble. Most people like to think back to some supposed golden era, when times were supposedly simpler, but crisis always makes me think of historical versions of the same type of crisis, and that’s never good. When I heard that COVID-19 had been given a name, the first names that came to my mind were “Justinian” and “Boccaccio” - which, if you don’t already know what I mean, should at least be an interesting half-hour of web browsing.
I studied history just long enough to know that I don’t want to live there!
I think forward. I mean, someone has to. Why do images of the future always turn out so dystopian? Because 1. we lack imagination and 2. we fear change. As a species. The individual ego dies but humanity as a whole carries on, smarter and more sanitary every time.
This is what I picture.
Urban people live in personalized pods that are sanitized by UV light. Almost all possessions are digital, including music, books, movies, games, and artwork. It’s possible to 3D-print objects like a new toothbrush or pair of socks, and then just toss the waste material back into the machine to be remade into something else.
All city food is inspected, cleaned, chopped, prepared, and served or delivered by robots. The only human hands that touch it are yours, when you eat it.
Sanitation is built into restroom fixtures, water fountains, railings, and other surfaces.
Everyone is wildly bored because there’s nothing to do but passively be entertained and waited on. It’s like being on a space shuttle without actually going anywhere.
Actually I don’t think that’s true at all. I think in a world like this, some people would adore it and others would run off to become Amish. Some, like me, would be urban most of the time and go off to the wilderness part of the time to recharge. It’s so much more interesting when it’s wild enough for the top-tier predators to come back.
We still want wildness, even when it tears into the tent, clamps its jaws around our head and drags us into the underbrush.
Why do we continue to find the past so hauntingly attractive, even when it’s demonstrably so grubby and smelly? When the plague could come and kill 30% of the population or wipe out an entire city? When for decades the leading cause of death was not heart disease, stroke, cancer, or war but tuberculosis? When a paper cut could give you tetanus and kill you in three days?
We’re squeaky clean compared to earlier humans, no offense to any particular century or culture but it’s true. We have incredible sewers and water treatment plants, flush toilets, running water, automated soap dispensers, and even better, we have vaccinations. There is now a vaccine for a common childhood disease that killed my first cousin once removed about 60 years ago.
In the future, there will definitely be new and improved vaccines. I’ll bet a flat green American dollar that they will be free to all comers. Quite probably there will be a universal flu vaccine and a universal rhinovirus vaccine and a universal coronavirus vaccine. And, equally probably, there will be refusers and deniers and scoffers just as there are today.
The more common the vaccine, the less people care. They take herd immunity for granted. Dude, I have close relatives who have been taken down by mumps, by scarlet fever, by tuberculosis and even by chicken pox. We can largely ignore most epidemic illness because of the concerted effort of health professionals and the scientific community throughout the Twentieth Century.
We live the dream of every parent who ever cried over a child’s deathbed, “Make it stop!”
This is why I think the biggest deal about the future will be better and better health care, because that’s always been our first priority. It’s the main thing people will bankrupt themselves for. People will risk their lives to care for other people when they are sick. Others will work day and night, hunched over in a lab, trying to develop treatments or vaccines or anything at all that will work.
I think what will change is faster communication, cheaper and faster diagnostics, and cheaper and faster vaccine and drug development. As we get better at research and better at logistics, better at crisis response, there will be parts of the world that get by mostly epidemic-free.
And, in response, at least for now, more intellectually lazy people contributing to one of the all-time great tragedies of the commons, abdicating on herd immunity.
I think in the future we’ll be marginally better at public service announcements and understanding the psychology of the refuseniks. Probably we’ll also get better at isolating people.
What is more likely to save us is the innovation curve of the service industry. We’ll go on smearing our greasy fingerprints all over everything, only institutional changes will gradually adapt around our behavior. We’ve all been taught incrementally to do things like wait in line, use tablets to place our orders, read the signifiers on little sauce packets, and sort our trash. A lot of the sanitation and trash hauling is transparent to us as we go about our business.
Mostly, we buy what is available in the form factors that are presented. We quickly adopt innovations like voicemail or seatbelts or drive-thru windows, and we learn to understand new icons in a way that may even be accessible to habituated wildlife.
We’ll be cleaner and healthier in the future because decisions will be made above our pay grade. For instance, right now industries from airlines to banks to coffee shops are making adjustments, as much to keep the money machine humming as to protect their customers and employees. Commerce only works for the living.
Ten years from now, we won’t even remember exactly how it happened. We may only realize how much things have changed when we try to look backward, just as it’s hard for me to remember what it was like before smartphones + internet access + GPS. I remember the specific day I learned how to do a Boolean search, but I have trouble reconstructing how I used to think before that day. It’s going to be the same with the near-term future.
Right now, we can order quite a lot with the touch of a button. In the future, it just won’t be a physical button and we’ll be subliminally discouraged from touching anything at all.
How would we find out if we had/have COVID-19?
Recently a friend stopped by to visit after being on a cruise ship. He had a very scary cough. Now my husband is sick. Coincidence?
But maybe not?
The thing is, at this point in technological development, most people never get tested for anything when they get sick. We probably misattribute symptoms all the time. We say we have “the flu” when it might be a bad cold, salmonella poisoning, or some other type of virus that is not technically influenza. How would we know?
A hundred years ago people thought tuberculosis was genetic.
In trying to be rational during an outbreak, the most important step is to err on the side of hygiene. If we get anything out of this epidemic, hopefully it will be a higher regard for basic hand-washing. I did a speech on Ignaz Semmelweis last year, and I was appalled to learn that there was no specific date when it became universally required for doctors to wash their hands. I wanted to throw in a tidbit like “He was ignored for 80 years.” It’s worse than that because it never happened at all.
Humans, we get pretty offended and defensive if anyone suggests we aren’t quite clean enough!
Even as we walk around coughing into space, getting up from tables without even pretending to wipe our crumbs or pick up our cups, and turning a blind eye when our kids stick their ABC gum under their chairs.
(Hey, SOMEONE is doing it and I’m pretty sure it’s not squirrels).
Last night I had to move someone else’s wet laundry. (72 units, 7 washing machines; don’t hate the player, hate the game). It was still sitting where I left it when I came down to put my stuff in the dryer, so I put the other load back in the washer where I found it.
“They think it’s clean! Now they’ll never know that someone touched it!” I told my husband when I came back upstairs. If coronavirus gives us anything, maybe it will encourage more people to set a timer and quit bogarting the washing machines.
It didn’t occur to me until just now. What if that wet laundry was sitting in the washer because the person who put it there suddenly fell ill?
How would I know?
The indicators that we might be sick or in trouble tend to look just like regular, sloppy old human behavior.
I don’t know any of my neighbors by name, and I’ve lived here over six months. People are not very friendly in our building... and will probably be less so as time goes by and epidemic preparedness becomes more culturally ingrained. I recognize a dozen people, but I don’t know who lives in which unit or what kind of schedule they normally keep. I wouldn’t know who to check on or what to ask.
“Hi, are you dead yet? No? Okay great.” *clears throat* “TEN O’CLOCK AND ALL’S WELL!”
There will probably be a digital solution for this. We all have a switch that we press at designated times and it lights up on a reader board somewhere. Everyone at 123 Main Street is still up and kicking.
More likely this will be a sensor provided by Netflix. Still viewing, still breathing... unless they’re on auto-play, because it’s actually plausible that someone might not move for 8 hours with the right show on.
We already know we can’t count on Amazon because sometimes those packages sit in the lobby for days. There’s an entire Instant Pot that’s been down there since January.
Starbucks might know. Joe hasn’t been here for his regular order in three days, that can’t be right! Although one day I’m convinced we’ll have custom coffee spigots that dispense our regular beverages with six-sigma precision, right out of the sink.
It’ll all be delivery robots, dropping off food on our doorsteps, sanitizing the sidewalks in little damp trails as they go.
...Have crows and gulls figured out delivery bags yet?
Fortunately for us, we started prepping approximately five minutes ago. We actually have soup and stuff on hand. While we understood that we were very unlikely to be quarantined, and also very unlikely to die of COVID-19, there is nothing wrong with stocking up on two or three weeks’ worth of dry goods.
It’s almost embarrassing that one of us got sick within the week. Like, why haven’t you been doing this routinely every September for your entire adult life?
It actually is quite possible that we both have been exposed to COVID-19 and wouldn’t know it. Apparently the main reason it has propagated so quickly to the level of “community spread” is that most people who are exposed to it either don’t get all that sick, or don’t have symptoms at all.
Why is my husband coughing and I’m not?
I feel a little weird, tired and a bit lethargic, but it’s almost impossible to tell whether that’s due to the change to daylight savings time. It could be psychosomatic. I wouldn’t blame anyone who felt like me for going to work and running errands just like normal. This is kinda the daily reality of middle age. “Like a young person but tired and stressed out.”
The difference between us right now is that any time I’ve been on the bus or out in public, and I heard someone coughing or blowing their nose, I would take my special zinc tablets that night. Hubby only takes them if I wave them in his face, because they taste strongly of garlic and mushroom. Bouillon cubes! This is now the third time he’s picked up a cold (or something, she said ominously) and I haven’t gotten it, even though we live together and eat mostly the same meals.
Also I drink green tea and he drinks black tea, but who’s counting?
In the end, we have to consider that there is a virus in our apartment and that both of us are probably contagious - with what, who knows? How could we ever know? Supposedly the standard-issue flu killed up to 80,000 people in one winter, and that has never been enough to inspire all that many people to get the flu shot, much less wash their hands more carefully or actually stay home when they are clearly ill.
We’re taking precautions because we can, and because suddenly this year it seems to matter more. Whatever we might have, we’re pretty sure you don’t want it.
Organized people usually don’t understand why other people struggle to be organized. Punctual people not only can’t grasp why other people are late; they take it as a personal attack and some kind of moral crime. I see both as missed opportunities.
If you’re always on time, maybe you can help teach other people your secrets. If you’re organized, maybe you can help others.
Or maybe it’s harder than it looks? Maybe we start to realize, when we try to help, that what comes easily to us isn’t necessarily easy at all?
If you do want to help someone else, the first step is to learn how to be a good body double.
A body double is someone who sits with someone else.
It sounds simple, and it can be, but there are also a million ways to mess it up!
There are a lot of reasons why someone might be chronically disorganized. Many of them are situational, such as working twelve-hour shifts, having the flu, or raising tiny kids. The person knows what to do, but there’s too much going on at the moment. Help with even one single chore or errand can help this kind of person get it back together. Sometimes we can help just by taking over for a couple of hours while they take a nap.
For others, it can be more complicated. Some of my people come at the puzzle of organization from the perspective of autism, attention deficit, baby brain, remission from cancer, or simply having no idea what to do.
(Has anyone ever mentioned that by 21st-century marketing standards, probably 80% of people are “disorganized”?)
For most people, the answer is stunningly simple.
They can’t work alone.
A lot of people suffer under the delusion that a desk or office will help with their organizational difficulties. They may spend quite a bit of time and treasure setting up such an area, only to find it impossible to sit there and get anything done.
The real problem is that if they’re alone in a room, they shut down. They can’t work in isolation.
This is where a good body double comes into play.
This is what I think, although I can’t prove it without specialty equipment. I think that when two people are working side by side, they can amplify their ability to focus. I think it’s related to how birds and animals will take turns keeping watch while the rest of the group eats. In one way, we can relax when we have social proof that it’s okay, that nothing alarming is going on. In another way, I think it has to do with how people start to walk in step, or how singers can harmonize. Entrainment.
It’s worth trying, if you have roommates, colleagues, etc who aren’t much for taking the initiative to clean up. Often one person cleaning will spark others into pitching in. Rearrange chairs, wipe down a counter, or start putting things away, and others may silently participate. This works best if you treat it like a butterfly resting on your knee. Appreciate it, but don’t startle it.
This phenomenon, like many others, can be quickly destroyed by a single unrestrained facial expression or sarcastic remark.
This is another unheralded issue between the “organized” or “punctual” person and everyone else. Criticism. What might never have become an issue is now an area of perpetual power struggle, simply because the “good one” won’t leave it alone.
Sometimes people need a little time and space to get started.
I stay out of it. As an organizer, I’m learning more from my people than they are learning from me. It always amazes me how singular each person’s situation is. Sure, they have things in common, like unsorted bags or scattered coins, but otherwise their personal distribution of space versus stuff is completely unique.
I’m good at what I do partly because I approach my work with gentle curiosity and compassion. I’m also good at it because I know how to sit quietly for many many hours and keep my opinions to myself.
Sometimes, yes, I am thinking to myself GROSS! HOW CAN YOU LIVE LIKE THIS?? I recognize this voice, though, as a troll’s voice. One. Single. Comment. Can permanently etch someone’s confidence or willingness to tackle a difficult project. Let it never come from me.
I only act as a body double when it’s clear that my person is working confidently. What I’ve found is that most people can work for hours on end, skipping meal breaks, not even wanting to stop for basic biology. They’ll go for twelve hours if the mood is right.
They just won’t do it on their own and they won’t do it in a room by themselves.
I like these quiet times. Very little is asked of me other than to 1. Avoid critical comments or facial expressions and 2. Sit quietly, exuding companionship and concentrating on my own stuff.
I can catch up on so much reading!
It doesn’t work as well if I get up and actually start working on something else. If I’m sitting four feet farther away, working at my keyboard, the spell is broken.
What works is for me to sit there, meek as a little mouse, simply available.
I can hold my phone, or maaaaybe a book or my tablet. Usually I sit somewhere that seems temporary, like the floor, or the edge of a chair.
The goal is to create a sort of timeless fog. Nothing is happening. Nothing is going on. Nobody is doing anything. No seagull incursions or distractions of any kind. Nothing to do but sort this box, sort these papers.
When there are simply two adults in the room, this is easy work, and it can carry on uninterrupted for many hours. When there is even one little kid involved, it can go completely haywire. Kids can sense when someone’s attention is elsewhere. They need to feel like someone is WATCH THIS or YOU KNOW WHAT at all times. Here, the body double needs to be able to reassure the child without distracting the working adult. Can there be a third party who is responsible for entertaining the little one(s) for half a day? A weekend?
The great thing about sorting and organizing is that once a working system is put into place, the work doesn’t need to be repeated. A good system explains itself and becomes its own reward. Having, or being, a good body double can be a key part of this kind of automatic system.
I had it in my mind to write about multi-level marketing, after being pitched by a friend, when it happened again. A random stranger started chatting me up, mentioned that he sells a particular something, and I instantly intuited that his product was also an MLM. Whatever, people can do what they want, and the appeal of this marketing structure will probably never die until it’s regulated out of existence. It’s still worth talking about.
99% of people who sign up for multi-level marketing lose money
It just takes a while before they admit it to themselves or others
If you try to sell me MLM products I will stonewall you and probably quit talking to you
Please don’t destroy your friendships and alienate your family by doing this
People do not want to BE SOLD, they just want to hang out with you
If they want to buy anything at all they will find it online and order it
Please research your target brand online and read what the skeptics have to say before signing anything
Okay, enough of all that for a minute. It either sinks in or it doesn’t. I got sucked in by an MLM when I was 18, and that’s because I was too young and dumb to know what I was dealing with. I believed every single thing I was told. It cost me close to a month’s pay. All I can say for an excuse is that this was before Wikipedia and Google, and there wasn’t really a quick or easy way for me to educate myself.
You can spot this stuff a mile away once you know what to look for.
Your friend suddenly wants to hang out, even if you haven’t seen each other for a while, or a new friend magically becomes more interested in you.
They keep changing the subject back to something like “nutrition” even though the conversation up to that point had nothing to do with it, or you haven’t discussed it with each other before.
They won’t usually come out and say what they want, but sometimes they’ll say there’s “something they want to tell you about” or that they just went to a conference and they’re super excited.
We have to remember that one of the major appeals of these programs is the free motivational speaking. An aggressive up-line person who is lit up by the dream of quick, easy money is going to spend as much time and energy as possible trying to inspire others to sign up, buy product, and push hard. Love-bombing works because it works.
Someone who might be drifting a bit in life, maybe a little lonely or isolated, suddenly gets swept up in this wave of fun, energy, and excitement. They keep hearing stories of how rich some other person got by selling these products. Now they’re getting tons of encouragement and support. Let’s do it!
The more desperate the up-line person is, the more they’ll double down on how much benefit they get from the program. They may truly believe this because they haven’t crunched the numbers yet, or they may be surfing on a wave of optimism, or they may be lying with a black heart because they’re frantic to make back all the money they’ve already sunk in.
Regardless, the industry statistics are very poor.
Step back a moment and compare multi-level marketing to other types of sales.
There are all kinds of sales jobs out there that actually include a salary! If you’re excited by commissions (I’m not), then why not sell cars or go into corporate sales? I have a friend who travels around selling heart defibrillators, and she makes a good living. Most products don’t require pressure or storing stuff in your garage as a key part of their business plan.
As an ordinary person, I am automatically suspicious of why a product would be somehow limited or only sold in a specific way. Like, why can’t I just order it myself from the website? Wouldn’t it be easier for the company to make more sales if customers didn’t have to buy stuff from someone’s living room?
I’ve been invited to so many of those. Someone’s Tupperware party, someone’s lingerie party, someone’s jewelry party, and on and on. I’ll do what a lot of women will do, which is to make a small one-time purchase out of embarrassment or guilt, or at best mild interest. Then that’s it. If this person makes another invite, I’m out of there. Are we actually friends or are you just hoping to make money off me? The up-line person may temporarily come close to breaking even by exploiting one social group after another, while you’ve just burned your one shot with everyone you know.
The last two MLM pitches I’ve heard have to do with nutritional supplements and “alkaline water.”
I’m automatically suspicious of both these things. Why would I take health advice from a random citizen? I can make an appointment with a doctor or someone who has credentials in nutrition or dietetics. If I were in the market for one of these products, I’d look one up and do my own research. There is basically never a situation where someone will pitch me something I’ve never heard of and I will find their marketing material convincing in isolation.
So quit asking
I knew there was a pitch coming just now, because this guy started going off on a heartfelt tangent about how the world works, and that people owe it to each other to help each other out. His philosophy seemed to be that if he spent time with someone or threw them business, they were then morally required to help him out by buying his alkaline water filter. (I looked them up and those things are like a thousand bucks).
Then I realized that this guy believed he could create some kind of energy exchange. By interrupting me and talking at me for several minutes, he would cause me to be indebted to him, and then I would owe him a sale.
I was totally right. Twenty minutes later, he came over to interrupt me again, saying that if I wanted alkaline water I would see him around.
Yeah, you and probably a thousand other people who are gradually starting to realize that they don’t know enough individual people in their area to support themselves by selling these products.
I agree that it’s good for people to help each other. That’s why I’m offering my advice for free. Buy into the concept that you can turn your personal social network into quick cash, and you’ve just cost yourself all of your accumulated social capital. That’s because there’s a lot more involved than commerce or financial exchanges.
A lot of people will humor you and spend a few minutes listening to your pitch. Once they realize that they’re little more to you than a potential convert or part of a sales funnel, they’ll be annoyed and disappointed. They probably won’t tell you face to face, and neither will the next person. You’ll probably be hundreds or thousands of dollars in the hole before you realize it isn’t going to work.
Multi-level marketing won’t work for you because it hasn’t worked for 99% of people who’ve tried it, and it isn’t designed to. Please quit pitching your friends and start focusing on your real purpose or passion, which probably wasn’t tights, juicers, vitamins, or weird water six weeks ago. Your passion probably didn’t start with someone else’s pitch, remember?
Money Diaries is like a combination smart personal finance class-slash-dirty secret. There is something seriously naughty about snooping through the intimate details of other people’s daily expenses. Would I be willing to share mine? *snort* Not likely! Even posting everything I read on Goodreads is pushing my limits.
This is a very smart book, partly because it shows people making what may not always come across as smart decisions. These stories are unique, though, and each person makes different spending priorities. I like reading the examples from women who earn significantly more than I do and imagining if I would spend my income in the same way. This, among other reasons, makes Money Diaries a great book to share with a romantic partner. You can pick through the details and talk out whose side you take. This is how a couple starts to form a united front and start making team financial decisions.
This book is aimed at younger, urban people. While it does touch on “extreme” savings and debt reduction, this is definitely not a frugality book or a financial independence book. As such, it may be a better choice for those who are repelled by austerity measures. This makes it more pragmatic than other books, especially because it includes realistic material about wine, birthday presents, yoga, therapy, and other personal necessities like buying hardcover books to read during chemo.
I respect Money Diaries as an approachable and practical book about financial literacy. All the case studies are not only fun to read, but enlightening, and they make sense of abstract, complicated topics like health savings accounts. Money Diaries reads like a glossy magazine, if there were any glossy magazines that could get you out of debt and help you set up a retirement account.
Maybe we don’t even realize that we’re doing it, but it’s easy to get caught up in thinking that we should be able to afford those lifestyles.
Real wealth is about being able to make choices.
I have two friends who both think they’ve found “the one.” They don’t know each other. They’re ten years apart in age. Both of them, though, are in the same situation: their intended wants them to pack up everything and move to their dream city with them. Should they?
Should a woman move to be with her man?
Should a man move to be with his woman?
It’s interesting to put the question this way, because obviously there can be no right answer, and this is even more clear when it’s not a straight couple.
(How do polyamorous people decide where to live??)
My situation was much easier to resolve, at least on the level of logic. When I met my dream man, I was already living far from my friends and family and I didn’t really care about my job. If I didn’t move to a new city along with him, I had no reason to stay where I was, so where else would I go?
This is a very, very serious question.
Do I have plans of my own, and am I strongly attached to them?
If not, am I using someone else’s plans to provide myself a false sense of clarity and purpose? Am I using their situation as a distraction so I can escape the pressure of designing and choosing something for myself?
I know of another young couple experiencing a crossroads like this. They are young parents, and the mom has been home taking care of baby while the dad finishes his degree. He finds himself shocked and amazed that now she wants her turn to go back to school.
Pro tip: Nobody should be shocked or surprised at anything that anyone chooses to do before age thirty. Young people can’t settle into their final form and thus should not be expected to calcify prematurely.
There are two strategic points to consider when choosing a true love:
Both paths can lead directly to decades of disappointment. That’s the natural result of regarding your partner as an object or accessory, rather than working to connect and get to know them.
I started with the lifestyle. I’m fortunate to be super opinionated and decisive, and I know what I like. For instance, I hate snow, I don’t want a cat because I have a parrot, I won’t date anyone who has a recreational substance habit of any kind, and I’m a homebody. There is no man for whom I would be willing to spend my time hanging out in bars or cleaning out a litter box.
This kind of approach sounds extreme to a lot of people, and I’ve heard plenty of pushback from (single or unhappily married) women my age, and older, and younger. What?? You can’t just say you would never date a smoker!!!
Um, yeah I can? I can do what I want? I wasn’t born to be any one specific person’s love appliance?
Love is only love when it’s freely chosen on all sides.
Basically all I did was to narrow the field. There are at least three billion men in this world. I couldn’t even hear all their names or look at all of their photos in this lifetime. My first job was to eliminate at least two billion, nine hundred million, nine hundred and ninety thousand of them before I even started. (That still leaves at least nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine dudes, and crunching the numbers, if I speed-dated three a day, it would take me nine years just to meet them all).
That’s a complicated way of saying, BE PICKY and make everyone’s life easier!
There were probably four or five men in a ten-mile radius of where I lived who would have been solid, viable candidates for me. Four or five people probably could have kept me interested and happy. That’s actually quite a lot. Why complicate things by giving people a try even when they started out with at least one desire I could never accommodate?
What we’re talking about are non-negotiable lifestyle requirements. We’re talking about zero-sum, this-but-not-that, ‘only one can survive’ types of requirements.
A big one of these was the “I want kids” requirement. I got broken up with at least twice because I can’t have children. Another woman might be heartbroken and utterly devastated by this. I just shrugged because I felt like it was fair. Both of these guys did go on to have a kid, and those are two bright, sweet kids who wouldn’t have existed if I were in the picture.
Maybe one of them will be my dentist or something one day, who knows?
Perhaps because of this, I feel like people have to match on this requirement. It is not fair or realistic to be a “kids necessary” person and try to drag a “no kids please” person over the ditch. Just find someone else who has the same feelings that you do!
I set up housekeeping for myself, determined to learn from my divorce and be fully responsible for myself. I had my own career plans and I managed my own retirement portfolio. I knew it would take a lot for me to ever consider marrying for a second time. Other people can save themselves the bother and expense by simply being clear and specific enough the first time around.
Try to avoid falling for someone whose heart’s desire doesn’t match with yours, okay? It’s so much easier for everyone.
If you’re someone who has to live near your family to be happy, make that clear early on.
If your life’s dream is to pack it all up and live on a sailboat, time to start hanging out by the marina.
If you don’t want to start a family until you finish grad school, maybe buy a fake wedding ring at the pawn shop and avoid that whole thing for a couple years.
I told my husband that I would follow him anywhere if it made sense for his job. He brushed this off, saying it was unlikely that he would ever need to relocate, but a year and a half later, guess what? It made our strategic planning so much easier because we had set those policies in the abstract, when nothing was happening.
You can do the same thing all on your own. Figure out what you want for yourself and start making it happen. If you’re wishing on a particular dream life, that’s the easiest way to meet someone who feels the same way. That way, everyone wins and nobody withers from disappointment.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
This website uses marketing and tracking technologies. Opting out of this will opt you out of all cookies, except for those needed to run the website. Note that some products may not work as well without tracking cookies.Opt Out of Cookies