Working at home is a whole different thing when suddenly you find yourself with coworkers. I used to contentedly wander around the house in my underwear, swigging San Pellegrino from the liter-size bottle, and writing whenever and wherever I wanted. Now there’s this cute bearded stranger doing who-knows-what across three monitors. It’s quite distracting.
(He’s not really a stranger; it’s just that the beard makes him look like a completely different person).
Imagine the swap from his perspective. One day he has his own private office with a door, and suddenly he has to share his workspace with two ladies who talk to themselves, both of whom are bipeds and one of whom has feathers. It’s a lot to fit into 650 square feet.
The way we’re adapting and sharing space is to simply indulge in separate mornings.
I know people who are chipper when they first wake up. In fact, my little parrot Noelle is one of them. She greets the day by making kissy noises and calling out “Whew!” Me? I’m more like one of those lawnmowers that won’t start until its cord is pulled several times. I doubt I’ve ever done anything good or interesting before 10:00 AM in my entire life.
My husband, on the other hand, is an extreme lark. Starting his workday at 7:00 AM is something of a prosocial compromise.
Some of you are saying, Ah, but you don’t have kids. Anymore, true, we don’t. Most people our age do not have little children at home. If there are two adults in the home, there’s a simple tradeoff, which is that one of you takes mornings and the other takes evenings. If neither of you is much good in the morning, then one can do baths and story time while the other gets clothes and breakfast prepped the night before. Or flip a coin.
What always surprises me is how so many households will allow for a culture in which someone or everyone is cranky all the time. Someone resents someone else for relaxing or enjoying any kind of peace and quiet. Someone tries to take a nap or sleep late, and someone else comes in and shouts at them and forces them to get out of bed. It’s awful. Personally I won’t stand for it.
Now that we’re all stuck indoors together and trying not to drive each other nuts, isn’t it time to let sleeping dogs lie? Or at least let sleeping people sleep?
I’ve built the culture of my household around High Quality Leisure Time. Reason: so that *I* get my share! I want to be able to take naps, therefore I must support others in their right to take naps. I want to be able to read quietly, therefore I must not distract others when they want to read quietly. I have things to do, therefore I need to accommodate others when they also have things to do.
Separate mornings are such a great way to do this!
We started this practice early in our marriage. My husband asked that I not get up with him on weekday mornings, because it would make him want to hang out and talk to me. He has always had his morning routine down to the minute, one of those proverbial “set your clock by him” guys. Even one minute of “good morning sweetie” and he’d have to recalibrate.
This is fine by me, since I’d prefer to sleep until 9 AM every day. Fortunately for me, almost everything I do is clock-free and virtually all my appointments are in the evenings.
It doesn’t really make sense for us to get up at the same time. There’s no need. We’d get in each other’s way, since we only have one bathroom and our place is so small we can’t even be in the kitchen at the same time. This is what I tell myself on the rare occasions it occurs to me that I’m spoiling myself by sleeping in.
Two hours of quiet time at the beginning of the day are worth four hours later on, when the phone starts ringing and all the meeting invitations start popping up.
Not everyone has a job. For instance, my auntie just reminded us that she has been retired for eleven years. She earned it! Just because you’re not reviewing engineering drawings or filing a patent doesn’t mean you can’t make use of separate mornings. It’s fair to have two hours to yourself, to read or stare out the window or doze off or whatever you like.
Honestly I think that everyone should be free to exert privacy on demand. Sometimes you just need a little breathing room, and that’s fine.
It’s a pretty common reaction to feel frustrated with someone else for having more fun than you are, for relaxing when you are not or for being able to concentrate deeply when you can’t. I blame the individual for this. If someone else is relaxing, then sit down and relax. If someone else is doing focused work, then you can do yours. If what is disrupting you is a power imbalance, such as unequal division of caregiving or household tasks, then it is your responsibility to advocate for yourself, set boundaries, and negotiate.
If an extreme lark and an extreme night owl can negotiate a schedule that they can both survive, then I think anyone can negotiate anything.
The nice thing about the separate mornings is how well it works. I offered to hang out in the bedroom longer, if he wanted more helmet time to focus, and he said he was always excited when I came out. It makes him happy to know that I am peacefully sleeping while he works. Though probably not as happy as it makes me to not have to wake up at 5:30 AM.
Mornings might not be the time to divide your living space. For others, it might work better to have a break in the middle of the day, or to go to bed separately. Some people need more sleep than others, and that is not a moral crime, it’s a simple fact of biology and neurochemistry. Why fight it? Accept it, appreciate it, and find a way to use it to create some privacy and peace of mind, both for yourself and for everyone else in your household.
For those of us who have ever been flat broke, busted, or dirt poor, now is our time! We get to turn all that old trauma and heartache into helpful information for our communities! Watch this space, because I’m going to use my self-isolation time over the next few weeks to share everything I know about turning nothing into something.
Let’s start with alternative sources of acquiring work, creating job opportunities, and solving problems without money.
First, there are thousands of fresh new job opportunities right now. Someone is going to have to build all those ventilators! Everyone I know in construction, engineering, and tech has more work on their hands than they can handle.
Some businesses are offering loyalty programs. Our gym is offering special-access workshops for “after this is over.” Other businesses are selling gift certificates. There are adjacent opportunities here; for instance, if I worked in a salon I would offer consulting for all my clients who are now on camera all day.
For some of us, the problem is one that I refer to as the Fish Cannery. An old friend of mine and her boyfriend used to work in an Alaskan fish cannery for a few months every year. They would get tons of overtime and work seven days a week. The bad news was, they couldn’t shower or wash their clothes most days, and they went to bed with rank hair every night. The good news was, room and board were included, there was nowhere to go and nothing to buy, so they just racked up money. Then the boyfriend would live on the beach in Mexico for six months and surf all day.
Those of us currently doing Fish Cannery are working mega overtime. We have money but no supplies and no free time to do much of anything else. Like fix things.
Keep this in mind if anyone or everyone in your household is out of work.
Crisis has a cream pie in each hand, one to feed you and one to grind into your face. The trick in times of scarcity is to take the pie in the face and scrape a little into a jar to save for later.
If I were out of work right now, I would sit down with a pad of paper and a pencil, and I would do two things.
Right now, we’re adding the constraint that this chore should not involve physical contact with another person.
One of the worst things about scarcity mindset is that it tends to convince us that we’re worthless, helpless, and hopeless. THAT IS A LIE. If you’re an able-bodied person right now, you’re better off than anyone in a ventilator, so quit the pity party and start ideating.
I’m going to do this ideation for you, right here, right now! I’m dividing the list into digital and physical, as in, things you can do on a phone or computer vs. things you would do with, like, tools.
You and client can wave at each other through the window, they leave the job outside, you do the work and they Venmo you. Or leave you trade items like TP, groceries, or whatever you have arranged.
Fix bicycles. Or small engine repair, like sewing machines, if you know how.
Home repair. I think it would be legit to do something like unclog a drain, if the family shut the door and stayed isolated in a room until you left.
Roto-tilling and putting in a Victory Garden. Also maintaining it. Most people who have a big yard don’t actually know how to grow vegetables. So they’re stuck on a three-hour conference call safe indoors, and you’re growing food for the neighborhood, safe outdoors.
Teaching. If you have specialized skills in anything from IT to canning, someone may be willing to pay you, or trade you, to get online with them and share your knowledge. Sure, they can watch videos online, but they probably already tried that before they called you.
Consulting. For example, what do businesses need in order to go paperless? I know for an absolute fact that some people are still being forced to commute into their offices because management has no clue how to do business virtually. PEOPLE ARE GOING TO DIE because of reluctance to learn these skills.
Entertainment. We have the entire internet to entertain us, and people are already climbing the walls with boredom. Offer something live and unpredictable, especially if it’s child-focused and educational.
These are just a few ideas. I certainly hope that it will be easy to add all the glaringly obvious opportunities I’ve missed.
Now I’m going to do a little futurism and offer some forecasts.
This thing isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. H1N1 lasted for a year back in 1918. We are currently just beginning a process of incredible transition. The world of 2023 is going to look very different than it does today. We’re going to need all hands on deck to make it happen.
I think most entertainment will become either audio-only, animated, AR/VR, or gaming because it will be a while before sports or Hollywood are doing anything in person. I think people will quickly adapt to remote personal training, education, and commerce. I think there will be more opportunities than ever to make and package food, manufacture products that can’t be shipped overseas, and make deliveries. Space, robotics, drones, medical equipment, security, and PPE (face masks, gloves, etc) are going to continue to expand. Pent-up demand for clothes, toiletries, and basic housewares will build until we finally get the all-clear. There will be jobs that don’t currently exist and money to be earned.
Do you know someone who has been unemployed since rocks were soft? I’m thinking that even that person will be able to find work soon. Even if it’s you! You can read, cantcha? So why not? We’re in a new world now, and I don’t think even a criminal background, lack of credentials, or being non-neurotypical is going to be as much of an obstacle.
One thing that poor people and wealthy people have in common is that they both think in terms of “multiple streams of income.” The only people who rely on one job or one salary are middle-class people. It’s time to learn new ways of thinking and new skills. We all need to work together to dream a new world into existence, and we’d better start acting fast.
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.”
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?
Coronavirus COVID-19 is as good a reason as any to pitch your boss about telecommuting. If not now, when?
Working when ill is the biggest hole in the classic Protestant work ethic. Come in and cough and sneeze all over everyone, yeah, great, and prove to us how dedicated you are. Meanwhile, for every five people who have the flu, six more will catch it. That’s how this stuff spreads. Maybe you got in one low-energy extra day to peck away at a project, in between blowing your nose and sipping tea. Because you valorized physical presence above actual productivity, half your department got what you had and then spread it to their partners and kids.
Do we ever even find out what we were sick with? Probably not, not usually. Cold, flu, whooping cough, how would we really know unless we hacked up some goo into a petri dish?
This is part of what’s so scary about COVID-19, that it basically has the same symptoms as any other cold or flu, except that now thousands of people have died from it.
We’re all worrying about it, and we’re all continuing our regular commutes and schedules. Coming to work, even with a sniffle or a sneeze, and isn’t that the beginning of every other disaster movie?
My husband and I have already talked this out. It’s of particular concern to him because he often flies for work. He loves his job but he’s not in any real hurry to be at any airport anytime in the next couple of months.
Like many people, my husband could easily do at least 90% of his job remotely. He’s mainly there in person to maintain the dominant culture, which is, Look at us all busily typing away!
Think how funny this scenario is. The software has been available for at least twenty years to track every single keystroke. For people with data-centric jobs (and many others), it is technologically possible to know exactly what each person is doing, right down to the microsecond. You can track what files they open, what they change, how fast they type, what websites they use, EVERYTHING. Showing up in person is not about productivity.
Even stranger, commuting back and forth and being physically present in the office is often considerably less productive than working remotely. This is part of why people like working from home, because we can get so much more done! It’s often close to triple speed!
A lot of companies have found that closing the building an extra day every week produces cost savings. No light, no heat, no staff, just send everyone home. Some people work four-tens, or ten-hour shifts four days a week instead of eight-hour shifts five days a week. This saves on commuting costs for the individual, makes childcare cheaper, etc.
Some companies never have a central location or office in the first place. They start out with a distributed workforce and simply continue that way. Virtually no overhead.
Imagine how much it would revolutionize the workplace to grade people on their productivity, rather than on which hours they did or did not sit at a desk. This is likely one reason why we haven’t put this into practice as a culture. As soon as it became obvious that some members of staff are as much as 5x more productive than others, a great wordless cry would rise up from the cubicles. Why are we getting paid the same when that guy sleeps at his desk every afternoon, when the thing he is best at is napping with his hand on his mouse so he can twitch awake at the same time as his monitor?
It has long been obvious that trusting employees to work from home can save money, increase productivity, and improve morale all at the same time. Maybe not for every job - not for me as a receptionist, not for a mechanic or a construction worker or a nurse - but for most people with desk jobs, this is definitely possible. We could start tomorrow.
Why haven’t we already done it? We haven’t done it because it shakes up the status quo too much. Nobody is willing to be the first to make this executive decision: try it and see what happens, with the option to of course revert back to normal if it doesn’t work.
This novel coronavirus is a great opportunity to talk it over again. What if we tried having people work from home, so we can all stay away from the germy microdroplets being sneezed out all around us? What if we avoid giving each other colds and flu this season as well?
How this pitch would work probably depends a lot on the individual workplace, your personal reputation, and your relationship with your boss. It might be smarter to bring your pitch to someone else who has a better shot at a yes. This is also a good method of testing support for a new idea.
Let me run this by you. What do you think?
Sometimes your colleague’s interest and investment in a new idea may exceed yours. Another person may benefit from your plan even more than you would. You may have a coworker who has a longer commute than yours, someone who has more dependents or responsibilities at home, someone whose partner has been traveling a lot, someone who will hear your idea with great delight. This person will be coming up with new reasons to support your idea before you are even finished explaining what you had in mind.
Another trick, when pitching a radical new policy, is to ask on behalf of someone else. You can use me as an example. So-and-so is having a bunch of oral surgery, therefore how about testing out a trial run on a telecommuting policy?
What would happen if everyone who could work from home, did work from home? What if people got fined for coming to work sick? What if that fine increased for each additional person who caught the bug? I wonder how quickly these things would spread then?
As so often happens, I sit down to write and a random person wants to strike up a conversation. I figure I might as well hear this guy out, at least for a few minutes, because sometimes I can get a good story out of it.
I’ve guessed right.
Go ahead and try to tell people “I’m busy” or “trying to get some work done” or “on deadline.” This goes through some kind of internal translator, like a babbelfish, and after it goes through a few loop-de-loops, what they hear is “please tell me your life story” or “we are best friends now” or “why yes, I do give out free therapy.” I figure new writing material is the least I can expect as a fair trade for the imposition on my time.
This particular character who has wandered into my work zone is supposedly an Army ranger and combat medic. Do I have verification of this claim, no I do not, but then I could counterclaim that he was a circus clown or a bank teller and nobody would be the wiser.
After rambling a bit, he suddenly pops out with this idea that writing is hard, and there should be a writing school similar to ranger training.
WRITE A CHAPTER IN THE NEXT HOUR OR YOU’RE OUT!
Hmm, I say, that’s actually a really good idea. There’s your movie if you want to write your own screenplay.
We start elaborating on this together.
Apparently ranger school involves a lot of things like running up and down a hill in the jungle, or doing pull-ups for many hours. What would be the parallel for this in the world of notebooks and keyboards?
You’re sitting next to your friend, shackled together at the ankle. If you don’t meet your word count quota for the day, your friend dies.
You’re sitting at your keyboard with someone standing next to you, holding a gun to your head.
Okay, that probably doesn’t happen in real ranger school, but why not?
I have to admit, I’d watch this movie.
The truth is that the physical act of writing is easy enough that almost every adult and child in our culture can do it. Technically. People will write a thousand words just to give out a one-star product review. The madder they are, the more they’ll write, and heaven forfend if some restaurant doesn’t meet their expectations.
Something weird happens to interfere, and many of those who want to write start thinking that they can’t.
The point of a grueling experience like ranger school is that people sign up for it voluntarily because they’re looking for the biggest possible challenge. They want to find out if they’ve got the right stuff. They know they’ll come out the other side either fitter than they’ve ever been, or not. There’s no in-between state. Pass/fail.
It’s also over quickly.
Setting oneself up as a writer can be drawn out, dragged out over months and years. We look at someone like Henry Roth, who published a critically acclaimed novel at age 28, suffered writer’s block for 45 years, spent 15 years on his next book, and finally published again after a 60-year gap.
Are there any other careers that would torment people with visions of what might have been?
Someone who wanted a career of military service might be haunted by that sense of missed opportunity, but they could probably accept after sixty years that it wasn’t going to happen. Writing isn’t that way.
Carpenter’s block is probably a kind of tool. (Checking) Yes, and not only that, apparently it’s also a good thing in this little game called Minecraft.
A plumber with a block probably has a tool or some kind of chemical to drain it.
Other professions take obstacles in stride. What is it about writing that feels different?
What if there was in fact a school for it? What if there was a kind of boot camp that taught wannabe writers (and maybe other artists) how to deal with resistance? How to get around it?
When I sat down today, I didn’t know what I was going to write about. Really I wanted a nap. I figured it would be good discipline to show up, sit down, and see what happened. If all I did was edit and format a few pieces, that would be progress.
I physically sat down and a story came to me.
At this moment, the same wandering character is appealing for my attention from the next table. I’ve done my part for the community by giving this person fifteen minutes of my best listening skills, and now I feel justified in clocking out.
What I’ve done is to turn a distraction into a... something. An anecdote. I have a clear image in my mind of this character, a surf-talking old soldier who thinks that putting a shackle on your ankle might help you beat writer’s block. I have three pages of content. I have something that might eventually turn into something.
Maybe this same person has a list of stories that might turn into incredible action films. Maybe if he sat down and wrote up some of his personal experience, he could be a hit machine. Maybe he’ll go off and advertise a super hardcore writer’s workshop.
Maybe someone will read this and realize, all you really need to do is sit down and keep working until you’ve produced something, no drill instructor required.
I’m having a freak magnet kind of a day. I can call it that only after long experience. When I was younger, this kind of thing might have made me feel special. I might have mistaken other people’s poor boundaries, or other serious red flags, for instant intimacy.
I’m sitting in a busy cafe. Within an hour, three total strangers have interrupted me and physically touched me. One of them also touched my purse.
This is highly unusual. Let’s acknowledge that. If I were Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, it’s unlikely that other people would walk up and lay their hands on me, even if the song “Lay Your Hands On Me” were playing in the background.
I have to ask myself, is there something in this situation or in my physical presence that is drawing this odd behavior from others?
First assumption: I’m in the way.
If I were standing in a crowd, like at a parade or festival, I could assume that I would be pressed against. I’ve ridden mass transit for many years and I don’t necessarily mind being squished together.
Being touched by a series of strangers could also be a sign of low situational awareness on my part. Maybe I’m blocking a doorway or I keep wandering into other people’s paths.
Second assumption: Something is visibly wrong with me and people are checking on me.
If I were having some kind of dizzy spell, if I had just been hit by a car or knocked over, if I was bleeding from a head injury and didn’t realize it yet, it wouldn’t be surprising for someone to physically steady me or try to help me sit down. I assume that if I were going into shock or having some kind of episode, I might not realize what was going on.
Third assumption: I am the victim of a prank.
Maybe someone stuck a sign on my back. Maybe I’ve unintentionally walked out of the house looking like some kind of meme, and I’m too out of the loop to know it. In this scenario, people might be interacting with me because they can hardly keep from laughing, and making eye contact or sneaking photos of me is prolonging the fun.
Lord help me, I wish I could rule out that third option forever, but I’m still haunted by this kind of thing...
Fourth assumption: I’m in the kind of neighborhood where the cultural norm is more physical than other places.
It is true that I live in a beach community with very relaxed norms. Seeing people walk down the sidewalk barefoot, or wearing only a skimpy swimsuit, is everyday and unremarkable here. Maybe the locals are also huggers and I just haven’t noticed yet.
Fifth assumption: I look approachable and people are drawn to me.
This is likely, and also hilarious to me, because it’s both true and untrue.
I happen to be wearing a set of enormous noise-cancelling headphones. My husband bought them for me specifically because they are an ostentatious signal that I am WORKING and unavailable for casual chatter. This is because he knows about my freak magnet problem. I also happen to be wearing a Warrior Dash t-shirt, a garment I’ve worn to Krav Maga lessons, and the only accessory that would make me feel more intimidating would be my kali stick.
When I left my apartment, my sartorial messages were STAY AWAY and BUSY and I MIGHT FIGHT YOU.
At least three other people looked at me in this guise and thought, I should touch this woman.
Who were they?
One, an older woman, possibly old enough to be my mom. She grabbed both of my arms from behind. What?? She wanted to joke with me about another man a few feet away who was playing air drums. Okay cool.
Two, a young man, possibly young enough to be my son. He touched my arm and started talking to me until I took my headphones off. Then he asked if I would pull down the blinds. As I did, he put his hand on my purse and held it out of the way.
Three, a young girl, probably middle school age. She tapped my arm and kept waving at me until I took my headphones off. “Hi.” She wanted to know what I was doing (“trying to get some work done”) and tell me that she and her two friends had the day off from school.
When people physically grab my arms, they have my attention. I figure they’re telling me that the building is being evacuated, or someone is trying to steal from me, or my headphones aren’t plugged in and I’m blasting everyone with a wave of sound, or I’m foaming at the mouth and having a seizure. It’s never been that.
For some mysterious reason, random people just feel impelled to do anything to get my attention.
My family has had a joke for many years. Every time we go somewhere together, someone picks me out and asks me to take their picture. The joke is that I could have a very large stolen camera collection by now! Obviously consensus opinion is that I look trustworthy, approachable, and kind. Another way to put that is: small, female, and harmless. Never mind that I’m belted in two martial arts and I have special training in how to fight with hammer, screwdriver, pen, knife, and staff. I look nice enough, don’t I?
The thing about instant intimacy is that it’s superficial. Just because someone is ready to drop their boundaries on sight doesn’t mean there is any good reason for it. Someone who becomes emotionally open and vulnerable right away may have motives hidden even from themselves.
The truth is that I’ve had this “instant intimacy” issue since I was a baby. Or so I’ve been told. It was part of my socialization as a tiny child to listen closely and with sympathy when people start spilling their life stories. They may do this with literally anyone who crosses their path; I’m just the type to regard it with compassion instead of annoyance, shock, or dread. Oh wow, someone with serious boundary issues, tell me more!
People are right when they see me as someone who is safe to approach, to interrupt, or even to grope. Apparently. I’m never going to haul off and start beating someone up or shouting at them, although I am trained in these arts and I certainly know what to do. I’m also a Free Hugs person, experienced in social services and crisis management. These are empath problems.
There are probably people who come across as seriously intimidating everywhere they go. I imagine there are people who wish they had more friends and can’t figure out what unintentional signals they are sending out. I’m not scary! Come back! I wish I knew their secrets, just like they probably wish they knew mine.
It’s incumbent on us to figure out what to do with these surface impressions. I’ve had to learn to protect my mental and emotional bandwidth. I’ve had to learn to slow that roll and set up more limits and speedbumps and tests and boundaries with all the random strangers who are drawn to me. I’ve had to learn not to mistake every approach as friendship or romance. Instant intimacy is a red flag, a signal to slow down and ask more questions. Real friendship needs more time to develop. Real, ordinary friendliness and cordial behavior is plenty.
I snapped awake. It was still dark outside. 4:11 AM. I had been asleep for four hours.
Why does this happen?
It’s a mystery why a tired person who isn’t sleeping well will still wake up in the middle of the night, wake up too early, or struggle to fall asleep. I know it’s a mystery because I’ve been reading everything I can find on the topic for twenty years.
Another mystery is what I would have done with my life by now if I hadn’t had so many disrupted nights.
I had plans for the day. Doesn’t everyone? I lay awake until 6:30 AM, turning off my alarm, since I wouldn’t be needing it. I was finally feeling sleepy again just as I had planned to be waking up and getting ready.
Decision point. Do I:
Get up and struggle through a long day on four hours of sleep;
Fall back to Plan B, see if I can sleep another two hours, and rearrange my schedule;
I went to Plan B. Again, I snapped awake before the alarm. I was so groggy and I felt so terrible that the will to launch simply snuffed itself out.
The worst part about this is that I structure my own schedule. I have no real reason for struggling with sleep, no caretaking responsibilities, no duty to unlock a door or turn the lights on. My income does not depend on a requirement that I get out of bed at a specific time. This was, of course, fallout from my parasomnia disorder.
Why some people voluntarily deprive themselves of sleep is beyond me. Staying up late to play games, surf the internet, or binge-watch anything, only to get up early the next day and be exhausted, is a pattern I don’t really understand. You mean you would be able to sleep, you just don’t feel like it? What must that be like?
The last couple of years that I worked a traditional day job, I had some very rough days. If I only slept for two or three hours, I would still have to get up and get dressed and commute and drag myself through my workday. I used to go into the ladies’ room every 90 minutes or so to splash cold water on myself or slap myself in the face a couple of times. I used to pinch my upper thigh between my fingernails until the pain jolted me briefly into alertness.
There were times when I barely made thirty hours of sleep for the week.
It was the same in college, when at least I could take naps between classes. I trained myself to sleep in 45-minute increments, folded onto one sofa cushion in the student lounge.
During that era, most of my work occurred outside the time dimension. I could read my assignments and write papers at any time of day or night. While I was a Dean’s List student, this was somewhat of a disaster, because it shattered my circadian rhythms.
It was probably inevitable that I would cut the cord of the traditional day job schedule as soon as I was able. I’m worthless when sleep deprived. Can’t concentrate, lose objects, get physically lost, speak slowly, read the same paragraph over and over. Probably there are high-functioning alcoholics and addicts who get more done at work than I did after a week of poor sleep.
What I didn’t expect was that I would have some of the same problems when I had nobody to report to but myself.
Over the years, I’ve figured out a lot of inputs that affect my sleep and allow me to get enough rest 80-90% of the time. I haven’t figured out how to deal with external noise past a certain decibel level. I’m struggling right now because the apartment beneath ours is being remodeled, and there are saws, drills, hammers, and who knows what else going on ten or eleven hours a day, six or seven days a week. Naps are off the menu. Until when? How would I know? How long does it take to completely overhaul a 650-square-foot apartment?
This is a difficult world for parasomnia. If I knew of a quiet place, I would already be living there, but the countryside isn’t much better. My sleep has been disrupted by anything and everything including garbage trucks, loud motorcycles, helicopters, slamming doors, domestic arguments, barking dogs, ice cream trucks, roosters, other people’s phones, crying children, jackhammers, drunken singing, and even misdelivered packages. Some of these happen between the hours of midnight and 4 AM, because why would the world ever quit being loud?
What I’m trying to learn to do is to fit in an acceptable level of productivity around all of it, somehow. I have to accept that there will never be anywhere in the world, or any time in the day, when I can go off somewhere and never experience disruption. It’s built into the system. If I check into a hotel room, people will persist in talking and laughing loudly in the hallway outside my room every single hour of the day and night. If I move somewhere, the adjacent space will almost immediately undergo renovations.
As I write this, a car alarm is going off in the parking lot next door.
I don’t even own a car, much less a car alarm.
I’ve tried white noise generators and high-end noise canceling headphones and fans and double-glazed windows. I’ve tried every sleeping pill on the market, both prescription and OTC. I’ve tried massage and hot baths and essential oils and meditation. I’ve spoken with doctors and even a psychiatrist. I’m an edge case. I’ll never stop trying things, because I’m curious and because I’ll never give up hope that I can beat this dumb problem, one way or another.
In the meantime, most of the stuff I do that happens on a schedule happens in the afternoon.
I always wanted a chauffeur. That used to be something high on my outrageous dreams list. I’ve always hated driving, I’m a terrible navigator, I’m definitely the kind of person who forgets where she parked, and I saw the whole thing as a chore.
That’s why going car-free has been so great for me.
Honestly I feel like I’m getting away with something by not driving. Most of what I do in my neighborhood, I do on foot, and it feels like I’m on vacation. A little outing most days of the week gets me out in the fresh air. Sometimes I take the bus, something we also do on vacation. It’s when I get a rideshare driver that I really feel like I’m living the dream and having a chauffeur - except that I didn’t have to become a millionaire before it happened.
Why do other people drive so much? I’m not totally sure, since driving was only a regular part of my life for a few years, but I think it’s almost entirely 1. work commute and 2. errands.
Oh, and driving kids around, for those who have them, but we can get to that later.
When I talk about not having a car, especially in Southern California, people get very fidgety. It’s one of those topics that falls under the category of “preachy” for some reason, like eating enough dietary fiber or voting in midterm elections. Ugh, stop pressuring me, I don’t want to spend my social time talking about this!
It’s like people have a conversational filter, and a huge number of topics gets caught in that filter, because we make automatic assumptions about WHY someone would do something.
The only reason someone like me would quit driving - well, I can’t understand it - but surely it absolutely must be something preachy. Saving the environment or something. Ugh. *eye roll*
On the contrary, I don’t drive because I’m spoiled!
Why any middle-class person would do their own errands is beyond me. I for one am way too busy! There is no way I’m going to give up any time on my evenings or weekends to drive around in circles, looking for parking, and wander from place to place doing a bunch of unpaid labor.
That’s what errands are. Unpaid productivity.
Let’s go through the errands point by point.
(If you have kids, hear me out, because my mom did all these things with three small children *by bus* all the time when we either had only one vehicle, or our car was broken down. Riding herd on small kids is even more reason to want to avoid doing your own errands!)
Again, I see errands as an annoying chore that disrupts my precious free time.
Groceries. There is a grocery store across the street from my apartment that is open from 5 AM to midnight, every day. We’re also a ten-minute walk from a Trader Joe’s and a ten-minute bus ride from two different Whole Foods locations. We almost always walk to pick up groceries, or grab a bag as part of another trip. I’ve also paid to have groceries delivered, and for $6-7 plus tip it’s definitely worth saving 1-2 hours of my time.
When would I have groceries delivered? When I’m prepping for a dinner party, once when I was wearing an ankle brace, and another time when I had the flu and my hubby was out of town. If I had little kids, I’m telling you, I wouldn’t do my own grocery shopping again until the littlest one went off to college.
Pharmacy. Every pharmacy I have seen encourages mail delivery. I switched to this because they obviously prefer it, and also because I’ve picked up a cold at least twice when I went to the pharmacy in person.
Dry cleaning. Um, we don’t use a dry cleaner… Maybe once every year or two. I learned how to use those dry cleaner kits you can put in the dryer at home. To me, this would not rate as a good enough reason to own and operate a car. I can walk to a dry cleaner five minutes from my apartment.
Doctor/dentist/veterinary appointments. To me, these aren’t errands, they are appointments. I usually ride the bus, but this is one category where we both tend to use rideshare. We’ve never had a problem bringing our dog or our parrot with us; in fact, often the driver asks to take a photo with my bird.
Beauty treatments. I get my hair done across the street. My hubby goes to a place across the street from our favorite cafe. I’m not interested in stuff like nail art, and I have no idea how many other types of beauty treatments there are, but I imagine most of them could be combined in one full-service location? Again, this wouldn’t be a good enough reason for me to make myself drive anywhere.
Random stuff. Shoe repair - I had to take my hubby’s dress shoes in when my parrot climbed into the closet and chewed on them. It was on the bus route to one of my clubs. I have no idea what type of random things other people are doing, but how many of them involve car-related things like oil changes?
“Shopping.” What do we mean when we say “shopping”? I mean groceries, because personally I hate shopping for clothes almost as much as I hate driving. My hubby and I don’t shop for entertainment. We usually tie in something like buying new shoes or pants along with a trip to the movie theater, and we go there by city bus. I do one major clothes shopping trip a year, usually on vacation, when I make my hubby help me pick out all my stuff.
Outings. I think a lot of people come up with “reasons” to do errands because they include outings, like getting ice cream, going through the drive-thru because they secretly love it and despise cooking, or stopping at the craft store or other favorite shop. Just admit that you are in the mood for an outing and go on the outing. You don’t need to tack a chore onto it because you don’t need to justify your desire to have fun.
Here is where I might add that we used to spend $700 a month owning a car. We got rid of it three years ago. My hubby’s bus fare is paid for by his employer, and he’s learned to prefer playing games and saving money to fighting freeway traffic for 40 minutes every night.
I realize that many people don’t live in a walkable neighborhood. Neither did I during the first five years of my marriage. We sat down and consciously strategized about how we could relocate to a walkable neighborhood. It meant downsizing and being willing to fit into a smaller house… and that in turn meant way less housekeeping and zero yard work!
Since we started living the way we do, we’ve been able to live off half our income. We never fight about money. We also never fight about chores because there’s almost nothing to do, and we’ve automated most of it. When other people are out fighting rush hour traffic to do their own errands, we’re lounging around our living room, talking about stuff like what we would do with our time during the rocket trip to Mars, or why the students at Hogwarts still walked to the candy store even though they had magic.
Well, obviously it’s because walking around town is fun! Stop driving around doing errands all the time and start feeling more leisure in your life.
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.
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