My drug of choice is writing––writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Monday, April 13, 2020

A Writer's Guide to Working At Home (Part 2 of 3)

We're jumping in straight from 

Part 1 

So pop back there if you want the introduction and the first few suggestions.

And apologies for the long break between part one and two. I managed to GET Covid 19 (at least I'm 90% sure of it) and it was a bit over a week for recovery.

Though you may be seeing a lot of memes and macros telling you to fuck the idea of getting into a working mindset as a capitalist trap, and that you should definitely be spending your social distancing time in pit-stained sweats and PJ bottoms eating Froot Loops on the couch by pouring them into your mouth and then taking a swig out of a gallon jug of milk, a few of you might be wondering if there's maybe a more effective way to knock out a day's work from the living room.

If that IS you, rock it, Boo. Feel how you feel! May the brie smell of your day-three taintswamp give you strength to know no productivity that isn't done by crossing animals. Be the fabulous, magnificent, effervescent languor avatar you have always known you could be if you JUST had the chance. Transcend in your glory.

In all seriousness, it will be enough that you make it. You do not have to listen to those cultural messages about productivity and usefulness. This isn't a vacation or even a sabbatical to write a book. This is a global pandemic.

However, I know a few of you have work you HAVE to get done, and some of you might want to maybe find some middle ground between cultural Orcs behind you singing "Where There's a Whip, There's a Way*" and emerging in ten weeks from the longest period without work you've had in your life without so much as another couple of chapters on your steampunk zombie novel written. Also, I don't want to overstep my bounds or anyone's glorious attempt to reach their couchpotato final form, but there may even be a couple of you ready for the psychological advice that being sedentary for days at a time might be making your mindset worse.

(*It's a metaphor, okay? It's just a really weird and clunky one!) 

3-Love It When a Plan Comes Together *puff cigar* (or "What would you say...you DO here?")

This is one of those things that more people should be doing IN GENERAL, but let's talk about it strictly in terms of Work From Home™ and writing.

Look, I know we live in a corporate culture where "being self-motivated" is some brilliant buzzword that everyone sticks on their resume, but it's just....bollox. It's not true. People are TERRIBLE at motivating themselves. We all want to be fabulous self-starters and most, if left to our own devices, do what we need to do and want to do and have a really hard time with anything we don't really want to do. We need direction, guidance, and a deadline, or we'll just sit there playing Minecraft and saying we aren't sure what to do.  It's a rare skill set to be able to kick one's own ass into motivation. That's why everyone wants it on their resume.

It's not a bad thing necessarily. Most of you only have to think about how your job was the last time the boss wasn't there. You probably goof off a LOT on those days. Probably the entire office didn't quite get as much done. It doesn't make you a shitty worker. We all work better with external motivation. (This is the entire reason that capitalism requires poverty––why it is considered "socialism" to just "give away" housing and food. If we did, there would not be an inexhaustible source of cheap labor on the edge of homelessness and starvation willing to do almost anything to survive.)

Well, writers don't have external motivation. We have to learn to be our own bosses. Some of us (like me) get a little carried away with that role and demand more from ourselves than we would anyone else ("Hey, me, what's happening? Yeeeaaah. Listen, me. If I could just get me to do those TPS reports, that'd be great. Thanks a bunch, me." *sips coffee*)

You may have some external deadlines pressing down on you to help. ("I need the DeLaney reports emailed to me by noon!"), but chances are if you're going to be mostly riding your own ass (sadly, not in the fun way, hur hur), you are going to need to learn to set some goals.

The best and easiest way to do this is to decide WHAT you want to do each morning before you start (or if you prefer, as your last task of the night before). You can always add things to this if you whip through it by noon (or shit....go enjoy the afternoon off if you can!), but it will at least give you a sense of what you want to accomplish so that it doesn't take you a week to do four hours worth of work. For the maximum effect, try S.M.A.R.T. goals because "writing two pages on the DeLaney reports by noon" is always going to be easier to accomplish than "getting something done today."

3b- This Can Help in the Other Direction Too!

If you're outrageously good at self-motivation, this will keep you from doing too much.

It's too easy to sit down and "work" without the slightest sense of what that means. I don't know how your job shapes out, but I'm pretty sure that if you have the ability to work from home, it's not likely that you finish up the last thing and you are done. That tends to happen only in the kinds of jobs that cannot be done from home.

Chances are if you're working from home, you work in a job where there is ALWAYS more to do, more you could be doing, or something you could be doing better. You could streamline those files. You could redo that spreadsheet. You could write that report and get it in early so that you can...start another one.

There's no sense in working more than you would if you were at a job with breaks, random co-worker conversations, a meeting or two a day, six trips to the water cooler, lunch, a mid-afternoon snack, shitting on company time, and a you-shaped-hole-in-the-wall-at-5pm.

4- Gaze Upon the Countenance of Mother Nature! (Or "Green shit is good for you, yo.")

Look, I'm not telling you to go become a mountaineer or go ragehike something like Half-Dome tomorrow. If you used to hiss at the daystar and hate the impudent audacity with which it ROSE and SHONE every day, you don't have to change your lifestyle, but I'm guessing most of you usually had at least a few opportunities to go from here to the sandwich shop, eat lunch at a picnic table on the second-floor veranda, walk around the block, or go out and clear your head in the little courtyard with the weird corporate art. Or sit in a place with a decent view, even if you were behind protective glass.

To someone, somewhere, this is some deep, deep shit.
Okay, let's start with the basics. Sun is the best way to convert cholesterol into Vitamin D (not the "hur hur" kind) which is essential in absorbing calcium. It's also being increasingly understood to be important for...wait for it...mood regulation. Which means if you're not getting the D on the regular, you might be feeling a bit depressed. (Oh, come on! Is there ANY chance I wasn't going to make that joke?) Some research goes as far as to say that just opening some windows and trading out your house's dust, mold, insect waste, dander, and such for some outdoor air can help with serotonin production.

Damn it, Jim, I'm a writer, not a doctor, and it's not like the Google searches on this turn up the best of sources, but with a few exceptions, most people just don't feel good if they stay inside all the time. People who feel like crap have a hard time getting work done. So it will actually be a good thing for you to get out of the house a bit if you can. Take a little walk (properly distanced, of course) and enjoy some fresh air for a few.

If you absolutely can't get out the door for a few minutes a day, a Seasonal Effective Disorder (S.A.D.) lamp can help, and definitely make sure you're getting enough foods high in vitamin D (like salmon or egg yolks).

5- "That's Not My Working Chair!" (Or "Carve out a spot.")

The most important six inches in my entire apartment exist between my Mac Air and my gaming laptop. (The most important five inches on the other hand is––you know what; this is getting out of hand.) Same desk. Same chair (I just roll it over to the right). But worlds apart.

Ne'er the twain shall meet.
Cathamel the Muse dragon sees to it.

Your mindset is more attuned to geography than you're probably ready to deal with. It's the reason you can switch rooms and forget what you were thinking of, but if you go back into the old room, you'll often remember. It's the reason that as soon as you come over the hill on the way to the next town over, you start thinking of how good that one restaurant is.

And it's gonna mess with you when you try to work from home.

You've got all those spaces that are for other things. If your couch is for relaxing, that's not a good work spot. If you basically only sleep in bed, even propping yourself up, you're going to be tired. If the kitchen table is where you eat, you're going to be hungry all the time.

We writers learned long ago to carve out a spot that's just for working.

Yes, but non ironically.

It would be great if there were always an office or a study or a room of one's own. But even just a part of the table that's for work will do. Remember, you probably don't have to do this for more than a few months, so a temporary spot will work nicely. And in fact, it can even be a time-sensitive spot if you're really strapped for space. ("From 9am-5pm, this end of the table is for Mommy. You all need to clean up breakfast by 8:50 and it will be reopened to dinner prep at 5:15. Mommy's wine does not count as food.") But someway, somehow, you need to carve out a little space that puts you in "work" mood/mode.

Also, it can really help to make it your space, especially if you're doing the thing where it's only yours for a certain time. Put up a clock or bring out a lap surface. Play the music you have at work. Stick up a picture of your kids. Little things can trick your brain faster than you might expect.

I'm still getting my swing back after having Covid-19 and dealing with a lot of isolation psychology issues (which includes rampant ADD), so I'm going to change this into a three-parter. 


On to Part 3

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