At the risk of revealing that I am old enough to significantly predate the internet, does anyone else remember those – “you got chocolate in my peanut butter!” – Reese’s commercials?
That is what has been cycling through my head for the past few days when I think about folks who are trying to navigate working from home right now. “You got work in my home life! You got home life in my work!”
The main difference between these commercials and our lives right now being that the former collision of two great things leads to delicious candy, while the latter leads to potential conflict, loss of productivity, frustration and more. I know that when I started working at a desk in my dining room, I felt like I was focused on family stuff when I should have been working and work stuff when I should have been with family.
And, there are a million articles already written about how you SHOULD do this. There are systems, and apps, and classes, and memberships, and a million other things to help you get work done.
Sadly I have no intention of helping you sort through that pile, because I think that the biggest challenge about working from home isn’t what tools or systems to use.
There are people out there who live amazingly swirly lives where personal life and work life blend together in new and amazing ways. There are others that swear by rigid schedules and hard boundaries between work and home. The challenge is, what are YOU like?
Being brutally honest with yourself about what’s working, what isn’t, what you need, what you must avoid – knowing yourself is key to survival here. And it is hard work, especially since things get in the way:
- The Way You SHOULD be
I have spent a lot of time chasing the person I think I should be without considering why I think it should be that way. You’ll discover this in your self talk – “a real freelancer would return email in under an hour,” “normal people don’t let business calls go to voicemail,” etc. You might have preconceived notions about what work looks like from your parents, an old boss, your first grade teacher … I don’t know. But there is some gold ideal in your head that will warp your perception of who you really are. You approach things one way, but since you think it should be otherwise, that is what becomes “right”.
- The Way You WISH You Were
There are things about ourselves that we really want to believe are true about us, but that deep down we know are not. My classic example – I want to believe that I can be productive with a movie or TV on in the background. The data suggests otherwise. Yet, it is easy to make choices with the hope that who you wish you are will just show up this time and save the day. Deal with you actual reality, not with the way you wish things were.
- The Way Things ACTUALLY ARE
There is a ton of things that are outside of your control. The reality is that I do not work well when someone is playing a video game nearby. I live in a house with two very digitally minded young adults, one of whom is majoring in game design and development. I don’t get to live a computer game free life. It is easy to get discouraged when life piles up on us – I mean, no one really wants to try and get work done while also managing their young children’s online learning. But maybe those are the cards you have been dealt. Being honest with yourself about that stuff is critical.
So as you get going with this “work from home” thing, try and pay attention to your own thoughts on things and check them against your actual reality. You stand to discover some things that will help you find your way. For example, reading the news before I try to work is a recipe for not being productive for me. The weight of everything going on right now just takes it all out of me. I’m done before I start. Maybe you need to know what’s going on in the world so you can move on and stop wondering. (The world is still spinning, I guess I can go to work.)
Pay attention to your thoughts
I like to journal, so that is the practice I try to adopt – evening reflection in a paper notebook with an actual pen. Maybe you can use a journaling app on your phone. Or maybe you are visual and can capture these ideas with images. I don’t know how to tell you how to spelunk the nooks and crannies of your own noggin. I just know that it is the first step to REALLY figuring this stuff out.
Over the next few weeks I’m hoping to share some of what has worked for me, some of what didn’t work for me but works for a lot of people who aren’t like me, and probably some tools and techniques. But for now, get comfortable with the idea that the more honest you can be with yourself and the more open your eyes can be to reality, the better this will all go for you.