I recently had an itch to change things up a bit at home. More specifically, to revisit where and how I work from home.
Working for a company in the states, from our place in Sydney, creates a lot of crazy hours. Just today, I had meetings chiming in as early as 6:45am my time and ran consistently through 9am. Last Friday, I was back at my desk at 12:00am sharp for back to back meetings about a website redesign.
Thankfully the schedule still feels more awesome than it does bothersome. Being a bit of a narcoleptic induced ADD brain, I’ve alway done far better to excel where opportunities replace boundaries.
In some of my previous career choices, I found little room for either mistakes or growth. Everything was form factor to the point that there were just as many rules about how it was against the law for me to work too hard, forcing unwanted lunch breaks, and putting a kibosh on post-5pm motivation as there were rules that plainly stated if I wasn’t in my seat by 8:15am sharp, I would be able to wall paper my cubicle with little pink warning slips. Even then, the more I work from home, the more I am grateful for some of those boundaries I learned.
So as part of my need for an update and a brilliant reform, I also wanted to revisit the way I viewed my work in general. Compartmentalize (a word I often say and can hardly pronounce #ThanksTMJ).
I moved my office upstairs, to share office space with Stark who occasionally works from home and have a space that had more natural light with a view. The change in scenery wasn’t my only motivation here. Working from home is often difficult, but working entirely opposite hours of everyone you work with makes it that much more so. Giving myself more of an “office” feel with “office carpet” and “office things” in a space that is even more separate from any living area of our house, the more in tune I feel with everything I need to do and the more I feel like I’m on a team even with my team being thousands of miles away. In a sense, it now feels like it is my team that isn’t here and not me that isn’t there, if that makes any sense.
I’v gone beyond that and compartmentalized other things as well, which I’m sure I have already mentioned because I can’t even remember the last time I wrote a blog post at my computer. I have written all my recent posts – personally and for work – via my phone.
I’ve had to travel a lot lately. When I’m not meeting with my jaw therapist via Skype, I am flying to Brisbane for checkins with myofacial specialists, dentists, and orthodontists ta-boot (is that even how you spell that?). Other times, I join Stark on a quick business trip to Melbourne. On each of these short flights, I don’t have to regretfully tote my oversized laptop between its case and the flimsy tray table. With absolute ease, I just whip out my phone and my hardly-there keyboard and start tap tap tapping away for a straight hour and a half of uninterrupted writing. No internet. No email. Just ideas.
I used to think there would be no way I could do any aspect of my job without being connected to the Internet, but yesterday, Stark and I took a midday adventure to try to find a coffee shop in Surry Hills that we could work from for a few hours. I have found there is no better way to get out of menial tasks and straight into the grind of a big project than to literally change the scenery. Mentally, my mind knows I’m away from my desk and busy work exists only there. Here, life is simplified and work is focused.
For just a couple hours in the breezy cold, I sat drafting out webpage content from my phone – easily copying and pasting old web copy to a new page to review, repurpose, and update in a way that would correlate with our new design and increase our online visibility. To b honest, it kind of seemed impossible when I first set out, but I wasn’t about to lug a million pounds of metal on my back just to let it serve as more of a distraction than an actual working tool. Sometimes, all I need is some paper and a pen.
When I first thought to do this, I didn’t. I thought it would take far more time and that, mostly, my mind wouldn’t be capable of remembering all the information that goes into each and every project I work on. How on Earth could I possibly do online marketing without being on some website somewhere – researching, developing, changing? I thought, if anything, I would become impatient and annoyed. There’s nothing like lag time or being kept from doing my work to make me go from 0 to 60 on someone (sorry Stark) over the very slightest Internet glitch. But, sometimes the impossible is what makes what I do possible at all.
It is impossible to write an entire article without Internet research. It is impossible to write the content for a webpage without looking at the actual webpage constantly. But really, it isn’t, yet having it seem impossible is exactly what keeps me from trying to do it in the same way I would do it if I were sitting in front of my 27″ monitor at my desk. I don’t try the impossible and therefore I don’t get over dramatic about whether or not it is working. Instead, I just do it.
On every flight I have been on or every park I have briefly sat at, I get the strangest looks from people. That is partially because no Australian feels that compelled to be working. Here, they have a far more relaxed sense of work-life balance – something that I don’t think I could do that well even if I were here working for an Australian company. I just can’t leave things undone. Still, the looks they give me remind me of the looks I have received during every technological advance of my life. Like…
I remember the first iPhone and how only three months after it came out, I walked into my college Business Communications class and stood up to give a Keynote presentation much in the style of Steve Jobs. When I walked to the front of the room, unlcoked my phone, and looked at my first notecard, a member of my class burst into frightening levels of shrill laughter. She had no idea what I was doing and her disrupting laughter threw off my entire game, landing me only a B by my just as confused teacher that thought somehow my presentation wasn’t real or even mine because of how I presented it.
I remember only a few months after the first iPad was released, I sat in a meeting on the 32nd floor of the Sony Music building in New York, typing out notes, ideas, and talking points about how we, as a team, were planning to market new bands like Civil Twilight alongside who was at that time a hot-PR-mess, Britney Spears. Nearly an hour into a full day of meetings, one of my managers marched up to me with great intent, putting his hand abruptly on top of mine, flattening them to my iPad screen and sharply saying, “Not here. Pay attention.” Something I thought would be impressive to owners and managers of many famous record labels, was just a distraction to everyone else in the room.
I have similar stories for so many techno gadgets. I was that kid that had my Mini Disc player taken away and put in my 7th grade English teacher’s desk until after class only to have the same thing happen again in 11th grade when I walked into class with my Rio MP3 player, sporting the maximum 5 song playlist long before the iPod was truly a thing.
My freshman, junior, and college music teachers couldn’t quite understand how I was capable of transposing a homework assignment overnight and printing these new arrangements out in songbook fashion rather than scribbling in each note by hand.
When I chose to get an iPhone 6 Plus this year, even my very own techno heroes laughed out loud and insisted, “It’s too big,” without really considering how they do (or mostly don’t) use their laptops, tablets, and phones like they used to because, let’s face it, why have three of one thing? If I want to talk on the phone, I use my headphones and who really ever talks on the phone anymore anyway? I video chat. I chat chat. I do pretty much anything but talk away on a phone call like it is 1999. Soon enough, that will be precisely what my wrist watch is for.
My “phone”? That’s my book that fits in the back of my pocket and my day planner that isn’t 10 years side like my Mom’s old Franklin Covey. It seamlessly sync with my laptop via the Cloud, and my laptop, today, is just a hard drive with a keyboard. I look forward to the day where our phone is our hard drive, our keyboards are holograms or completely portable pieces, and all we do is plug them in – to our monitor at work, to our monitor at home, to our television, or whatever. In fact, we won’t even have to plug them in at all. Just like calling this thing we never call each other on “a phone” we’ll continue to say “plug it in” no matter how wireless our lives become. It is as ingrained in us today as it is to say “sunrise” when it is the Earth that moves and the sun that remains exactly the same.
Just think of the possibilities. Think about how you can change the way you work, the way you organize, and the way you unplug by doing nothing more than changing the scenery. Now my mind knows that any time I step away and go mobile, I’m focused and creative just as it knows every time I lay down in bed, it’s time to go to sleep. My advice to anyone, regardless of what they struggle with, is to never overlap your life. Don’t eat where you watch. Don’t watch where you sleep. Don’t settle in for a long focus session in the exact same position or on the exact same computer screen you just spent four hours checking emails on. Step away. Change the color. Reduce your screen size. Find a playlist. Do whatever it is you have to do to trigger focus.