Since lockdown has affected so many people, and as I’ve worked from home, on and off for a hundred years, I feel obliged to pass on advice. But a warning: please feel free to pick and choose from my hard-won wisdom.
When I first started working from home, I felt a wonderful sense of freedom. I would watch the traffic outside the house and allow myself a Scotty Morrison smile. No rush hour for me; nor the grim-faced boss as I walked in late, yet again. No, now that I was working from home, I was my own boss. In fact, I decided to be a very excellent boss. A kind and wonderful boss who gave me lots of extra work benefits.
Each morning, with hair brushed and lipstick applied, I made sure I was sitting at the desk by 9.30 after the school run. This attention to appearance is essential to morale. And did I mention the coffee? The coffee was right by my side as I commenced the first, most agreeable task of the day, the list. I love a good list. If I’m in the mood, I’ll even write a list of lists. And then to work. Ah not quite so soon. I always liked to get a few important phone calls out of the way first ie hair, massage, drinks – and then to work!
In truth, as I’m a freelance journalist working to deadlines, I’m limited as to how many phone calls I can make and how much procrastination I can afford. Newspaper editors really don’t care if your grandmother is dying and your child is hanging from the roof with his foot caught in the spouting. They may mutter a grunt of sympathy but behind every freelancer is a queue a mile long.
As such I have helpful tips for fellow malingerers. On the days when I just wanted to put my head down and dribble on the desk, I pulled my trusty egg timer out of the drawer. ln terms of time management the egg timer is invaluable.
I used to set the egg timer for 10 minutes; or if I was really desperate, five minutes. When I wanted to break before the pinging, I needed only to tell myself, ‘It’s only five minutes, even a rhesus monkey can concentrate for five minutes.” When I heard the ping, my reward was to stand up and roam around the house or look at myself in the mirror. But then I would have to sit down and put the timer back on again. Inevitably I would gradually become more immersed in the writing, to the point where the egg timer was disregarded as an annoying distraction.
Another time management tool I used was to give myself a brisk smack on the cheek. (Not too hard.) Alternatively, I offered myself rewards during the day. A mid-morning snack; Entertainment Tonight; a little doona snooze.
Another strategy was to talk to myself. Rather than feel self-conscious or embarrassed, I found the sound of my own voice to be soothing and reassuring. I would give myself motivational speeches— and this was before the days of Ted talks. (I was ahead of my time really.) “You are wonderful,” I would say. “Your tenacity is only surpassed by your brilliance.”
Of course, no matter how diligently you apply the art of the egg timer, or how generously you reward yourself, the one obstacle that can really bring you undone is the presence of short people. When my little ones were home after school and I still hadn’t finished my work, I’d set them up in front of the TV surrounded by cushions, drinks and snacks. Occasionally however they would break out of the snuggle zone and they would try to talk to me!
Once when I was pitching an article on the phone, two of the beasts started yelling and baying at the office door. I had to lie on the floor and stretch out so I could keep the door shut with my feet and still reach the phone extension with my hands.
Situations like these sometimes can’t be helped. Remember you are only human. Worse still, your children are only sub-human. At times like these, you must also remember you are a kind and very understanding boss. When you have finished the task at hand speak to the short people in a soft and reassuring manner. Tell them you’ve hidden some special sweets in the backyard. While they’re hopefully frantically searching for the loot, switch off the computer, go to kitchen and pour yourself a gin and tonic.
Good luck out there.