I’ve been toying with a post like this for quite a while now, by turns encouraged by the honesty with which others, including academics, have been talking about working practices in the current climate and discouraged by fear of undermining the confidence of others in my ability to meet the demands of my job. My bosses, yes, but primarily my students; already completing the academic year in extraordinarily difficult circumstances, they need to have faith in those who are helping them.
There’s also been a bit of shame thrown into the mix: I don’t have children at home or any other caring responsibilities, the UK lockdown has not impacted my income or my ability to pay bills, and yet I have struggled to work. To be productive, anyway. I have started days with the best of intentions and been pulled under by current affairs by lunchtime. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to be distracted by what’s going on right now, and by thoughts of what is to come in the short- and longer term, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still things to do.
Just before the virus hit the UK, I was referred for a possible ADHD diagnosis. I wasn’t expecting even to get anywhere with that within the next 12-18 months, but it felt like a positive step for me after years of struggling with procrastination and distraction. I had some appointments with a work coach to identify my key needs and how best to address them, regardless of any diagnosis.
Top of the list was to give up, after more than a decade of trying (and dozens of different desks, configurations, playlists and office feng shui), on working from home. It didn’t matter that working at home in a sunlit office with food and drink freely available and no need to brush my hair made the most sense: I simply couldn’t do it. Rather than focusing on this failing, I needed to accept it and work around it. Go to libraries. Sit in cafés. Find the public spaces where my brain seemed to be able to connect with my to-do list.
Obviously, lockdown hit this hard. It’s less of an issue when I have things to do for others (my students, my colleagues), but certainly a problem when I’m trying to finish writing a book that has already taken me too long, because I have to climb a mountain of self-loathing every time I think about it.
Last week I decided upon a plan to overcome this, but that, too, brought me a feeling of shame, or at least embarrassment. I decided to rent an office.
It’s a very basic but well-lit room above a coffee shop less than a mile from where I live. How ridiculous that it should make such a difference!
Although it’s no more expensive than the cost of my usual commute from home to work, 80 miles away, it is an expense. How ridiculous that you have to go such lengths when you have a perfectly good home office!
It means that after weeks and weeks of being well protected at home, I am now going out into the world every day, seeing the coffee shop owners (from a minimum of two metres) multiple times a day, touching the same door handles, etc. How ridiculous that you should need to take such a risk!
[And then there’s the meta-level anxiety: you’re stressing about this when there are so many people who would love to have this simple solution to their wfh difficulties? You monster!]
It’s only been a few days, but I’m already feeling the difference, so I’m posting this in case it helps anyone else. Yesterday I finished three things that had been on my to-do list for at least a couple of weeks. I made a Trello board and arranged my to-do list by the days of this week on which I plan to do them, making things easy to move around if things change (trying to avoid self-criticism) and giving me the chance to break larger tasks down into tasks I can realistically manage in a few hours (setting myself up for success).
And I’m going to use the ‘work in progress‘ category on my blog to post about what I’m doing at the moment. It may be of interest to others, but really I’m doing this for myself, to try to stay accountable to my plans. (I think being outside, being more active, and feeling more connected to the world has offered me a mental boost, but perhaps that will wear off.) Today I wanted to continue with some modules learning how to use my university’s new VLE (done!), do some curriculum planning for next semester (not done!), and mark at least four essays (done!).