Working From Home

I had great aspirations when it was announced that schools would be closed and I would, more often than not, be working from home.  After the initial rush, I decided I would finally have time to write more, read all of those books that I have been dying to read, I would learn Spanish, and I would finally be able to expertly play a tune on my not-so new Ukulele.

Being an optimist, I saw this challenge as an opportunity to finally slow down, work at a reasonable pace, and accomplish some goals that may have otherwise been out of reach.

Well, here we are over a month into the quarantine and I have fallen wayyyyyy—I mean wayyyyy short—of my non-work goals.  Granted, the first couple weeks were hectic and I was splitting time between on and off site.  I have found that for some reason I wake up, check emails, participate in several virtual meetings, make phone calls, work on plans, and, other than sharing a funny meme or two, I have little time for self improvement goals.  The time slips away in a surreal manner that has me looking at my watch one second to see it’s 8:00 am and the next it’s 6:00 PM. I do not believe I am alone when I say that  work has not gotten easier, even if it is in sweatpants

The slow weeks, the fast days, and the blurring of hours staring numbly into my computer screen wasted precious minutes, hours, days has felt like a surreal phenomenon.

I can describe the feeling by comparing it to the vortex of lost time BC (Before Corona) when a quick check of my phone would somehow project me forward in time at an uncanny rate.

I love my job, love the work, the people, the kids, especially the kids. Even on my worst days, I would be able to look a kid in the eye, say their name, champion their cause, or just sit with them during a challenging moment to let them know they had an adult in their corner.  Those interactions, even if they were only for a moment, even if it was the only thing I had accomplished in a day, were when I knew I did something right, knew I made a difference.

That’s probably the hardest part of this new reality, the lack of subtle human nuances.  A shared look, a smile, a smell, a hand shake, a hug, and understanding that we are all the same, people trying to do the best we can with the cards we have been dealt.

It is a challenge to work differently and to still feel productive, still make a difference, and still have human interactions even if they are not the same as they once were, because we are still just people trying to do the best we can with the cards we have been dealt.

I have made a few adjustments that have allowed me to feel better at the end of the day, to feel like I accomplished something because as Victor Frankl said:

“Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.”

Frankl was a psychiatrist who used his dire situation, time in a Natzi concentration camp, to study the human psyche while witnessing and experiencing unimaginable atrocities.   While being tortured and facing death he developed a purpose, a goal and with that goal he was able to not only survive the horrors of Auschwitz, but also provide profound insights into the human mind, and developed a whole therapeutic approach some say are the basis of Cognitive Behavior Therapy.

If Frankl could accomplish all that while facing a near certain death, I could certainly learn Spanish and write a few articles despite a lack of Dunkin Donuts coffee and rationed toilet paper.

Many of us are realizing that working at home is a challenge, and after the joy of not getting dressed up each day fades, it can become quite disorienting, and an often depressing endeavour.

I was able to establish a place in my home where I could work privately and comfortably.  I converted my man cave into a makeshift stand up desk.  A computer, printer, and some of my favorite chachkies from my North Rockland office.  Adding plants to my space not only brought some life, some color, and improvements to the air quality, but they helped me to smile even on tough days. There is something joyful and therapeutic about nurturing life, a realization that has become more apparent to me as I get older.

I was proud of my setup, and found that a few of these accommodations have made me not only a better worker, but also happier.

Environment does matter, if educators didn’t realize the importance of a warm, welcoming and comfortable classroom BC, we certainly should now.

It wasn’t long after I congratulated myself on making the most of a challenging work situation by creating a great working space that guilt and self doubt set in.

I have privacy, I have connectivity, I have a space to move around, I have a nice computer and I still struggle to be as effective as I would like to be.  What about all of our kids who are trying to adjust to I-Learning with limited connectivity, a lack of a quality device, no privacy, no work space to spread out on, no friends to play with, or a family situation that is less than optimal?

It has me contemplating, is it realistic to expect our kids to immediately adjust, tune and turn in?

If my days as an adult, who has been in school for 42 plus years, can slip away before I actually accomplish what I want to do, what cruel tricks does time play on our youth?

This is a time to be flexible with our kids, to show compassion, to be understanding, and to adjust our priorities. This can not be accomplished unless we are equally as kind with ourselves.  We can not coach our students on how to make the most out of QD’s (Quartinie Days) until we begin to work through the issue ourselves.

Over a month into this weird, weird, schooling situation I feel like I am finally starting to get my feet under me and beginning to get into a rhythm.  At least today, tomorrow may be a different story, but today I am improving.

Putting a few things in place have helped me to improve and maintain my sanity.

As silly as it sounds the first was having my wife cut my hair.  It may seem like a little thing, but it really did make a big difference.  I found it hard to concentrate with my hair constantly in my eyes, and even harder to look at my unkempt on Google Meet sessions.  It was so bad that a hat didn’t even help as the hair brushed out over my ears, a mixture of grey and black, in my red NR hat just looked ridiculous.  I realized that appearance and hygiene could actually make me feel better about life in general.

Therefore, I make sure I shower, brush my hair, put on my CK1 cologne, my favorite watch, and North Rockland gear each and every day (almost). The first few days of school closure I wore a suit, hoping to portray a sense of normalcy, and leadership, but now sneakers and a quarter zip do me just fine.

I have found that I am better when I follow a specific morning routine.  BC it was as follows:

Get up, brush my teeth, check on plants, have a Spark- 10 minutes

Read the Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday-2 min

Write in my 5 minute gratitude journal– 5 min

Establish 1 priority goal in my planner for the day in each of the following areas with examples:

Work-  Prepare for staffing meeting

Home- Bring in plants frost tonight

Health- No candy today

Family- Call mom to check in

Personal Growth- Read 15 minutes- Waking up book

Professional Growth- Write for 20 minutes

I had always tried to make these goals the single most important task in each of the areas, and something that was actually realistic to accomplish.  The next day I would review my intentions and see how I did, not only in achieving my goals, but in choosing them. The key is to resist the temptation to add more than one item in any area.  I have found that this allows me to be intentional with the work I complete and gives me guidance during times when I may be distracted or unable to focus on what to do next.

Some days the family goal or even the work goal will be relationship based.  I may have a million and one things to “get done” at work, but calling out the importance of positive interactions I will have with parents, staff, and students, at an evening event have helped me to pace myself and get in the right mindset for where my focus and energy goes.

I found that on my busiest days, my most stressful days, although the pull of getting everything done had me skipping my ritual, it was those days that I needed it most.

That offers some explanation as to why during the initial breakneck pace of the Covid crisis I was skipping my self care routine. Luckily, I smartened up and made it a mandatory part of my day. It took a bit for me to come to the understanding that the work I was doing, the conversations I was having, and the leading I needed to do required a clear, focused and healthy mind.

Once the shift was made to working primarily from home it has been helpful to adjust and add to my routine.

Meditation, the Daily Stoic, and Gratitude journal all remain, but my daily priority list has evolved.  It has been beneficial for me to establish a more concise list of priorities for my days working from home to ensure the time doesn’t slip away with nothing to show for it thanks to Mark Zuckerburg et al.

I now keep a Mnemosyne notepad on my desk/bar and have various check offs that I wish to complete each day.

It looks something like this:

Work

Plan K-3 principal agenda

Establish P/T guidelines

Send out positive emails  1    2    3

I have found that putting 3 or 4 tasks to complete the night before has helped me to pick the right priorities. I also try to include a “relationship takes like sending positive emails.

Health:

Push ups    1    2    3

Curls           1    2    3

Planks         1    2    3

I pick three exercises each day that I hope to do three sets in between meetings, tasks, or if I just need to move a bit.  I cross off the numbers as I complete the sets.

Professional Reading

Principles by Ray Dalio

10    10    10

Reading not only keeps my mind fresh and growing as an educator and leader it also serves as a mindful escape from my computer putting me in a better mindset.  I have committed to at least 30 minutes a day of professional reading. Instead of wasting time playing around on my computer before my next meeting, I use that ten minutes to read, setting a timer then cross off one of the “10’s” on my list.

Personal Growth

Spanish 30

This is the category I have had the hardest time with.  For some reason I have been struggling to commit to the 30 minutes daily to Spanish.  I suspect that it is because I lack a clear plan.  I have written “Spanish” in my book, but without a clear direction on what that specifically means I find I do not get to it. I am thinking that if I give a more specific “learning Spanish goal” it will help me to develop this habit.  Perhaps I will try something different moving forward. Such as:

Spanish

Duolingo 10       Tine Ferris Article 10            Learn 5 Spanish words 10

Establishing a clear intention for what I hope to accomplish each day helps to provide me with much needed clarity and guidance throughout my day.

Do I accomplish everything on my list every day?  Absolutely not, but am I more productive and I feel better at the end of the day knowing that I took some control rather than letting it slip away in a fog of uncertainty  as I navigate quarantine life.

I have found it equally important to be kind to myself, to forgive myself on those days when I just don’t have “it.” There were times I have thought something was wrong with me, and on certain anxiety ridden days feared I had contracted Covid.  After sharing stories with friends and listening to this chat with my brilliant friend and educational leader Basil Marin, I realized I am not alone.

Zoom meetings, staying in, working from home can actually make you more fatigued than a regular work schedule, and just like in everything else, we have some rock star work days and days where we miss the mark. Unlike BC I am realizing that when I do not live up to my expectations it’s ok, tomorrow is another chance to improve and be a little better at figuring all of this out.