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  • Writer's pictureLiz Fehlman

The Weak Soul Club

There are three things you should know:

1. I’ve worked from my home for five and a half years now.

2. I’m in introvert at heart.

3. My two toddlers have been at school since Day 1 of COVID-19.

Knowing those things, one could say I’ve gotten off pretty easy in the Pandemic department. After all, my home office is a double-monitor comfy chair oasis. Adopt Zoom as a new norm? Been a Zoom Boss for years, ya’ll. Not seeing people? That’s cool – I find my mental energy by being alone. And those kids of mine? Yeah, not at this house. They’re 7 minutes down the road at a facility that’s been working their ass off to keep them safe and healthy…and I’ve only stopped feeling guilty about sending them a few days ago.

my home office. just kidding, that's our bar. it's where I spend the other half of my day.

So, it was to my confusion when, a few weeks ago, I found myself staring at the white space behind my monitors for over an hour. The beauty of working from home is autonomy – the curse is that no one will intervene when you’ve become catatonic. I stared so long my eyes began to burn so I moved to the kitchen. I laid on my couch. Then I went into my bedroom and brushed my hair. If you’ve been so lucky to have entered the walls of Fort Fehlman, you might notice that I was just moving in a slow, pathetic circle. Eventually, I found myself back at my office. I put my head on my desk and I cried.

And not like, “Gah! 2020’s stupid! COVID sucks!” crying. These were real, crocodile-style ‘I’ve-lost-my-way-what-am-I-doing’ tears. Tears that stemmed from the inability to focus on anything real, that were mourning the last six months of instability, and the daily inadequacy I felt from not being able to finish anything before my brain was pulled into thinking about my kids, the virus, our finances, our dinner plans, and when I can go to a brewery next without a mask on. I could go on and on about where the rest of these tears were born from. The point is that I had reached a breaking point in what I could mentally carry, and the solution I was surviving on involved staring at the wall, walking in circles, and brushing my hair.

The beauty of working from home is autonomy – the curse is that no one will intervene when you’ve become catatonic.

I knew if I wanted to keep my job and my sanity that something needed to give. I was craving all the things 2020 had taken from me – stability, structure, and consistency. Remember those? I thought back to the first job I had out of college, when I stumbled across a colleague’s calendar and I saw recurring reminders he had set to “brush teeth” and “eat breakfast.” I remember thinking “uhhhh, what? This guys needs a reminder to brush his teeth? What kind of weak soul needs that level of accountability?

Enter 2020. Enter me and my weak soul.

So I opened a day on my Outlook calendar and deleted everything. I started at 7:45am, and began:

“Morning routine; kids to school, coffee, breakfast, check Gmail, etc.”

I set it for 30 minutes every day. I marked it as private because I didn’t need my colleagues knowing I had lost my mind – I’d rather keep them guessing.

I kept going.

8:15-8:45 : email check + what’s important for the day.

I do a quick scan of my emails for anything that’s important, and jot down 3 things I want to accomplish that day. Sometimes they’re work things. Sometimes it’s a reminder to put pants on.

8:45-10:00 : important project/focus time

I use this space to dive into the big projects I’m tackling. I keep a running list inside the calendar hold itself for easy access and quick reminders.

10:00 – 10:15 : mental break

I get up and do something not related to work; change the laundry over, take the dog out, do something else.

10:30 – 12:00 : important project/focus time

Same as above, but my stomach starts to grumble.

12:00 – 12:30 : lunch, step away.

I move my ass to the kitchen, where I eat real food at a real table.

12:30 – 1:00: email catch up + tasks

Staying out of my email has upped my concentration factor ten-fold. I use this time to clean things up and tackle any tasks I may have.

1 – 4:00: meeting time/interviews/1:1’s

This is chock-full of all the people I’ve yelled at to stop scheduling into my Project Time. I hit my Afternoon Slump at 2pm, so whoever schedules into that time slot either wakes me up or gets a sub-par performance.

4:00 – 4:30: check emails + plan for tomorrow

What didn’t I get to today? Did I accomplish what I said I’d do? Re-work things and set the day up for tomorrow.

4:30 – 5:00: pick up, dishes, make dinner, get the kids

You know, start my other job.

Other notes:

I created these holds as recurring appointments so there's consistency, and moved things to fit around them.

I made notes that said “do not schedule into” and marked most as “busy.”

I held space for the time of day I’m most creative and innovative (the morning)

I was intentional in saving my people-interaction for the afternoon, when I’m most ready for a nap.

I guarded time I needed to step away and refocus.

I’ve said no to people who have scheduled into project or mental break time.

I created a stable schedule that gave me structure and consistency.

Most importantly, there was a lot less staring, crying, and hair brushing.

actual photo of me staring into space for an hour

This new way of thinking about my day and organizing it in a way that allows me to be my best self at certain points throughout isn’t new to me. I’ve just never realized how much I needed something to cling to in order to refocus my brain that’s constantly going in a million directions. When I find myself slipping and staring, I pull my calendar open and remind myself what I’m supposed to be doing at that moment. It’s not perfect, but it’s working better than any other coping mechanism to date.

I know this type of intense calendar blocking isn’t for everyone. But if 2020 has your brain scrambled and you’re looking for a life line, crafting a day in which you feel some ounce of control, stability, and accomplishment may be a worthy exercise for you. And hey, if it doesn’t work – you’ve at the very least earned your company’s Weak Soul title for the person who has to publicly detail every second of their day in order to feel a sense of normalcy. Welcome to the club!

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Ally Hellyer Pippin
Ally Hellyer Pippin
Sep 03, 2020

ALL HAIL THE CALENDAR BLOCKS OF SANITY!! I have so many on my daily calendar that say things like "Not today" and "Not gonna happen" and "Not today 2: Electric Boogaloo". I had to remind myself that if I were going into the office, I would not be working like a horse all 8 hours I'm there - I'm getting coffee, I'm spending 45 minutes at minimum talking about drag race with my office buddy - I divided out my office hours and my working hours and scheduled my life around it. Liz, you are so strong and amazing and it's brave to share your vulnerable moments. So proud of you for doing what you can to stay sane!

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