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.
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!