Productivity for extroverts who work in the attic

One of the issues I’ve rediscovered while getting back into the swing of things this academic year is that while - yes - working for myself, at home, on my own schedule is an absolute privilege, and I shouldn’t complain about it, it is also sometimes difficult to organize my time and stay on task. So, you know. I’m going to complain about it.

(Also, some of you might note that I wrote a post about similar feelings last year. I needed to write them down again, it turns out because I can’t help telling everybody everything I’m thinking all the time.)

One of the hardest things for me is being alone. I like offices and coworkers and deciding where to get lunch! I am a people person. Maybe one day I’ll find myself in an office again. For now, though, I’m lucky enough to write feature stories as part of my regular workload, giving me the chance to talk to incredibly interesting people, both on the phone and in person. Also I have friends who like to have coffee and take walks and have dinner and engage in social text banter (thank you, friends!)

But the biggest problem, beyond ensuring I use my hours wisely and don’t start reorganizing the pantry instead of finishing a story (when the pantry is right there just begging to be organized, plus I could even watch the news while I do it, and, while I love being a writer, writing is sometimes a total drag and not fun at all ) is that I tend to engage in a bit of imposter syndrome/self-sabotage when it comes to my work and my schedule.

This is very easy to do when you work alone and you are me, with my particular personality, which includes a decent stream of worrying about if what I’m doing is “good enough” or “important enough.” I think a lot of us worry about this. I think a lot of women worry about this, in particular.

And I can answer that question right now: it is. I am really into my current canon of projects. I like writing feature stories about super interesting people, and essays about things that matter to me, and dumping out my thoughts on this blog and connecting with all of you! (I just love it!) I like chatting on the radio from time to time and being involved in committees and other volunteer activities.

However, when I’m sitting alone in my house with my hands poised above the keyboard, it is real easy - so, so easy - to invoke that age-old saying: “if a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?”

I make it about me, though. If I’m sitting here in my home office working, but there is no one here to see me doing it, am I really working at all?

I know that might sound a little silly, but the thought creeps right in. Maybe it’s easier for people who are more comfortable being and working alone, I don’t know. All I know is that, for me, it’s sometimes difficult to validate sitting at the desk in my lovely attic space writing of all things. It’s like, oh my god, could you at least be crunching some data for christ’s sake?

I think that’s why it’s so attractive to clean out the pantry, or answer email, or pay some bills. Those tasks are so much more solid than putting words on a page, which doesn’t even necessarily yield a finished project on any given day.

And when I start thinking like that, it’s easy to self-sabotage. I’m not talking about anything sinister. Just letting my day “go” because, you know, no one is there to tell me not to. Getting lost in a sea of non-important emails or going to the grocery store when I could be writing an essay. Because we need food! And when you really get down to it, am I even a writer? I mean, actually?

This morning I woke up with all those thoughts churning in my head and decided that although it was a very attractive prospect to wallow in them, especially considering we really need some stuff at the grocery store, I decided I would instead summon some of the advice I’ve gathered over the years from friends and family, from my always-wise mother, and from J (who got an earful about my various complaints over coffee, first thing when we woke up, lucky guy) and from articles and books; advice that is true and confronts the tree falling in the forest issue head on.

I decided that I should recommit to helpful strategies, like doing creative work first thing in the morning, when my mind can handle it, and save emails and random domestic duties - like rsvp’ing to events or ordering dog food, what I’m talking about here is extremely exciting stuff - for later in the day, when my mind is less capable. Then, hopefully, by the very end of the day, when my mind is fully incapable of anything - and I’m explaining to Aidy that she is going to need to pick SHORTER bedtime books, how fun is that? shorter books, ok? - I won’t feel like I didn’t accomplish enough and can fully revel in whatever show J and I are binging.

Like blocking out time to do those creative tasks, and not allowing myself be interupted by things like email, or mindlessly drifting over to social media during that time. Blocking this morning off to write is how I completed this blog post, in fact. You see! Proof of the tree!

Like taking time away from the incessent finishing of tasks to think about what my goals are, write down some story ideas and consider various possibilities about my career. Because, hey, I’m allowed to do that even though my office also serves as our guest room, there’s a dog at my feet and some sweaters that need to go to the dry cleaners in the corner.

This is what I’ve got going on this Monday morning. And since I am, as I mentioned before, very into people and communication and not keeping any thoughts to myself, ever, which, I probably should sometimes, it made sense to share it. Also, considering my lack of coworkers, it helps me to think about you readers in that role, holding me accountable. Don’t let me off easy, guys. And send any gossip or lunch ideas my way!