How To Work From Home Without Losing Your Sh*t

Working from home can be the easiest way to work. It can be the hardest. Sometimes it is both.

Currently I work from home, and it’s been more than four years since I’ve held a job with a physical office. I’ve spent several additional years of my life working from home. I’ve worked from home as an hourly consultant, contractor under lump sum, freelancer drumming up new business, half-time employee for someone else, full-time employee for someone else, and entrepreneur starting my own non-profit. During these years, I’ve had a boss, been my own boss, and been somebody’s boss. I’ve worked with fellow contractors with more authority. I’ve worked with employees inside the firm that hired me — and they had an office. I’ve held multiple contracts at once, multiple jobs at once, and held full-time, work-from-home-jobs while also attending full-time school in the evening. I’ve worked in someone else’s home, too. And, I’ve worked in several offices.

Frankly, I love working from home and don’t want to stop. But if I had an office tomorrow, I’d probably say I loved that and didn’t want to stop. There are positives and negatives for both working environments.

These are my best tips for working from home without losing your sh*t:

When you’re working, work. When you’re not working, don’t work. 
The most important thing to do is to compartmentalize. Think of work as an on/off light switch. Not a round dimmer that lets you explore gradations of work and home life happening at the same time, an on/off light switch. This approach protects both procrastinators who delay their work as well as workaholics who can’t stop working. Be deliberate about your boundaries, and when you’re at home, go all-in on your work or all-in on your personal life.

*Note – Others take vastly different approaches and find it works for them. With this tip as with the ones that follow, take what works for you and ignore the rest.

Keep a timesheet.
Whether or not you have billable hours to report or a mandatory company timesheet, track the amount of time you are working. Keeping a timesheet is the next step of compartmentalizing your activity. It acts as both a safeguard to keep you aware of when you are working and not working, and also as a way to hold you accountable to actually working or not working (some of us have problems actually getting to work, others of us have problems actually having a life).

Work in a dedicated space.
Having a dedicated space, even a $20 Ikea chair on the floor of your otherwise barren studio apartment (been there) is another mental kickstart to getting in the work mode. Do not conduct conference calls from bed. You will begin to associate your bed — which should be your most sacred space — with work annoyances that should have been absorbed by a cubicle with a carpeted wall.

Take a shower and get dressed.
I wear nicer clothes on my working-from-home days than my weekend days (let’s be real, we’re talking about slightly nicer T-shirts with the same jeans, sneakers, and hoodies). Get ready. Brush your teeth. When you feel professional, it helps you to act professional.

Get out to coffee shops on occasion, but not as an excuse to delay your work.
I used to put so much energy into working from coffee shops. I had a circuit of coffee shops I went to daily (seriously, they would have been so upset if they knew I had other steady coffee shops). It feels good to get out of your house and be around other people sometimes. It’s human nature. But if you think you need to go to a coffee shop or a library in order to be able to focus, something is wrong with the way you are approaching your work at home. When you’re working, you need to work.

Put more emphasis on professional development, including attending educational and networking events.
I tend to have more interest in professional development, including attending educational and networking events, when I’m working from home. Even when you work from home with other colleagues, it’s simply not as natural to develop, learn, and network as when you’re in an office. So — sign up for some professional events, and go. It feels good and keeps you relevant.

If you work from home and have children, don’t pretend you can do both without childcare.
These days, one of the sweetest comments I get when people find out I have a child and work from home is the assumption that I can, oh, do both. Unless you’re working part-time and don’t have to be on a specific schedule or you can’t afford or secure childcare and are forced to never sleep yourself, you can’t. It is simply not sustainable to work from home and take care of young kids at the same time.  I’ve worked from home with a nanny who came to us (best advice I have is to stay out of it, let the nanny take leadership, and act like you aren’t there) and these days our daughter goes to full-time daycare outside the home.

Take extra steps to be personal with your colleagues.
Just as small talk is just about the weather but profoundly important to a person’s ability to ramp into a focused conversation with someone they don’t know well already, so is bullshit time. Bullshit time is the time you spend in an office standing around a copier that can’t be fixed even though everyone has tried what the monitor says. During bullshit time you find out who people really are, and this develops trust and impacts our ability to communicate honestly with one another, and give and receive feedback. Sending a handwritten card in the mail to someone you work with virtually takes 10 minutes but makes you remarkable. Build in time to care about someone’s weekend or sick kid. No one is just a cog behind a screen.

Don’t construct a narrative about what your boss or client is thinking.
You ever watched a friend project the universe onto someone hot they found online? (Okay, I’ll woman up and confess to doing that myself.) Our brains are wired to fill in the gaps for others — undeservedly positive or negative. We can over-inflate how wonderful someone blah is, or construct a really hostile narrative against ourselves (like, literally, I have convinced myself that a previous boss who is in fact one of my greatest champions hated everything I did and was going to fire me). When you’re working from home, you’re missing body language, contact, and context that helps you to understand better what your boss or client really thinks. Get out of your head. Don’t think and theorize, talk. The exception is that if someone proves to you in a virtual space that they are toxic — as with real life — find a way to get the hell away from them, and never look back.

Most important: If you don’t love your job, don’t work from home. You will fail.
Almost all the problems of working from home really stem from not believing in what you do. If you think your job sucks, is boring, evil, under the direction of evil people, or you’re in a dead end, you won’t be motivated to work. In those instances, be honest with yourself and get out. I say this with the acknowledgement that it’s a great privilege to quit your job because it’s stupid, and one that most people can’t swing. But that doesn’t mean that if you hate working from home you should be reading tips on how to correct the situation. Just start looking for another job. Your problem might be working from home, but it’s more likely your job being the wrong fit.

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Video: January 2017 To The Contrary Appearance

I appeared as a panelist on this week’s To The Contrary, and discussed repealing Obamacare, defunding Planned Parenthood, and online bullying.

You can watch a video of the show here:

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On Parenting And Being Wrong

My three-year-old daughter made her first gingerbread house, and I thought I caught her breaking candy off and eating it. “Stop it,” I said from the top of the stairs.

Her face crumpled in transparent hurt and indignation. But Mommy, I didn’t do it. She sobbed.

She didn’t. I was wrong. She has been sneaking candy recently. I was convinced she was doing it again.

I’m sorry, I said. I was wrong. Sometimes Mommy is wrong.

But my feelings are hurting, she cried.

I know, I said. I hugged her. The next time I’m wrong, tell me and I’ll believe you.

She nodded.

At the grocery store a few hours later, it appeared she was pulling open a small carton of Goldfish crackers we hadn’t bought yet. I said her name in a warning tone.

“Mommy, you’re wrong.” She said it without getting upset, and I believed her right away.

So many important lessons tucked in at once. I hope she’ll always retain a sense of fairness and a willingness to tell authority when it is wrong. I’m glad she is grappling with the fallibility of the people she loves most. Perhaps when she is older she’ll have the courage to wear her weaknesses openly when she’s in the company of people she can trust — an essential trait of leadership.

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I should take the gingerbread house off that table, however. The yellow lab is eyeing it.

 

 

Gratitude For People With Depression Who Choose To Keep Going

I am grateful for everyone who struggles with depression and related conditions, and chooses to keep going.

It’s not easy. You rock.

The radical act of self-affirmation — even when we feel like crap — is the root of all power, personal and collective. Our ability to make change rests upon our ability to believe in ourselves.

Believing in ourselves has never been more important. Our nation is on the verge of leadership by those who rule by force, lying, and manipulation. The attempts to tear people down will be many.

When we are hurting we are easier to hurt. We must resist attacks on our bodies, minds, and lives.

It should be noted that external realities are not the reason why you should love yourself.

Every day is the right day to stop taking shit from a brain that is working against you, to stop taking shit from other people, and to accept your body’s right to take up space just as it is.

There is nothing strategic about allowing anyone — including yourself — to treat you as lesser than.

Affirm your right to take up space. Embrace your right to pleasure and freedom from violence, including psychological violence.

If you can’t love yourself yet, just choose to keep going. Another day may allow you to get there. Truly this is the most radical thing you can do.

P.S. As I always say to someone I care about, “Keep pushing. It’s worth it.”

Learning From Abusive Relationships About Donald Trump

I barricaded the bedroom door with a chair and a rattan chest full of sweaters. He continued slamming and yelling in the kitchen. I hunched over hyperventilating, shaking and waiting for his next move. Maybe he would come in. Maybe making the door hard to open made me less safe, not more. Surviving abuse is not an art, it is dumb luck. You pursue one of the limited options you are given in a moment of crisis and hope to God it works.

In this case it did. He tried to open the door but when it didn’t work, he went away. He left the kitchen. I heard the T.V. turn on. I used the quiet of our bedroom with the shades drawn to catch my breath and look up therapists. I needed a fucking therapist.

I looked at listings. No one had “when he threatens to kill you” in their keyword list, but I found one who specialized in “relationships,” “marital and family therapy,” and “eating disorders.” I had spent boatloads of time in therapy for an eating disorder, so I figured this one would understand me. I left her a voicemail.

For over a year, I saw this therapist — first by myself. Naturally, he thought it was ridiculous. Eventually, after yet another blow up, maybe one where I packed a duffel bag and drove back and forth on the brittle, salt-stained pavement between Minneapolis and St. Paul on I-94 for a few hours because I had nowhere to go with eyes that puffy, I got him to agree. We began to see the therapist together.

He was hostile at the first appointment, but after some work the therapist got him to hear what he wouldn’t hear me say — if the anger wasn’t addressed, I was going to leave. We walked out onto Mears Park and he held me, told me he loved me, that he was going to change for me. I am sickened to admit it, but my heart leaps a little bit as I recall this. It meant a lot to me when someone who hurt me said he cared. I found it romantic.

It has been twelve years and I am often an open book, but this is one of just a few times I’ve written about my experiences in an abusive marriage. Two years ago, I wrote Why I Stayed in an Abusive Marriage for Two Years for Rewire after I got fed up with the coverage of Janay Rice, wife of football player Ray Rice, who posted defiantly on social media that people were ruining their lives and they would show the world what true love was. She made sense to me. As I wrote at the time, “I know [the] shame and sense of shared understanding only too well. It is why I stayed in an abusive marriage for two years, and why I am speaking up ten years later.”

I’m writing about my history with abuse now for a different reason. I’ve been thinking of this therapist very much recently. After I left the marriage (and while she never told me to, I know she wanted me to), I went back to her couch, this time sitting by myself once more. She told me first that she could not see him again. Now that we were separated, she would be my therapist, not our therapist. She was no longer trying to help me fix the relationship. She was trying to help me heal from the relationship.

At our last appointment, before I left, she asked me the shattering question: You’ve said you never could have guessed this would have happened, that you saw no signs before he became violent, but I’m not sure that’s true. I want you to think about that. I bet you actually knew before. I want you to think about what those warning signs were, and how you responded to them, so this doesn’t happen to you again.

I had no response then, but I’ve been thinking about it constantly since Donald Trump was elected. She was right. I did know. There were warning signs along the way — random cruelty to an unknown woman in a bar when we first met and I was trying to impress him, a freaky, drunken, physical fight with a broomstick and a relative at 4 a.m., a friend who said frankly that he could be pretty mean before I came around, these things I tuned out.

Moreover, I think her question was deeper than that: What is it that leads people to accept abusive behavior? What is it in me specifically? I have done this inner work, and while it’s not comfortable, I am much better for it. With experience and not just principles, I have concluded: We cannot accept abusive behavior, period.

As Donald Trump prepares to take the presidency, we’re being told over and over to respect the office and give him a chance. We’re being told that clear statements of violence and racism and sexism are just talk, when we know they are the thing itself. I have personally experienced how dangerous it is to blow off the warning signs. We should not. We know that something is deeply wrong, and we should trust that without apology.

Do Not Give Him A Chance

Donald Trump is a monster.

He does not deserve a chance.

YOU deserve a chance.

YOU deserve to live without fear.

Love yourself, and stand up for others.

This is not a drill.

When Your Brain Tells You Dumb Things

For a week, I’ve been convinced my scale is broken. I think I weigh five to 10 pounds more than I do. I’ve weighed myself first thing in the morning maybe three times. Each time, I think the scale has stopped working. I have not lost weight; I’ve been consistent around my current weight, shape, and size for the past few years.

My brain has started telling me I’m 10 pounds heavier.

I’m wearing the newest undies I have. They are hot pink and and adorable, and yet they are too big. I bought the size I believed I was. When I put them on, I told myself they needed to shrink. The next time I wore them, I decided the manufacturer must be marketed to older people and practice vanity size inflation.

It turns out I am smaller than I earnestly believe I am.

This isn’t new. It just that I’ve learned to recognize it, interrogate it, and work around it. I remember the first time I was hospitalized for anorexia, literally half my life ago, and a nurse had me put a string in a circle on my hospital bed to represent how big I thought my waist was. She then used another string to measure my waist, cutting it, and placing it inside my circle, which was probably four times as big.

I have learned to identify and not align my behavior to my conquered loser of an eating disorder. It doesn’t mean the thoughts have gone away. Often, they are gone (and thank goodness, because the rest of the world is vastly more interesting than dieting). But even in the strangest of times, they get the best of me — like my latest reaction that the scale is broken, and these undies that are hot and a little bit floppy.

There appears to be a misconception, and in some cases a tremendous pressure on eating disorder survivors to foster the misconception, that folks who have recovered from anorexia, bulimia, and more simply love ourselves all the time and it’s fucking fabulous with a unicorn giving us a hug on our non-obsessive, all-foods-can-fit way to the cupcake boutique. I think it’s important to break through that misconception.

My brain is a weird place. Recovering from this eating disorder has made me one of the toughest people I know. And yet it — real recovery — also means acknowledging the shitty parts of yourself that exist to defeat you. My self-conception of my shape and size is unreliable. I know that.

I don’t think this means I am not fully past my eating disorder. I do believe I am. I am a survivor. Yet, I negotiate this thing sometimes. I’m doing it with this size nonsense right now, and I’m grateful for it. It’s making me think about other areas in my life where I am afraid I am taking up too much space. That fear is probably unreliable, too.

Stop Saying Hillary Clinton Is Not Perfect

It’s time for an indefinite moratorium on Hillary’s supporters saying she is “not perfect.”

It’s quite obvious nobody is perfect. And yet there seems to be a bizarre — dare we say gendered — compulsion for many of her supporters to disavow her when they’re otherwise affirming her.

Why do we expect perfection of women? Why are we so insistent that women in the public eye do everything just so? When do we say that our political leaders who happen to be men are “not perfect”?

Don’t distort me here. I remain aggressively committed to doing whatever I need to do to ensure Hillary stands up for, prioritizes, and follows through on meaningful progressive policy change for women’s rights, reproductive justice, racial justice, economic justice, and LGBTQ equality.

I’m not afraid to call for changes in her platform. I have not been afraid to have public conversations about her commitment to reproductive rights, especially after Tim Kaine joined the ticket, even when fellow advocates I respect have winced and tried to shush me up (Note: Judging by her eventual swap of the stigmatizing “safe, legal, and rare” to becoming the first major candidate to call for repealing the Hyde Amendment, and Kaine’s improved performance at the vice presidential debate, pressure seems to work). If she becomes the first woman in the White House, I will be glad to criticize her when her actions call for criticism. But I’m also keenly aware that an orientation toward accountability has nothing to do with expecting perfection of a woman.

As this election cycle drags on in the worst ways, I am starting to believe that rejecting the calls for Hillary to be perfect is an act of self-love for women. None of us need be perfect. We need to do our best, and we need to understand that others may call on us to do our best. But expecting perfection of women is sexist, and toxic.

What Tim Kaine Should Say About Abortion At The Vice Presidential Debate

At the first presidential debate last night, Lester Holt couldn’t be bothered to ask Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump about abortion. This despite the fact that abortion is one of the most explosive political issues of our time, Hillary Clinton has staked out progressive positions on abortion never before embraced by a Democratic nominee for president, and Donald Trump has been all over the place on abortion, including some extreme places like calling for punishing women who have abortions and recently accepting the endorsement of pro-life terrorist poster boy Troy Newman.

The abortion question is a real one, and there’s every reason to expect it’s coming. But my money is on the abortion question at long last appearing in the vice presidential debate, since vice presidents are often tasked with leading the charge on social issues, for better (Vice President Biden pushing President Obama to evolve on marriage equality) or worse (Vice President Quayle picking a fight with Murphy Brown).

Theoretically, this should have been a slam dunk. As a member of Congress, Trump’s running mate Gov. Mike Pence (R-IN) invented the effort to defund Planned Parenthood. He is a vicious man whose willfully ignorant anti-abortion, anti-sexuality views have led him to claim condoms don’t work and driven thousands of protesters to the streets to protest his ‘religious freedom’ law designed to allow businesses to refuse service to same-sex couples. He’s into redefining rape so fewer people who want abortions can get them. It should be lost on no one that a woman in Indiana named Purvi Patel served over a year in prison for ending her own pregnancy before an appeals court set her free, and Gov. Pence presided over this blatant violation of her human rights and literal application of Donald Trump’s promise to punish women who have abortions.

Hillary Clinton would be a great person to answer these questions. But she hasn’t been asked. None of the Democratic primary debates asked about abortion. Which brings us to her running mate, Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) who is … not a great person to ask about abortion.

Tim Kaine is, sigh, personally opposed to abortion, with all the irrelevant shaming and male privilege that brings to the discussion. As Governor of Virginia he signed a bill into law that created “Choose Life” license plates that divert state monies into unaccountable crisis pregnancy centers that exist to lie to women and make it harder for people who want abortions to get them. He supports the Hyde Amendment which bars federal funding for abortion. He supports it so much, he went around his boss who is a woman and coincidentally belongs to the gender most impacted by restrictions on abortion and clarified that, contrary to what her campaign said, he does not support her position of repealing the Hyde Amendment. (Please pause and think about the gender ramifications of that, because it sucks so much. Most powerful woman in the world gets to be second-guessed and disagreed with in public by her right-hand man on an issue that is deeply personal for women and indivisibly critical for their political, social, and legal equality?)

It’s clear Tim Kaine needs some help talking about abortion. Here is what he should say at the vice presidential debate:

I support the right to abortion, and I will follow the leadership of President Hillary Clinton to fight for the right to abortion.

But Senator Kaine, you’ve said you are personally opposed abortion and you do not support repealing the Hyde Amendment, contrary to Secretary Clinton’s platform and the Democratic Party platform. Will you do this work, or will you leave it to her?

As a man, I approach the possibility of serving under the first woman president with humility and awareness that I have a special role to play in teaching our country to respect a woman’s leadership. Hillary Clinton has clearly spoken about the need to repeal the discriminatory Hyde Amendment. I support her leadership. I understand that personal views about abortion should not drive a public policy discussion about a woman or pregnant person’s civil and human rights. We must end the Hyde Amendment.

But that’s not what you’ve said before.

I was wrong to disagree with Hillary publicly on an issue, particularly an issue as important to her as this one. It’s important and historically significant for men to support women’s leadership right now. Hillary has called upon me to serve her and our country, and I know the right way to serve our country is to follow her lead and ensure the right to abortion is accessible for everyone. That includes repealing the Hyde Amendment. It’s a shame you aren’t asking her about this. 

Expecting any less of Tim Kaine is, frankly, sexism. Abortion stigma and restrictions on abortion are rooted in sexism. Allowing a man to end-run the woman boss on a “women’s issue” is sexist. He’s got to get better.

How To Stop Conversational Manspreading: A Self-Help Guide For Men

Manspreading is not just a physical thing.

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It’s a conversational thing. Conversational manspreading is when men dominate a conversation or insert opinions into areas they just shouldn’t comment on.

It sounds like men using a question and answer period to insert an opinion. It sounds like stating opinion as fact. It sounds like men challenging women on their own lived experience. It sounds like former Governor Ed Rendell (D-PA) saying Hillary Clinton should smile more, even though he is ‘with her’ electorally speaking. It sounds like, well, conversations with men dominating that happen in classrooms and workplaces every damn day.

Conversational manspreading is not the same thing as mansplaining, or men explaining to women things they already know, although mansplaining can certainly be a tactic in the conversational manspreading toolbox.

So often we see self-help directed toward women as a way to rise above sexist inequality. Women are told we are underpaid because we choose the wrong careers, or we need to find the self-confidence to speak up, or we need to learn how to negotiate, even though new research shows that contrary to conventional wisdom, women ask for raises as much as men — we just don’t get them.

In this spirit, I’d like to offer some self-help tips for men so that they can find a way to rise above the insecurity and awry feelings that lead them to take up more conversational space than they need. Here goes:

  1. Don’t tell a woman what she goes through when she has her period, or how she should think about her own anatomy or reproductive matters in general — just don’t. Ever. Even if you happen to work in the reproductive health field.
  2. Don’t comment on how much or how little others are eating or exercising.
  3. Don’t interrupt women.
  4. Do not “shush” women as you disagree with them, either with sounds and/or your hands.
  5. If you are answering every question or speaking to every point raised in a meeting, you are speaking too much.
  6. Don’t tell someone how to feel. Don’t tell someone to smile. Don’t tell someone to lighten up.
  7. If you are a man and dominating a conversation about feminism with your own opinions, you’re doing it wrong.
  8. If you’re a white person and you’re dominating a conversation about racism with your own opinions, you’re doing it wrong.
  9. If you agree with something someone else said, say so. Do not present their opinions as your own.
  10. Don’t respond to queries for questions with your opinions.
  11. If you don’t have the lived experience, spend almost all of your time listening.
  12. If you don’t have the lived experience, do not explain how those who do should respond to injustice.
  13. Don’t tell activists they are doing it wrong.
  14. Don’t respond to police brutality with a nervous call for everyone to calm down and remain peaceful.
  15. If you are all over a listserv like every other post, stop it!
  16. Don’t mansplain. Don’t mansplain what mansplaining means to the one woman sitting at your table of four (I sat next to that at a restaurant once and it took every fiber of my being to not whip out the video camera).
  17. Don’t say something flirty or cute to someone who works below you, ever. It’s not a joke.
  18. If you consider yourself a progressive man, all of the above still apply to you. Do not assume you are perfect.

Add in your tips for men to stop the conversational manspreading in the comments!