Working from Home is the Enemy of Mindfulness

On the face of it, I have a fairly ideal work-from-home situation right now.

For starters, I have a job – already going better than millions of people around the world. And I actually love my job. I feel like I’m doing good for the world, the people I work with and myself every day, which gives me a steady sense of purpose and meaning. Added to this, my husband isn’t working at the moment, so the bulk of childcare responsibilities – of which there are many – fall on him. This means that apart from feeling guilty about not spending more time with the kids, and not helping him out more, I’m able to work largely uninterrupted for hours on end. Not a luxury that most working parents with young families have right now.

The cherry on top is my workspace – a granny-flat-turned-home-office on the roof of our apartment. It’s comfortable, quiet, and breezy, and our new dog (I’ll share musings on him in a separate post soon) keeps me company while demanding very little. He also never interrupts Zoom meetings and pulls faces behind me while I’m talking to potential clients, so that’s another win.

My point is – I know I’ve got it pretty good. And I’m grateful for these circumstances every day…

And yet.

I’m finding it really fucking hard to ever finish work these days. To draw a line and switch over to family time, to time with my husband, or even *gasp* to me time. I’m constantly thinking about work, going over challenging conversations, mentally fiddling with budgets and ideas, planning future difficult conversations, building road maps. Writing back to texts and emails and Slack messages while the kids are in the bath.

It’s better on the weekends. Even if I work for a few hours on Friday morning and a couple more on Saturday evening, in the time in between I’m largely able to enjoy time with the kids, meandering walks with the dog, a family dance party on the roof, maybe even a movie on Friday night. Well, the first 20 minutes of a movie before I pass out on the couch. Really I just stay awake for the ice cream.

But on work days, mindfulness is eluding me.

I realized yesterday that part of it is the absence of a commute. We bitch and moan about traffic jams and late trains and how much time we waste commuting, yet it serves a purpose other than just moving from us Point A to Point B. Being in physical transition facilitates a psychological transition, too. My drive to the office takes about half an hour, and gives me time to mentally go from home to work, from work to home. After getting everyone up and ready in the morning and dropping them off, the drive gives me time to switch from being “mama me” to “work me.” And even when I rush out of the office on my “short” days, to pick up GG and Little A from kindergarten and spend the evening with them, I’m usually able to process whatever I was working on, mentally leave work, and ultimately be present with the kids until they go to sleep.

At home it takes me less than a minute to get to “the office,” and I’m usually carrying or dragging some combination of laundry, a whiny child, a dog, dishes and a computer with me, and often already on a work call, to boot. Half of my mind is still downstairs with the family when I’m up at work, and when I come down, say to have lunch with them, a good chunk of me is still in the last call and writing up an email summary and scanning and re-prioritizing my to-do list.

It’s exhausting.

And basically the opposite of mindfulness.

I wish it was just affecting me, but it’s not. My husband told me yesterday that sometimes it feels like I’m not really here, and I couldn’t even argue with him. He’s right. I’m not here. Not all of me anyway. And if he feels like this the kids probably do, too.

Trying to meditate
Meditating together doesn’t work, just FYI

As always my unexpected guru, he made a suggestion that I’m gonna try this week. Sounds silly but I believe in environmental reminders to trigger behavioral changes. He suggested that instead of coming “home” from work through the internal stairs, that I leave the building via the elevator, take a walk around the block – not on a work call – and then walk in the front door. Maybe this way, even in a few minutes, I’ll be able to trigger that transition that I usually get on the commute. To leave work behind, even for a couple of hours, and just be with the kids.

I also know that – as is so often the case for me – meditation is part of the answer here. My practice has been rocky lately. I still meditate every morning, but so often I find that the bell dings after half an hour and I realize that I’ve basically just been sitting on my ass on a pretty cushion, legs crossed, back straight, face relaxed… thinking about work. When my mind is all over the place like this I find that a stricter, less spacious and all-encompassing technique is more effective at holding and cultivating my attention – so I think I’ll try some body scanning and super-zoomed in attention practices this week.

None of this is going to change the fact that we’re all kind of going nuts with this social distancing, the kids need their routine, my husband needs to be able to focus on his work, and the extrovert in me is killing to see other people. But something tells me that a bit more mindfulness and presence might take the edge off the suffering. And shine a light on the beauty in every moment, too.

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