tomorrow comes today

Sigh.

Every day is an exercise in futility.

Oh, what? I’m sorry. I couldn’t hear you over my raging self-pity. Also, you are likely located hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away from me, so you might want to consider speaking up.

What’s got me so glum, chum? I don’t know. That ol’ clock just keeps on beating me down. Father Time: what a dick, right? Talk about the long arm of the patriarchy — they can even screw me over metaphysically.

Every single day I wake up in the morning feeling arguably not unlike P. Diddy, though since I’ve never had the appreciable pleasure of being P. Diddy what exactly that feeling entails remains open to speculation. Regardless, my wee hours never fail to brim over with optimism and wide-eyed opportunity. Hey! I think to myself. I’m gonna get up early! I’m gonna get all my work done by 5:00 p.m.! I’m gonna write a post! No — I’m gonna write three posts! I’m gonna vacuum the entire house! I’m gonna reorganize the entire house! I’m gonna save up money and buy us a new house! Before dinnertime! I’m gonna pay off all my student loans before breakfast! I’m gonna stand in a golden shaft of sunlight smiling so wide that all my teeth show as my skin emits an ethereal bronze glow and the breeze gently ruffles my hair without mussing it up, just like how women look in commercials for feminine hygiene products and those pharmaceutical drugs you should ask your doctor about!

Needless to say, by the time I actually get out of bed all of these good intentions have already begun to deflate. From there, the rest of the day is just one long slow sideways slump into chaos and disappointment.

Very un-Diddy-like, indeed.1

Lyn, you’re saying. Lyn. What’s going on? What could possibly be causing you all this inner turmoil? Or maybe you aren’t saying that at all. Maybe you’re actually saying WHAT IS UP WITH THIS WHOLE LIBYA THING or PLEASE GOD I NEVER WANT TO SEE A BUD LITE COMMERCIAL AGAIN or THEY SHOULD TOTALLY RELEASE A BIOGRAPHY TITLED CRAY-CRAY IN THE HOO-HA: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF KATY PERRY. I don’t actually know what you are saying, because like I said, the distance issue. SPEAK UP.

But back to me, here. The source of all this malaise is my new job. Which, by the way, those of you who are new here (I’m sorry!) or too drunk to remember the times I virtually wrung my hands about New Jobs and the Having of Them should probably know that I have a new job. And for the sake of this post making any sense, here’s a very boring but necessary bit of backstory about how that works:

While I occasionally go into the office, 90% of my time is spent working from home. My bosses assign me to-dos via a software platform that manages the design/meeting notes, login information, timelines, goals, due dates, and other pertinent information for each client all in one place. As I work throughout the day, I use a timer widget on my computer’s dashboard. Each time I start the timer, I select the client, the project, and the individual task. When I switch gears, I stop the timer and restart it with new information. Everything is automatically tracked over time, which makes both billing the client and getting paid really easy.

It’s an incredibly cool, incredibly efficient way to work.

It’s also an incredibly frustrating, hair-pulling, time-obsessive way to work.

When you work a typical office job, maybe you come in in the morning and fix some oatmeal. Maybe you check your personal email first. Maybe you do some work, make a couple of phone calls, get caught in an awkwardly polite and dreadfully protracted conversation about babies or dogs with a coworker by the coffee maker. Maybe you read a couple of blogs, do some more work, someone stops by your cube to complain about that meeting yesterday. Then lunch, more work, more blogs, check your personal email again. At some point you look up and notice it’s 5:30. So you pack up and head home, secure in the knowledge that you successfully worked a full day.

Now imagine that an evil troll sits above your desk at work, his gnarled hand hovering over the start/stop button on a stopwatch. He watches you all day long (creepy!). He lets the stopwatch run as long as you’re steadily plugging away at your work tasks. But every time you click some link a friend emails you, every time you gab with a coworker, every time you wander away from your desk for coffee or tea, every time you spend a few extra minutes trying to smooth down your cowlick in the bathroom mirror, every time you answer a personal phone call — the troll stops the clock, cackling insidiously all the while.

What a bastard, right?

Now, it’s 5:30 pm, yet somehow the clock shows you’ve only worked 5.78 hours so far that day. You, my friend, are accountable for another 2.23 hours before you can actually go home. Better get back to work, you lazy-ass punk!

This is basically my life, now. Except not inside an office. Also, I haven’t actually seen that troll around here, though I’m pretty sure if I did, I would punch him in the face.

If I could write the biggest thing I’ve learned over the past few weeks on a piece of paper, and underline it twenty-seven times, and draw fifty-three stars around it, and maybe put, like, purple glitter glue all around it in circles, it would be this: it’s really fucking hard to do eight solid hours of work per day.

Until I had this revelation, those first few weeks of the new job were like a smack in the face. I kept working until 8:00 p.m. every night and then wondering where I’d gone wrong. I slowly became obsessed with my daily schedule. If I could just get up an hour earlier, I’d think to myself while lying in bed, then I could start work an hour earlier, and then I could finish an hour earlier! Tomorrow I’d be better. Yes, tomorrow would be the day!

Then tomorrow would inevitably backslide into so much fail.

Each day is an epic battle with the clock. Never before have I been so keenly aware that my time literally equals money. Every time I pause during my workday, whether it be to fix lunch or wash some dishes or run a necessary errand or even just take a brain break, all I can think about is how I’m losing viable working time. Every time I stop the timer, I’m effectively pushing back the time I get to stop working. My boss invited me out to lunch recently and I actually almost declined because I knew I’d have to work that much later into the evening to make up for it. Appointments I used to love scheduling during the workday because it got me out of the office now give me the fits, because oh my god, TIME LOST TIME LOST PANIC PANIC DIE.

Look. I realize I’m painting a pretty negative picture of my new job. Let me be perfectly clear: I still love my job. I’ve already learned so much. And I love the process of it; I love the software I work with and the satisfaction of literally checking off my to-do list. It’s just been a really rough mental transition. I still wake up optimistic, but I still can’t quite seem to seize upon that ecstatic ambition, to wrap my hands around its neck and throttle it into submission.

Um, not that I really could before, when I had an office job. It’s just that lately true accomplishment has seemed even further out of reach.

But it’s getting better. I’m learning to forgive myself, learning to lower my expectations, learning to build in extra leeway during the day, and learning to accept that sometimes I’m just going to have to work until 8:00 p.m. And thankfully, my work hours during the week are closer to 30 than a full 40, so with hard and diligent work Monday through Thursday I can have most of Friday for my own personal projects. You know, like redesigning my website. Or penning a novel. Or replacing the fuel filter in my car or learning Polish or uncovering the secret of clear skin.

Just kidding.

Sort of.

What about you? Do you find yourself railing against the clock on a daily basis? How do you cope?

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1 Unless Diddy is accustomed to feeling slothlike.

21 Responses to “tomorrow comes today”

  1. When I worked from home I gave myself the same pep-talk at the end of each day “ok, tomorrow I really will focus so I can get everything I need to get done and do it in eight hours, tomorrow I really will….” And the next morning all my resolve was gone and I worked till 7pm again. I’m not sure I do any better now, but being in an office makes me feel more like I’m working hard. Like you said, the coffee breaks and things get built into the day.

    You’re learning a whole new (crazy efficient) way to work. It’s going to hard but it’ll pay off for this and all other jobs to follow.

  2. Oh dear that sounds just awful and totally stressed me out.

    My job is largely phone-based and also time-tracked. So, if I call 5 people in a row and get answering machines, I have to come up with something else to fill that time or I’m screwed. However when all is said and done I get to leap out of the door at 4:30 so I guess it’s tolerable.

    Let’s focus on the positives – you don’t have to drink shitty office coffee and you get to use your own nice, clean bathroom during the day. Yay!

    • Oh my gosh. I hate the telephone, so I feel terrible for you. Also, um… don’t tell anyone, but my bathroom is not very nice and clean as of right this moment. I need me to come over and do an intervention.

  3. Okay I left my office job in November to start my own business. It has taken me until the end of May to finally get into some sort of work habit that doesn’t leave me depressed by the end of the day. It’s HARD! I definitely work a lot more than I used to, but I’m also developing saddle bags for the first time in my life, so I obviously haven’t figured this whole thing out yet. What I’m starting to learn to accept is that you absolutely have to leave the house during the day – even if it’s just to walk around the block. You need a break and you need exercise. For realz. Because when you add body image stress to work stress, you will drive yourself completely insane. I KNOW.

    That being said, I find waking up way earlier than you would have ever considered before and just seriously FORCING yourself out of bed helps. Like just wake up, throw on some clothes and spend an hour doing blog stuff or whatever before getting to work. It gets it out of my system for the most part (I am an internet addict) and doesn’t eat into the day.

    But seriously, find a way to fit some physical activity into the work routine as soon as you can, because I am definitely regretting not making that happen earlier. Oh and try to accept that it’s going to take awhile to make the adjustment. It’s way harder than I thought it would be to adjust mentally, but now I love it. And if you like the work, then it should fall into place for you – just keep telling yourself that you can make this happen and it eventually will. xo

    • Ohh yes. Don’t worry. I work out every morning for nearly an hour. This is actually part of what’s screwing my schedule up so badly, because if I get up at 7, by the time I’ve worked out, showered, made breakfast, and done my morning chores, it’s already 10 and I haven’t even looked at the internet yet, let alone begun work. Part of me is like YOU SHOULD GET UP AT 5:00 but then 5:00 comes and I am like THERE IS NO WAY YOU CAN DRAG ME FROM THIS WARM BED. Fail.

      I also work while standing up, which helps. But I need to build in time to walk around outside every day in the sun. I work in a part of the house where no sun shines in and it drives me crazy sometimes.

      I think what I’m really missing is the whole “freedom” thing. I thought it would be nice to work from home because I could make my own schedule. I could take time out of my day to go to lunch with someone, or go on a walk, or run an errand, but it turns out that just ends up screwing me over, so I stay inside all day hunched over the computer, jamming meals into my mouth while I work. That’s no way to enjoy a reasonable life balance.

      Ugh. The whole thing is tricky. I’m so happy you’ve found a way to make it work for you. Share more of your secrets!

  4. I actually work in exactly the same way, recording all my time against different clients, except I also work in an office – so, time trolls AND awkward conversations! All part of what makes being a lawyer so FUN.

    But because I don’t live in a crazypants city like New York, I only need to do 6.75 hours a day. And actually, only 75% or something is meant to be chargeable and the rest can be non-chargeable. Like “Risk Management”, or “General Admin”. Oh, how I love General Admin.

    I think people who work from home are amazing. I had to work from home for one day during a random freak snowstorm, and when my boss called to talk to me about an urgent email that had just come in, I was busy watching Grey’s Anatomy online. Awkwaaaard. Self-discipline is not my strong point.

    But, whatever you do, don’t stop blogging. Please. I don’t know how to say this but, I kind like your style. A lot. And I am also seriously considering your running away to the circus proposal, so if this working-from-home thing doesn’t work out…

  5. I have almost the opposite problem. I feel like I have no accountability in my current job, which makes it hard to be motivated. I wile away too much time on blogs and personal email because there is no one looking over my shoulder. The work keeps getting more and more backed up, but since my supervisor is so distantly involved in supervising me, I get so little done. Therefore I feel like a total unproductive member of society. And this should be a job I love, but I currently hate it.

  6. I COMPLETELY understand. I work from home part-time and I suck at it. I have no troll (thank god, that sounds horrible); instead I’m project-based, so I theoretically work as long as it takes to do a good job. Which means I start off every project thinking “I am going to be SO FREAKING EFFICIENT, this will be AWESOME and I will be DRINKING BY FIVE” and inevitably I’m still working on it at 10 pm, convinced that somehow I can make it better. It’s like being a student, except that I can’t just turn in a crappy paper and forget about it. So every day starts the same way – this time! this time it will be better! and inevitably I fail.

    ….And now that break is done, so I’ll be over here methodically banging my head on the kitchen table.

  7. I berate myself about this very thing every day. I have the option of working from home or the option of going into the office and somehow the option makes my day a series of decisions. When should I get up? Later? Yes, please. How about getting out of your pajamas? What if you drove in to the office to take a call RIGHT BEFORE YOUR 11am call, WITHOUT A MINUTE TO SPARE, DASHING FROM THE PARKING GARAGE? Or maybe it would be good for the earth and your gas mileage to take the bus. Hmm. Then again, what if you did the dishes at home WHILE talking on the phone? Or folded laundry? Or skipped out and went to the gym? That way, you can be unproductive and scattered on both the personal AND professional level. I find myself wishing with all my little wishy heart for a RIGID 9-5er. With a boss who’s not remote, but in the next cube, with an ear perked and pressed against the fabric wall, listening for personal calls. Because I swear my little non-profit tries to give me the gift of flexibility and I fuck it in the ass–there’s flexibility for you.

    Enough about me. You. What if you left the timer thing running while you got some coffee? I mean, I admire your integrity, but little crappy nosy timer? Things can’t be that bad, right? That they’d want to keep tabs on your every move? I’ve heard of corporations that make their employees press a button at their desks every 9 minutes, on pain of death by a high-pitched, social shame alarm, but I thought it was a joke. Because wedding plan the shit out of my wedding at work and feel bad about it and get paid for it and sometimes even use office stamps and the printer and fax for it and will QUIT IT once and for all after 10.22.2011, but I dunno. How else does it all get done?

    • Yeah… I’ve gotten way more lax about how often I leave the timer running. Now it goes for coffee refills, pee breaks, and the occasional gander at Twitter. Oopsies? At least it’s given me the gift of not feeling like I’m slowly being driven crazy, so we’ll call that good.

      I hear you. Self-motivation is a hard, hard thing. I still need the feeling that I’m being watched, and I need to perform spectacularly, or I’ll just backslide into distraction. That’s where the timer actually kind of helps, because I know my boss reviews how long I spend on projects.

      I love places like yours that allow for flexibility. The rigidity of a 9-5 may look alluring in the face of quiet chaos, but there are definitely huge perks that you’d miss if your boss was (figuratively) riding your ass all day long. Ugh. There’s no really good answer to any of this.

  8. Ugh, I totally tell myself ever night that tomorrow I’m going to be crazy productive and finish off all those things on my to-do list that I’ve been putting off for a week, but of course it never happens. Given how much work I have to do right now, I almost wish there a troll counting my time because then I might actually accomplish something. My job seems to be a series of ongoing interruptions lately (many of which actually are my job to deal with but don’t feel like getting actual work done). But lately I’ve been finding that the most productive times in my day are around 6 or 7 (yeah, supposed to be leaving the office at 5) when I finally declare to myself that I need to just do SOMETHING on my list before I leave, and suddenly I cross off 3 things in a whirlwind of productivity.

    • Dude, that’s exactly me! I tend to crank into high gear around 6:00 pm. Too bad that’s supposed to be when we’re winding down, yes?

      I wonder about that, too. I once read an article that explained how you could harness your productivity by simply focusing on what you feel like focusing on when you want to focus on it. Um, too bad that doesn’t take deadlines or some semblance of a structured life schedule into effect…

  9. I’m pretty sure I’ve been averaging a total of about 45 minutes of actual work per workday lately — I would die by your current system. Actually, I would be unemployable by your current system, because my boss just doesn’t give me that much work. I am very close to getting a new gig that will require actual work, and lots of it, which is intimidating at the moment but I am pretty sure I’ll fall into old habits and be fine after getting past the initial stress of new stuff. I remember realizing at my very first job that I needed to build in time-wasting so that I could stretch my tasks to fill the hours… not sure how much of a leisurely pace you’re allowed, though.

    The best part of my shitty job is that I leave it at 5 p.m., and I can often even take a long lunch break or show up late. For an office job, it’s pretty flexible — or at least my direct supervisor is. I’ve always thought working from home would be ideal (though not without its challenges), but this system definitely turns that idea around. On the one hand, it’s nice that it goes to the trouble of tracking for you, but on the other hand, damn! Loosen up, little troll! It sounds like you’re making progress toward finding the right way to deal with your new schedule, even though it might feel like you aren’t. I’m really glad you love the work you’re doing, because that makes it worth the effort to find the right balance. You can do it! And you won’t be forever enslaved to your computer troll! I believe in you.

  10. So. As you know, I live by the billable hour, or more accurately, the billable 6-minute increment. Holy mother of cheese toast, when billable hours went from quarter hours to tenths, I had a conversation with someone who actually said that billing in quarter-hour increments was just like STEALING from your client for that minute and a half when you blew your nose while working through a fever-hazed coma. Oh, and you’re also stealing if you work through a cold because you’re not at your optimum.

    Since I am currently enjoying the first night not spent working until midnight that I have had in nearly a month (which is not to be repeated again any time soon), the billable hour can bite me. BITE ME, I tell you. Not that I’m bitter. Or tired. Or anything like that.

  11. I have this problem big time. I don’t have a troll (thank god), but I do stress about billable hours. A lot.

    For a while I tried to break it down into working in four-hour increments. So I could work 8 to 12, take two hours off to revel in the freelance lifestyle, and then work from 2 to 6. Then my ADD tendencies went into full effect. So I tried to work in two-hour increments, but then there were too many breaks.

    What I have learned is that you can sit at a desk and will yourself to work for 8 full hours but it will break your spirit. So, stop breaking your spirit and figure out a way to break up your day. (Break your working day, not your spirit.)

  12. i know how you feel…

  13. I can relate to this all. I have been working freelance on my own project from home for what now seems like forever. And it has been just so hard to do. After not figuring out how to motivate myself, I now work in 30 minute increments with a timer, and if I don’t finish each day’s assigned amount of time that I decided I would do (which was scheduled out for months in advance in an optimistic state of enthusiasm without too much concern of the reality of how much I hate doing transcription, especially in a second language)- those 30 minute blocks carry over to the next day and before I know it, I have impossible amounts to do all backed up and making me cry out of discouragement and desperation. Sigh.

    On the positive side, I discovered todoist.com on Friday and am IN LOVE with this time management website. While avoiding the looming 30 minute increments of work I should have been doing that day, I converted all my guilt-inducing to do lists into this site and love-love-love it. Maybe it will convert me into a super efficient worker who can do amazing amounts of transcription for hours and hours everyday without getting grumpy and having hand pain and headaches? One can hope. :)

  14. Oh gosh, I can’t imagine… wasting time is like an art form for some of my coworkers at my job. I’m not so bad because I still have a concience but I do wander away from my desk and/or check emails & facebook throughout the day. Not the best way to spend the companies time….

  15. Yes. This!!! I work from home with that effing timer too. When I go to the office I hate all those gossiping fucks with the power of a jillion jealousies!

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