A Disorganised Mind and Some Volcanic Ash

A Bit of Backstory

A quick hop over to Bordeaux a couple of months ago turned into a prolonged stay. Two days quickly turned into two weeks. My return flight was for the 15th April, just 90 minutes after UK airspace closed.

I can’t deny that my initial reaction was a verging on delight1 . It’s never easy to leave again and I thought, hey, I work remotely, another day or so can’t hurt, right? Wrong.

Not only had I come away without half of the tools I use daily for my job, I had opted to leave my research for my law work back in the UK, considering that a 2 day break from essay-writing would do me good . Combined with a gross underestimation of the developping situation and…

… I lost 10 days to panic, stress, self-flaggellation and flitting around. As someone who travels frequently, and who therefore prides herself in being able to work anywhere, this was an eye-opening experience.

Mistakes

Tools

After a few years spent blaming my poor output and efficiency on my tools, I came to realise that actually, it’s all down to me, my attitude and my effort. Following this mantra, I took the minimum with me: my laptop, iPhone and iPhone headset. The mistake I made there was twofold: using the trackpad on the MacBook Pro for hours on end, day in day out, is a recipe for disaster. Secondly, I underestimated the utility of my large headphones.

The headphones, are, it turns out, what makes it for me. Having something physical on my head creates a barrier between me and the outside world. They serve not only to alert those around me to the fact that I’m not approachable, but they cut me off entirely. These put me in the zone. I also make use of a particular playlist which I listen to when absolute focus is needed.

Concentration or Isolation?

As someone who regularly works from pubs, bars, caf├ęs and restaurants I didn’t expect to have any problems working from a friends’ kitchen table. Another amateur mistake. I can work in the middle of a crowd of screaming banshees without the slightest problem, just as long as I don’t know any of them. Conversation is the one thing that tears my focus to shreds. I realised that in working out of all these crowded place I’m not searching for company, I’m simply trying to avoid total isolation. I’ve always struggled with saying no, so imposing the fact that I’m working on and therefore don’t wish to be disturbed on others doesn’t come naturally. I’m also a hopeless chatterbox…

Preparation

I wasn’t prepared to be away for very long, so was neither in the frame of mind to attack meatier tasks, nor did I have the necessary notes and equipement. This has taught me that i need to vastly improve my organisiation. My life is a mess of lists, scattered between OmniFocus, TaskPaper and various scraps of paper in my notebook(s). I have no clear picture of priorities or ongoing responsibilities, and being thrown into an unexpected situation only served to undeline this.

What now?

  • Excuses over, it’s time to go paperless as far as possible2.
  • It’s not the tools that do the work, it’s me. I’m all I need.
  • Nevertheless, I realise that it’s OK to need a particular tool to work well, we’re not perfect. My job and sanity are the priorites.
  • It’s important to remain disciplined when out of my familiar working environment(s).
  • It’s time to establish, and maintain a work life balance I can be happy with.

I’m working hard to crawl myself out of the mess I’ve made, but I’ve learned a lot about how I function, and what I can do to improve my efficiency and focus. I’m currently in the middle of 5 weeks dedicated entirely3 to the law side of my life. This is an opportunity which I need to seize with both hands only to come back in a few weeks’ time energised and ready to sort through the accumulated detritus in order make the most of a job and life I love.

  1. I was very very lucky, I was stuck in what is effectively my second home, surrounded by friends and with a roof over my head. []
  2. ScanSnap here I come! []
  3. in theory, but I’m yet to manage to escape work for more than a couple of days. This is another aspect of my life that I need to ‘fix’. []