Friday, September 08, 2017

office space

That face when you realize that instead of having one written assignment due for your Healthcare Management class on Thursday, you actually have three written assignments due.

Where do you find a place to do work? I've always had trouble really getting work done at home. Always. It's not a matter of not having enough space. I have space. Physical space, I mean. We even have a room designated as an "office," though in recent years there has been some creep as one kid or two have gradually taken over my desk to use my computer for this that or the other thing. But it doesn't even really matter--even with the separate room, and even with the door closed, and indeed, even when no one is home but me, I find it very distracting to work at home. There's just too much else to do. I could do my work, or I could put another load of laundry in. Or clean up the living room. Or start prepping dinner. Or let the dogs out. Or let the dogs in. And hmm, this keyboard seems awfully dusty. (Smash cut to a 30 minute quest to find that one compressed air blower thingy that I'm sure I saw coming out of a box when we first moved here more than three years ago.) And on and on. So it's not so much a matter of finding the space, you see. It's just a matter of finding the correct sensory deprivation tank.

My go-to for the past decade-plus has always been to go to a Starbucks. Starbuckseseseses are generic and neutral enough, and if you bring headphones, reasonably quiet. (Though I did memorize the entire Beck "Mutations" album in med school against my will because apparently that's all they ever played at that Starbucks on 103rd and Broadway while I was studying for Step 1 of the Boards. "It's nobody's fault, nobody's fault, but my oooooown.")

My only real problem with Starbucks is...well, there are two problems. One is that you kind of have to pay to be there. It's not a rule, of course, but what kind of ass parks themselves in a coffeeshop for hours without buying something? So that's four or five bucks right there. (Sometimes, when I would really stay there all damn day, as I did during med school to study, or in residency while writing my book, I would buy a drink in addition to the cheapest real food item possible, which was usually an egg salad sandwich. I...don't like egg salad sandwiches that much anymore.)

But the issue of rent is to be expected. My real problem was more of a sensory one. I have headphones, I stay in the corner, I don't lollygag at what other people are doing. But the smell. I don't know if they have a roaster on site, or if that's just the smell of coffee itself brewing, but if you sit in a Starbucks for a few hours, you're going to smell like you just walked out of a bonfire. Everything. Your hair, your clothes, your skin, the inside of your nose. You smell like an arsonist. You smell like you just finished smoking four packs of cigarettes.

Anyway, I know this is, like, the most obvious solution in the world, but today I tried something new.

The library. I know, duh. THE LIBRARY. This was a nice library! So quiet! Such beautiful natural light! Such a delicious old book smell when you walk in the door! So close to my house! So free!

I don't know why I'd ruled this option out in the past, but I've had several formative bad experiences trying to get real work done in a library. In med school, people would get weirdly territorial about their study spaces, and I would leave all their stuff by choice carrels or tables (and I mean STUFF--not just books, but changes of socks, full meals, honest to god desk lamps that they toted in from home) and their general gunnerishness turned me off. (Sorry, fellow med students. You're great, but recognize that there was a point in our career development where we were all borderline intolerable.) As for my regular neighborhood public library, this may have just been my area in New York, but our local branch library was more a place where pleasantly demented seniors would come read all the newspapers on Earth (licking their fingers before turning each page, which is something they somehow managed to do loudly), and where homeless dudes would come in out of the cold and wash up in the bathrooms. Which is fine, but maybe just not the ideal space to try to do some hard core memorization. Or even soft core memorization. Or barely legal memorization. Because I would get really interested in the side stories. Like: how many newspapers can you read in one day? Did you bring them into the library from home? What's the point of reading a two year-old newspaper cover to cover? I HAVE QUESTIONS.

Are you able to work at home? How do you do it? Do you have kids? Don't they always want to talk to you? How do you minimize distraction? How do you carve out the mental space for this work but not that work? These are things that I'm going to need to start to address more, once I start having to do more school work after hours, in the margins of my day. But when I'm able to use it, the library is going to be a nice option.


  1. I can usually do homework at home, but I could NOT write my book at home. Had to be somewhere. Denny's and Starbucks were my go-tos. Because, likely, I am going to be there all day and will need coffee and food.

  2. Anonymous10:10 AM

    Commenting late because I was one of the people affected by the crashes-- glad you got it fixed!

    I work from home, and have since before I had my child (now 1.5). I think it helps that I'm an intensely deadline-driven person in a deadline-driven job. Psychologically, I have a harder time wanting to do ancillary household tasks when I'm extremely aware of exactly how my workload-to-time-available ratio is lining up.

    With my very little one, the key to getting things done has been (a) a nanny, all hail the nanny, (b) an office with a door that closes, and (c) scaling back the amount of work that I was doing to account for the actual amount of time I had available. I'm still not back to normal.

    Right now, for me to be able to get anything done, the nanny has to be present or the toddler has to be asleep. It's impossible to do work when it's just us and she's awake. It's sometimes possible to do household tasks, provided they can be interrupted for extended periods at the drop of a hat. My husband isn't always around and doesn't know how to keep her away from me and happy; the nanny does. It's kind of a crummy thing to have to admit, but-- there it is.

    I know people who also work from home who say that they could never work in their homes and have to go to coffee shops/libraries/etc. I know one woman who ended up renting some tiny office space around the corner from her city apartment. If you're someone who has to be physically in a different space and your property allows it, maybe you could put up a small ancillary building? I've seen some shed structures that were finished and furnished like tiny offices. If you could get electricity to it, you'd have computer power, lights, heat, and cooling. You'd still have to go to the main house to use the restroom, but it'd give you the separation and the convenience.

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  4. I work from home, and have since before I had my child (now 1.5). I think it helps that I'm an intensely deadline-driven person in a deadline-driven job. Psychologically, I have a harder time wanting to do ancillary household tasks when I'm extremely aware of exactly how my workload-to-time-available ratio is lining up.
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  5. I usually do ok for a few hours at home and then peter out (that would happen at a coffee shop too, I guess). I do it by working when my daughter is not at home. Or I put her in front of the TV or iPad. And I use a timer so that I don't take, um, extra breaks. Like now. Crap.

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