I think I’m not the only one who hasn’t been getting much done lately in the realm of “normal work”. I may pretend like I’m working on documentation for a new CMS, but — I’m sorry, who was just appointed to the cabinet? He said what? Oh, for fuck’s sake.
When a solid 67% of your soul is engaged with battles elsewhere, how do you continue on with our ongoing, non-revolutionary work?
1) Make peace with your job.
When your heart is worried for your Muslim friends, and deep in your bones you’re terrified about losing access to healthcare, it’s very hard to respond graciously to an email inquiring about the latest microsite analytics numbers. “THE WORLD IS BURNING. I will have those content model updates ready by Thursday. Sincerely, and with abject terror, Eileen.”
It is not tenable to quit my job and hie off to Planned Parenthood HQ and wait for them to make use of my superior content organizing skills. It is not a good idea for you to resign from stable work that supports your family and community because you’re no longer satisfied by SQL queries. The Trevor Project needs your donation more than they need a JS developer proficient in easing animation.
Think about what your job lets you do. If you’re making good money slinging CSS, be grateful that you’re in a position to give cold hard cash to causes you believe in. If your copywriting work has a flexible schedule, be grateful you’re able to spend afternoons each week volunteering. If you have a straightforward and stress-free data entry job, be grateful that you have the emotional energy available to support your worn-thin friends.
By all means, if you’re able to shift your job so that you’re working directly with causes you believe in, go for it. But don’t get stuck on the idea that your job isn’t valuable unless you’ve dedicated your career to a non-profit. All of our work is capable of enabling righteous acts.
2) Set your environment up to support you.
I’m a huge proponent of setting up your physical and digital environments to support your larger goals. Most of us were full of work worries and family drama and existential concerns even in The Beforetimes; now we’ve added on American fascism and the literal threat of nuclear war, yet we still expect to get our work done by strength of will alone. As the astute Krista Scott-Dixon writes,
Your self-control is busy preventing you from stabbing your boss, shoplifting, and running red lights. Thus, “willpower” won’t help you much…. It’s an overdrawn bank account. Use stronger stuff: scheduling, structure, social support, space, systems, and strategies.
When it comes to Productivity in Terrible Times, we’re operating on a number of fronts:
Set up automatic donations. Don’t rely on your memory (or your friends) to remind you to support important causes. Larger organizations like The Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights are set up to take recurring donations, so do that. For smaller groups like a local food pantry or domestic violence shelter, use your bank’s online bill pay to set up recurring payments.
Set aside time in your calendar for volunteering and local government work. Like, actually schedule it, right now, and block off the time. Maybe you need to set aside 15 minutes every week to call your elected representatives, or a few hours a week for RAINN hotline time, or an evening a month for your city council (or selectboard; hello esoteric New England governance practices!) meeting. Set it up as a recurring meeting, and don’t cross-schedule client calls or other work during those times.
Schedule time for actual work as well. This seems like a small thing, but it can be pretty huge: instead of trying to get work done in the “unscheduled” gaps of time in your calendar between meetings and calls, schedule time blocks throughout the week to reserve uninterrupted time for yourself. When those blocks roll around, set your space up for productivity: Quit Twitter. Quit Slack! Close your email. Turn off notifications. Close the door. Put on music that helps you get shit done. Then get shit done.
Blocking off time – whether for volunteering or regular work – can feel daunting, and disconnecting from our news sources and friends can feel simultaneously like guilty relief and anxious negligence. But the world will still be burning when you come back, and you’ll feel better for having given your time, or completed some work that will enable you to keep fighting.
Can’t help no one if you end up with some weird gum infection that spreads to your jaw.
4) Save yourself.
This is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t wait until you’ve burned out to assess your regular routine with an eye towards sustainability. How are you going to do Border Angels outreach if you’re exhausted? How can you participate in a local park cleanup if you’ve skipped the gym for so long your back pain has returned? You can’t help at the Friends of the Library book sale if you’ve been nursing a cold for three weeks.
Repeat after me: It is not a dereliction of duty to care for yourself. Did that make your breath catch a little? Inhale. Exhale. Say it again.
To that end:
Set aside time for normal self-care like the gym, or yoga, or Sunday mornings drinking tea and reading a fluffy book.
Regulate the flood. You don’t need to have every source of news and notifications on every device all the time. Consider setting contextual rules, like “I don’t look at Twitter before breakfast”, “I will only do Facebook when I’m on the bus”, “No Slack or Asana on my phone.” The rules may shift over time, but remember that your willpower is overtaxed, and you are not owned by your job or your social networks. Healthy boundaries are an important part of setting up a life of sustainable anger.
Be in nature. Pay attention to the parts of this world that operate outside our daily concerns. Stare at some ice crystals. Listen to a hoarding squirrel. Know that the tufted titmouse has never even heard of the electoral college.
Be with your friends. Breathe, and laugh, and paint graffiti on underpasses. Share the joy that comes from fighting alongside the people you love.