Editor’s Note: This post includes one perspective on what it’s like to work from home right now, a year into the pandemic. While all of our experiences vary greatly, we hope you’ll find some relatable nuggets in the words below, even if your circumstances look quite different at the moment. Without further ado, I’ll hand it off to Brittany.
A little more than a year ago, I sat down and wrote A Thirtysomething’s Realistic Work Diary. In it, I scribbled furiously about happy hours and in-person meetings and restaurants and never being home and traffic and commutes and Starbucks. I half-mocked Robin Arzón’s work diary, which seemed so fortuitous and unrealistic to me; where I felt inspired to write through mine.
So much has changed since then. My daily work routine has turned into a floating pattern of its own. Every day, I walk the same route from my computer, to my kitchen, to my bedroom. I light the same candle at my desk. I wear the same rotating pair of sweatpants. I make a lot of toast.
My husband and I are lucky enough to work from home despite the rigor of its sameness. We have hard-working WiFi, consistent paychecks, a solid support system, and an obscene amount of privilege and disinfectant wipes. But, we also have grief. I read this incredible essay via The Atlantic that said the pandemic has made us feel a lot like we’re being pushed through pasta extruders or like we’re real-life Sims. We wake up feeling groggy and move from bed to couch to desk to bed with diamond-shaped cursors hovering above our heads. And it’s been really hard on our brains.
I hope my week recall can help you feel less alone. Sometimes, when we collectively experience something, it can be easier to get through together. So, here is the response post to my past routines: a realistic work-from-home diary from the now. Where every day is the same and the long-lost world of September 2019 feels like it’s one hundred miles away.
7:54 a.m. This is when I get up now. Back when the world was normal, I set my alarm for 6:30 a.m. And I honestly can’t imagine a world where I get up at that hour anymore. My husband’s alarm goes off at 7:40 so I lie there until he rolls out of bed and walks to his desk, in our living room.
8:01 a.m. I have to pull myself out of bed. I think, feet, knees, torso and slither out of it. The air is cold because we left the window cracked slightly and I hear our cats billowing to be fed in the kitchen. I put on sweatpants like they’re caked in molasses and waddle aimlessly to my office, the spare bedroom. I open my laptop and Microsoft Outlook dings at me. I type in my password and log in to the VPN.
8:12 a.m I make coffee. I set out our two coffee mugs. I pour a small amount of cream in them. I pour Jake’s and carry it to his desk. He’s on the phone with a customer and I set the coffee I made him on his coaster, like we’ve done for 100 days in a row. He gives me a little smile, a “thank you, we’re trying” offering.
9:26 a.m. Oh! Discover Weekly is on Spotify. It’s Monday. I turn that on.
10:03 a.m. Since my brain is so listless these days, I have to set my Focus Keeper app. Every Friday, I write down all the things I need to do the next week, separated by day, in twenty-five-minute segments. In the morning, I set the timer and start chipping away. Today’s list: some Adobe Analytics data pulling, a report template, panel discussion metrics, and a personal development/yearly goals plan. In my five-minute break segments, I write: breathe, coffee, coffee again, breathe.
11:00 a.m. I have a work session with one of my colleagues. I fear that I’ll have to use video during the call (I secretly hate that all phone calls have turned into videos). I’m wearing a sweatshirt and no bra. I premeditate that I will tell them my Teams app is being spotty and my video isn’t working well.
1:53 p.m. I realize I haven’t eaten or drank water. I make toast. I have some leftover egg salad in the fridge, so I throw some of that on top.
2:15 p.m. I brush my teeth and wash my face. That feels good. And I make a personal note to remember to do that earlier tomorrow.
3:05 p.m. I deserve a walk. So, I bundle up and go on an hour stroll listening to one of my favorite stroll podcasts: Unlocking Us, Longform Podcast, or The Daily to feel something. I notice a few themes I want to write about soon and scribble them into my phone notepad.
5:01 p.m. Any time after 5:00 is usually a bust. With no commute, I can pour myself a glass of wine right at 5:01. “What should we have for dinner?” is our million-dollar post-work question. We look forward to our daily little menu brainstorm, I guess.
6:33 p.m. We land on Jake’s famous pasta with chorizo and peppers. We eat in silence and watch The Chase. We’ve been addicted to game shows lately.
9:49 p.m. This is typically the time I slip in bed. I change from “nice at-home sweatpants” to “pajama sweatpants” and pop a melatonin and some CBD oil if I’m feeling wild. I’ve watched everything on Netflix, so I turn on an old 2003 episode of The O.C. and linger off to sleep. I can hear Jake playing NHL, humming softly in the other room.
8:01 a.m. Feet, knees, torso. Pull yourself out of bed.
8:05 a.m. Pour water, empty old filter, four scoops of coffee, flick the Mr. Coffee switch. I think, What if we’re all robots?
8:32 a.m. After signing into my VPN, I wash my damn face. I brush my damn teeth. I’m feeling a little bigger today, more prominent in my existence, if that makes sense. Which likely means I’m going to be less hard on myself in small segments. It also means I’ll wear a turtleneck sweater and sweatpants—a far improvement from yesterday’s three-day-old sweatshirt.
9:53 a.m. I become distracted by Twitter. It takes me a literal thirty-two minutes to sign up for an Adobe course because it’s not on my to-do list. And anything absent from my list is like pulling teeth.
10:23 a.m. I am on my third trip to the microwave because I keep warming up my coffee and forgetting about it.
10:25 a.m. It looks like I’m eating toast again. I get five emails or messages at once with work requests. I inhale my toast.
12:01 p.m. I start a set of Teams meetings right during the lunch hour. The mute button is this powerful thing, I notice. The minute I press it, I know I’m not going to engage much. I realize side comments and side laughs and randomness in meetings is no longer possible and get momentarily sad.
2:15 p.m. I didn’t really take a lunch break (I sat…at my desk perusing articles and Instagram). So, I spend the late afternoon hour taking a hot bath. I sit in the bath, stare at my legs, and read a book. Right now I’m reading All Adults Here by Emma Straub.
3:42 p.m. I check my to-do list. I have four things on it that my past self expected me to get done by now.
4:47 p.m. My boss calls me on Teams and I’m wearing my robe. Dammit. The pulsing sound of that hollow Teams ring makes my face hot.
5:08 p.m. I pour myself a very generous glass of Merlot. I am trapped in a dollhouse.
6:35 p.m. One more glass in the shower. Sometimes, I take 2-3 showers/baths a day.
7:52 p.m. My glass is empty again. Whatever, I finish the bottle.
8:07 a.m. I let myself get the extra fifteen minutes of rest. I can hear Jake rattling around in the kitchen feeding the cats. I instantly know I have a headache because of the wine I sipped well into the evening. I close my eyes and squeeze my temples with the pads of my pointer and thumb. Feet, knees, torso, ouch. It’s another day.
8:08 a.m. This is the fifteen-step path I take every morning starting at precisely 8:00 a.m.: kitchen (feed cats), office (turn on computer), bathroom (morning pee and splash my face), kitchen (coffee), office, kitchen, office, kitchen, office (and so on). I’m sad about it today.
10:45 a.m. I sit next to the litter box in the office and I notice the foul smell of urine prominently today. I clean the litter box before my 11:00 a.m. meeting. I buy a sunset lamp.
10:52 a.m. The meeting requires a little prepping so I begrudgingly scold myself for waiting until the last minute.
12:03 p.m. I call my mom and eat a bowl of macaroni at my desk. We both tell each other we’re tired. And she shows me her new detox water recipe.
2:13 p.m. It’s the third day in a row that IT hasn’t fixed the SharePoint issue on my computer. I imagine going into the office to get it fixed and start breathing faster. I can’t possibly imagine sitting on hold or going anywhere in person, so I put off calling them. I set myself into an unnecessary mini panic frenzy. “WHY ME, GOD!?” I scream into a void and at my cats.
4:12 p.m. Actually, and I’m 100% serious, for a minute I don’t know what day it is. My brain is a fog pit.
4:30 p.m. I close my computer early to visit the barn. I lease a big, chestnut horse there named Crow. Seeing him and my barn family is the highlight of my week. I pack myself a snack and listen to music on the drive. I only sing in my car, so I let it out. As much as I adore my husband, it’s good to be in a separate orbit from him for a few hours. Being at the barn makes me feel closer to the earth and Jake, in a way.
7:24 p.m. I walk in the door and Jake is cooking chicken. “Hello!” I say, swinging my arms around with the sizzle of butter. I do feel a little newer. Standing in the shower, washing the dirt off, I try to be very grateful for that.
9:12 p.m. I sit on Instagram for a good hour. I watch archived stories from when the world was normal. I post a poll on my story. I message people that I love and that I’ve never met. I love the app and then I hate it. Why do I even post on this thing?
6:03 a.m. I wake up from a dream about being stuck in a canyon that’s filling up with water. Then, all I think about is my to-do list. My brain won’t let me set it down. I lie there, frozen under my sheets, reciting everything I need to get done that day.
7:24 a.m. We’re back at it. Feet, knees, torso.
9:32 a.m. Clothes are so uncomfortable these days. I wear joggers to stop by the market near my house for coffee and breakfast. It’s Thursday: I imagine I deserve it. I put sweatpants back on the minute I get home.
11:15 a.m. I have a video status call with my boss at 1:00 p.m. I waddle to my dirty laundry pile, throw on a different color turtleneck from last week, pull my hair out of my scrunchie, and run a brush through it.
12:15 p.m. I hear my husband in the other room hang up the phone, swear about something, and turn on an afternoon episode of Trailer Park Boys so he can watch during lunch. I miss texting him while I’m at work and debate sending him something from the other room.
12:45 p.m. I’ve been on TikTok for thirty minutes. I’ve sent Jake two links of kitten videos. I smell fried eggs. Jake is making himself a breakfast sandwich for lunch again—a pattern we’ve become very used to.
3:01 p.m. I interview someone for a story I’m writing. My least favorite thing is waiting on a Zoom call for someone to join the meeting. The anticipation kills me. I stare at myself. I think about my first line: “Sorry, my room is such a disaster!”
4:42 p.m. My cat crawls on my shoulders. He does this all day long. By dinnertime, he’s resilient. He bites my ponytail and headbutts my cheek. As if he could even possibly imagine we’d forget to feed him—since we’ve been by his side for over nine months straight.
6:12 p.m. Jake and I both ask the “What should we have for dinner” question like it’s slowly strangling both of us. We can’t even answer it creatively, so we pick up Chipotle.
8:12 p.m. I stay in the spare room a little longer to finish up some freelance work and my weekly newsletter. I set my head in my palms and listen to people talking outside. It’s warmer and my window is cracked. Summer, that’s what I imagine.
8:08 a.m. Feet, knees, torso, Friday?
8:32 a.m. I turn on my computer and go take a hot shower.
9:52 a.m. I pull up Spotify. It’s New Music Friday. Justin Bieber’s new song sucks but the Drake album…is good?
10:15 a.m. I have this horrific imposter syndrome when I work from home. I feel like I get nothing done, merrily because I am four feet from my bed at all times. I spend a few minutes looking through my planner and to-do lists and commending myself for trying. I finished two freelance articles, wrote my newsletter, finished three reports for work, sat confidently in meetings (some with my video on!), learned something new on Adobe Analytics, and put on pants every day. Go, you.
11:02 a.m. Lunchtime on Friday hits different, even at home. I commit to a long early afternoon walk, stopping by the market to pick up a pesto and turkey panini and watermelon juice.
12:37 p.m. I wipe my entire kitchen down with water and Pine Sol. I vacuum. I look out the window.
1:54 p.m. I clean out my inbox. My coworker’s Team Group Chat is buzzing with takeout recos and weekend plans. I interact and spend way too long finding “the perfect response GIF.”
2:04 p.m. I take a few pictures of my cats, sprawled out in springtime sun. I imagine being them. I post on Instagram. Fridays are so thin with meetings and it feels good to sort of “exist” today.
4:12 p.m. Everyone’s Teams clocks are highlighted in yellow. I’m glad people are “away” from their desk so close to the weekend. I write a to-do list for Monday and bite my pen.
5:05 p.m. We have a Zoom call with our realtor. We recently were preapproved to buy a home and I’m working on letting it be exciting. It’s scary to enjoy things these days because I either feel guilty or nervous it’s going to implode. But, we cheers with our realtor through the screen, and dive in. Here’s to new beginnings and careful, remembered ends.
Brittany Chaffee is an avid storyteller, professional empath, and author. On the daily, she gets paid to strategize and create content for brands. Off work hours, it’s all about a well-lit place, warm bread, and good company. She lives in St.Paul with her baby brother cats, Rami and Monkey. Follow her on Instagram, read more about her latest book, Borderline, and (most importantly) go hug your mother.
BY Brittany Chaffee - March 12, 2021
Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.