June 14, 2021 • Work-Life Balance

Hey! I’m Working Here!

Nichole in the recording studio

(in your best Dustin Hoffman impression)

The last several years of my dating life have been subsidized by the apps — Tinder, Bumble, even OkCupid once upon a time. I wish I could meet someone organically, in real life, but as a 40+ woman who works from home and refuses to start my night after 9pm unless it’s for a confirmed good time, my chances get slimmer and slimmer. One of my frustrations with online dating is having to dance around my freelance work. I’m not ashamed of it but people assume that I am easily accessible all day simply because I’m self-employed. 

I have on my dating profiles that I’m a writer, but I don’t mention podcasting until after we’ve met in person. My dates want to know what I write, if they might have seen some of my work, and if they can read it. I generally give them vague answers — “oh, a little bit of everything: poetry, fiction, essays” — and tell them I’d prefer they didn’t read my writing. I’d rather them  learn about me directly. My denial intrigues them.

I used to be upfront about podcasting. Not any more.

Many people don’t understand how much work goes into a podcast. They think hosts show up, press record, talk at each other for a while, then press PUBLISH, and voila! A podcast episode magically appears in their ears. There is so much more involved: planning, researching, scheduling guests, establishing a good relationship with your producers, working with your producers for quality checks, scheduling appearances on other podcasts to help with promotion, vetting ads, monitoring social media and email… I’m not down in a coal mine performing back-breaking work, but it’s work all the same. 

And when I have my writer hat on, I don’t just sit at my desk, blink, and suddenly 1000 words appear as satisfying, cogent prose. Again, there’s research, which, for me, may mean watching a television show or reading a book, splitting my brain between understanding what I’m absorbing and taking note of what may be of use later when I’m in front of my computer. Or maybe I realize after squeaking out those 1000 words that they’re all wrong and I have to start over. I know what I’ve chosen to do for a living is not as physically taxing as food harvesting, nursing, or building houses, but it’s still work, and sometimes, my brain does not want to cooperate (thanks, depression and anxiety!).

When I have those frustrating days, I cannot answer every text or dating app message in a timely fashion. Even if the day is going well and the words are spilling from me and the recording session goes smoothly, it doesn’t mean I have time for a guy to come over in the middle of the day. (Also… hookups don’t get my daytime body, but that’s a discussion for another time). It’s happened too many times that once some men learn that I work from home in a creative capacity, they think it means I’m always available. I am not. 

And to be fair, this expectation of my immediate attention is also a problem in my professional life. Because I’m usually working more than one gig or have multiple projects going on, I often have more than one person contacting me about work. Most of these people are in an office environment, following a more traditional 9-5 timeframe, and expect quick responses. I had a contact once call me to verify I’d received her Slack message to call her later. (She couldn’t talk right then but it had been 5 minutes since she’d sent a message and she wanted to be sure I saw it). I can’t always respond immediately to emails and Slacks, not only because I may be working, but also because I’ve established some boundaries for my mental health and productivity. 

Between the men growing peevish if I take longer than 2 minutes to respond to a message and supervisors expecting me to behave as if I am in the office with them, I’ve had to take certain precautions to avoid running myself ragged and to let people know I am not on call. Here is a short list of actions I use to establish boundaries and set more realistic communication expectations:

  • Remove notifications from my phone. I have 6 email accounts, 6 Slack workspaces, multiple accounts across Twitter and Instagram, a private TikTok account I use to follow Hozier (don’t judge me), plus various messaging apps and those dreaded dating apps. I only receive notifications for text messages and food delivery apps. I cannot have my phone dinging at me all day, and seeing the little red numbers increasing as alerts pile up makes me so anxious, so I choose not to see any of that until I can get to a good stopping point in my work to check. 
  • Set a timer. As I alluded to in my last post, I am all about my alarms. Sometimes, I’ll give myself 2 hours to do work then I’ll check for any communication I may need to answer. However, I will admit that alarms can be easy to ignore, so I also like to listen to a playlist that fits whatever time constraint I want to have. I’m not sure why but the sudden silence is harder to ignore than an alarm. 
  • Do not work through lunch. This is an old habit from my office days, sitting at my desk, trying not to get food on my keyboard, but it left me resentful. Lunchtime is a good way to refresh myself and be alone with myself. It’s just me, some good food, maybe a book I’m reading for pleasure, and that’s it. 

I know these three items aren’t earth-shattering, but they’re how I give myself permission to respect my own time so that others will, as well. You don’t need to be dating or even a freelancer to follow these tips, and maybe you have other ways you make sure to honor your work hours, whatever they may be.

Slowing down my response time has helped me regain control of my work time because I simply cannot react as if everything is urgent. So I’m (not) sorry to all the dating app guys I refuse to make a priority, but I hope they’re still listening to my podcasts.

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