The Champ Life squad had the pleasure of sitting down on the other side of the mic for an interview this week with the fine folks of the Move Daily podcast. It was a lot of fun to be interviewed together and you can check it out here. Sylvie and I have both been on podcasts before but separately and I was curious to see how often our answers mirrored each other versus differed.
One of the questions we were asked and is actually one we are asked often is how we balance being in a relationship and working together, especially with our ever-changing schedules and odd hours.
I realize that this isn’t a unique situation but it’s also not common in the modern workplace landscape. The time most couples share together bookend their days with the bulk of their time spent at work with other people. Because this is our Western idea of ‘normal’ working together seems more challenging than the prototypical work/ life relationship.
It may be, I don’t know. Perhaps I’m saying that because we haven’t vehemently disagreed over anything recently but there have definitely been challenges and learning experiences that have led us to our present operating system. What’s interesting is that I don’t believe the strategies we have created for success are for co-working partners only. The relationships you develop with people who you see for 8 plus hours a day are going to be more complex and require more thought then the members of your Thursday night beach volleyball team. The work-spouse memes and cups are popular for a reason.
The one added challenge we face in working together is that we both spend large chunks of time working from home – I’m typing sitting 3 feet away from Sylv making these work rules even more important.
No One Cares –
Take a big deep inhale. Hold it…Hold it. Now let it out as if the entire weight of the world is on your shoulders and it’s all too much. Really channel your old teenage angst into the sigh and make it loud so the person who lives in the condo next door can hear you.
Good. Now, never do that again.
Chances are high that your job involves one of two things. Solving difficult problems that are frustrating or solving simple problems that become difficult for no apparent reason that is equally frustrating. That means everyone is in the same boat and the last thing our co-workers want to hear about is our challenging problem when they have their own. We’re adults and as such we can express our frustration in better ways then the overdramatic sigh, unnecessary nasal breathing, or the words murmured just loud enough that everyone close by feels obligated to ask what is wrong. The opposite end of the spectrum and for those with more aggressive temperaments is anger. A tirade of f-bombs or thrown items. Nothing is less flattering than a full grown adult losing emotional control, plus after the rage train runs out of steam the sighs come out.
I worked for a landscaping company in my early teens, we installed underground sprinkler systems. The difficulty with putting something underground is that you have no idea what the conditions are, it could be perfect semi-firm earth and other times it could resemble something between a construction site and volcanic floor. The company had three tiers, the owner, senior technicians, go-fers (me). My prestigious title meant I re-created the scene’s from Louis Sachar’s book Holes day-after-day. It also meant I had very little responsibility and had no say in solving problems when they arose, which was often.
Everyone had a different response to the problem, the owner would fly off the handle, tear everything out of the earth, kick equipment over and unleash some of the most epic temper-tantrums known to man. The two senior technicians would mumble, sigh, nasal breath and generally act like toddlers about the situation. I would silently laugh at the first one and avoid the second, uncomfortable and terrified to make a mistake in case either reaction was eventually directed my way. I still remember those reactions and, although I’m not perfect, I try my absolute best to avoid reacting emotionally to problems at work because my co-worker (Sylvie) does not give a fuck, she’s handling her own stuff. It’s especially when one of us has finished for the day and decided the couch is no longer an office chair but a recovery station, then we really don’t want to hear about it.
Instead, it’s a three-step approach I’ve termed the Take Technique: Take a few breaths, take a walk, take lunch. If the problem is minor a few breaths will be enough to refocus, if it’s still bothering me, fresh air and a walk and in the odd situation that hasn’t help I’ll step away from it completely, do something else -usually eat or train – and circle back.
Don’t Be A Kook –
There is a term in surfing that I learned recently from my friend Martin Reader, Kook. (Sidenote – Instagram has an unbelievable account called Kookslams that features people displaying horrible ocean edict and common sense.)
A kook is the surfing term for a poser, but worse because instead of just ruining their own day a kook will interfere with everyone else. To the uninitiated – me until a few months ago – surfing looks like a collection of people bobbing in the water and randomly popping up on a wave or two, the ocean is huge so there’s space for everyone and one spot is as good as the next, or so I thought. In actuality, it is a continually regulated hierarchy, where your ability and experience grants you access to prime ocean real estate and right of first refusal to the incoming waves.
Catching one out of turn, or compromising another surfers ride is a hard no and fist fights are acceptable resolutions to these problems. The ocean is a dangerous place, it will mess you up if your not careful and having someone potentially jeopardize your life is not a joke. On top of that surfing difficult waves requires attention and flow, something that you can’t achieve if another person is slashing around erratically, add on the fact that you may only catch 3 or 4 good waves in an hour and you can see why people are pretty particular.
As a person with a pretty liberal outlook on fighting, I’m not against a little beach justice but I realize we can’t have co-workers slugging it out between the cubicles nor should we need too. If you look over and can tell your co-worker is surfing a perfect wave, hammering away on a project and in a state of flow leave them alone! Don’t be a Kook! They’re likely accomplishing massive amounts of work in a short period and do not need your interruption to throw them off. Sick of interrupting each other we started setting up mini-meetings to discuss joint projects throughout the day and then blocking off chunks of work time where we agree not to contact the other person and record any questions for a later date. At the end of the ‘work block’ we’ll take 10-15 minutes and in that time discuss any concerns or issues we need to address before hammering out another block, it has become a super efficient way to accomplish our list of tasks and no one gets sidetracked.
PS. I’d suggest implementing this strategy with a pair of quality headphones as a secondary reminder, to both you and your co-workers, that you are not interested in talking right now.
Keep Your Room Clean –
Your Mom was right, clean your room. This is a lesson that I had to re-learn recently and it took some very patient work -and the occasional death stare – from Sylvie to drive the point home.
Our workspace is also our living space, for a while we thought we might need to join a cowering space in order to accomplish anything but that would have been far to hypocritical with our message of living a healthy lifestyle with that you have. Set on working from home and using our kitchen table as our office and recording studio Sylvie was committed to making some changes to our living space, chiefly keeping it clean. By no means are we dirty, but tidy? That has never been a strength of mine despite it being one of my Mother’s callings. The reason I don’t identify as a tidy person is because I’ve created a belief that I’m not one, we decide who we are and who we are not, and once we are committed to that version of ourselves it is very hard to re-write the internal script. Once we decided we would be the kind of people that keep a clean workspace it became a priority, it took work and we definitely slipped up a few times – I more than Sylv- but it’s been worth it.
Full disclosure I was heavily skeptical of impact it would have. I assumed, wrongly, that it was purely visual and seemed like an unnecessary energy expenditure. I was wrong. Clutter has an influence on our emotional state and can increase anxiety and unease, so aiming to keep our office workspace organized and filled with only the useful items is an advantage. Even if you don’t notice a difference in your ability to accomplish tasks no one likes a slob and the collaborative work session will start off on a much better foot when your co-worker doesn’t have to work to clear a spot for their coffee cup.