In college I first read Baltasar Gracian's The Art of Worldly Wisdom: A Pocket Oracle, translated by Christopher Mauerer.
Gracian was a Spanish Jesuit (b. 1601, d. 1658) priest who wrote many works including this one. The Pocket Oracle is comprised of 300 aphorisms with brief commentary on each.
Per the introduction (p. v), "Like all aphorisms, these are meant to be read slowly, a few at a time."
I thought it would be a good exercise to revisit this book and use some, not all, of these aphorisms as writing prompts.
I'll title each: Gracian: # title.
You can read what I and many others think of this book on Goodreads.
On the afternoon of Thursday, March 12, 2020 a stream of news came out announcing the suspension and cancellation of most every major sporting league and the NCAA.
Over the past 25 days across the country and especially in the northeast, significant restrictions have been put in place to decrease the spread of the Corona virus or COVID-19.
As a result, businesses have closed, people have lost their jobs, food and supplies have been hoarded resulting in shortages for many others, those with jobs have been told to work from home unless their work is deemed essential and schools have closed with online learning being 'the new norm'.
There are many articles and posts about how people are coping, or not, with the current environment.
My experience is probably a little different from most. For the past 3.5 years I've worked from home. I understand the value of having a routine and a schedule outside the office environment most people have.
In mid-January, my position was eliminated due to company down-sizing (I've since learned that at least some people have been forced to take reduced salaries and full hours, meaning they can't apply for unemployment to cover the lost income).
From mid-January through late February, I worked on getting my next job. I established a new routine and schedule. While I became increasingly concerned about finding work as the COVID-19 impact became more significant, I stuck to my routine and it has benefited me tremendously.
What I did.
I recognized I couldn't apply for jobs eight hours a day every day, but I wanted to keep my daily routine as routine as possible.
I mostly kept to the same hours of waking up and going to bed and I got to 'work' at the same time.
Early on, I started by updating online profiles, resume, and cover-letters (I maintain one for marketing and one for project management and customize as needed) first thing in the morning.
Then I began to update profiles on job sites and setting up new job alerts for each. I also created this website, as I found many applications asked for a personal site in addition to LinkedIn profile and Twitter handle/profile.
Finally, related to the job search, I reached out to professional contacts and alerted them to my situation and let them know if they knew of any positions or contacts that could be of help to let me know.
I also wanted to keep up my exercise routine. In the fall, I had started playing racquetball once or twice a week and for the holiday's I got a membership at the racquet club that included unlimited free use of the gym, I started going three times a week. Typically, I tried to go around lunch time when it was a gym only day and after work when it was a racquetball day. So I kept to roughly the same times.
The other key points in my daily schedule and routine was waiting until after dinner for any TV and social with a few exceptions (ie messages on LinkedIn). After dinner, I'd watch the news for 30 minutes while going through Feedly and tagging articles to queue up in Buffer to be shared with Twitter. The article review is how I keep up with industry news, best practice, trends, and insights. I also have feeds of personal interest.
Once I reviewed articles and social, I'd dedicate some time each night to read. I mostly enjoy fiction at night and it helps relax and take a break from the screens before bed.
What I'm Doing Now.
I'm keeping pretty much to everything above with a few exceptions. The gym closed due to the COVID-19 restrictions, so I took up either walking each day or if I won't get my step count in, I'll ride the exercise bike at the house. I also dug up a set of dumb bells and an old bench to do a basic workout each day.
I'm writing a blog post a week (or trying to). And I've taken up online courses. I've been starting my day with a lesson or two. I'm taking classes from Code Academy, Khan Academy, and Google Analytics Academy. The courses I'm taking are a mix of areas I have some familiarity with, but limited (such as SQL and R) and ones I'm taking as a refresher (Analytics).
With the weather getting nicer, I'm mixing in yard work with walks. The yard work is both necessary and satisfying in that you get exercise and you get something tangible done. Some of the things I'm doing are annual and some are very much overdue. I've also been cleaning out things and throwing away 'stuff' that has built up through the years, which is also personally satisfying.
To keep with my project management background, I added the ProjectPlus for Agile Chrome plug-in and started managing my day using a professional and personal kanban board. In this way, I open the app and my day is laid out for me.
Why it Works for Me.
I've always believed an individual has to be well rounded.
Baltasar Gracian was a Jesuit priest who lived from 1601 to 1658 and wrote The Art of Worldly Wisdom: A Pocket Oracle. The book is a collection of 300 aphorisms that provide, "strategies for knowing, judging, and acting: for making one's way in the world and achieving distinction and perfection." (Introduction p. v)
My favorite is number 6 Reach Perfection. "No one is born that way. Perfect yourself daily, both personally and professionally, until you become a consummate being, rounding off your gifts and reaching eminence."
While my primary focus is securing my next position, I am also learning, reinforcing what I know, and keeping current professionally. I am reading, writing, and exercising. And I'm spending time with my family.
I always implored to my children, and I've emphasized this for my self at this trying time, focus on what is within your control, influence what you can influence, and don't waste time worrying about things beyond your control or influence.
Putting these things together work for me. Despite everything happening, I feel good and am at peace with myself.
What works for you?
Rather long post, just saying.
‘Do what?’ said Pippin.
‘Raise the Shire!’ said Merry.
(RK p. 286)
For Tolkien reading day 2020 ‘The Scouring of the Shire’ was one of the Tolkien Society’s suggestions for the theme “Nature and Industry”.
I decided to read ‘Homeward Bound’ and ‘The Scouring of the Shire.’ I’ve always found ‘The Scouring of the Shire’ to be one of my favorite chapters in The Lord of the Rings (LoTR), but I hadn’t really dug into it too deeply. I included ‘Homeward Bound’, because I saw this chapter as foreshadowing much of what was to come.
In addition to the Return of the King (RK) versions, I also read the History of Middle Earth (HoME) versions, and searched for references in Shippey’s Author of the Century (AC) and Road to Middle Earth (RME).
To warm-up, I read several blog posts on the ‘Scouring of the Shire’. Each one focused on either Tolkien’s experience in the war and returning from war or it was about the rise of industrialization, which was counter to Tolkien’s love of the countryside and trees or both.
Attributing Tolkien’s experience to the LoTR is commonly done and something that Tolkien did not care for, but he did not completely deny. Shippey wrote, “‘The Scouring of the Shire’ had ‘some basis in experience’ though no ‘contemporary political reference whatsoever,’ not even to Britain’s Socialist ‘austerity’ government of 1945-1950.” (RME p. 169). The basis was more likely from Tolkien’s childhood, “when places like his old home in Sarehole, Warwickshire, were being drawn into the industrial Birmingham conurbation.” (AC p. 167).
A few addressed the chapter as the true coming of age moment for the four hobbits. This is how I had previously taken this chapter. It was the ‘culmination’ of their experience. Everything they had encountered and learned was now put toward doing good in their own community and setting the course for their individual futures.
“At last the hobbits had their faces turned towards home. They were eager now to see the Shire again; but at first they rode only slowly, for Frodo had been ill at ease.” (RK p. 268)
Frodo was on the anniversary of his wound and nearing the site of it. He speaks with Gandalf who has continued journeying with them as all the others have gone their own way.
“‘Alas! There are some wounds that cannot be wholly cured,’ said Gandalf.
‘I fear it may be so with mine,’ said Frodo. ‘There is no real going back. Though I may come to the Shire, it will not seem the same; for I shall not be the same.’” (RK p. 268)
While the dialogue is specific to Gandalf and Frodo, I take this passage with a larger meaning. As the ring-bearer, Frodo, may be the most impacted, but Sam, Merry and Pippin will also never be the same as a result of their experience on this journey.
‘Homeward Bound’ covers the journey from east of Weathertop to the departure of Gandalf to visit Tom Bombadil. At Bree, the party finds the gate shut and not wanting outsiders. Arriving at the Prancing Pony, Butterbur welcomes them and they learn things are not well in Bree and he eventually tells them the same is true of the Shire.
In their discussion with Butterbur and again in their time in the Common Room the next day, the hobbits all take note that the great events away south are of little to no interest to the people and that they have hardly any knowledge of what has been transpiring. With the understanding of all that has happened, the hobbits find this hard to believe.
Having been so integral in the events, Frodo’s words were beginning to ring true. The Shire will not seem the same as it had, nor will the four hobbits to all they encounter and had known them before. “The four hobbits like riders upon errantry out of almost forgotten tales” (RK p. 274).
Upon their departure as Butterbur reluctantly tells them all is not well in the Shire, he also tells them that from the changes in them that he has seen, he believes they will take care of themselves and set things right.
As they ride toward the Shire, Sam recalls the memory of the image he saw in Galadriel’s mirror. Pippin lays the blame on Lotho, but Gandalf reminds the hobbits, “You have forgotten Saruman. He began to take an interest in the Shire before Mordor did” (RK p. 275).
In an earlier version, Gandalf does not mention Saruman. Had the hobbits been confronted with Lotho, as opposed to Saruman, the stakes would not have been so high. Lotho was an equal as a hobbit, whereas Saruman was the head of the White Council. While Lotho felt cheated by Frodo for becoming Bilbo’s heir, Saruman felt cheated by Frodo for having denied him the One Ring and ability to rule over all.
Gandalf then tells the hobbits he won’t be joining them on their final journey to the Shire. He intends to sit down and have a long talk with Tom Bombadil. He goes on to tell them that they have grown up and been trained for what lies ahead. They are ready and he is done helping and righting ways.
Again, the earlier version has Gandalf going with the hobbits to the Shire, but his being present and serving a role in the scouring would prevent the hobbits from ‘completing’ their journey and coming into their own.
“‘Well here we are, just the four of us that started out together,’ said Merry.” (RK p. 276). This was very near the end of ‘Homeward Bound’, and as I considered this chapter, Merry’s words could have made for a decent ending. Decent, but still wanting.
‘Homeward Bound’ in foreshadowing some of the events to come begins to draw the distinction between the Shire then and now, as well as the hobbits. The Shire has changed, not for the better, but the reader does not know the extent and the hobbits have changed, as the reader is reminded through the perspective of the others in Bree and Gandalf himself.
Returning home demonstrates how changed the four hobbits, the travellers, have each become and in their own way, as well as how the bigger events that have transpired impacted the Shire. At the same time, it reinforces the shire-folks’ concern for local affairs without regard to the bigger ones. Finally, as the travellers have changed, so too has Saruman.
Similar to their arrival at Bree, the four hobbits come at night. It is damp and cold. They are tired. They find a gate on both ends of the Brandywine bridge where there hadn’t been ones before. They also notice new, un-hobbitlike, buildings on the far side of the river. After some time they are told to go away and to read the notice on the gate, which in the dark they don’t see.
Merry recognizes a hobbit, Hob Hayward, and addresses him. They learn the “Chief” is at Bag-End. Frodo assumes it is Lotho despite Gandalf’s warning of Saruman (RK p. 277).
When entrance continues to be denied, it is Merry who takes action, calling Pippin to join him; they climb the gate and enter. Then one of the ruffians, big men, arrives. It is Bill Ferny from Bree. At first, he is confident of bullying the little people, until he catches the glint of the swords held by Merry and Pippin. Merry addresses him by name, commands him to open the gate, and tells him to leave and never return, which he does.
In this scene, Merry is truly an adult hobbit. Moreso, he is battle hardened and has taken the lead. It is also noted a few pages later that they (Merry and Pippin) are “uncommonly large and strong-looking” (RK p. 279). So, thanks to the Ent draught they have significantly physically changed, too, especially in the eyes of their fellow hobbits.
Many of the lines and actions attributed to Merry in these early passages were originally spoken by Frodo or Gandalf. The removal of Gandalf allows for the development of the hobbits.
Frodo, though, is at first an aggressive leader in the early versions of this chapter. Through revision, he becomes more thoughtful and ultimately pacifist. His role is more of adviser and protector of all, while the others remind him that fighting will be inevitable under the current conditions.
Within the gates, the four learn the inns have all been closed, food and wood for fire is rationed, and there are many rules to follow. The rationing is based on the sharing and gathering, or more to the point the gathering without sharing done by the men at the expense of the hobbits.
The expansion of rules leads to the need for enforcement and to that end more and more hobbits are enlisted to serve as Shirriffs.
On the main road, heading to Frogmorton, they encounter a band of Shirriffs who are there to arrest them. In this scene, Frodo is “inclined to laugh” (RK p. 280) and asks what is going on? Being told the four are being arrested and read the charges, Frodo asks, “And what else?”
Sam speaks up next and the Shirriff responds, resulting in laughter from the four.
Frodo then replies, “I am going where I please, and in my own time. I happen to be going to Bag End on business, but if you insist on going too, well that is your affair.’” (RK p. 280). He then says shortly after being told not to forget he has been arrested, “Never. But I may forgive you.”
This is the last instance in the final version that Frodo acts in this manner. The more he sees, the more he is saddened.
The next day the arrested hobbits head out to Bag-End on their ponies. Merry has the Shirriffs lead the way as “Merry, Pippin, and Sam sat at their ease laughing and talking and singing, while the Shirriffs stumped along trying to look stern and important. Frodo, however, was silent and looked rather sad and thoughtful.” (RK p. 282)
Originally, it was Frodo who drove the Shirriffs, so this is truly the turning point in the direction Frodo would take through this chapter and those remaining. As Merry continues to take the lead in the final version, Frodo becomes more resigned and thoughtful than he had been.
Frodo is the first of the four to be thinking about the macro aspects of what is happening in the Shire, while the others are focused on the micro ones. Part of this could be attributed to age, Frodo is older than the others, and he also has had more ‘bigger’ discussions than the others, particularly with Gandalf, through the years.
The driving of the hobbit Sherriffs, some who enjoy their role and many more who do not, but don’t know how to get out of it, points out the division created of hobbit vs. hobbit, which is a likely potential source of Frodo’s sadness.
Arriving at Bywater, “they had their first really painful shock. This was Frodo and Sam’s own country, and they found out now that they cared about it more than any other place in the world.” (RK p. 283). Homes were missing, some burned down, trees were gone, and ugly houses were erected. In the distance a tall chimney of brick blew black smoke into the sky from the area of Bag End.
At the Green Dragon, the hobbits encounter a half dozen ruffians. Merry toys with them in his responses before aggravating them. At that point Frodo speaks up ‘quietly’. Frodo attempts to talk through things with the ruffian. When told Saruman is a ‘beggar in the wilderness’, the ruffian becomes very direct with Frodo, insulting him. It is too much for Pippin.
Pippin, the youngest of the four and possibly still the most apt to act before thinking, throws off his cloak declaring, “I am a messenger of the king,’ he said. ‘You are speaking to the King’s friend, and one of the most renowned in all the lands of the West. You are a ruffian and a fool. Down on your knees in the road and ask pardon, or I will set this troll’s bane in you!” (RK p. 285) Merry and Sam drew their swords and stood alongside Pippin. The ruffians turned and fled.
It is at this point that Frodo explains to Pippin and the others how he believes things have transpired in the Shire regarding Lotho, the bringing in of the ruffians, and the trap Lotho has now found himself in.
Pippin is incredulous that after everything they return to the Shire to save Lotho. “Of all the ends to our journey that is the very last I should have thought of: to have to fight half-orcs and ruffians in the Shire itself - to rescue Lotho Pimple!” (RK p. 285).
Frodo considers fighting and acknowledges it may come to that, but killing must be avoided. Merry and Pippin impress upon Frodo that they may have scared the ruffians in small numbers, but it won’t happen again and they will come with greater numbers and be better prepared.
Frodo seeks a peaceful way to resolve the current state of the Shire and return it to what it once was, but Merry and Pippin are more realistic given the situation.
Sam suggests going to Tom Cotton’s.
At this point, the four have mostly shown who they have become. One way of highlighting this is by considering them opposite another from this chapter. As Tolkien seems to take to pairings, such as orcs and elves and trolls and Ents, I tried to consider the opposite pairings in this chapter: Saruman and Frodo, Wormtongue and Sam, Bill Ferny and Merry, and Ted Sandyman and Pippin.
Saruman becomes corrupted in his desire for power and seeks it through the Ring. Frodo is a reluctant leader, who by virtue of being possessor of the Ring, feels obligated to be the Ring-bearer and destroy it. By doing so it breaks him as well.
Having lost most of his power, Isengard, and being left with his voice and Wormtongue, Saruman seeks revenge on the hobbits by destroying the Shire. The hobbits meeting Saruman on the road only strengthens his resolve. Despite the damage he has done, Frodo does not wish him death. In frustration Saruman stabs Frodo. Again, Frodo calls off the hobbits from harming Saruman.
When Saruman begins to leave, Frodo offers Wormtongue to stay, eat and rest as he has done nothing to Frodo. Now, Saruman sees the last thing he has in danger of being taken away from him, too. He tells of Wormtongue murdering Lotho in his sleep, kicks him and demands him to follow, at which point Wormtongue pulls a knife, kills his master and is shot by hobbits before Frodo can stop them.
Frodo shows himself full of mercy and Saruman the opposite.
Both Wormtongue and Sam are loyal to their respective masters, but for very different reasons. Wormtongue was loyal to Saruman for power of his own. He didn’t need dominion over all, but he did want power that he could wield over others and Saruman was his means to that end.
Sam was loyal to his master out of respect and love. Early on, Sam is depicted akin to a loyal dog at his master’s feet. He grows into a faithful servant who is willing to put his own life on the line for his master to gain nothing for himself except personal satisfaction.
Merry throughout is more thoughtful and a bit more reserved than the more spontaneous Pippin. This could be chalked up to maturity, but it is also a difference in personality and character. Merry breaks orders for the purpose of ‘doing his part’ as every other race was doing. He suffers great pain in stabbing the Witch-King. In the Shire he takes the lead and seems to intuitively understand what needs to be done.
On the other hand, Bill Ferny, a big person, is thoughtful, but only in a way that benefits himself. He does read situations, but does so for self-preservation. This is most obvious when he goes from being a ruffian to fleeing the Shire upon seeing the swords of Merry and Pippin.
Pippin, as mentioned, is the youngest of the four hobbits, and often acts impulsively and isn’t always so aware of what is happening on a larger scale - he just wants to be a part of it. He is the most carefree of the four.
Ted Sandyman, a hobbit, thinks he is aware of what is happening on a larger scale, but really doesn’t. He feels good about himself when others are down or put down.
The remainder of the chapters solidify how they will be remembered based on their deeds in the Shire itself, with those acts outside of it barely known in the Shire, but honored throughout the West.
Beyond character development, though, there is something more in this chapter.
To Sam’s suggestion of going to Farmer Cotton’s, Merry replies,
“No! It’s no good ‘getting under cover’. That is just what people have been doing, and just what these ruffians like. They will simply come down on us in force, corner us, and then drive us out, or burn us in. No, we have got to do something at once.’
‘Do what?’ said Pippin.
‘Raise the Shire!’ said Merry.” (RK p. 286)
This is what I missed when I only thought of this chapter in terms of the characters coming of age. The real significance was addressed by Tom Shippey in J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century (AC p. 219, 220) as he explains how the rebellion in the Shire begins when Merry blows the Horn of Eorl the Young, given to him by Eowyn. When sounded, the hobbits’ paralysis dissipates and everyone seems to wake up.
Shippey calls it a rejection of despair.
He goes on to say:
“If Tolkien were to choose a symbol for his story and its message, it would be, I think, the horn of Eorl. He would have liked to blow it in his own country, and disperse the cloud of post-war and post-faith disillusionment, depression, acquiescence, which so strangely (and twice in his lifetime) followed on victory. And perhaps he did.” (AC p. 220, 221).
Destroying the Ring stopped Sauron and it was a victory in preventing further loss, but the true victory is revealed in rejecting the despair felt by all who live through such times.
It is not the point of feeling relief that things won’t get worse, it is the lifting of despair knowing and believing that things will be better. The raising of the Shire was the rejection of despair. The hobbits, together, could and would take action to be independant once again.
In closing, is ‘the Scouring of the Shire’ about nature and industry? Kind of, but not really. It is included to highlight how the four hobbits have grown individually and most importantly, it demonstrates the power of unity and rejecting despair.
In 2003, the Tolkien Society started celebrating Tolkien Reading Day. "The 25th of March was chosen as the date on which the Ring was destroyed, completing Frodo’s quest and vanquishing Sauron." You can read the Society's post on 2020 here. If you are going social with how you are celebrating use the tag: #readtolkienathome2020 and many continue to use #TolkienReadingDay.
People are encouraged to read any fiction or non-fiction Tolkien related work, but a theme is offered for those who find it hard to choose.
This year's theme is "Nature and Industry."
One of the suggested readings is Leaf by Niggle. This short work by Tolkien ranks at the top of my list along with The Hobbit, LoTR, and anything related to Turin.
I happen to have read it last week, so I'm looking for something else to dive into tonight.
Another recommendation is LoTR's Scouring of the Shire. I decided to read Homeward Bound and Scouring of the Shire from The History of Middle Earth, Volume IX, Sauron Defeated.
Enjoy and have a great read!
In this post I will address what you need to work successfully from home:
Over the past week it seems second to articles about the spread of COVID-19, are posts about the challenges of working from home.
As someone who has worked from home for 25% of his professional career, I'd be in the ultra net worth category if I had a dollar for every comment I've heard related to 'how nice it must be to work at home.'
Now, I see comments related to all the challenges from pets and family members making unexpected appearances on video calls to either feeling isolated or spending too much time in the house with the family to not being sure how this whole WFH thing is supposed to actually work.
This is understandable. To start with an assumption, the people making these posts likely did not want to work from home. Further, they've been told to do so, with short notice and little guidance.
Additionally, their personal life has probably been in upheaval from school closures to necessary items being unavailable for purchase to eating at home because restaurants are closed (except for takeout) and all venues where people congregate have been closed making it rough on people in general who are more or less social beings.
Clearly it is hard to focus on a new work environment and way to work within this upheaval of everything else.
Here is what you need:
Connectivity & Redundancy
Almost goes without saying in this day and age that you need to have an internet connection with enough speed to handle uploading and downloading documents and streaming video. You also need to have a desktop or mobile device that can process business level workloads, or modify how you work to accommodate what you have.
Personally, I have a five or six year old Chromebook. This is not ideal for business, but it can work. Typically, I have three or four browsers open with a half dozen to a dozen tabs running on each on my business machine. This doesn't work on the Chromebook. I try to keep it to two browsers and less than six tabs per.
If my connection drops, it can take time to recycle a modem, so have your cell phone nearby to at the very least alert the office that you are having connectivity issues.
Your cell phone should be your redundancy to your home internet connection.
Typically, a wi-fi hot spot such as a public library, Starbucks or other location with free wi-fi is a good back up if your connection goes out for a period of time, but with COVID-19 that is not an option.
A Dedicated Work Space
I know people who like to take their laptop and sit outside on a nice day, but I've found that to be detrimental. For starters, I really like having my second screen and can't stand the touchpad on my laptop, so I use a mouse. I also like my bluetooth headset and that has to be plugged in and connected to my laptop, so it results in carrying a lot of stuff to another location.
The dedicated work space for me provides normalcy and indicates to my family that I am working. I have a desk, comfortable office chair, and the room has a door. When I first started working from home, my youngest daughter was still in elementary school, so I put in a french pane door. In this way she could knock and wave to me when she got home. If I was on a call, I'd wave back and if not I'd open the door and ask how her day was.
Not everyone has an entire room available to themselves, but find a space that you can call your own, that other family members identify as your work space, and that you use when you are at work.
If there are two or more of you working from home, attempt to find spaces far enough apart that you don't hear one another's calls and conversations or appear in one another's video background. Working in an open office environment, where everyone is working for the same company on similar work is one thing, having two people from two different companies working together will be distracting. Though it may also be enlightening.
Try not to use this same space for your non-work activity, at least until you get more acclimated to working from home and have a good sense of when you are on and off the 'clock'. If you do, the likelihood of working during non-working time will go up as you 'quickly' check email.
A Daily Routine
Your routine will change when you shift from going to the office to working from home. It is up to you to what extent it changes. When I first started working from home, it was hard to differentiate between work hours and personal hours. I'd get up, walk by my work space and 'just check a few emails'. For my first employer, I had to have an office phone in addition to my cell phone, so I'd see the red light flashing that there was at least one message for me. This led to me working very long days.
The routine helps create habits and allows you to distinguish the two worlds that are colliding in your home.
Wake up and get ready.
While it is generally accepted to be a bit more casual when working from home, don't take it too far too fast. Video conferencing is critical to working from home. Depending on your company culture and industry there will be varying standards for work from home attire, but more important to how you appear to peers, vendors and clients is how you feel about yourself.
So keep your pre-commute morning routine as consistent as possible.
Then, consider what time you'd leave for work. What is your commute time? If it is 45 minutes, maybe start work when you would normally leave and establish some breaks during the day for those 45 minutes. Same goes for the end of the day. If you typically end at 5:30 maybe extend your overall day to 6:15, but take some additional breaks throughout the afternoon.
Planned breaks are critical because when you work from home you don't move around nearly as much as when you go to an office and work in one (will discuss more in schedule). Think of the walk to your desk from the parking lot, walking to meeting rooms, to someone else's desk to ask a question or get feedback, to the cafeteria or going to lunch, and using the bathroom.
In an office building this can add up to a lot of steps in a day. In your home, probably not so many. Thanks to my Fitbit, I can confirm this.
Once your day is done, make it done. While there will be instances when you have to work outside of normal business hours, do it only for instances that require it. If the call or email can wait until the morning, let it go until then. How you define your work schedule can really help in this regard.
A Work Schedule
Working from home requires you to be better organized, because there are a great many more distractions at home than there are in the office.
As mentioned above, determine what your start and end time on a typical day will be. Let's assume a nine hour day, with one hour for lunch, beginning at 8:30 and ending at 5:30 with a 45 minute commute each way.
Your potential window of work is now 7:15 to 6:15, or eleven hours. No, the idea is not to work eleven hours, but instead to work eight of those eleven and carve time out of your day to compartmentalize likely distractions.
Maybe you typically rush out the door, well consider starting at 7:30 or 7:45 in order to start your day in a less hurried state, or end earlier.
Regardless of what time you decide to start, make it consistent. Be at your desk at that time, ready to go each day. Have your coffee or water with you, don't sit down and start the day with a break by getting up and walking to the kitchen right away.
Some people like to plan their day in the morning, others like to close one day by planning for the next. Pick one, it will make you more productive. Once you pick one, block time on your calendar for the time you need each day.
I prefer to plan in the morning after scanning my email, slack channels, and checking my calendar for the day. This allows me to catch anything that came up overnight.
Try to establish breaks for yourself throughout the day. Block time each day for lunch, since you are at home, maybe you want to use 30 minutes instead of an hour. It is your call, but put it on your calendar and stick to it.
It is really hard to focus on a single task for more than 50 minutes or so and on more than one for greater than two hours. Establish some 15 or 20 minute breaks throughout the day. Use this time to get up, move around, see how the kids are doing, get some fresh air, take the dog out, anything except sitting at your desk.
If WFH is new to most or all people and you have direct reports, have check-ins with them. It is likely that most people on your team are struggling with these changes. Depending on the number of reports you have, you could set up a 15-30 minute weekly call with one person, or have calls with small groups of people. Use these calls to see how people are doing, what do they need, what would help them do their work better, where are the gaps? While scheduled, keep it social like you ran into them in the hall.
If you don't have direct reports, odds are pretty good you have friends at work. Take some time throughout the week to reach out to them for 15-30 minutes to catch-up.
Working from home naturally isolates people from one another, and as a result you have to make an effort to interact with co-workers. Hopefully your management will recognize this as well and encourage it by allowing communications for non-work related topics, which help people get to know one another. This in turn helps them work better together, because they have a connection other than we've both been assigned to this team.
And again, set an end time and stick to it. With WFH it is very easy to accept meetings outside of business hours. Try to avoid it. Set your work day and distinguish it from your personal life.
New Norms & Tools
I've mentioned several of the new norms when working from home above. You will undoubtedly receive guidance from your company. This guidance will likely be significantly different from company to company.
I was fortunate in that the last company I worked for was founded as a distributed work force. It was expected that nearly everyone would work from home. As a result, there was an emphasis to build cohesion and culture across geographic locations and time zones.
I've found that traditional brick and mortar companies struggle with allowing employees to work from home. Part of this is on management itself, which fears people will be unproductive, take more personal time, and if I can't see them how do I know they are working? At the same time, management is concerned with internal tensions when some employees can work from home and others must work from the office.
In the case of most people during COVID-19, the latter tension is removed because WFH is being mandated for all.
I can't speak to each or any company's policies at this time for WFH, and I'd imagine a good bit is being created as situations arise, but at the end of the day simply demonstrate you are getting the work done.
A big part of getting the work done is acclimating to WFH, which is largely covered above, but while you can adjust you may not be able to get the work done if you don't have the right tools at your disposal.
Connectivity and redundancy in case your primary internet goes down will keep you working and connected to the office. Ideally, you will have at least a company issued laptop. A personal cell phone is probably assumed, but if the expectation by the company is for you to regularly use it, then there should be some form of compensation offered.
Many solutions today are cloud based accessed by a web browser, but there are many companies that continue to internally host data and information. If you traditionally worked in the office through the company network, you will now need to connect more securely while working remote. Your company will either provide you with VPN access or you may need to request it.
I mentioned video calls being critical. When WFH as opposed to in-person, you can lose a lot of context when you can't see the person you are speaking with. Default to having video on for conferencing calls. Of course this means your laptop should have a built-in camera. If it does, be conscientious of the angle of the screen. Are you centered or is part of your head cut-off? What is on the wall behind you or also in the camera's view?
If you can, consider purchasing a web cam that can plug in via USB. These can often clip to your laptop and have some adjustability or you can purchase a tripod to change height and angle.
It is also very important to hear and be heard clearly. This will be affected by three primary things, your connection, the other people's connection, and the speakers and microphone you are using.
We've already discussed connection. Your laptop has a built in microphone and speaker, but all the noise around you, from those in your house to potentially those outside can get picked up on your call. A set of ear buds will help, but a headset is your best option, especially if you spend a lot of time on calls. I have wireless bluetooth headset which plugs into my laptop and synchs with my phone. This works very well for me as I can use it for online and cell based calls and videoconferences.
In addition to your office suite (docs, sheets, email, calendar) when WFH, your company should have a messaging platform available for all employees. Ideally, there would be a general message channel as well as those for departments, teams, and any grouping of employees who should be communicating with one another.
These real-time discussions give everyone insight into what is happening and show who is working on what.
I've mostly used Slack and that as well as many others, will allow you to set a status to alert others when you are on a call, meeting, break, lunch, etc. Between that and having a shared calendar, you will hopefully not get interrupted too many times when you are 'off the clock'.
These five areas will help you better acclimate to WFM more quickly, but the biggest key is your attitude and willingness to accept it and move forward until the next change comes your way, which could be this afternoon, tomorrow or weeks from now.
I am an avid reader.
I use Feedly to manage posts related to my professional, personal, and sports interests. I typically go through these feeds after dinner. Those professionally related that I find to be of high quality I share on Twitter using Buffer to avoid posting several in an hour or so span.
While I do read non-fiction, I mostly enjoy reading fiction at night or on the weekend as an unplug and escape from real life.
I'm not an eBook reader or audio book listener. I like the feel of a book in my hands, the cover, the texture, and the weight.
It was my fortune that a friend left me two books. They are the oldest one's I own. The first is what we today call "Gulliver's Travels". The first edition was published in October of 1726. This is not the edition I have. I'm not sure what edition I have only that it was printed by Thomas Y. Crowell & Co., No. 13 Astor Place, NY. No date is provided. I've not read this edition because the pages are delicate as is the binding.
The other was comprised of two volumes by Washington Irving, The Life of Columbus and A Tour of the Prairies. Again, I was unable to find a published date, only that the publisher was the Syndicate Trading Company, NY. Again, this volume has delicate pages and binding, so I keep it shelved and handle it little.
A third volume was given to my by my grandfather, and it was my great-grandfather's, Our Western Border: One Hundred Years Ago by Charles McKnight. It states that it was added to the Library of Congress in 1876
I used to keep books to read and read in a spreadsheet, until I discovered Goodreads.
I love Goodreads and its app. You can search by title or author and read not only the publisher or author's take, but also get reviews from readers.
I write reviews of all the books I read, I enjoy the exercise of thinking about what I've just read and articulating it in the review knowing others will read it and be able to comment on it. It is also very helpful when reading a series as a means to remind yourself what happened in the previous book or books.
In my home office, I've organized my favorites on seven shelves. Most everything else then goes to the closet (which I shelved and can hold another 150 or so books), once they are removed from the closet they go to the garage, where I have a few shelves, but most often these get donated.
My seven shelves feature: math/science, history/biography, religion, sports/art/music, and three shelves of fiction, one and a half or by or about J.R.R. Tolkien (I'll write a future post on that addiction at a later time).
The other fiction works include Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker Series, Martin Cruz Smith's Arkady Renko series, Dostoevsky's Demons and The Idiot, several books by John Barth, Hemmingway's short stories, multiple Joseph Conrad novels and a 'selected works' volume, 'complete' Shakespeare volume, Thomas Hobbes Leviathan, The Notebooks of DaVinci, and to round out the collection, Calvin & Hobbes, the Sunday Papers 1985 - 1995.
My father got his first, and only, teaching and coaching position at Nazareth High School, in Nazareth, PA. As a result, we grew up going to sporting events and competing in sports at Nazareth, despite living in a neighboring school district until 6th grade when we moved into a township in the Nazareth School District.
I went to college in Tucson, AZ for two primary reasons, first, I had family there (my father's brother was a professor at the University of Arizona) and second, I wanted to see a different part of the country.
I loved Tucson, the weather, the mountains, the culture, the history and of course the University and the people I met there.
At the same time, it taught me to better understand and appreciate the town I grew up in. Nazareth gives you a small town feel, but provides access to pretty much everything you could want. There are many more things to do, than I thought there were as a kid. Its history is unique and diverse given its size and I've outlined some of these aspects in the next section.
Everything is nearby and there are a great diversity of activities and entertainment.
The Poconos are just to the north of Nazareth and access to the Appalachian Trail is in Wind Gap, a few miles from town. New York City and Philadelphia are an hour and a half away and the nearest Jersey Shore points are within one hour. Baltimore, DC, the Delaware and Maryland beaches are all within a three and a half hour drive.
Since returning from college, I've made Nazareth the home for my family. We live in town and have enjoyed taking walks to sporting events at the high school, when they were little taking the kids to the many local playgrounds, walking to the Library, the corner-store where the kids enjoyed getting ice cream on hot summer days, and attending the many community events held throughout the year.
I personally have invested in the community. I started a community site in 2006 to share news and information, NewsOverCoffee. I served on the Borough Council's Economic Development Committee. I was a member of the Downtown Development Committee. And I was the inaugural manager of the Nazareth Center for the Arts, which is now celebrating its 10th Anniversary (I was involved the first two years of operation).
While working with the Downtown Development Committee I created the concept for "Martin on Main", which is now an annual event in the downtown celebrating music performed using Martin Guitars. I also was a main organizer of a day-long event the day before the final race at the Nazareth Speedway, which featured the official driver autograph session, an appearance by Miss Pennsylvania (who as a side note, I introduced to Helio Castroneves and Sam Hornish as they waited to accept an award for Roger Penske), and a concert that evening.
A long history, short, King Charles II granted a province to William Penn as a feudal estate. Under the feudal system, Penn created manors, or large estates of land that Penn could grant to individuals. One of these manors was granted to his daughter, Letitia, and it was the Barony of Nazareth. Though pledged in 1682, it wasn't until 1731 that this land was selected as the final parcel of the 25,000 acre grant to Letitia.
Under the feudal system, as a token payment for allegiance, Letitia gave one red rose every year on the 24th of June and to this day Nazareth is known as the Barony of the Rose.
Nazareth's founding is deemed as being in 1740 when Moravians settled on the land due to world-famous itinerant preacher George Whitfield who had secured 5,000 acres of the Barony. Whitfield brought the Moravians to settle his land and build a school for Negro children.
The first settlers arrived last in summer and were ill-prepared for winter. Whitfield then had a falling out with the Moravian church and ordered them off his land. However, in 1741, Whitfield sold the property to the Moravian church on account of his own unstable financial situation.
While this was taking place, Lenape chieftain Captain John settled his people on the land and refused to leave until December of 1742, when Count Zinzendorf made a generous offer and the Lenape left the manor territory.
Nazareth functioned as a closed religious community operated by the Moravians until 1856 when it became secular and open to all.
For a small town of 6,000 within a school district of 25,000, Nazareth has a rich history and some rather famous people and products.
Built in 1754, Nazareth Hall began as a boarding school and during the Civil War era it became a first class, classical academy. Although, military drills were added for exercise, it never became a military academy. This became a pre-cursor to Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA.
In 1780 William Henry II moved to Nazareth and established the Henry Gun Factory on South Main Street in 1781. With a large government contract he had to expand and moved north of Nazareth to Jacobsburg where he had acquired a large tract of land in 1798.
In 1838 C.F. Martin moved his guitar making business from New York City to Nazareth, PA. The instruments were originally made at the family homestead. The North Street Plant was built in 1859 to accommodate the needed additional space. Today, the factory is located just outside of town and features daily tours, an area for visitors to play a range of Martin's, and a museum.
In 1898 the Nazareth Cement Company built its first mill and by 1901 it was shipping cement as far as New Orleans. The Pennsylvania Geological Survey determined that Nazareth was at the center of the cement rock formations in the region and as a result many more cement plants were built in the area. They continue operating today.
Nazareth's original fairgrounds began operation in 1855 and featured horse racing along with agriculture. It was located right in town between Main and Broad Street a few blocks south of Center Street. At some point around 1900, the fairgrounds were moved further south to a larger tract of land. It was in 1910 when motor events began to be hosted.
Eventually there were two tracks the original 1/2 mile dirt track and a larger 1.125 mile track. The two operated into the early 1980s.
In 1986 Roger Penske purchased the facility and in 1987 the track re-opened. It closed in 2004. During the time it was open CART, IRL, IROC, NASCAR and USAC held events at the speedway, dubbed "The World's Fastest One Mile Oval".
Maybe the most important aspect of the history of having the fairgrounds track in Nazareth is the fact that it became the start of the careers of Aldo and Mario Andretti.
In 1969, when Mario won the Indy 500, he also won the USAC sanctioned Nazareth 100 at the fairgrounds. Later that year, the town held a day of celebration for Mario including a parade and the renaming of the street he lived on, Market Street, to Victory Lane.
His home was located across from the local elementary school and three homes down from the high school. Mario has since moved just out of town, next door to what was his son Michael's home and now, grandson Marco lives there.
Thanks for taking the time to visit The Nunamaker Group site.
As noted in the About section, this site highlights Ross Nunamaker's professional, contract/freelance, volunteer activity, speaking, education, and training.
The blog is a place where I'll share more opinions and personal posts.
I have had several different blogs through the years. Unfortunately, the most recent one I only have on my hard-drive. I'll see if I can find a way to upload those files at some point. It was on Drupal Gardens, and when that site closed I moved to a hosted environment.
Prior to that I had a Blog on Word Press available here.
I began blogging in the early 2000's. At first I did it to understand it. I had a vanity blog and posted on a range of topics. I met other bloggers online and started commenting on other people's blogs and they in turn visited my site and did the same.
In 2005, I started thinking about how a community focused site could help share information that local residents could use and that was often hard to find.
I couldn't get any traction, so I reconsidered how I could make it work. I re-launched in 2006 as NewsOverCoffee: Nazareth, PA Edition. I focused on the townships and boroughs that comprised the Nazareth Area School District. I attended Nazareth Borough and School District meetings and started posted to my site.
Word of mouth, coupled with a few local controversies made my site pretty well-known locally.
At the time I decided to create a companion blog that was to be a 'handbook' for others to do the same in their community.
I had good relationships with the local media and I managed the comments with the focus being on its okay to debate the point, just don't attack the person.
Nazareth residents stepped up (excerpts)
by Bill White
The Morning Call
January 6, 2007
...I've also been encouraged by what has happened in Nazareth, where vocal residents helped persuade their leaders to scale back a secretly hatched plan for new municipal facilities in favor of something more reasonable. They even persuaded borough officials to emerge — kicking and screaming, in some cases — to begin complying with the state Sunshine Act.
One of the big factors in this public pressure has been the blog NewsOverCoffee (nocnews.blogspot.com), which has been meticulously chronicling community life in Nazareth since last April. Although it often includes links to stories in the local newspapers, it offers much more detail than space or time permit in the daily press.
Originator Ross Nunamaker says the site has been averaging about 150 unique visits a day. The municipal building controversy and the threat of a teachers' strike in the Nazareth Area School District guaranteed that there were hot issues in the first year to attract readers.
Here's how Nunamaker introduces the blog on its home page: ''Welcome! Go ahead and take a sip of NewsOverCoffee. Life keeps getting busier, this is a place where people, neighbors and friends can connect to share news and information that is important to them at their own convenience. A place where Nazareth news and goings-on are posted for everyone to see and comment on. In short, it is where Colonial Hospitality meets information technology to ensure a better and stronger community.''
Unlike some of the blogs originating in other communities, NewsOverCoffee focuses more on straightforward information than on wisecracks and commentary. That makes it somewhat less entertaining to nonresidents, but more credible, I suspect, to those who haven't made their minds up. Nunamaker said his readers help police the comments portion of the site for anonymous personal attacks, keeping things constructive.
Still, when editorial comment is needed, Nunamaker isn't afraid to provide it. I suspect his strong voice played a big part in the positive changes that have taken place over the past several months.
His biggest need, he said, is more people to help him cover meetings, both in Nazareth and in other parts of the school district. If you're willing to help, let him know.
I've praised other local bloggers for bringing important issues to light in an entertaining way. But I can't think of anyone who has done a better job of putting the Internet to work in the service of his or her community.
We need more NewsOverCoffees. And we need more residents who are willing to speak up and force positive change when their leaders are out of line.
Steaming Cup of Joe
Joseph P. Owens, Editor
March 27, 2007
"The best community blog I've seen hereabouts thus far has been NewsOverCoffee."
Valley Bloggers Fill Niche (excerpts)
by JD Malone
July 29, 2007
...Today more than 30 Valley blogs are live and kicking...Leading the way are borough residents Bernie O'Hare, with Lehigh Valley Ramblings, and Ross Nunamaker, with NewsOverCoffee. Although they approach blogging differently, they boast large and growing audiences.
Nunamaker said his first blog flopped in 2005. He re-launched in March 2006 with the intent of delivering local news and information to people in the Nazareth Area..."I wanted a site to aggregate the information lost because people don't go to meetings," Nunamaker said. "(NewsOverCoffee) isn't about the person. It's about the place."
"We occasionally read them just to find out what's going on or what people think," said Nazareth Area Superintendent Victor Lesky.
"I never read them. I'm just not into that type of media," Nazareth Mayor Earl Keller said. "I hear some things that are on there. I hear lots of people talk about (the blogs)."
"Of course I read Ross' (blog)," O'Hare said. "I live in Nazareth."
Jeff Pooley, Ph.D.
Asst. Prof. of Media and Communication, Muhlenberg College
Steering Committee Member, Media Action of the Lehigh Valley
"I've continued to add a number of local blogs that I've stumbled across to my links page. One stands out: NewsOverCoffee, from Nazareth. It's an exciting experiment in citizen journalism that, in theory, permits posts from any number of citizen volunteers."
"NewsOverCoffee is the Valley's foremost example of authentic citizen journalism."
"I regard his News over Coffee site as a truly innovative model of an interactive community site. And I completely agree about the counterintuitive ways in which the internet is going local--and paradoxically bringing neighbors, blocks apart, together."