Working better is possible

Pt. 2 The reader feedback edition

Welcome to At The End Of The Day. I’m Hannah Sung and I write this newsletter to process the daily firehose of news and to consider what matters most — caring, for ourselves, our friends and families, our communities and the greater good. 

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Image: Unsplash, Laura Olsen

Last week, I wrote about rethinking work. I shared a story about a high school summer job when I was hired by a well-to-do family as a “mother’s helper” (not “babysitter” or “nanny” and I know this makes me sound like I’m from a different century — which I am!).

My work world was their home and it wasn’t happy. That summer, I felt isolated, stressed and helpless on the job— as many of us do now in this pandemic. 

The story struck a chord. I heard back from many of you and I thought I’d share, because as much as it may feel like it, we’re not alone. Or at least, we don’t have to be.

First of all, I guess the summer job story hit a little close to home for those who know what it’s like to ignore boundaries to “get the job done.”

This is from Chi:

I'm welling up. Women are asked to ignore all kinds of safety boundaries to stretch and bend, to make room for others. It's impossible and invisible and so thankless and dangerous to ourselves. 

Not only did I share the story of my teenage job last week, I also shared a recent experience that was a big highlight in my WFH life.

My new colleague Jeff and I were chatting about work when I told him I liked the art on his website. That was enough for him to be inspired to send a very generous package in the mail. Can you believe it? Talk about memorable.

Art by Jeff Woodrow1

In my newsletter last week, I asked whether anyone else has had a big, kind-hearted gesture at work with colleagues in this pandemic.

Liêm is a teacher:

A few days ago, while my class was eating their lunch, I had to step out into the hallway to pull my mask down to have a sip of cold coffee. My colleague Anna happened to be walking by. She heard me let out a loud sigh and came right over. “Are you OK? Why don’t you take a walk? Take a breather.” I accepted her offer instantly. Her kindness made my day. Teaching can feel very isolating but there’s no doubt supportive colleagues will help get us through this.

I love this gesture because it’s about noticing. I’m in awe every day at what teachers can do. When I stop to think about it, I’m sincerely amazed that all of us continue to work in this pandemic, so many of us moving mountains at home, quietly, privately, in isolation. 

For those of us who don’t work with colleagues in-person anymore, who’s there to notice when we let out a “IS THIS GONNA BE OVER IN OUR LIFETIME OR WHAT” kind of sigh?

For a year now, there have been no new outfits to wear to work, or serendipitous run-ins in the hallway at the office. No laugh attacks on a coffee run with a friend or sliding into a chair next to a friend from a different department to chat before the meeting gets started.

And what are we replacing that with? Zoom? Really? The thing about Zoom is that it demands that we all take turns public speaking, a well-known anxiety-spiker for so many of us. 

I’ve also only realized in this pandemic how much conversations depend on reading people’s faces. A very basic realization yes, but it struck me as I chatted in Clubhouse (a new social audio app). Talking for a group of listeners, whose faces I couldn’t see, I felt like I was monologuing while floating in space, with nothing to ground me because I couldn’t see anyone’s reactions as I spoke.

It’s like we took a giant vacuum cleaner one year ago and sucked up all the bits of human connection we used to have sprinkled throughout our work day. It’s no wonder we feel this way, whether you call it fatigue (January), depletion (February) or straight-up burnout, a full year into this situation.

Avery wrote to tell me that for a long time, she didn’t realize the extent of how deeply she was burning out:

I honestly didn't know that I could have burnout, because even though I have textbook symptoms (apathy about work, difficulty making professional plans, feeling like I'm in a fog), I thought it couldn't apply to me because I'm also thriving professionally.

She’s doing everything she knows she should, like reading about how to recalibrate and making time for exercise and creativity. Some days it works better than others. 

I've also reached out to my therapist, and some friends, letting them know I'm not okay. I want to explore my belief that my self worth is tied to my work. I don't want to quit everything and move to a farm. I just want to find a way to do everything I do without lighting myself on fire in the process.

I’m sure you already know I’m a big fan of therapy and I think it’s absolutely criminal that mental health maintenance isn’t supported adequately in our healthcare system -- as if it’s separate from our physical health, which it isn’t. 

If anything, an hour of therapy (whatever your style, whatever your escape) is a space in which the ubiquity of work isn’t bearing down on you like gravity.

My workplace is on my phone, in my home, mixed up with my selfies on Instagram -- it’s everywhere and yet nowhere at once. Physically speaking, it’s gone.

The airy studio I worked in last year when the pandemic hit, where my friend Hadiya would build puzzles on the desk next to me as I worked, the newsroom cafeterias I’d escape to with friends at lunch, timing all our take-out to descend on a table together. These real-life spaces are just gone from our lives. Instead, I’m at my dining table which is currently covered in “passing-through” detritus from all members of the family -- two plastic bins of markers, some owl drawings, a t-shirt craft work-in-progress and a copy of the New Yorker. Welcome to my den of productivity.

It used to be that I could hear someone sigh or that someone, anyone, might hear me. 

We don’t share physical work spaces anymore so I constantly struggle with how to recreate that space virtually in a world where we connect in a zillion fragmented ways.

Back when email became the default communication at work, people wrote books on email etiquette. What we need now is a way to lay out the rules (and rise above basic rules) when we have a myriad of ways we talk to colleagues (email, phone, text, Slack, Google docs, social media accounts, to name a few). 

I don’t have solutions but the “schedule send” feature in my inbox gets a real work-out because as much as I personally work after-hours, I don’t want to send a work email to a colleague at night. The physical equivalent in the Before Times would be like following someone on their night out and slapping a thick file onto the bar next to them. Don’t want to be that person.

I’d rather be like Neha, who wrote to me about connection, colleagues and email (it’s possible!):

The more I’m willing to put myself out there, the more magical connections I’m creating with people I’m working with. Pre-pandemic I may not have written someone a thank you email or a “I was thinking about this thing related to your idea from our last meeting?” email because I probably thought they didn’t care or I’d mention it at the water cooler (I would always forget to). These days I find myself sending these (sometimes scary to send) emails, which lead to the best convos and magical connections that didn’t happen much before the pandemic. 

I love this scary leaping via email. As we shed the “real” and physical workplace in the past year, I totally agree that we need to get real in our messages to one another. That’s why I love phone calls and actively protect the first few minutes of a meeting for just chatting before we get to the agenda. It’s not wasted minutes. It’s literally the glue holding us together.

(Editor’s note: I can confirm that Hannah does this during our Monday meetings and it consistently brightens up my day.)

As I’ve mentioned, I have a tendency to really pile on the work like I’m starving at a buffet. It is weird because I’m not hungry right now, you know? But I clearly, like many, have a weird relationship with productivity.

That said, I loved all of your responses last week. It’s why I write.

At The End Of The Day is almost a year old. And while writing a newsletter has *technically* added to my workload and time I spend at my desk, it’s different from everything else I do. It is a true pleasure.

It means so much to me that the newsletter is a way I can work with stellar people including my editor Ishani and my editor at Best Health, Christina. And ATEOD really started to take shape as I talked it out with super-trusted friends like Matthew and Christian, with whom I had early conversations about what I might be able to create.

The real thing that stands out for me is that writing this newsletter hardly feels like work because it replenishes one major loss from the past year:  personal connection.

So I want to thank you most of all for reading and connecting.

Finally, I’m going to leave you with a song from Geoff, who says he’s made this late ‘90s song, “More Time” by Linton Kwesi Johnson, into a personal anthem on his approach to work. Good job.

More Time:

We’re marching out the old towards the new century

Armed with new technology

We getting more and more productivity

Some things looking up for prosperity

But if everybody going get a share this time

Old mentality must get left behind

We need decent pay

More time for leisure

More time for pleasure

More time for edification

More time for recreation

More time to contemplate

More time to ruminate

More time to relate

We need more time

Gimme more time

Thanks for reading and take care,


✨✨✨ At The End Of The Day is edited by Ishani Nath ✨✨✨

What I’m listening to:

F You, Pay Me, This is Uncomfortable podcast. A great listen on sharing information to get paid what you’re worth

Taking care in audio storytelling with Media Girlfriends, transcript from a Clubhouse conversation.

Korean community rallies to save a long term care home that feels like home, Metro Morning, CBC. Finally, a good news story.

Last week, I introduced my first sponsor, The Real Food Kitchen.

I love the values of this company, who deliver frozen, healthy meals for children and families (and provide paid sick leave for their staff — yes!).

When I think back to earlier days in the pandemic, I can’t believe I made dumplings and pies from scratch. Today, I just want the food to appear. Which it can.

The Real Food Kitchen and At The End Of The Day are offering a 20% discount for new customers when you use the code ATEOD20. With every purchase, you are supporting the newsletter. Read more on how we started to work together here. Delivery boundaries are: Toronto, Brampton, Mississauga, Oakville, Vaughan, Markham, Pickering and delivery to a pick-up location in Hamilton. Here's a handy map.

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This is Woodrow, art by Jeff Woodrow