Working to your strengths, and a note from David on Working from Home in a Pandemic.
David and I have been debating what is Easy and what is Hard in terms of ASD, and particularly how this plays out in the workplace. Things that seem easy, or are common work place expectations, can actually be very difficult for us. Not necessarily impossible, but stressful and a big expenditure of personal resources. But other things can be easy, which might typically be expected to be difficult. The combination of ability and disability is not generally expected or understood. So there is some challenge in navigating it, understanding how to make it work and getting other people to understand it.
As a personal example, at the end of last year I got to edit an episode of the ABC TV series The Good Doctor (312: Mutations). Normally I’m an assistant to one of the regular editors on the show, so this was a great opportunity. In theory the editor role is more difficult, more work, more responsibility, more dealing with people. I have done it before on other types of show but I was curious, maybe a little nervous, about how I would handle it on a network TV drama with high expectations and tight deadlines. Much to my surprise, I found elements of being editor a lot easier than assisting. One of those was having the ability to organize my own time.
My best case is when I can “black box” my work processes. Nobody has to see what I am doing or how I do it, as long as I get a good result by the required time. My worst case is if I need to “look busy” or somebody is looking over my shoulder judging my process. I am awful at “steady” work. A continuous set of timed goals is Hard. I am better if I can work in productive bursts.
As an assistant editor on the TV series, I’m at the service of my editor. I work on his schedule. He sets goals and timing. But when I am editing for myself, I can set my own schedule. I can work when I feel most productive. I can take breaks when I like as long as I meet the project goals (and am ready for deliveries, meetings and reviews). Curiously, this made a job that is theoretically more challenging actually less stressful than the junior position.
Time management has always been an issue for me. As a kid I got in trouble a lot in school for “daydreaming” or not looking like I was working. It really annoyed some teachers that I was still able to do well in exams. Because I was actually listening and doing the work, I just didn’t have the expected appearance. I really hate having to look like I am busy. It is a type of masking, a distraction and another task to have to do on top of actually getting the work done.
In higher education appearance was less an issue than overall time management. For example, it took me two shots to get a college degree. My first attempt was a science degree, where I had really good grades but was miserable for over a year then quit. The second was an arts degree, which I got through. Obviously there are differences between science and arts, but the arts course had a lot more time flexibility, which allowed me to manage stress and work when I was most productive.
The science course had set classes and a preset schedule. The arts course had more elective topics and a rotating schedule where you could pick class times that suited you. The science course was exclusively full time study. The arts course I could schedule around a part time job, so I wasn’t doing the same thing all the time. For the most part I managed to avoid early morning classes, and could leave Fridays open, so I had an extra day to work on assignments or my own projects. At the time I never much considered that the schedule might have been a big factor in one course being miserable while the other was challenging but manageable. Now that seems like a no-brainer. The flexible schedule allowed me to manage stress, play to my strengths, and have time to deal with other life issues.
I’ve worked in the entertainment industry for close to 20 years now, and always performed better in situations where I had time flexibility. It was great to work freelance, which paid well for what might be three or four days per week with different clients. Sometimes I could organize a full time position to be 4 ten-hour days, rather than 5 eight-hour days, as long as the work got done. The next best option was project work, where you have a good amount of time to recover between projects.
“Steady” work becomes a kind of Functioning Trap for me. It’s supposed to be easier, but it’s not. I burn a lot of effort on little things and getting through the day; just functioning. It’s a huge advantage to be able to organize my own time. I can take on bigger challenges and solve bigger problems. I’m more productive. And I might even enjoy it!
The Hard part there is to get that opportunity.
Note from David on Working From Home:
Prior to the pandemic impacts, I have asked employers whether I could work from home (WFH, not WTF as Craig keeps reading it) on Fridays. So far I haven’t had an employer say no. For me the main reason I do it is so that I don’t have to interact with people face to face for the day. There are many other benefits, like not catching public transport, less sensitivity triggers, a sleep in, etc.
When I’m WFH I find that I can better multitask better. I don’t have to worry about what other people are thinking of me, as long as I get the work done, and answer phone calls and emails, they don’t care. I can be putting laundry on, while going from telecon to telecon. If I get stuck with a work task I can do something completely different for a while, like empty the dishwasher, which often unblocks whatever was blocked. So I find that I’m actually more productive when I work from home.
As I said, that was before the pandemic. Now everyone in my work is WFH, all the time. You would think I would be in heaven. Wrong. I’m really struggling. I don’t want to do this anymore. I want to be back at work. I want my routine back.
I’m spending more time in front of the laptop screen than ever before. The light from the screen and the constant hum of the fan are triggering. Some days are back to back video conferences. I eat my lunch while on video conferences, rather than taking a break and reading or watching a TV show. The sound volumes and quality of the video conferences is all over the place. You can’t fully see the person on the little screen, so reading the body language cues are hard and requires a lot more focus. The worst part is the multitasking.
The multitasking is now a constant battle. I keep finding trails of bright shiny objects to follow. Normally at home, on the weekend, this is the way I prefer to do things. Something takes my interest, so I do it, which leads to something else and so on and so on. But you can’t do that 7 days a week and still get your job done. So I find myself in a constant battle with myself. There is employed Dave, who needs to do his work and do it well, no matter how hard or boring it is. Then there is bright shiny object Dave, who is skipping (no actual skipping is happening, I’m too uncoordinated for that) along and happily following the bright shiny objects.
At one point yesterday I was in a dark room customising my phone’s sound to me. Today I ended up setting up a Roomba iRobot vacuum. Now I’m writing a blog page, because Craig asked me to. I think employed Dave is in urgent need of some reinforcements.
Oh look. Bright shiny object. Bye.