Why I Work Outside
October 26, 2020
I like the outdoors as much as the next guy, so my penchant for working outside isn’t surprising. However, the chirping birds, mischievous squirrels, soothing breezes, and fresh air are just a zen-like consequence of my real reason for parking in this ass-breaking porch chair every day: solitude. I’ve been working remotely for ten years now, but only recently discovered the joys of working in a house with other people in it. And by joys I mean please leave me alone, I’m working.
For the first few months of COVID, I tried my normal spots like the couch in the office or the old Ikea chair in my bedroom or the couch in the living room. Not in the expensive ergonomic chair at my desk, by the way. Never that. Something was different, though. Despite my best efforts, I just couldn’t keep my head clear. One particularly beautiful morning, I decided on a whim to bring my laptop outside for a few hours to enjoy the weather. I quickly realized that despite the enhanced scenery, my attention was fully planted in my work. I initially chalked it up to the novelty of change and predicted I would return to my recently acquired state of constant agitation posthaste. As time passed, however, I came to understand that my focus wasn’t a fluke.
As far as I can tell, the key reasons for this are thus:
This, I think, is far and away the biggest factor. Maybe I’m especially susceptible to distraction, but I can’t comprehend how people can get anything done in a modern office environment. Unless I aggressively tune everything out (which requires playing music louder than I probably should), I get snapped out of my zone of concentration with any background conversation. The house of cards I built up in my head to that point collapses with an unceremonious “fffft”, and I have to start all over.
You may think the only distracting noises are those coming out of the people, but each bump upstairs, each clank of a dish, each opened or closed door rings as a constant reminder that I can and will be asked an unnecessary question at any moment. Which brings me to…
I’ve always loved feeling useful and needed. I like to be the one who can fix any problem, answer any question, and spew forth my hard-won wisdom for all whose ears are privileged enough to cradle the waves of sound produced by these golden vocal cords. (Too much?) However…that lifelong pursuit has royally backfired it seems because now, regardless of how many times I say “sorry, I’m working”, people keep asking me fly-by questions that either, a) someone else could answer like, I dunno…Google, b) can wait until I’m not working, or c) aren’t even my decision even if I provided one. There’s something about that front (or back) door that’s just enough extra effort for them that they end up leaving it alone.
That blessed door
As studies have shown, doors are 2-way operations, and judging by my initial research, that logic holds. While it’s great that having to come all the way outside prevents errant questions from being lobbed my way, it also does a great job of keeping me out. When I’m inside, all it takes to get to the cookies is placing my laptop down on the coffee table, rising from the couch, and walking a few feet away to stuff my face. Replace “cookies” with anything in a house and you can see how this could become a problem. When I’m alone in the house and deep in concentration it’s less of an issue, but mix in some distractions that keep me from ever reaching that deep state of flow, and every extemporaneous thought is a potential field trip. When I’m outside, there ain’t nothin’ there. Just me, my coffee, and this laptop. What am I going to do, get up to pull those weeds in my landscaping that have been there for 3 weeks? Unlikely. I think I’d rather keep working.
So, if you find yourself listless, aimless, unable to concentrate…don’t beat yourself up. Blame everyone in your immediate vicinity, grab a glass of lemonade, and head outside. Vitamin D is good for you, anyway.