A classic Alaska summer move: Deliver a rainy, cold weekend followed by a sunny and warm Monday. I've spent many of those Mondays in my office glowering at the beautiful sky outside.
There's a part of me that thinks glowering is just part of what it is to have a job. Work is not supposed to be fun, right? And if I think it's fun, then surely I'm doing it — work — wrong. If it's really hard to shackle myself to my desk, that must make my time there more worthwhile.
But there's another part of me that has gotten louder as I've grown older. Colleagues pursue their dreams. Those who seem naturally good at what they do are usually just doing something they love. Maybe my puritan notion of a work ethic, meaning that I put my head down and muscle through whatever arduous and unpleasant task is in front of me, isn't how it has to be.
And maybe even menial tasks can be made better.
So I've started, over the years, stealing outside. I think it's making me a better person at work.
No, I'm not stealing company time by going outside. I pick and choose my moments. For local work meetings, I often suggest walks. In a city and state so riddled with trails and outdoor opportunities, even casual walks in downtown Anchorage are much more refreshing than being surrounded by four walls and a ceiling. And if it's pouring rain, there are still plenty of ceilings to choose from.
I've gone on running meetings, but it can be difficult to sustain a conversation. Still, there is the occasional conference call that only requires me to listen in, and for those I relish getting a run in while listening through my headphones. The bonus is that I'm paying much more attention than if I were at my computer distracted by Gchat and email. Plus the view is much better.
I also bank my workday time. I often eat, as they say you shouldn't, at my desk so I can either knock off a little early knowing I put in good hours or steal away for an hour midday. I'd rather go for a run, or an after-work hike, than sit and savor a meal, all the while knowing I still have an additional four-hour date with a glowing screen. I'm also known to start way early so I can shave a couple hours off the end of my workday. I'm lucky to have a flexible schedule.
Then again, some days I feel lazy. I don't want to, but I do. A great way to pull myself outside if I'm having trouble is to borrow a dog. Taking dog walks (or runs) are a socially acceptable version of a cigarette break. Everyone knows dogs need to walk, and besides, they're cute. It's great to know I'm walking the dog but also walking myself. So although I don't own a dog, I'm happy to take yours. Let me know.
Commuting by bike ensures exercise and fresh air on either end of work. Riding a bike to work is a built-in accomplishment. You get a gold star for doing something before even hitting the office — what a way to start the day. Then, at the end of work, it's a great way to burn off any passive-aggressive energy left from dealing with that colleague (everyone has one). After a while, bike commuting starts to feel like a baseline — a given form of getting outside that's just the springboard before all the other neat stuff I want to do.
Now that I live in Palmer, I only ride my bike for fun or when I've invented some reason to ride. That something is typically an errand with my husband or a glass of wine with a friend. When I lived in Anchorage, I biked or walked to meetings often.
Then, finally, there are those summer days that are truly spectacular.
Maybe salmon are running. Maybe I've just been through a marathon of dreary days and I'm questioning my sanity in living in Alaska. Maybe I've been working bizarre and intense hours and am feeling ominous symptoms of burnout. Occasionally — very occasionally! — I will take the mental health day and simply knock off work.
The puritan in me can't stand it. Playing hooky is the opposite of shackling myself and buckling down. The responsible person in me doesn't lie about it — I move meetings if I need to, and I prep in advance so that nothing falls through. All of this speaks to guilt, which can compound if I don't watch it.
I gain energy from being outdoors when I spend it on other pursuits in my life, including work. I know that finding ways to be outdoors more, day by day and over time, helps me be who I am and bring that person to work every day.
That's good for me, good for the bigger picture — and good for the bottom line.
Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.