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Working from home is a perk of modern-day employment but what happens when you are forced to work at home for a prolonged period? How do you actually get anything done amid the chaos and detritus of everyday home life? Offspring shares some tried and tested tips.

In these strange and uncertain times, many parents find themselves working from home. In an effort to help stop the spread of the current outbreak of Coronavirus, some employers have closed offices or set up a roster for employees to work from home whilst others are choosing to self-isolate over health concerns.

It’s tempting to think that this will mean you can chill out in your pyjamas all day because really, what’s the point in getting dressed if no one will see you? However, the novelty is likely to wear off quickly.

Boost your productivity and mental health by following this advice:

 

  • Schedule time in your day for work – ideally when the kids are being cared for by someone else, and stick to your schedule.

 

  • Dress appropriately for work – you’ll feel more prepared for challenges and it will help you separate work from play.

 

  • Set up a work space – maybe a desk in your lounge room, or an office in the garage (or shed!) but make it practical and attractive so you’re happy to be there.

  • Start early – your morning can set the tone for the day. Getting up an hour early helps you to get ahead and be ready for when the kids get up.

 

  • Divide the chores between family members – this will help you to concentrate on work rather than using your time on household chores.

 

  • Sort out childcare – sharing childcare with your partner means you can still be there for your children but you can both get work done as well.

  • Equip yourself  – you probably need wireless internet, a laptop and a smartphone to allow you to work flexibly.

 

  • Use chat platforms such as Messenger or email rather than phone calls – that way no-one can hear your toddler yelling in the background!

 

  • Have a box of toys that’s available only when you’re working – pull it out when you need that extra half an hour. The novelty should keep little hands and minds busy!

And most importantly:

  • Take time to rest and reset.

If you are spending more time than usual at home, it’s easy to fall into the trap of always being available. It’s not selfish to take time out to recharge­ – maybe have a bath, curl up on your bed with a book or watch rubbish on TV. The housework can just wait.

New York Time’s Best Selling author and Professor at Houston University, the amazing Brené Brown gives us her insight into navigating middle age – or should I say, the Midlife Unraveling.

In my late thirties, my intuition had tried to warn me about the possibility of a midlife struggle. I experienced internal rumblings about the meaning and purpose of my life. I was incredibly busy proving myself in all of my different roles (mother, professor, researcher, writer, friend, sister, daughter, wife), so much so that it was difficult for any emotion other than fear to grab my attention. However, I do remember flashes of wondering if I’d always be too afraid to let myself be truly seen and known.

“I was incredibly busy proving myself in all my different roles.”

But intuition is a heart thing, and until recently I had steamrolled over most of my heart’s caution signs with intellectualizing. In my head, I had always responded to the idea of “midlife angst” by scoffing and coming up with some politically and therapeutically correct way of saying that midlife whining is pathetic. The entire concept of the midlife crisis is bullshit. If you’re struggling at midlife it’s because you haven’t suffered or sacrificed enough. Quit pissing and moaning, work harder, and suck it up.

As it turns out, I was right about one thing – to call what happens at midlife “a crisis” is bullshit. A crisis is an intense, short-lived, acute, easily identifiable, and defining event that can be controlled and managed.
Midlife is not a crisis. Midlife is an unraveling.

By definition, you can’t control or manage an unraveling. You can’t cure the midlife unraveling with control any more than the acquisitions, accomplishments, and alpha-parenting of our thirties cured our deep longing for permission to slow down and be imperfect.

Midlife is when the universe gently places her hands upon your shoulders, pulls you close, and whispers in your ear: I’m not screwing around. All of this pretending and performing – these coping mechanisms that you’ve developed to protect yourself from feeling inadequate and getting hurt – has to go. Your armor is preventing you from growing into your gifts. I understand that you needed these protections when you were small. I understand that you believed your armor could help you secure all of the things you needed to feel worthy and lovable, but you’re still searching and you’re more lost than ever. Time is growing short. There are unexplored adventures ahead of you. You can’t live the rest of your life worried about what other people think. You were born worthy of love and belonging. Courage and daring are coursing through your veins. You were made to live and love with your whole heart. It’s time to show up and be seen.

If you look at each midlife “event” as a random, stand-alone struggle, you might be lured into believing you’re only up against a small constellation of “crises.” The truth is that the midlife unraveling is a series of painful nudges strung together by low-grade anxiety and depression, quiet desperation, and an insidious loss of control. By low-grade, quiet, and insidious, I mean it’s enough to make you crazy, but seldom enough for people on the outside to validate the struggle or offer you help and respite. It’s the dangerous kind of suffering – the kind that allows you to pretend that everything is OK.

We go to work and unload the dishwasher and love our families and get our hair cut. Everything looks pretty normal on the outside. But on the inside we’re barely holding it together. We want to reach out, but judgment (the currency of the midlife realm) holds us back. It’s a terrible case of cognitive dissonance – the psychologically painful process of trying to hold two competing truths in a mind that was engineered to constantly reduce conflict and minimize dissension (e.g., I’m falling apart and need to slow down and ask for help. Only needy, flaky, unstable people fall apart and ask for help).

“Everything looks pretty normal on the outside. But on the inside we’re barely holding it together.”

It’s human nature and brain biology to do whatever it takes to resolve cognitive dissonance – lie, cheat, rationalize, justify, ignore. For most of us, this is where our expertise in managing perception bites us on the ass. We are torn between desperately wanting everyone to see our struggle so that we can stop pretending, and desperately doing whatever it takes to make sure no one ever sees anything except what we’ve edited and approved for posting.
What bubbles up from this internal turmoil is fantasy. We might glance over at a cheap motel while we’re driving down the highway and think, I’ll just check in and stay there until they come looking for me. Then they’ll know I’m losing my mind. Or maybe we’re standing in the kitchen unloading the dishwasher when we suddenly find ourselves holding up a glass and wondering, “Would my family take this struggle more seriously if I just started hurling all this shit through the window?”

Most of us opt out of these choices. We’d have to arrange to let the dog out and have the kids picked up before we checked into the lonely roadside motel. We’d spend hours cleaning up glass and apologizing for our “bad choices” to our temper tantrum-prone toddlers. It just wouldn’t be worth it, so most of us just push through until “losing it” is no longer a voluntary fantasy.

Midlife or Midlove
Many scholars have proposed that the struggle at midlife is about the fear that comes with our first true glimpse of mortality. Again, wishful thinking. Midlife is not about the fear of death. Midlife is death. Tearing down the walls that we spent our entire life building is death. Like it or not, at some point during midlife, you’re going down, and after that there are only two choices: staying down or enduring rebirth.

It’s a painful irony that the very things that may have kept us safe growing up ultimately get in the way of our becoming the parents, partners, and/or people that we want to be.

Maybe, like me, you are the perfect pleaser and performer, and now all of that perfection and rule following is suffocating. Or maybe you work hard to keep people at a safe distance and now the distance has turned into intolerable loneliness. There are also the folks who grew up taking care of everyone else because they had no choice. Their death is having to let go of the caretaking, and their rebirth is learning how to take care of themselves (and work through the pushback that always comes with setting new boundaries).

Whatever the issue, it seems as if we spend the first half of our lives shutting down feelings to stop the hurt, and the second half trying to open everything back up to heal the hurt.

Sometimes when the “tear the walls down and submit to death” thing overwhelms me, I find it easier to think about midlife as midlove. After two decades of research on shame, authenticity, and belonging, I’m convinced that loving ourselves is the most difficult and courageous thing we’ll ever do. Maybe we’ve been given a finite amount of time to find that self-love, and midlife is the halfway mark. It’s time to let go of the shame and fear and embrace love. Time to fish or cut bait. I don’t think midlife/midlove is on a schedule. I was forty-one when it hit, but I have friends and I’ve interviewed people who found themselves smack dab in the middle of the unraveling as early as their mid-thirties and as late as their fifties. The only firm timing for midlife/midlove is that it ends only when we physically die. This is not something you can treat then dismiss. The search for self-love and acceptance is like most of the new ailments that hit at midlife – it’s a chronic condition. It may start in midlife, but we have to deal with it for the rest of our lives.

And, just in case you think you can blow off the universe the way you did when you were in your twenties and she whispered, “Pay attention,” or when you were in your early thirties and she whispered, “Slow down,” I assure you that she’s much more dogged in midlife. When I tried to ignore her, she made herself very clear: “There are consequences for squandering your gifts. There are penalties for leaving big pieces of your life unlived. You’re halfway to dead. Get a move on.”

Once the shock of the universe’s visits wears off – and you get over thinking, Oh my God! I’d prefer a crisis! – there are several ways to respond:

I hear tell that there are actually people who pull the universe closer, embrace her wisdom, thank her for the opportunity to grow, and calmly walk into the unraveling. I try to spend limited time with these people, so I can’t tell you much about how this works.

Another option is to deny that any of this ever happened. Of course, denial is not so easy at this level – it is the universe that we’re talking about here. Pretending that midlife is not happening requires active denial, like putting your fingers in your ears and singing la-la-la-la-la. As sweet and childlike as that may sound, these folks are normally not so sweet and childlike.

“Pretending that midlife is not happening requires active denial, like putting your fingers in your ears”

After the ear-plugging and humming, the only way to maintain your denial of the midlife unraveling is to become even more perfect, more certain, and more judgmental. For these folks, allowing just one ounce of uncertainty or doubt or questioning to bubble up could cause rapid, involuntary unraveling. They can’t be wrong – their lives could spin out of control. They march through life, teeth and butt cheeks clenched, without flinching and, often, without feeling.

 

There’s also the numbing option. If there’s one thing that we’ve mastered by midlife, it’s how to take the edge off of feeling pain and discomfort. We are so good at numbing – eating, drinking, spending, planning, playing online, perfecting, staying really, really busy. If every midlifer who “only drinks a good glass of wine with dinner” stopped drinking, there wouldn’t be a vineyard left in business. Unfortunately, what makes midlife different from the other stages that we’ve managed to survive, is that the symptoms don’t improve over time. Choosing to numb the midlife unraveling is choosing to numb for the rest of your life.

 

Last, there’s the “no holds barred” resistance response. I liken it to existential cage fighting. You and the universe go into the ring and only one person comes out. This, of course, was my option.
When the universe came to me, I listened. And when she was done whispering, I pulled back, looked into her eyes, and spit in her face.

 

How dare she ask anything of me! I had worked and sacrificed and paid enough. I had spent my life saying “yes” when I wanted to scream, “Hell no! Do it yourself!” I had met every deadline, expectation, and request possible. I had earned every bit of my armor and I was enraged by the idea of giving it up.
I expected her to walk away like the dejected mother of an angry teenager, but she simply stood in front of me, wiping the spit off of her cheek.

 

We stared at each other for a minute, then I said, “I’m not afraid of you. I know what you’re asking and the answer is no. I’ve spent my entire life building these walls and digging these moats – do you really think a little whisper is going to intimidate me? Do I strike you as the unraveling type?”
I’m not ornery or rebellious by nature; it’s just that I spent thirty years trying to outrun and outsmart vulnerability and uncertainty. The fact that the almighty universe had descended and asked me to turn myself over to her custody didn’t mean a damn thing to me. I’m not the surrendering type.

 

She was quiet.

I didn’t back down. I was my own little emotional militia. I put on my most serious game face and said, “I know what you’re trying to do and it’s not going to work. I’m prepared. I’ve spent a decade researching and writing on shame and vulnerability and all of the hard shit that you throw around to scare people. I’m ready.”
She looked back at me with loving eyes, then said, “I’m sorry it has to be this way, but clearly this is how you want to do it. You leave me no choice.”

 

Her calmness was unsettling. I was afraid. She wasn’t backing down. So in this moment of sheer terror, I did the only thing I knew how to do when confronted with fear – I bullied her. I gave her a small shove and said, “Then bring it!”
Her loving eyes didn’t change one bit. She just looked at me and said, “I will.”

 

When the Universe Brings It
I put up the fight of my life, but I was totally outmatched. The universe knew exactly how to use vulnerability and uncertainty to bring down this perfectionistic shame researcher: a huge, unexpected wallop of professional failure, one devastating and public humiliation after the next, a showdown with God, strained connections with my family, anxiety so severe that I started having dizzy spells, depression, fear, and the thing that pissed me off the most – grace. No matter how hard or far I fell, grace was there to pick me up, dust me off, and shove me back in for some more.

 

It was an ugly street fight and, even though I got my ass kicked, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. There was a significant amount of pain and loss, but something amazing happened along the way – I discovered me. The real me. The messy, imperfect, brave, scared, creative, loving, compassionate, wholehearted me.
Maya Angelou writes, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” I’ve always honored the power of story. In fact, I believe so strongly in their power that I’ve dedicated my career to excavating untold stories and bringing them up to the light. In some miraculous way, I feel as if this midlife unraveling has taught me – in my head and my heart – how to be brave. I’m still not good at surrendering or “living in the question,” but I am getting better. I guess you could say I’ve graduated to “writhing in the question.” Not exactly Zen, but it is progress.

 

“I discovered me…the messy, imperfect, brave, scared, creative, loving, compassionate, wholehearted me.”

As far as my relationship with the universe . . . well, we’ve actually become very good friends. I even came to love and trust her when, in a quiet moment, I looked deeply into her eyes and realized that she, the universe, was me.

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Zoe Foster Blake is a fast-paced modern take on the Renaissance Woman. The beauty aficionado and Go-To Skin Care founder also writes books, overlords a formidable online universe through Instagram, and expels, at an overwhelming rate, a variety of products for our consumption pleasure. 

Zoe Foster Blake has her hand in a lot of pies; indeed, she is purported to be a champion of their consumption. Pie Eating Champion is one of the more outlandish claims made on her profile at www.zotheysay.com. The former beauty editor of Cosmopolitan magazine and successful author of eight books with Penguin Random House, launched her Go-To Skincare line a month before the birth of her first child, Sonny, aged three. Since then she has been busy with motherhood and micro projects, managing a burgeoning Instagram page, producing lip balm, blog posts, apps, books, oh and a daughter, Rudy, just shy of four months. Reports that Foster Blake 37, was raised in rural NSW without a television could explain the enigma of this rampant productivity. Research, albeit dubious, indicates that while the rest of us were being brainwashed by Bert Newton through morning television that our lives would lose meaning without a steam cleaner, Foster Blake was busy ticking off life goals.

Motherhood has not slowed Foster Blake, it may have redirected her creative energy somewhat but has not thwarted it. Becoming a parent for most usually means collapsing into a milk-stained heap in front of the television while it offers you soothing advice on how to get your life insurance in order.

“Everything changes when you’re a mother doesn’t it? The identity crisis is real, and certainly the professional.”

For Foster Blake it has meant slightly adapting her trajectory of over achievement (she published her first novel at 27). If you know Foster Blake through her Instagram platform, Zoe Foster Blake (@zoyousay), you may be forgiven for falling under the illusion that she is mere mortal. You might think of her as an online friend. Someone who makes you snort when you laugh and lets you feel good about beauty products and sponge cake, and most pertinently that life doesn’t have to be perfect to be a gas (she has also just ripped out a kid’s book about farts?)

You may wonder what’s so superhuman about farts, cheeky Instagram posts, cute kids and a husband with food in his teeth. A possible answer is that Foster Blake’s ability to create an accessible, humorous arena for her 619 000 followers is a superb and masterful marketing feat, and no accident.

Foster Blake came to the phone after a sleepless night breastfeeding her daughter Rudy, who at 16 weeks is teething already, getting things done, much like her mother. She apologised for being tired and explained how she procrastinates, when asked if she’d ever tried it.

“Of course I have. Most things actually, like daily things. All the clothes are at the end of my bed on that nice ottoman thing you buy that just becomes a place for clothes. I left the house this morning and there was just mess everywhere. So the boring day to day tasks, they don’t get done but the big projects, they do tend to get done which is a strange habit, but of course I procrastinate….”

 

“Know your super powers. Do the things that you’re good at.”

Foster Blake appears to have escaped Bert Newton’s mind control and, being untethered to notions of domestic aspiration and invisible germs (housework be damned), is creating an empire instead. Describing the practice of positive procrastination, marinating ideas and pulling all-nighters she is clearly a person attune to doing the things she loves. When congratulated on avoiding the mundane she offers, “Know your super powers. Do the things that you’re good at.”

Brace yourselves for the condensed summary of the things Foster Blake is good at. As a magazine journalist with over ten years of experience, Foster Blake worked both as a beauty editor and relationship columnist for numerous publications, including Cosmopolitan and Harper’s Baazar. She has published four chick-lit novels, her most recent, The Wrong Girl being adapted into a successful Network Ten series of the same name, starring Jessica Marais and Rob Collins. She has also published several non-fiction books including beauty manual Amazinger Face and Textbook Romance, a dating guide co-written with then “friend” and “to be” husband, Hamish Blake, and is about to release her first children’s picture book called No-one Likes a Fart with illustrator Adam Nickel. She has released an app for broken-hearted singles called Break-Up Boss with plans to release it in book form next year and has collaborated on a clothing line currently flying hot off the racks with fashion brand Skin and Threads. As CEO of her rapidly expanding company Go-To Skincare she oversees its day-to-day operations whilst keeping us abreast of all this through funny posts on Instagram.

Perhaps, more is at play here than a TV-free childhood, and that’s okay tired mums and dads because this just means ABC Kids can stay on while Zoe Foster Blake hoards all the super powers. But she needs them because she is one busy mother. She explains that once she has an idea she is driven to expel it, “I think you throw everything at a project and then it’s done. It’s almost like I have to get it out of my head to feel like I can move forward onto the next thing.”

These ideas which often bubble around in her mind for a while, some longer than others (Break-Up Boss took six years to manifest), are usually born from a desire or need for something she can’t find. Cleaning her ottoman may have saved her some time and effort but perhaps the world can never have too many lobster jumpers and Foster Blake likes making things.

These ideas which often bubble around in her mind for a while … are usually born from a desire or need for something she can’t find.

“Most of the time I make things that I wished I had. With the skincare I thought, ‘Aw, I wish that existed, I’ll bloody make it myself’, and certainly with some of the non-fiction books that was the same and then with this children’s book it was not because there weren’t stunning children’s books already out there but it was just an idea that I had, that I wanted to, that I had to ‘get out’ as it were, there are just so many bad fart jokes.”

And so, Foster Blake’s latest offering No-one Likes a Fart, collaborated with illustrator Adam Nickel which she credits for his mid-century style (think Mr Men), was released by Penguin Random House Australia in November. It is a fart book with a message. She didn’t mean for it to have a moral tale but explained that, although not a fan of earnestness, she felt a certain responsibility writing a children’s book, recognising the perils of peer groups as a relevant subject for young readers. She explains, the message formed organically and felt it should be there.

“I think it’s mostly a funny book but then there’s a nice message that even if people are being mean to you or calling you names, there will always be someone who loves you and there will always be good people.”

“I think you throw everything at a project and then it’s done. It’s almost like I have to get it out of my head to feel like I can move forward onto the next thing.”

Foster Blake is a writer at heart and as she speaks of her craft her speech slows and her voice catches at times, with vulnerability creating some room in the conversation. “Writing is inherently selfish. You are by yourself. You don’t have a boss. Now I see it for the indulgence that it is. If the kids are out of the house, which is just never because I am tethered by breastfeeding at the moment, but if I do get the house to myself I just want to write. I don’t want to go shopping or get my hair done, for me writing is a real joy and something that I miss deeply.” When noted she hadn’t written a novel since the birth of her son Sonny in 2014 she laughed, “Shhh, I’d hoped no-one noticed. Thankfully the T.V show’s kept it going a bit longer.” She explains this is more an adjustment of her creative process since becoming a mother.

“I don’t want to go shopping or get my hair done, for me writing is a real joy and something that I miss deeply.”

“So, that’s probably why I’m working on smaller projects because I have a shorter attention span, I can’t quite bang out the 100,000 words I used to … So yeah, everything changes when you’re a mother doesn’t it? The identity crisis is real, and certainly the professional. I have changed a lot how I do things and it probably seems a bit more scattered but I think it’s because my energy bursts are shorter and I can do different little shorter projects rather than one long book project.”

And thus, Foster Blake reveals resilience in attitude and quotes sensible advice from her mother that the chaos of life with small children will soon pass. “Look, I know it’s a moment in time and I don’t fret about it at all. It’ll come back and I’ll have plenty of years to write more fiction and so, I sort of enjoy the different projects and I think it makes me more efficient in some ways because you’ve got such a small window to do the work. You have to produce quality work in a smaller amount of time. The old me before kids would just sit at my computer for eight hours and I reckon I’d spend six of that just pissing about and now I’m like, you’ve got two hours, you’d better write.”

With less time for the introspective task of novel writing she has utilised her well-honed skills as a commercial writer in an impressive turn at mumpreneurship and, dare it be said, capitalised on the shared humour and wit of her high profile relationship with Hamish Blake to catapult Zoe Foster Blake into an emerging brand.

 

“I have changed a lot how I do things and it probably seems a bit more scattered but I think it’s because my energy bursts are shorter and I can do different little shorter projects rather than one long book project.”

“As a beauty journalist for a long time, I was in the business of ‘recommending’ anyway and Instagram is just a natural progression of that. I can do captions because I’m a professional writer and I enjoy it, and it’s a way for me to have a mouth piece,” she explains. Her mouthpiece is funny and light, her wit sharp and when discussing how she gets away with swearing and risqué jokes she says, “The beauty of Instagram is you are who you are and everyone uses it for different purposes. Mine is to just have fun, be a bit cheeky and also, I guess to some extent have an advertisement for my writing.”

Foster Blake appears to navigate the pitfalls of online backlash with a phrase she often coins in Instagram posts as a “special brand of arrogance”, but perhaps this wily twist of humility can be attributed to a magic elixir of understanding how to reach an audience and a personality essentially grounded in principles. Foster Blake explains her principles for Go-To Skincare, “You have to earn permission from people to sell them things and I don’t take that lightly, it’s just got to be perfect or we just won’t launch it. We always come up with the best possible product with the best possible ingredients and it’s a real team thing.”

When pressed on broader principles she says, “I’m actually reading a book called Principles at the moment and I’m sort of getting my head around it…Look, I think my family and my husband and I are pretty aligned in that we love fun and surprise and delight, and we love generosity and gratitude. So I think that it’s working in the realm of making people’s days a bit happier, maybe.”

And so, perhaps this is why Zoe Foster Blake can suggest a night nurse in a blog as a solution for sleepless nights with a newborn without a cacophony of cruel online claws calling for her eyes to be scratched out. Principles go a long way, just be wary if she starts spruiking steam cleaners.