Agency at home: Why Tiger King isn’t what’s stopping you from working.
How are you finding working from home? If you are anything like me, you’ve been overcome by a general malaise, as the days blur into one another. Half-human, half walking pajama set, you stumble around the house unsure of where and when you’ll begin working. Netflix blares on the screen telling you to watch that new documentary, Tiger King, that everyone is talking about. You muster the energy to open your inbox, when you notice an Instagram post telling you “it’s okay to not be the most productive you, we’re living through a global pandemic” and whilst that’s true, you can’t help but think to yourself, what is it I’m doing wrong? If I could just find the motivation.
This blogpost is the second in a three-part series exploring agency. Agency, in education, is the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make choices within their classrooms and organisations. But what does agency look like at the home?
In my previous blogpost, titled ‘Creative responses to constraints’, I discuss how in order to have agency, one must be able to distinguish between what they can and cannot control. The scenario I described in the opening paragraph derives from a mix of controllable and uncontrollable factors. Of course, I cannot leave my home and ‘Tiger King’ is a compelling view, but I do have control over what my environment looks like.
PRODUCTS OF OUR ENVIRONMENT
The truth is that motivation is a myth. It’s not something we inherently have, it’s something we create, and the same applies for agency. There is a clear distinction in much of the literature around agency, that it is not something you have but rather something you do. If this is the case, you can always be agentic, you just need to know what you control.
It’s clear that there is a link between environment and performance. Those who have a healthy work environment perform better. But this can often be used as a blaming mechanism, where people are in terrible environments that stifle their creativity, limit their productivity and ultimately leave them dissatisfied.
In my case, there were a few obstructions getting in the way of my motivation to work. Constant social media distractions, anxiety about what is happening in the world and the desire to stay in bed reading on a rainy day are all examples of obstructions. But one has the ability to remove obstructions and create the conditions for work, that’s where our agency lies. So how do you begin creating an environment in which success can thrive?
CREATING YOUR PLACE
Have you ever tried working from your bedroom? Some people are masters of working from under the covers and I commend them. However, I know that for myself, I need a desk in a separate room; a designated work area.
In theoretical geography, Yi-Fu Tuan and Edward Relph refer to this as the difference between space and place. 'Space’ is a location which has no meaning or social connections for a human being, whereas 'place' is in contrary more than just a location. It’s created through human experience. The size of the location does not matter and is unlimited. It can be a city, neighborhood, a region or even a classroom. The same applies within your four walls. Have you created a place for teaching and learning? Think about what items prompt you to work and whether they are present. Do you need sunlight, a quick pot of coffee nearby or a pile of helpful books and resources? If you’re struggling to discover what supports you working at home, think about what your classroom looks like. Whilst re-creating what I’m sure is a meticulously designed classroom might be out of the question, likely there are some things you could do to ensure that your home environment reflects your work environment.
I frequent an Anytime Fitness gym. One of the selling points of the franchise is that you are able to exercise at any time. Whilst that may seem appealing, only once have a braved a 1am gym session. The truth is, we are likely to have a time that works best for us. The same applies at home. There will be times when we know we are more productive. This new era of online teaching is actually an opportunity to work with our mind and body. Where the eight-hour workday may have once been a hindrance, we now have the potential freedom to work at different times. Some people are more productive after a midday siesta and other individuals would swear by the benefits of a 5am wake up call. Whether a night owl or early riser, find what works for you and apply it. Once we can figure out the rhythms of our behaviour, we can begin to hack our workday.
Tip number three is relatively simple, put your pants on. The novelty of being able to work in your pjs will have worn off by now. I have a friend swearing by her process of getting into work outfits in the morning. Much like the gym, if you show up with the wrong gear on, your likely to do very little work. Time, place and appropriate wear are the keys to creating good routine. They’ll help transform you from a fat pants wearing couch potato to a superstar teacher.
The truth is people often make the mistake of trying to tackle the big task of getting motivated, without have taken the steps needed to create a productive and motivating environment.
JUST DO IT
Here’s the thing, starting something is uncomfortable. It’s like jumping into a cold pool in the middle of summer. When you’re tasked with diving in, you hesitate, despite knowing that once you are in the water you’ll feel absolutely refreshed. What if taking agency is an iterative process, shifting between a state of doing and being. The more agentic steps you take, the easier it is to continue being agentic. If motivation is the desire to do something (wanting to dive into the pool), then agency is actively doing it. We need to identify when we are standing at the edge of the pool, ready to jump, and give ourselves a push.