With work changed and play curtailed, what does “time off” even mean anymore?
By Alyson Krueger
Tom Oling, 51, a television planner who lives in Denver, can’t remember the last time he dressed up for the weekend.
“I haven’t worn shoes with laces since April,” he said. “There are now only three to four shirts in the rotation.”
Now that Mr. Oling is working from home, every day feels identical whether it’s a Tuesday or a Saturday. He used to drive 45-minutes to work and then go to the gym in his office building. Now every morning he does a 15-minute exercise video followed by a half-hour on a bike.
During the weekday, instead of chatting to his co-workers, he does activities that used to be reserved for the weekend: hanging out with his stepchildren, ages 19 and 15, and playing fetch with his dog. “The kids won’t be in the house forever,” he said. “I feel that in my twilight years I’ll look back and be glad we had this extra time together.”
But how, exactly, to define this extra time?
With white-collar adults retreating from the office and many summer camps and schools remote, the line between the weekend and weekday has blurred. For some, every day feels like a weekday, marked with household chores, looking after kids, and not much recreation. Others, who are working remotely, see every day as a Saturday, with endless opportunities for fun. Either way life now can seem like something out of the movie “Groundhog Day” or “Palm Springs,” with a single day that plays out over and over.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has made a laugh line out of reminding New Yorkers when it’s Saturday, but “it feels like perpetual Thursday,” said Rachel Sloan-Rittenhouse, a teacher who works with 4- to 6-year-olds.
In the spring, when the pandemic was first beginning, Ms. Sloan-Rittenhouse felt she had some structure in her home in Cashmere, Wash. “My 7-year-old son had schoolwork packets to pick up on certain days, class Zoom calls on other days, and I had my classroom Zoom calls on others,” she said. “It was easier to try to maintain our internal calendars.”
As the days dragged on, and her family gave up on having a routine, she grew confused about the days. “I would have to check my phone to see what day it was, and I had to set alarms to remember to handle tasks on particular days,” she said. “Nothing makes you feel like a doofus as much as logging into a first-grade class Zoom meeting with a freshly laundered kid to realize you are the only one there.”
During summer break, Ms. Sloan-Rittenhouse settled on the fact that every day is a Thursday, the day when she’s tired from the week, still has a lot of tasks to complete, but can envision some joy and relaxation in her future. “It feels like soon we should go back to our regularly scheduled lives, but it just doesn’t happen,” she said. “We never quite get to the place where we can rest and play and visit friends.”
“It’s like those exercise videos that make you think you’re on your last round, and then says, ‘One more, push through’ over and over,” she added.
Then there are those experiencing blissful days on repeat.
For Evy deAngelis, 34, a vice president of sales and marketing who lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, the pandemic has eliminated a stressful workweek, making every day resemble the weekend. “I don’t get the Sunday scaries anymore,” she said. “I’m perfectly happy sitting out on a Sunday night with a glass of wine until well after midnight, and I don’t stress about the next day at all.”
Ms. deAngelis no longer has to wake up early to commute or sit at her desk all day. She can have a long lunch with a friend on a Monday or spend a few hours in the sun on a rooftop on a Wednesday afternoon. “I say at least five times a day that time is a construct, because our days never felt like this before,” she said.
Her best friend, Dima Martirosyan, 36, a digital strategy consultant who lives in Greenwich Village, said he’s amazed by how much socializing he does during the weekday now, especially with Ms. deAngelis.
“We ‘co-work’ from the same location a lot, and sometimes even outside in a garden with Wi-Fi,” he said. “Seeing each other during the workday was never an option before, so we’ve been loving this.”
Before the pandemic, like Mr. Oling, Ms. deAngelis knew what day it was because of the clothes she wore. No more. “I used to wear heels, a smokey eye, and a smooth blowout,” she said. “Now I wear Birkenstocks exclusively, mascara only, and I haven’t heat-styled my hair in months.”
Some people worry that the lack of structure to their week is negatively impacting their mental health.
Luke Geoffrey, 35, a copywriter who lives in Manchester, England, is currently furloughed, which means every day really does feel like a weekend.
“No morning alarm, no commute, no overflowing inbox, no deadlines. Sounds blissful, right?” he said. “As furlough drags on, we’re at something like 15 weeks now, I miss having a reason to wake up in the morning and crave a workout for my brain.”
Mr. Geoffrey said the really good parts of the weekend still aren’t available. “I’m not able to go clubbing or attend a comedy show, or do any of the other things that usually recharge my soul,” he said. “No Olympics, no Wimbledon, no festivals, no vacation, no Eurovision song contest.” With nothing official to look forward to, Mr. Geoffrey said, “I think there’s a tsunami of people like me just steeling themselves for their first breakdown, with no coping mechanisms.”
Others, with the means to do so. are simply integrating time on and off the clock.
Rob Parks, 35, a health care I.T. analyst who lives in Washington, D.C., said the best part of remote working is he can be anywhere, as long as he has his laptop. He’s planned a few trips from now until the fall, all to places with beaches where he can swim on his lunch break and enjoy a piña colada the second the workday ends and he closes his laptop.
The fact that he doesn’t have to take vacation days, and he can stay at these places as long as he wants, whether it’s a weekday or weekend, makes him giddy.
“I’m down at Virginia Beach until Friday,” he said. “I might stay until Sunday. Or longer. I just don’t know.”
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