Talk About It
From the Desk of an Architect: Lorena Toffer, AIA
Lorena Toffer, AIA, shares her home office space and a few poignant words on finding a balance in our lives during these unprecedented times in this week's "From the Desk of an Architect."
What is your favorite/most meaningful object at your workspace?
I’ve taken my time setting up this art/design studio and now home office and filling it with some of my most cherished pieces. It would be between the view out of two 80-ish year old-gorgeous oak trees on the front lawn, the songs from my canaries, or any of the mementos I’ve kept from trips to Oaxaca, Mexico and Italy, which include some artwork handmade by my mom. Also, the frame wall behind my desk with my A&M diploma and important recognitions I’ve received throughout my career, they are great reminders of how far I’ve come and the effort it took to be where I am today.
What are your tips for staying productive while working from home?
As much as possible, stick to a routine. It starts by having a healthy breakfast to get me going - it’s a luxury these days since the kitchen is right there. Also, to have a set of priority items or must do's for the day - I keep these to 3 or 4 max, typically written down the day before. If I at least take care of those, then I know my work day has been productive. This not only includes my duties as an architect but also as an adjunct professor at UTA CAPPA, where being productive also includes setting a schedule for reviewing my students work and having one-on-one review sessions via Zoom.
How are you staying connected to your team? To your clients?
Mostly through phone, email and online meetings, probably more often than before. This has been particularly meaningful for my students at UTA, to keep a more personal and human connection, continuing a sense of community with them is important as we all go through this challenging time together.
What’s your biggest concern about working remotely?
My biggest concerns are not being there physically for my team, for my students, we cannot deny that being face to face makes such a difference. The quality of communication and interpersonal connections is being diluted at the moment. My other concern has to do with having the TV just a few feet away. The constant bombarding of the media took its toll on my emotional health during the first weeks of the stay at home order, and I’ve learned from that in order to stay sane and in order to be present at work and at school. I keep “news time” to a minimum.
What would be on your playlist of top 5 go-to songs for work? Have a favorite Spotify playlist for work?
In order to keep myself grounded, I’ve been listening to the work of Snatam Kaur. Not only does it help me to focus, it works as meditation too. When I’m in a more upbeat mood I’ll listen to anything by Moenia, Soda Stereo or Diego Torres.
How do you unwind after working from home?
I’m very fortunate to have a raised-bed spice and veggie garden in my backyard, and during lunch I’ll go out and pick a few spices for whatever I’m preparing for lunch and dinner. If the weather is nice, me and the dogs will take a sunbath. Also, every two Fridays the faculty at UTA CAPPA will gather for happy hour with the dean via zoom and that really does the trick. Nothing like enjoying a glass of my favorite Messina Hof wine over Zoom!
How are you staying active?
For the most part my dogs help me take care of that, and we go for short walks around our neighborhood. There is also something about cleaning the house - it can be a full workout!
Any tips for maintaining balance and separating work from home-life?
I strongly believe that it starts by being fully aware that we are living through a moment in history, and that this is no vacation. As much as we are trying to continue business or education and life in general from home, this is not a normal scenario and everyone was thrusted into it. We didn’t choose for this to occur. Therefore, we need to recognize that there is no balance, and that this is OK. It is ok for some days to be very productive, full of high energy and optimism. It is also ok for some days to be not productive at all and allow ourselves to process feelings of worry, stress, even grief. I would say, as much as you can, practice self-care, practice self-love. For me this means daily video chats with my parents and siblings in Mexico City, it means cooking and baking. I find my balance there.