Why setting work hours at home helps this gender rights advocate

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PR director and gender rights advocate Janlee Dungca shares her caffeine-free morning routine, her favorite way to get distracted, and why kindness is key to surviving the pandemic. Photo courtesy of JANLEE DUNGCA

Rituals is an interview series which highlights the different ways of boosting productivity.

Rizal (CNN Philippines Life) — Screens have become the new way of life. Many of us are forced to continue school, work, and maintain personal relationships through the comfort of a computer or phone screen. It’s no secret that hours-long Zoom meetings and countless “Can you hear me?” call-outs will eventually feel exhausting — imagine if communicating with people is, in fact, the very work that you do.

For public relations (PR) practitioner and gender rights advocate Janlee Dungca, being limited to video calls has had its challenges. “It’s draining actually,” she says. “I realized after 2-3 months working in this [virtual] set-up that it’s more draining talking to people online. There’s no physical interaction, and you can easily be misconstrued. That’s the challenge, really, how to better bring your message across now that it’s all online.”

Dungca is the PR director of Castro Communications, a local PR agency for a number of retail and lifestyle brands, including Mondelez International (which handles Toblerone and Cadbury, among others) and Instax Fujifilm. Castro Communications is also known for its gender-inclusive work environment, as they actively hire members of the LGBT community. It’s something that’s close to Dungca’s heart, as she is a gender rights advocate and volunteer for Love Yourself, a non-profit organization that pushes for HIV-AIDS awareness.

While Dungca herself admits that the work poses new challenges, thanks to the pandemic, she prioritizes self-compassion as a way to keep her head above water. “[Now] there’s a lot of telling myself, ‘You’re doing okay, you’re doing well.’ Just a daily reminder to myself that I’m fine.”

In this interview, the PR director and gender rights advocate shares her caffeine-free morning routine, her favorite way to get distracted, and why kindness is key to surviving the pandemic.

What’s the first thing you do each morning? How does that affect the rest of your day?

Each morning, as much as I want to not check my phone, it’s really an instinct. When I click stop [on my phone alarm], I automatically scroll. But I try to minimize it. I don’t want to start my day looking at Facebook and Instagram, because it’s too much distraction early in the morning. What I do, siguro I look at my notifications like some emails. I won’t click the emails, I won’t click the messages, but I’ll just see who emailed or messaged me while I was sleeping. So if there’s an emergency I could respond right away. Other than that, I would just leave the messages. Then I would do some stretching… maybe a three-minute stretch just to wake up my senses.

I don’t drink coffee. I love lemon, so I have lemon water in the morning. I squeeze half a lemon in my tumbler and put warm water in it. I drink that in the morning instead of coffee. After that I drink green tea with apple cider vinegar. That’s my replacement to coffee. I start working at around 10 a.m.

What time of day do you feel most productive?

Morning, around 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., because my mind just works so much better during the day. Around 5 p.m., I’m slowing down already. I think sunlight [has something to do with it] also. My window is east-facing, so in the morning it’s super bright, although I have curtains naman. The sunlight, I don’t know, maybe energizes me and helps me work. When it gets dimmer and dimmer as the day passes, I’m also losing focus and energy.

What do you enjoy most about your job, and what do you find most challenging about it?

The thing I enjoy most is also the thing that’s most challenging, (Laughs) which is working with a diverse set of individuals or groups. Both in PR and in my activism, actually. You know, I encounter so many different personalities — there are super nice people, and there are… Can I say bitches? (Laughs) There are not people who are not so nice. It challenges me, but I like the challenge, because I learn from the challenges. Whenever I encounter a difficult person, I tell myself, okay, you can work around this person. I embrace it. I embrace the challenge. I see it as a chance for me to grow. Also for me in my activism, I tell everyone that my most basic principle is kindness. There is a potential ally in every person I meet.

I guess I also apply that at work. Even if someone is difficult to deal with, I try to find how we can mesh better. They work hand-in-hand, actually, my PR work and my activism. They relate so much to each other kasi. PR is all about dealing with people, and being an advocate, I also deal with people. Both are challenging, but it’s also the most rewarding, because it helps me grow.

Your work is mainly communications, with COVID-19 changing how we communicate, is there a different way to apply your principles in your PR and activism work?

In the beginning of the ECQ, I had to slow down, and I liked that because I was able to take a break, to pause, and to focus on myself a little more. Now that we’re trying to navigate the new normal, I think it’s a challenge that we are not able to talk to each other in person. It’s a digital barrier. Sometimes, it’s hard to just talk via video or audio. For me, I prefer actually talking in person. I’m a people person, and I get energy from other people. Other people are an extension of myself.

How do you deal with distractions?

Actually, distractions help me unwind and take my mind off work and my activism also. Sometimes, it gets too intense. Dangerous siya to our mental health. Netflix is one but lately, [I haven't been] watching any shows. There’s definitely fatigue in too much watching shows. Right now, I watch YouTube videos, mga vlogs. (Laughs) Parang nakikita mo yung buhay nila, now in this pandemic.

I also like doing squats towards the end of the day. After I work I do the squats, para lang to tell myself, okay after this, you rest na. There’s also a lot of online shopping. (Laughs) Shopping is coping! May nakita akong meme, “Pag nakakita ka nang notification na your order is being delivered, parang ‘thank you!’” Ako nga medyo weird, kasi binibili ko mga damit di naman ako lumalabas. Sometimes, I dress up here, even when I’m alone. For me, the mentality I developed to help me cope is to be hopeful post-pandemic. All these clothes I’m buying, I’m gonna wear them after this [quarantine]. Also I like doing breathing exercises when I’m feeling too anxious already, I stop.

Are you always able to accomplish this ritual? What do you do if you aren't able to do it?

I never think about this, but now that you’re asking me… there was one time when I ran out of apple cider vinegar, and I got annoyed. I guess there’s a disruption in my routine, and it impacts the way the rest of the day would go. But it depends on how big the disruption is. I try to manage it. For example when I ran out of apple cider vinegar, I just drank green tea and some more lemon in it. I try to find work around the situation.

This early morning routine helps me set myself up for the rest of the day. Especially now [that] we’re all working from home. It’s super important that I have an established routine. Before the routine is to go to the office, but now there’s no demarcation between staying home and working home. It’s helpful, and it helps me focus. It’s like a signal that I give my body like, “You do this, then you go to work.”

Would you recommend this ritual to other people?

Yes, definitely recommend it. Especially in the morning, if you’re a morning person, and you like to wake yourself up and set yourself up for a productive day of work. Set specific working hours, to tell your body to stop when it’s time to stop. Our tendency is to abuse ourselves now that we’re just staying home.

Are there any apps you use for productivity?

I use the Calm app for when I’m feeling anxious. It helps with the breathing. There’s music with the app also. And of course, Zalora and Zara. (Laughs)