I’m most domestic when I’m post-international

Coming home from the other side of the Atlantic, as I did once again Friday, reliably drop-kicks me into the “do not operate heavy machinery” zone of fatigue. No matter how much sleep I might get over a long day in a pressurized metal tube over the ocean, no matter how poorly I felt like I adjusted to my trip’s destination time zone, 6 p.m. on the East Coast remains 11 p.m., midnight or 1 a.m. where my journey had started somewhere in Europe.

Close up of the dial on an LG washing machine show it set to run a load of laundry on the delicates setting.

But because I know of no better way to get myself back into my home time zone than to stay up until a normal bedtime, this light fugue state also primes me for housework. Chores like doing laundry, washing dishes, baking bread, cleaning countertops, tidying up spaces and taking out the trash or recycling share a few convenient virtues for this scenario: They don’t don’t require exceptional dexterity, any higher-level math, or prolonged concentration. These household tasks also help to keep my jet-lagged brain off social media and, most important, represent tasks that I’d neglected over previous days by being 4,000 miles or so out of place.

And since part of the point of this exercise in tired housework is to make those evening hours go by a little faster, I have to see it as not a bug but a feature that these chores often require an extra level of diligence. Case in point: Before dinner last night, I spent a good 10 minutes walking circles around the house to try to locate my passport, only to realize that it was right in my laptop bag.

Time-zone arbitrage

Spending the past five days in Barcelona, six hours ahead of the East Coast, has me thinking anew about the finer points of having different digits on your clock and those of editors and readers. 

World clockYes, jet lag sucked. I woke up Monday at 4:30 a.m. and then couldn’t get back to sleep, leading to a couple of naps in the press room. (A laptop does not make a good pillow.) But a day later, my eyelids no longer felt like they weighed 200 pounds, and I realized again that the time-zone gap can also be my friend.

Specifically, it turns the morning into—not an accountability-free zone, but at least a self-directed time, thanks to almost nobody in a position to direct my coverage being awake. Then it allows my copy to arrive early in an editor’s day for a change. If my editor is based in the Bay Area, I look even more prompt: The story sent at 5 p.m. arrives at 9 a.m.

At some point, this equation will flip and I’ll have an evening upended when an editor decides my copy needs another run through the typewriter. But so far, the worst that’s happened is me turning into that annoying guy who answers e-mails on his phone during dinner.

Social media also highlights that temporal shift: Twitter and Facebook look a lot quieter than usual until lunchtime, to the point where I question the wisdom of tweeting out observations that will get lost in the timelines of most of my usual audience. But then I  have my phone pinging with notifications until I go to sleep myself.

Back at home, the three-hour gap between the East and West Coast should also benefit me when dealing with editors there. But it’s too easy to waste that advantage until it’s 6 p.m. here and I have a different deadline looming in my own time zone: cooking dinner.

Flying to the West Coast, meanwhile, permits jet lag to work for me: On the first couple of days, I usually snap awake not much later than 5 a.m., and I am never more productive than in those hours before I finally get breakfast. And if the event I’m covering won’t have people committing news after lunch—for example, Google I/O keynotes usually start at 9 a.m. and run until about noon—my workday will also end earlier than usual.

But then I also have to deal with the 7-9 p.m. keynote that opens each CES. Not only does it throw a wrench in my scheduling machinery, it ensures I can’t eat until a time that feels more like 11 p.m. At least I don’t have to write stories about those things anymore.