Working with time and not for it

My question this month is ‘how do you spend your day?’ As the UK enters another stage of loosened lockdown I appreciate that there will be a differentiation between a normal day (pre) and a new normal (the past couple of months), however the question remains pertinent.

For all the talk of ‘things being different’ once this period comes to an end, the likelihood is that soon enough we’ll all be rushing back to our default settings, albeit with added social distancing and a lot more PPE in our everyday lives. However, as challenging as lockdown is, many of us have noted a few home truths about how we conduct our working lives.

Perhaps the most significant for many is the way the lockdown has played with our sense of time and how we interacted with it. I have not worn my watch for nearly three months now.  I also wonder how I ever got any work done at all with everything else that is consuming my time.

Is There Too Much Emphasis on Time Management?

We talk incessantly about the need for better time management but what does this actually mean? Far too often we assess productivity in terms of how much time we’ve spent on a task even though we secretly know this is not the case – for example sometimes I will spend hours writing an article, while at other times it will practically write itself!

We all know what it’s like to have one of those days when everything is achievable and one of those days when we’ve achieved literally just one more thing than we would have if we’d have stayed in bed. If we learned to listen to our inner selves a bit more and cherry picked the time to focus on tasks in hand, we’d all be far more productive. The problem with that of course is that in normal working life so many timings (and deadlines) are fixed.

Focus Lessons From Lockdown

This is the interesting thing about lockdown. It has produced a state in which we have had to change our mindsets as we grapple with our professional responsibilities while also having to accommodate our personal ones. The fact that we are all in the same boat, with many having to carve out a workable home office space, is a great leveller and a positive experience. We dip into ‘time pockets’ and get what we can do done, but lockdown restrictions have removed much of the guilt which comes from pegging productivity to time spent in its pursuit.

It is in this environment that many of us have also found a new resourcefulness.  We have learned to focus more on the task in hand, knowing that, at any moment we may be required to shift that attention to deal with the latest domestic crisis – a jam-related spillage on the sofa, the sudden and apocalyptic loss of wifi, the dog sizing up the delivery driver –  and then come back to it. As a result some of us have caught a glimpse of that mythical state of nirvana known as ‘work smarter not harder’, hitherto confined to the world of internet memes.

In terms of time management, with the time saved from not having to rush for a train, a sandwich to snatch, an extra meeting to squeeze in or a to do list item to be ticked, we have found our brains working in a different way and adapting to the challenge of needing to focus on one task at a time. The domestic/work mix has meant that many of us have ended up shifting our focus from professional to personal and back again several times a day. To start with it was tough but as time went on it is surprising how quickly we adapted.

So here’s a suggestion. As we slowly emerge from lockdown, let’s hold on to some of those experiences – the different way of doing things with our work/life balance, the more targeted focus, the way we worked more with time and not for it. While we all hope we won’t be repeating the lockdown experience again, there are lessons we can all take away from it.