Time management is one of the most common issues in the way of productivity under normal circumstances. But we are operating in strange times. Working from home automatically comes with its own additional time management challenges under regular circumstances. But we are all dealing with time management on top of the undeniably chaotic events that are unfolding due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“An important distinction between working remotely in this circumstance and remote work in general is that our remote work today is happening on a platform in an extreme state of uncertainty and anxiety. Now is the time to have compassion with each other,“ recommends Matt Martin, cofounder and CEO of Clockwise. In our interview he shared insights on how workers are adjusting to working from home. Clockwise has optimized calendars for thousands of workers at hundreds of companies (from Lyft to Asana to Slack), giving Matt unique insights on how people are spending their work time – including how much time is wasted on low-value tasks and non-work related things like reading the news and social media.
Some tips he had for all of us to consider to set us up for success during this unique time include:
Embrace that meetings are increasing. Over the past few weeks, he and his company had a bird’s eye view into how many of us have shifted our time management while moving into a full, work from home operating model. Within the first week of ‘shelter in place’ Clockwise saw a 12% increase, 1.5 hours per person, in meetings in their clients compared to just a week before. Without the ability to have the organic conversations that in-person offices allow, virtual meetings, whether impromptu or scheduled, will be the lifeblood of how people engage with one another.
Pay attention to fragmented time. Fragmented time occurs due to the small pockets of 15 to 30-minute blocks of time that exist between scheduled meetings. These can work well as breathing space if planned for intentionally. But most of us are very passive with our calendars. Clockwise saw a 17% increase in the amount of fragmented time per person per week (blocks of time less than 2 hours) and a 1.27-hour (8%) decrease in the amount of focus time per person per week (blocks of time longer than 2 hours).
People tend to schedule us for meetings based on what works for them and the open space they spot in our calendars. But that may leave you very little time to actually get work done and the fragmented time ends up sucked up in busy but unproductive activities. It’s important that you get intentional about the ratio of fragmented to focused time you allow in your schedule.
Hone your boundary setting skills. This will have to be done both with your work team and your home team. If you are sharing a living space with roommates, spouses, children or just a gang of hyper dogs, you will need to get structured about space and work hours. On the work side, discuss with your manager and team members what hours should be focused time and what needs to be available for meetings and impromptu calls.
Proactively manage your calendar. Instead of leaving your calendar as a blank open slate for others to populate, set your time up to support getting work done. Every Friday, spend time plotting chunks of focused time in advance for you to meet the demands of the projects or responsibilities you’re managing for the next two weeks. Treat the time as a locked meeting the same way you would if you were meeting others. Don’t tag it as tentative. You can always change the meeting if priorities are pushing for that time but you want to stick to holding it for focused work as much as possible.
Don’t be part of the problem. Jason Fried, author of the book, “Rework,” and co-founder and president of 37 Signals says, “These two staples of work life – meetings and managers – are actually the greatest causes of work not getting done at the office.” Well now we’re not in the office but are we still contributing to holding unnecessary or meaningless meetings?
It’s tough to balance how much is too much when it comes to meetings when managers have to consider the need to connect with their teams for morale reasons, to gauge engagement and productivity and to simply keep their teams updated. The best solution is to come up with a short list of meeting rules of engagement that everyone abides by. Work with the team as a whole to determine the best frequency and purpose of meetings to set everyone up for success.
Manage your work from home guilt. The popular issue that circulates when the topic of working remotely gets brought up is how will managers ensure employees aren’t abusing the system. In reality, most employees end up working way more hours than they did in the office.
It’s easy for someone to get caught up working from morning till night when already at home. At least in the office, there’s the element of needing to go home to get some sleep. The other side is the concern that we don’t know how to show up in a way that keeps us visible to the powers to be. Our guilt can drive us to work longer hours in hopes to show our usefulness. But that’s a recipe for burnout. Be sure to lay out clear office hours with your manager. Work to have the focus be on results vs. visible time on the computer.
Prioritize energy management. Being sensitive to one another’s energy helps us all work more effectively. Pay attention to when you are the most productive and focused. It may be the first few hours in the morning, when you’re fresh from a night’s sleep. Or it may be towards the afternoon when you start to get a sense of what really needs to get done. Work to schedule your calendar to align with those energy windows. Discuss how to coordinate those energy windows with the energy windows of the others on your team.
Be sure to consider what your family or personal obligations are at this time. Discuss what you can with your manager and team so everyone is able to support one another’s energy ups and downs during this time.
Lead with compassion. If you’re a manager, it’s easy to get obsessed on whether people are taking advantage of this time at home or actually working. As mentioned earlier, these are strange and stressful times. Now is the time to extend compassion, assumption of good intent and a culture of support. “Your employees are your best asset—whether they’re coming to work every day, working remotely, or unable to do their jobs,” says Miri Rodriguez, author of, “Brand Storytelling.” “Companies need to create a trusted space to acknowledge how team members may be feeling anxious or down during these times.”
Everyone is tackling this time with more than just work concerns. How you respect people’s need for time and privacy can make a huge impact on how everyone comes through all this and operates together on the other side.
In the end, time is one of our most valuable, if not most valuable, resource. To allow these circumstances to cause us to waste time or spend it on things that don’t matter will only add to the stress all the recent changes we’ve been thrust into. Time management has become more than just a tool for productivity, it’s now a way to create more meaning, stability and empowerment through all the chaos of change each of us face.