Work. Monday to Friday. Mostly within the brackets set out in the employee manual under “Office hours”. The odd overrun into the late evenings or even a weekend or two. Weekends. Sleeping later, restocking of home supplies, visiting of parents and assorted relatives, movies, brunches, vegetating on the couch, scurrying around malls swiping plastic cards. Not necessarily in that order. Vacation. Couple of times a year, ok once a year. planned well in advance with lots of travel website surfing. Every couple of months, a new acquisition from a retail distribution channel. Technological, decorative, often shrink-wrapped, seldom a need.
How much of our schedule is regimented by convention? In this day and age of laptops, mobile internet access cards and ‘flexi-times’ how many of us manage our own schedules according to what makes sense versus what’s ‘conventional wisdom’? If we exclude blue-collar jobs or those involving responding in real-time (Customer service reps, Emergency room doctors), most jobs have very little to do with number of hours spent and even less with a specific set of them.
Just like one of those internet memes asks “how is that everyday’s news fits neatly into the same-sized newspaper”. How does our workload fit neatly into 10-12 hour workdays, everyday?
No, this post is not about time management, atleast not in the sense of maintaining daily planners and ‘eliminating distractions’ to be more productive.
It is about how most of us willingly write off a chunk of our day as “work hours” and then set about filling that time and then some, performing a variety of tasks from meeting deadlines to responding to email. Basically, juggling a combination of value-add activities with purely administrative tasks to rush through our day. I’ve seen multiple sets of colleagues across organisations slow down in the middle of the day and plod through activities, taking an hour when 15 mins would do, taking languid coffee breaks, then getting back to a frenetic pace towards the end of the day.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big proponent of goofing off, I just have a problem with doing it on my employer’s terms; constrained to the office premises with the limited menu of aimless (and regulated) internet surfing and emailing.
This straitjacketed view seems to apply to what we call our “leisure” time as well. Friday nights, or maybe Thursday if you’re feeling particularly adventurous. We’re thankful for the privilege of spending between 2 and 3 hours with friends. Time barely enough to just to share life updates before its time to bundle into your respective cars to head home. Rinse. Repeat every 3-4 weeks. Now compare these interactions with the no-time-barred conversations that happened when in college over the solitary bottle of domestic booze and often short-in-supply accompaniments where everything from ‘the purpose of life’ to bodily functions were fair game for discussion. Not quite in the same league are they?
What if we actively monitor everything that calls for our time? Most of our jobs would afford us atleast week-long views of our workloads (note, not schedules) to be able to decide to cram in some extra hours when highly productive and to complete disengage when not so much. Maybe instead of taking a couple of extra-long nicotine/caffeine breaks, we just take off when the traffic isn’t ungodly and enjoy (not squeeze in) a game of squash or a few reps at the gym. Maybe even take off at 3pm without feeling the need for a dying relative to justify it, and meet the wife for a movie and dinner, or take parents out for one, or meet friends without traffic and time constraints, or even just go home, crack open a beer and chill to some Pink Floyd.
What if we disengage the autopilot?