It’s 4:30 PM on a balmy Wednesday in July. I’m sitting on a blanket in the grass by the corner of 9th and York Street, listening to the soft whir of traffic and a buzz of happy people lined up in front of and behind me.
Those of you Denver people may know exactly what I’m doing. I’m camped out waiting for a Botanic Gardens concert (Mary Chapin Carpenter). I’m quite excited because I’ve never been so far up in line… we might actually face the stage tonight!
My husband sent me here by myself, ahead of the rest of the group, because in his words, “It doesn’t matter if you work at your desk or in line at the Botanic Gardens. So, why don’t you just go work there?” I agreed with him when I thought he had to work. He’s really only set up to work in his office, while I can arguably work just about anywhere. But then he went home early and still didn’t want to come to the Gardens. “What’s the point?” He said. “I’m just going to be sitting there bored because you’ll be working the entire time.” And, I couldn’t argue with that.
These days, I find myself working in my (parked) car, in Lyfts (till I get sick), on airplanes, standing in line to get on airplanes, etc. I used to have to plan what I could work on offline, but these days, I just tether my computer to my phone or use my connected iPad.
Look, I’ll take it any day, but there is one big obvious pitfall – I can always be working.
People write all the time about our constantly connected world and how hard this is on people. I believe some of this is self-inflicted. I know some people have demanding bosses and/or company cultures that expect responsiveness at all waking hours, but many people I know have some choice in how and when they work, and they still work way beyond the point of diminishing returns.
I do too, sometimes, but I have discovered a few disciplines that have helped me optimize the way I work in this “work anywhere, anytime” life I lead.
Periodic Time Tracking
While there’s no typical day or week for me, if I periodically track where I’m spending my time, and consider how it lines up to where I want to spend my time, it gives me some insights into changes I want to make. This helps with the overall work/life balance equation but also within the work equation. It makes me think about whether I’m spending enough time on the most strategic things and wasting too much time on the less important ones. Time tracking may sound super uptight to some of you, but you don’t have to do it all the time. Just try it for a week or two and see what you find! Once you discover something, you can work to change it. For instance, I discovered I was losing a ton of time driving, and now that I listen to audiobooks I feel like that time is way more productive or relaxing.
What’s Next Pauses
When I’m working remotely, I can go for hours without stopping, sometimes completely losing track of time. I also lose momentum and find myself getting sucked into the latest distraction. These days, I really try to shut my brain down for a minute when switch tasking and ask myself a couple questions. Do I want to keep working right now? Is this the most important thing I can do? How long do I want to spend on this? And then I take a break! I do something to interrupt myself, ideally something brainless and active like changing the laundry or watering the plants. Once I re-engage, I’ll think about how long I want to spend on what’s next and sometimes even set a timer.
“Off the Grid” Time
I’m great at taking “off the grid” time when I’m on vacation, but I don’t do this enough during the normal work week. And it’s certainly a challenge, especially when working remotely, because people need to be able to reach you and don’t always know when you are working. But, I find that when I wake up and don’t immediately check my email, and instead start right into a thoughtful project, my mind is so much clearer and more productive. I’ve also found that when I allow myself to disconnect in the evenings I feel much more refreshed and ready to work again in the mornings. So, I’ve decided to challenge myself to try and find more time without electronics, especially early morning and late night. That way I can be available to those I work with during the heart of the work day, but still reap the productive and de-stressing benefits of unplugging each day.
I’m sure these disciplines are still useful for people who go to a corporate office every day, but when I look at the difference between me and my husband, he is much clearer about when he’s working and when he’s not. A corporate office tends to be more readily conducive to creating an environment where “work time” is just that, work time, while a home office can make it difficult to see the lines. But what I’ve realized is that, with some thought, there are other ways to create those clear divisions, even without an office.
Update: We did end up getting to sit facing the stage – and Mary Chapin Carpenter was amazing!