These days I mostly spend five days a week sat at my desk. Typing away frantically or attending on-screen meetings. This is a big change to how things used to be for me. On a typical week, I might have travelled into London for face-to-face meetings a couple of days a week. Perhaps on another day I would have driven somewhere else for a meeting, a conference speech, or the delivery of training, for example. The time in between might have included a little bit of catching up with emails and calls from home. That would leave about one or two days a week to spend in the office. That was important and focused time to prepare, wrap up, and connect with colleagues.
With almost all face-to-face delivery still on pause, travel restrictions, our commitment to helping our organisations and colleagues work through these difficulties, and our growing love affair with Zoom and Teams, there is a whole new routine. And it has many benefits, but like anything good, there is a downside as well. And that includes a lack of variety, and real feeling of each day being almost the same – just like groundhog day. It starts and ends with the same commute, and each day is filled with the same faces (lovely as they are), most of whom are appearing one-dimensionally online. Work patterns and styles have changed and have pushed many of us into new ways of working, some of us are out of our comfort zones and away from our preferences.
Strangely, life seems slower and faster in equal measure. I am no longer driving on the motorway or travelling on the superfast train, my 10-minute walk to work is contemplative and leisurely. It is sometimes social if I am lucky enough to bump into a friend, or I can multi-task by shopping, posting a letter or whatever. I will no doubt look back with fondness at this time, so I must take the time to value it now. The office is emptier and quieter, our absence is much more keenly felt in a reduced team, and so being present has grown a bigger value. Time stretches generously, and it is much more likely I get to complete my job list for the day, for the week for that matter, with greater ease than before.
Somethings have become faster though. I can leave a monthly contract meeting (that previously would have been held in London and included three hours travel and some other downtime), and instantly, like a time traveller, like Marty McFly even, I am back at my desk, in my office, in my home town, and only 10-minutes from home. That sounds super-efficient, doesn’t it? What a wonderful opportunity to do more! That’s the familiar (and disappointing) instinct of the dullest of managers. But wait, where is my recovery time, the time to contemplate what just happened, the reflection on thoughts, the time spent with imaginative ideas, all done whilst I stared out of the train window or when sat in traffic? All of which are fuel for innovation, creativity and joy.
In response, I have learned to slow down, to be my own architect of my day – much more than before. I have built in different breaks, conscious reflection time, physical movement, and a realistic and contemporary approach to workload design and delivery. I have avoided the temptation to max out my week, but I have taken advantage of the additional time I have available. That time needs to be repurposed in the plan for ‘me’. As a result, I have never written so much, and so creatively, which has been delightful, I have rarely had to reschedule sessions at the gym, managing to make it at least twice a week, and I have felt ahead at work in many ways, opening up much more time for planning and strategy and deliberate direction-setting. I look forward to all that growing and developing more in 2022, and my resisting any temptation (or dull management instruction) to revert to old habits later. I am going to slow down, to do more. To be more tortoise and less hare.