Viral Time Woes

Remember two weeks ago, when you were saying things like?

“If only my life wasn’t so scheduled!”
“I’m tired of being chained to the office.”
“I wish I had more freedom with my time.”

And now?

“Ruh-roh. I shoulda been careful what I wished for.”


Time autonomy and flexibility are good things to long for—research says having more agency over our tasks and priorities increases our satisfaction and lowers the likelihood of burnout. In other words, getting to choose what we do and when we do it can be a really good thing.

But—if we’re not used to a more unscheduled work day, it can scare us into unproductive procrastination or wheel spinning.

In the office, it’s your cue to get cracking on your work when Florence passes your desk for her morning bathroom visit. Or, you know to hurry up and get your report done before Chatty Chad comes over after lunch to process all his thoughts out loud while hovering over your desk.

Being meaningfully productive in our current Covid-19 reality (when you might have more sovereignty over your schedule) is a skill you’ll need develop. Be kind with yourself as you strengthen this new muscle.

1. You gotta have a plan. The structure of your days at the office is kind of like a riverbank that directs your workflow. But if you’re home without co-workers and meetings to guide and pace your actions, your productivity might stagnate—more like a mud puddle than a river. In business psychology, there’s this theory called the planning fallacywhich basically says, without a plan to achieve our goals, we tend to be overly optimistic about how much time it will take to get stuff done, which stresses us out and affects the quality of our work.

2. Map it out. Do a brain dump. Write down everything you’d like to get done this week. Next, take your brain-dump list and plug in each task to a time block on your calendar or onto a daily To Do list. Processing your brain-dump list into actionable places on your calendar and daily task list makes it more likely you’ll get ‘er done.

3. Right Size Your Time Blocks. Most of us can work in windows from 20 to 90 minutes before we start seeing diminishing returns. I usually suggest prioritizing the important stuff in 20- to 45-minute blocks early in the day. Turn off your alerts so you can be undistracted and focused during your time blocks.

Finally, take some time at the end of every day to map out your time blocks and To Do lists for the next day.

The good news? If you feel like you’re getting more done in your day without the full office environment you’re used to, you’re right. One study showed about 65 percent of office workers’ days was wasted on busywork. When you don’t have to look busy for anyone else, you just get to be meaningfully productive.

Here’s to getting more work done in less time.

Jill Farmer is a Missouri-based time and stress management master coach. She’s the author of one bestselling book and is using the above advice to work on her second.

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