The Time of Our Lives: Adjusting Our Habits in a WFH World

May 22, 2020

As many of us enter Month Three of our collective lockdown, now is a great moment to reflect on some of the habits we’ve made—or remade—along the way. While we may have started this process under the impression that the change would be temporary, it’s clear that some degree of working from home is the way of the future. By adjusting our improvised, interim solutions into something more sustainable, we can make our own lives easier and feel more productive in the process.

One thing that I’ve been regularly revisiting is my approach to time management. Luckily, at Ketchum we’ve enjoyed a long-standing culture of flexibility that’s allowed us to make the shift to a fully remote work force more easily. But as a learning professional, I know there’s always more to learn, and so I’ve used my access to great research and great colleagues to develop a list of time management tools that I consistently come back to, adjusting for my own personal preferences and daily needs. Here’s what works best for me:

Focus on the most impactful and important, not just the urgent

The always-on atmosphere of pandemic life, combined with the very real economic anxiety that comes with it, can make every request feel like a top priority. But before jumping right into the latest to-do item, take a moment to consider the famous four D’s of time management:

  1. Do it: If it can be done quickly, and only you can do it, then get it done.
  2. Delete it: If it’s not important, does it really need to be done?
  3. Defer it: Some things resolve themselves when delayed for a time.
  4. Delegate it: Can someone else do it instead?

Jumping off from this, I’d like to propose a fifth D for these stressful times: Deep Breath. If you’re overwhelmed, pause and come back to it in 15 minutes before making a decision. We must remember to put our oxygen masks on first, before we help others. Don’t let the decision linger indefinitely, but take the time you need to get it right.

Schedules aren’t just for meetings

Identify the times of day when you are most productive and block them out for important tasks. Always build in more time than you think you’ll need—let’s face it, there are numerous distractions throughout the day, and most things take longer than you expect. And don’t confine this simply to work tasks, but schedule meaningful personal breaks to avoid burnout: meals, stretches, walks. Sometimes, events like this are best shared with others—at Ketchum, we’ve set aside time for numerous virtual stretching sessions, guided meditations, dance parties and more, from the team level all the way to global events.

Minimize distractions

Try working in sprints to overcome distractions. The Pomodoro Technique is a simple time management method that entails working in chunks of uninterrupted time for a specific task and taking small breaks in between. These scheduled sprints increase your productivity because you’re working faster, with fewer distractions, in order to move on to the next task or take your well-deserved break.

Time management is a collaborative effort

We’re all in this together. We always pitch in when we have extra capacity and we use others’ time efficiently and effectively. For example, if you’ve scheduled a 30-minute meeting, stick to the agenda and aim for 25 minutes. This gift of time allows attendees to transition to their next meeting or scheduled task. Another approach is to enlist your colleagues to vary the day from the monotony of video calls, by suggesting a walking meeting so you can have a conversation while getting some fresh air—even simply switching to a simple phone call for one meeting can help mitigate video burnout.

It’s never too late to start fresh, so if you’re still struggling to better manage your energy and build your resilience, these tips might help. I’m sure you have more of your own; if you have ideas to share, or if you’d like to know more about how Ketchum can help your organizational culture bridge into the new normal, I’d love to hear from you.

Rob is a learning and talent development leader with over 20 years of experience delivering leadership, management and professional skills training programs to all levels of staff. He works with both individuals and teams as a coach and facilitator. He has significant experience in the curriculum development and delivery of both live and virtual programs. Prior to joining Ketchum, Rob led learning and development at Scholastic, Fareportal and CMG. He was also the Executive Director of the Executive Education program at Columbia Business School. His experience as a manager of both people and projects informs all his programs. Rob holds an MBA in Organizational Development from Southern Methodist University and completed an MA in Non-Profit Management while at SMU. He received his BA from the University of Michigan.