One of my guilty pleasures is disaster movies – the more ridiculous the better. There’s a quote in the volcano movie Dante’s Peak, when the sole female member of the geological survey team, Nancy, voices what we the viewers already know:

Greg: “We’ve had plenty of minor eruptions. Maybe we’re over the hump.”

Stan: “Yeah, I hope.”

Nancy: “Get real, Beavis. She’s just clearing her throat. She hasn’t even started to sing yet.”

What Nancy says pretty much sums up what I believe is beginning to happen in the world of work.

Photo by Drif Riadh on Unsplash

We haven’t even started to sing yet

I founded One of many® in 2014 not just to train, coach and support women to have impact without burnout, I also believed that the women in our community would form the vanguard of a paradigm shift that would benefit all of us. By leading differently, with compassion, connection and collaboration, we would stop workplaces being breeding grounds for burnout. We would widen our talent pools and bring in new ideas and solutions to the huge challenges we collectively face. We would feel comfortable bringing our whole human self to work.

I always knew this was a bold vision, but I believe passionately that if you’re not doing something that will make the world better, more sustainable, then it just doesn’t have longevity. However, I was prepared for the long haul, and I never for a second imagined that a global pandemic would crack open the established expectations and demands of the workplace, in the way it has.

A trickle to a flood

I let out the biggest whoop when I heard that founder and CEO of the dating app, Bumble, Whitney Wolfe Herd, had not only told her staff to take time off after a year that had left them exhausted and close to burnout, she had shut all of Bumble’s offices and sent her staff home for the week. A move that is surely unprecedented in corporate America.

Another whoop greeted the news that the food giant Kelloggs and global consulting firm PWC were asking their staff to take Friday afternoons off during the summer. Over in New Zealand, Unilever are midway through a yearlong trial of a four day week, while the findings of a four year study in Iceland found that a shorter working week improved worker wellbeing “dramatically”, and productivity and services stayed the same or improved across the majority of workplaces.

Deloitte and UK high street retailer John Lewis, have said their office based staff can now decide for themselves where they work. Even in Japan – where overworking has been a badge of honour –  the government recently proposed a four-day work week. 

While all of these examples suggest we’re approaching a tipping point in work culture, for many of us a four day work week is still a long way off. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t find a different way of working.

Time to banish busy

The number one mistake that most women make in the interest of time management is aiming to be able to do more in the hours they have.  You see, productivity starts with this assumption that we’re almost like machines – we can be relied upon to produce a certain amount of “output” each day. It’s looking at what we produce as though it can be controlled in a linear fashion. But we’re not machines, and that’s why I avoid thinking about productivity altogether.

I prefer for us, especially as women, to focus not on productivity, but on becoming more fruitful. “Producing an abundant growth, as of fruit”, that’s the definition. We need to develop a relationship with ourselves, our bodies and our energy levels so that we can know when to expect fruit from ourselves and when we need to regenerate, replenish.

Our programme ‘From Frantic to Fruitful’ is one way to get started when it comes to implementing this missing piece of the time management puzzle and creating more time in your week – even if your diary’s full.

Speaking of frantic, I want to end back where I started, at Dante’s Peak. Our heroine Rachel, single working parent and town mayor, ruefully declares at one point “fun is what you have when you don’t have two children, a business, and a town to run.”

Well Rachel, hold onto your hat, because the ground is moving again, and this time it’s not a volcano.