There’s no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic disrupted our routines — but in doing so, it’s also forced us to rethink our relationship with time in meaningful ways. As Dean Kissick writes in a recent New York Times op-ed, the opportunity lies in being able to “see time afresh — as something we really don’t have enough of, as something precious precisely because it’s ephemeral.”
We asked our Thrive community to share the unexpected lessons they’ve learned about time during the pandemic, and about the strategies they’re using to manage their time better. Which of these will you implement as we move forward?
Unitask to get more done
“I’ve learned during this time to avoid multitasking, which is an insidious form of self-interruption. You might think that you are saving time and achieving more by jumping between activities. Switching focus between different tasks drains energy from your working memory which is the information held in your mind while deciding what to do. So, what we think of as multitasking is just toggling between one thing and another, and it ruins your focus and depletes your energy. A smarter way to work is to purposely focus on one task at a time with regular planned breaks. You’ll be amazed at how much more you can accomplish.”
—Beverly Landais, executive coach, Tunbridge Wells, UK
Think quality or quantity
“Since the pandemic started, I’ve had to share my working hours with my three-year-old daughter. Initially, I was stressed at the thought of the constant interruptions. But then something magical happened: I realized that it’s not about how much time I spend on a given task or project, but how much value I’m getting out of it. This helped me tremendously in prioritizing what brings me the most value, and as a result, I can now do more than I used to do.”
—Francesco Onorato, business development, Phoenix, AZ
“Time-blocking has become my ultimate friend during quarantine. I used to save writing and blogging for the end of the day or when I had ‘free time’ and then, of course, it didn’t happen. Now, I time-block an hour every other day in the morning in my planner and when that time comes, I immediately shift gears and start writing. I’m more alert in the morning, and knowing I only have an hour to dedicate to writing keeps me focused. I’ve become more prolific in my writing, and I will definitely keep this habit post-quarantine.”
—Tara Bethell, founder and CEO, Phoenix, AZ
Be more mindful of screen time
“I used to lose a lot of my time to my smartphone. I would check my emails and scroll social media whenever I had a few minutes between meetings or while I was in line at a store. During this time, I’ve realized all those small moments add up quite a bit throughout the day. I’ve decided to become more purposeful with how I spend the smaller slots of time during the day, so they aren’t lost by automatically catering to notifications and feeds. One minute is sometimes all you need to reflect on something that has been on your mind, to meditate, or to do a quick breathing exercise. Or perhaps shutting off from work and looking at a funny meme your friend shared is exactly what you need at the time. You will never know unless you become conscious of how you’re spending your time!”
—Jon Vassallo, director of partnerships and general manager, Toronto, ON
Implement the “Four C’s”
“With huge fluxes in both my energy and motivation during this time, it suddenly feels like every task takes longer to accomplish. Therefore, I’ve recently enhanced my usual to-do list with the ‘Four C’s’: Create, Contribute, Collaborate, and Consume. Each day, I make sure I complete one creative task, find one place where I can contribute, stay connected in a socially distanced world, and consume one podcast, article, or event that will elevate my work. It keeps me going and growing.”
—Stacy Cassio, CEO, Charlotte, NC
Determine where you can’t spend your time
“The best time management tool I have adopted is planning my week in advance — and in order to do that, I first plan out where my time cannot go. I take my calendar and start by including everyone else’s schedule that I’ll need to consider. This includes my kid’s school lessons, homework, activities and meetings. This gives me a realistic snapshot of the upcoming week so I can plan accordingly and manage the expectations of myself more realistically. By managing my time in this way, I have cultivated a mindset of time abundance, which doesn’t mean I have unlimited time, but rather that there is sufficient time to accomplish what I need to. I can visually see where the gaps are, so when I get interrupted during the day by unexpected disruptions, I can take a deep breath and know there are gaps in the day or later that week where my work can fit into.”
—Lori Milner, author and trainer, Johannesburg, South Africa
Prioritize what brings you joy
“I used to prioritize my time based on what needed to be done instead of what brought me most joy and peace. When you’re constantly chasing the hands on the clock and trying to complete tasks, you stop experiencing life and you just go through the motions instead. Now, with the forced pause, I’ve started to value my time and how I utilize it. I appreciate how much more fulfilling my days can be if I prioritize activities and habits that generate joy, instead of ticking tasks off to-do lists. I have become a lot more patient as a result, and I’m also more focused and more present.”
—Marjan Oloumi, human resources, Sydney, Australia
Ditch the autopilot
“Before this great pause, I was on autopilot. I was not only plowing through work, but I was using personal time to do things I didn’t really want to do. I used to pride myself on working 12-hour days like some warped badge of honor. As I toiled away, I did not realize how much I was losing. These last few months have taught me that I have taken time for granted. As a result, I am now selective about how I spend my time, both personally and professionally. In April, I drove to Maine to assist a friend in need. I stayed at a nearby cottage alone, without TV or wi-fi, and I suddenly became acutely aware of time. Those four days of semi-solitude were a gift, and now, my time management is defined as choosing wisely. Going forward, managing my time means being selective, respectful, and happy when allocating precious minutes.”
—J.Kearney, compliance manager, Bedford, MA
Schedule as a family
“As a time management coach, I think about time all the time. But what COVID-19 has taught me is how to be more inclusive in my time management strategies in terms of thinking about not only what works for me, but what works for my family. We’ve switched up bedtimes and start times [for the workday], and we’ve realized that the most crucial key to our success is having a visible schedule for each member of the family, kids included, so that everyone knows what everyone else is doing and when. That way, we don’t interrupt each other during important meetings or classes and we avoid the havoc that interruptions cause on our workflows.”
—Alexis Haselberger, time management and productivity coach, San Francisco, CA
Do you have a tip that’s helped improve your time management skills during this time? Share it with us in the comments!
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