Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Work-From-Home Field Guide to Time

Time is like snow. It's all made of the same stuff - minutes for time, or water in the snow case - but it takes so many different forms. Did you know there was a Field Guide to Snowflakes? (over 35 different kinds!) I want to write the Field Guide to Time.


I never noticed what kind of time I had until I had a different kind of time. And now that I have made this observation I've started to look more closely at the nature of my time, at the individual forms of time, to see how different they really are. In my Field Guide to Time I would have both Office Work Time and Home Work Time.

In the office I saw different kinds of time floating around me:
  • Desk Time - Perceived blocks of time for working on documents/reports/proposals, often interrupted by all of the following. What you tend to get hired to do.
  • Email Time - Chunks of time for zeroing in-box and working on action file. Should be linked to "Desk Time", but can include many other extraneous things.
  • Meeting Time - Hours of time (and sometimes whole days or weeks of time) for collaborative discussion that can sometimes also count as working, and sometimes not.
  • Corridor Meeting Time - Minutes of time to gather information that is not found elsewhere.
  • Pop-in Meeting Time - Usually happens when you are at "Desk Time", longer or shorter depending on the pop-in person's place in institutional hierarchy, and/or desire to procrastinate.
  • Phone Time - Answering calls that I miss while I was at Meeting and Corridor Meeting Time.
  • Negotiation Time - Very brief moments providing windows of opportunity to change things.
  • Talk to Your Colleagues Time - This time expands when procrastinating and can often lead to "Coffee Time".
  • Coffee Time - Self-explanatory
  • Cleaning Your Office Time - Time so called when you can't or don't want to concentrate on anything else. Could also be called "Procrastination Time" except nobody would ever pay you for that.
If you were lucky, you could get useful things done in all of these times (including needed mental rest and processing time from the last one). And if you needed to, you could theoretically shift around the time so that you had more Desk Time when you needed it, and less of the other kinds of time in your day.

Now that I am working at home, I am getting to identify some different kinds of work-related time, some are the same, many are different. At home, for example, I find I can subtract "Corridor Meeting Time" (for obvious reasons) and "Pop-In Meeting Time" has reduced (or at least now there is a warning phone call since I live outside of town). And some new specimens of time have been added:
  • Car Time - This could also be called "Thinking Time" for return trips when car is empty.
  • Judo Time/Circus Time/Football Time - Highly fragmented minutes of calm during children's flurry of activities - could also be called "Checking Iphone Time".
  • Car Park Time - This time only occurs in daytime or in carparks where the space near the light is free. Includes much balancing of papers on knees.
  • Skype Time - Occurs more because now I am paying the phone bills myself.
  • Google and Social Networking Time - This time increases, as guilt decreases about surfing when someone else is paying for your time.
  • Cafe Time - This is different than "Coffee Time", although they can overlap. Cafe Time is more about working around people (as opposed to working with them).
  • Making Dinner Time - This would have previously been called "Phone Time", now all the most important calls come when you are making dinner.
I'm sure there are more, feel free to add some!

These latter kinds of time take forms that I am not yet used to using productively, although I am getting better at it. I do notice that they crowd out a lot of "Desk Time", which means that I need to be clever about the kind of projects I take on. No longer do I seem to have long stretches, day after day of "Desk Time" when I can work on a big writing project, for example, or any task that demands hours back-to-back of stationary, uninterrupted concentration. This seemed to be an easier environment to organize in a workplace office rather than a home office. Now every work day is an aggregation, a collection of kinds of time, a veritable snow bank of the many different, often fleeting forms of Time that make up my day.

Being productive in this kind of environment must be like choosing the right shovel or wearing the right clothes - noticing the kind of work that fits the quality of your time. Being able to identify the kind of time you have, in your own Field Guide to Time, must be a first step.

5 comments:

Katherine Sullivan said...

You certainly deserve a round of applause for your post and more Specifically, your blog in general. Very high quality material.

Cavewoman said...

How did I get here? I was using 'click time', the time where I need to web research/learn but must differentiate between the random population of what I need to find and the useless things that may present themselves in my search. Glad I found your blog. It was great; you have a talent for taking what's in your mind and sharing it brilliantly.

Gillian Martin Mehers said...

Thanks so much to Katherine and Cavewoman (nice name!)for your kind comments. I like "click time" as an addition to the list. Later that night after I posted this, I was working on one of those long documemts,and noticed that I was also experiencing "Snack Time". So many more, no doubt!

Susan said...

"Staring Into the Refrigerator Time," a caloric aspect of running a business from home. "Sick Kid Home from School Time" is inevitable. I like the way you're taking stock of your time and energy resources! Happy juggling.

sheela said...
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