What a weird, scary, unsettling time. This pandemic has revealed more than a few discouraging-to-utterly-frightening truths — about our world, our country, our fellow humans, perhaps even ourselves and our loved ones (and in some cases, our excessively lazy animal companions). It’s also produced an unprecedented level of clean garages, organized junk drawers, and online learners, along with an unexpected opportunity to view time from a different perspective.

I have always had a great respect for time, our most valuable resource (you can make and lose money repeatedly, but time spent is lost forever). During the twelve years of this pandemic (okay, just 2 months of actual time) I’ve realized just how much I appreciate punctuality. Zoom meetings, while they have their annoyances, generally start and end at a specific time (or, whee—finish early!). Being late to an online meeting still happens, but without the necessity for travel it seems less common. I like this “get in, get done, move on” meeting mentality. (Anyone else using the free account limitation of 40 minutes as a handy excuse to make all meetings end by the 40-minute mark?)

The Reality of the Traditional 40-Hour Workweek

Have you calculated the amount of time you’ve saved not commuting, stopping for gas, or sitting in traffic? As an administrative exec one of the memorable comments I received from a supervisor: “You get more done in four hours than most people get done in eight.” I am a very focused worker, which is why I’m so well-suited to the work-from-home lifestyle I’ve had for more than a decade. Working from home is not for everyone, it is not possible for all jobs, and it’s incredibly challenging for anyone also caring for kids. But I imagine more than a few salaried workers and their employers who have been forced into a work-from-home trial are reassessing their views on productivity.

In a standard nine-hour day that requires a 45-minute commute, with an hour off for lunch and 30 minutes to get ready, a person is effectively allocating 11 hours of their time every day, or 55 hours each workweek, for their 40-hour/week job.

Let’s analyze a typical 8-hour workday. The agenda includes two one-hour off-site meetings with important partners or clients, two conversations in the shared kitchen, a few bathroom breaks, coffee refills, and a well-deserved mid-afternoon snack. The employee had to drive to meetings, park, greet, settle into a conference room. When the meeting is over they say their goodbyes and travel back to their office. Travel plus meetings might take two hours each. That 8-hour workday has now been reduced to four hours (cue knowing smirk from Tim Ferriss). Let’s conservatively estimate an hour for all breaks, chats, snacks, and transition time. In this sample workday we’ve spent two “productive” meeting hours and three “productive” hours at our desk.

How much of this workday is actually productive?

Let’s simplify. Say you commit to six hours of work each day that includes two 15-minute breaks and a 30-minute lunch break. Which would you prefer? A six-hour workday with an hour break, no traffic or travel required, and the rest of the time to use for yourself, with your family, your friends, or your pets, or that 11-hour day?

What we’re learning is that for some jobs, by dedicating 30 hours each week instead of 55 or more we can deliver the same level of productivity (or more), help the environment, save money on gas, clothes, dog-walkers, eating out, laundry service, improve our quality of life, AND gain 25 hours a week in the process.

Working In

I’ve always been a gym rat, comfortable in my certainty that I could NOT SURVIVE without my in-person classes. And yet, here I am. I’ve just discovered if I find online workouts I like I’m perfectly capable (and shocker, may even prefer) doing them at home on my own. Not only am I doing well with my at-home routine, I’ve given myself the gift of time. And lest you think I have a massive home gym and expensive memberships, I’m simply using free online workouts, dumbells, and a mat. The one-hour class I used to take was a 2.5-hour commitment including travel, early arrival/setup, gym-friend-pleasantries and a post-workout shower. Now I do a 35-minute workout and shower all in one hour. I workout four times a week; that’s 4 hours of time vs 10 pre-pandemic-hours. Every. Week.

Me and mat

It’s the Small Things

I didn’t even have a workout mat when this started. (Why would I? I go to the gym). I ordered my mat the third week of March, just a second before everyone else accepted our new reality and desperately wanted a mat. I tried to find another option but by this time they had become super expensive. I used a perfectly adequate carpet remnant and waited a month for my $15 mat to arrive. I was so excited the glorious day it was delivered you’d think I’d won something.

Being Thrifty

My partner and I enjoy the thrill of the hunt that comes from browsing thrift stores, but that form of entertainment is no longer an option. With reduced income we are saving as much as we can, which means limited eating out, no non-essential online orders (that in better times could be a regular occurrence), no frivolous can’t-live-without games, books, or trinkets. The pandemic has reminded us that we truly have all we need and possess more than enough stuff. [Sidenote: When I die, please offer to assist Jon with the massive amount of crap I’ll have left him to deal with. Obviously, most of the treasures are incredibly cool and if I live long enough there’s a strong possibility I’ll need every single item. Especially those pants from high school. We often chuckle about the fact that my borderline-hoarding supports a wonderful collection for the “Shari museum” but it thinly veils the legitimate tears behind his laughter.]

Fun with Words

When all this started the term “global pandemic” struck me as redundant. I thought pandemic implied worldwide. I did a little Googling and learned it was quite the controversy among language nerds. Consensus? Pandemics affect a significant geographical area and number of people but in actual fact (see what I did there?) are not necessarily global (though it’s pretty likely in today’s world).

Glimpses of Hope

While I have grave concerns about the level of hate and ignorance and inequity this disease has further exposed, I feel compelled to look for signs of peace, love, and compassion. In our neighbors helping one other, businesses deferring payments or reducing/removing fees they know people can’t afford, hard-working professionals in multiple industries serving those in need, wealthy individuals doing what they can to help those with less, we witness the best of humanity, the kindness and empathy we are all capable of, and the reasoned problem-solving required to get through it together. The sooner we accept the fact that we are all one race – the human one – the better our world will be. (And to any who disagree, sorry, not sorry. No need to post hateful comments here. Write your own blog).

Unexpected Lessons from a Global Pandemic (including the grammatical controversy over the word “global”)

2 thoughts on “Unexpected Lessons from a Global Pandemic (including the grammatical controversy over the word “global”)

  • I love the science of discovering efficiency – you are so talking my talk! And, you sound downright optimistic which is a hefty reach considering our circumstances. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and insights!

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, Dennise! I would say “optimistic” is a stretch; just decided to actively seek and highlight the positives 🙂

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