Here’s A Thought: It’s Only An Advantage If I Use It

This is it! My final post for NaBloPoMo 2022. I’ve said it before – and I’ll say it again – three cheers for San who organized this event (she tries to downplay her role, but it would not have happened without her!) and three cheers to all the participants who showed up day after day after day after day…

And to those who didn’t participate in the “official” event but have been following along, providing virtual cheerleading, commenting, and being relentlessly supportive? Three cheers to you, too!

I’ve been working primarily from home for over a decade now. I worked from home when I had infants in the house. I worked from home when I had preschoolers in the house. And, of course, like the rest of the world, I worked exclusively from home during the recent/ongoing global pandemic (this time with elementary-school kids in the house).

I’ll be the first to admit that working from home can be a double-edged sword. It is great to be able to switch over the laundry and prep supper over a lunch hour. But it also means that, concurrent with work, I am thinking about laundry and supper prep and can actually DO something about it.

Too often I take a limited view of what I can/can’t do with the level of flexibility my (part-time!) job provides.

I can run errands during regular business hours. I can walk with a friend in the middle of the day. I can do that load of laundry and prep that supper. Sometimes this means I answer work e-mails or wrap up projects in the evening – but that itself represents yet another layer of flexibility!

Here’s the rub: my flexible working schedule is only an advantage if I use it.

All of us can likely identify something we could label as an “advantage”. Maybe your workplace offers a free lunch program so you don’t have to pack a lunch. Maybe you have unlimited PTO and don’t have to scramble for childcare if someone needs to stay home sick. Maybe you work for a company that provides a great discount on hotels or rental vehicles. Maybe you have in-laws nearby that are willing to provide last-minute babysitting.

But these things are only advantages if we use them. And, if you’re anything like me, there might be some untapped treasures waiting for you.

Your turn? Can you think of an area of your life that involves a higher-than-normal level of flexibility? If so, do you feel like you maximize the potential of this situation?

Header photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

33 thoughts on “Here’s A Thought: It’s Only An Advantage If I Use It”

  1. My flexibility comes in being able to leave work when I’m not teaching. I usually have 3 to 4 hours of teaching each day and then have prep, marking, advising, committee work, etc around that. When I don’t have teaching or meetings, I do not have to be on campus. My job is full time so that means this flexibility to do errands and appointments during the day, comes at the expense of some evening or weekend work but the trade off is fitting everything in life and kid items more easily.
    I taught from home during the pandemic and even though that was a huge amount of work to shift to teaching and working online, I had even more flexibility (no commuting!). It has been an adjustment to go back in person this semester and it felt like going “backwards” in terms of this flexibility. There are lots of benefits to teaching in person though.
    I didn’t have time to comment on yesterdays music post. I had Last Christmas ear worming itself in my head all day. I loved all the comments!

    1. Commuting is a HUGE commitment. My Mom used to commute over an hour each way just before her retirement as a nurse. It was a lot, especially in the winter with bad roads. That said, she came to really enjoy it as it helped her unwind from a really stressful job at the end of the day. That said, she was quite ready to retire!!

  2. Yes, in my blog post I forgot to thank all the people who were not participating in NaBloPoMo, but still read and commented consistently (HELLO NICOLE!!!). That was amazing.
    My work isn’t flexible on a daily basis- that is, I have to be there at a certain time until a certain time- but they are flexible in that, if I need to change my schedule for my kids’ school schedules, they’ll let me do it. For the past 2 and 1/2 years my workday starts at 10, because middle school doesn’t start until 9:30. Next year when my daughter goes to high school, school will start at 7:30 (screeeaam!) so my workday will begin at 9 am again. So they’re very good about accommodating me in that way.
    Oh, I have to go back and read the comments from yesterday’s post- I want to hear what people had to say about your Christmas song preferences!

    1. 7:30 AM? Who would do such a thing?! Do you think if I scream from Canada it will help change the school board’s mind?

  3. I feel like my whole life is fairly flexible! I am only teaching two classes a week, so I feel like I have extreme flexibility in my schedule. Pre-pandemic I think I would have been the least flexible, because I was teaching like 10 classes a week!

    1. Wow! That’s a lot of classes, Nicole. I think flexibility is underrated; I know we’re seeing some pushback on the relentless “lean-in culture” but it is hard-baked into our psyche and identity as women especially. Because of my personality and some health issues, I really do need a lot of “down” time and my job allows that – but I can feel really guilty over how much flexibility I have. I do think I’ve come a LONG way in the last year in embracing it. Flexibility and white space – those are GOOD things!!

  4. So right now I don’t feel a lot of flexibility in my life… But I’m really in the weeds of parenting! I love the flexibility of WFH during the pandemic, though. That ship has sailed now that we are required to be back in the office 3 days/week. I have WFH on days when I had an appt but overall the vibe I’m getting is that they are tracking how often people are coming in and not being in 3 days/week is the exception, not the rule… But – at least I can WFH 2 days/week. That was not allowed before the pandemic!

    1. You have a lot of competing high-need responsibilities (full-time work + a toddler), and I do suspect life will feel more flexible as the kids get older. I’m glad you’re still able to work from home some each week/when you’re sick.
      Hoping everyone stays extra healthy in December and you get a chance to “catch your breath” a bit before going away with Phil!!

  5. I also have a pretty flexible work schedule, but I find it to be a double edged sword sometimes. As in, it is wonderful to be able to swap out work time for an errand or starting dinner or a workout….but the work has to get done, too, so sometimes I end up creating these situations where I now need to work much later into the evening than preferred, or have things to tie up on the weekend… Again, a fair trade off, sometimes, but it can also end up making me feel like I’m neither here nor there, if that makes sense. Like I’m not really “off”, but I’m not fully “on”, either sometimes. I have a coworker who sticks to a very strict 7-4 schedule, with a full hour break for lunch, despite having the same flexibility I have, and I do think there can be something to be said for just really sticking with the consistency! I think in her case, any misc tasks in her life will occur everyday during that 1 hour lunch break, no other time. And her workouts happen immediately after work. (She also has older kids who are both off to college now, so that probably helps her life to be a bit more stable, I suppose.) I tend to sometimes start and stop more, which in the end works out to be the same amount of hours, but it can just be a little chaotic, maybe. But I like things about doing it that way, too. (e.g. running to the grocery store midday on a Tuesday is much better than at 5 pm!) So I don’t know what the right answer is! I sometimes

    1. I definitely fall into the trap of start-and-stop. Sometimes this works great and I can get to the end of the day amazed with my productivity on both work and home fronts, and then other times I take the same approach and feel like I’ve failed in both categories. It can be hard to predict!
      I also feel like I’m never fully “off.” It is SO much better than I was when we were starting two small businesses, but in that season of life it was all I knew (and I was also younger!). Now, I really crave that feeling of being “off” more and just don’t have it in me to work evenings and weekends as often to compensate for fitting in things during the week. It helps, though, that my kids are less and less dependent on me for at-home tasks (they can bathe themselves! they don’t require elaborate bedtimes! they sleep ALL night almost every night unless they’re sick!)…and that some of my working roles have slowed down in the last 6 months and I took one major project off my plate entirely.

  6. Congrats, Elisabeth!

    And yes, this is such a good point! As a fellow work-from-homer, I am sometimes really intentional about taking advantage of the benefits, and sometimes NOT so great at it!

    We also have all these wonderful parks with walking paths nearby, and we are SO lucky to have them. But they are only an advantage when I make the effort to GO TO THEM. (They aren’t even that far away! Several within a 10-20 minutes drive!)

    1. Like you said, it has more to do with intentionality (NOT guilt). I need to be clear what I want to introduce or do to make my life more pleasant, streamlined etc. And sometimes I just kinda forget about the fact that I have more autonomy over my working hours than many others…

      1. I think the opposite is true, too — it is important, sometimes, to be intentional about NOT being flexible. Like… maybe that work project is really worth devoting an entire day/week/whatever to, and the laundry can wait.

        1. Yes! And it can be really hard to not feel pulled in all sorts of different directions when the lines between home and work life blur!

  7. Here’s an example of something only being a benefit if you use it. At my last job, we had unlimited time off. Doesn’t that sound lovely? What it meant in reality was that we didn’t accrue any vacation time, so when you leave the job, you don’t have that boost to your final check. It also resulted in people taking LESS time off. When you have PTO (Paid Time Off) and a cap, you will start to ‘lose’ money if you don’t take time off, meaning you stop accruing once you hit the cap. That bit of pressure helps push people to take time off. Guess what? WE NEED TIME OFF! I hated it. Another problem is that people are worried about taking time off, like the company might discover that they can live without you, and let you go. So yeah, SEEMS like a great benefit, but only works if people use it, which at my last job, people did not.

    I also work from home. I’ve been working from home since 2006, first at my prior job, and then in 2016, I started at my current company. I work full time, always at home. The upsides I do use, which are what you mention. I’m doing laundry right now. I’m going to make turkey soup this afternoon, during working hours. I’m going to go to the grocery store first. Lots of flexibility.

    The downside is that we are expected to be more available during off hours. That doesn’t hit me too often, we are not programmers on my team, but I know it is hard for some people. Another downside is that I live in a little two bedroom townhouse, and there is no room for my work desk anywhere except my bedroom. So my bedroom is extremely crowded, with our bed, our dresser, my file cabinet with the printer on top, my desk (which is relatively large), and my husband’s computer hutch. We were considering doing some home improvements a year or two ago, paint and carpet and so on, and the idea of trying to move all of this crap stopped us in our tracks.

    1. I love working from home, but I feel you on the “office space situation”… we live in a 1-bedroom and I work out of the corner of our living room . The desk is small and it’s not ideal to have it “in your face” all day. I wish we had a second bedroom to turn into an office.

    2. I’ve heard of very mixed results from unlimited time off!
      And yes, I agree that one of the biggest downsides of the increased flexibility in many working environments is that people are expected to, in some senses, by available 24/7…

  8. Thanks again, Elisabeth, for the praise (I’ll graciously accept it today!) and for participating and making this year’s NaBloPoMo so much fun. It’s people like you, who decided to get on the bandwagon, who really made this year a success 🙂 I can’t wait to do it again.

    Re: the advantages of WFH… as I mentioned before, I love working from home. It was always an option at my job, but I never thought that *I* had the right to ask for it (in my mind, you had to have a good reason to ask to work from home, like “a long commute, caretaking issues with kids, etc.” where more flexibility was warranted).
    The pandemic changed all that and now that we’re back at the office, I was able to choose how much I still wanted to work from home and I choose the maximum amount (75%), which means I go into the office once a week.

    As Kae mentioned, the flexibility is great, but the lines “blur” a lot and sometimes it’s hard to keep track of your hours. And as you said, there are days were I feel super-productive on the work AND home front, and other days where I “fail” on both (although I think this is fairly normal – not every day felt productive before all that flexibility). While I try to stick to a regular work day (8a-6:30p for me) definitely spend more time on the computer in the evenings, but again, I get the flexibility to ease into my workday in the morning and run an errand, if I need to. Overall, I really enjoy it the way it is.

    1. Please accept the praise!
      It’s easier for me because my work is part-time, but I know lots of people who work full-time who really full the pain of that “blur” you mention. It can be very hard to keep work and home life separate (in a way that makes everything feel doable)…when you’re working from home!

  9. I do have some flexibility at work as I decided to reduce hours after I had the kids. The PI I work for lets me work my hours flexible during the week – that leaves me time for early morning shopping trips, school pick-ups when necessary, walks to work in the morning, etc. He is also very understanding when the kids are sick and I have to stay home. I can’t even find the right words how much that means to me and I do take full advantage of it. I do have to be at work for a lot of the tasks that fall into my responsibility but I like it that way.
    There are a couple of cool programs at work I don’t always take advantage off like free lunch time exercise classes or free noon concerts during the semester but I still like to know that they are there.

  10. after the pandemic, my organization shifted to hybrid mode for good, meaning we are required to go to the office only 2 days minimum. the other days we can work from home. I do feel that this is a privilege and advantage even if I don’t have to use it every week. The fact that I can choose to do that gives me a lot of mental relief. what if one week I have to be at home more days because someone is sick, or I don’t feel well enough to stay 8 hrs in the office? then I can work from home. or if I need to go to doctor office or run errands, I can do it during office hours without having to excuse myself.
    i currently go to office 4 days a week, I might do more or less depending on my work load and how much I want to stay at home. having that option is really a privilege.

    1. You raise a good point – even if we don’t USE a certain type of flexibility in our lives, it can mean a lot to relieve the mental burden of knowing it’s there.

  11. I have heaps of flexibility in my work (casual hours from home). The workload does vary from week to week, but this last year I’ve reduced my hours because I finished a major project that took a lot of extra time. My kids also finished school last year, and the last one got his license (they can get it at age 18), so that relieves driving duties. I’m taking full advantage of my work and family flexibility now. It’s certainly a privilege to have the time to pursue various personal interests and volunteer opportunities. I’m a bit like you though, I feel like I need a decent amount of downtime.

    1. It IS a privilege to have white space to pursue personal interests; and yes to needing downtime!! This is definitely me!!

  12. Ohhh what an interesting thought.
    I love the flexibility of working at home for sure. But do I use it to my advantage? Some days I guess. But I could be using it more. Before the pandemic started I was getting into the habit of taking naps. Or the regular lunchtime walks. I should use that advantage more.
    Thank you for that food of though today…

    Oh and congrats of finish a NaBloPoMo. It sure was fun to read all your posts. I am amazed how long, elaborate and deep your writing was – not only in the past 30 days but in general. Always fun to read along.

    1. Thanks for such kind words, Tobia. And congrats to you as well! NaBloPoMo is a big undertaking and I’ve loved following along with you this month (and before that, too!)

  13. With my job, I fee like I have carte blanche flexibility or no flexibility at all. When I am working, rehearsals and shows are scheduled for certain times and I have to be present for those time. When I’m not working, it’s a blank slate. I do need to be better at managing the “blank slate” time, though or else it tends to slip away. I tend to get more exercise and be more focused when I have *less* flexibility in my day, strangely.
    One of my favorite features of where I live is being close to the metro and free museums to get there. We got out of the habit of taking advantage of this proximity during the pandemic, but slowly we’re starting back up. The Husband always says that if we wanted a bigger house we would have moved out further up county, but we chose this house in large part because it was five blocks from the metro so we should use the features for which we bought the house.
    Yay on finishing NaBloWriMo – It’s been so much fun to follow along! I’m glad you are a frequent poster anyway so I can still follow your adventures and thoughts during the week!

    1. That’s interesting; polar opposites/extremes for you.
      I 100% agree that I’m more productive when I have some set schedule/deadlines. Blank space can just be frittered away without accomplishing anything OR finding it relaxing. It is hard to strike the right balance!

      I remember watching House Hunters on HGTV before we bought our home and being shocked at the decisions some people would make (more money, less space) based on location. NOW I GET IT! Where your house is located can make SUCH A difference. If we had opted for a different home (newer, but about the same price as the one we bought), we would have been driving everywhere. Because of our location, we’re within walking distance to almost everything we need. I love this about our house…and recognize moving forward that location is hugely important to lifestyle.

  14. My job got soooo much more flexible after the pandemic, and I don’t think I realized HOW much less strict they were until someone commented on an Instagram story I put up about taking a shower at 3pm, and how they could never do that with their job. They had to be logged in, at their computer, during their workday. I am very glad I can take a nap during the day if I want or take my car in for service without having to check in with my boss first. And now we have unlimited PTO, which is AMAZING. It’s so great not to have to hoard PTO days to make sure I have enough for vacations and taking time off when I want it.

    1. I forget sometimes about how much flexibility I have – but it is such a gift and I’d 100% miss it if I didn’t have this level of flexibility. I just need to be better about recognizing what a blessing it is!

      Yay for naps and mid-day showers!!

  15. I think the flexibility has it’s pluses and minuses, as you’ve noted. I wish I used mine more for soul-feeding activities, like your walk with a friend, vs. always doing something practical with it (laundry, cooking something, etc.). But that is likely a me-problem and not a most-other-people-problem. 🙂

    I appreciate you highlighting how I can – and should – see the flexibility in my job as a positive thing, rather than something that makes it harder to decide what to do each day, where to spend my energy.
    One of the things I like best about my job is its flexibility in where I work AND what I do. This is probably the one role I could have in the world where, other than my committee and other obligations (e.g., advising and mentoring students), I can choose what to work on. My research focus is my own. My research program is my own. Sure, if it’s not going anywhere, they’re going to let me go. But if I choose something that is relevant and potentially fundable, it’s all good. And, the WFH flexibility is wonderful – I have to teach in person (unless I am ill, then I move it online) and attend committee meetings (trying to go in person but thwarted many times this fall by various health issues).
    One last comment – I often get “sucked in” to deep work, particularly when I am at home. At the office, I am much more likely to focus on concrete activities (grading, etc.) vs. those that require more thinking and creativity. Hm. This might require a blog post… 🙂 I also should probably read that “Deep Work” book that so many people have talked about (including, maybe, you?).

    1. I have mixed feelings about Cal Newport’s Deep Work writing, mostly because it seems to gender-biased and it gets my back up a bit since his ability to get into “deep work” has a lot to do with the fact that he has a wife that manages most of the childcare and home managerial responsibilities. I still really appreciate content put out by Cal Newport, but it’s always a bit soured by my frustration over this element of his reality which clearly makes deep work easier than say, for a mother who is the primary caregiver for kids!

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