Flexibility Is Only Beneficial If I Use It

It is 10:28 am on Friday, December 3.

I woke up at 3:15 am (ugh, but I did fall asleep around 9 pm, so it wasn’t all bad). After resting for a while, I headed downstairs to tackle a work project. While I didn’t have a set deadline, it was one of those tasks that was going to hang over my head until I got it out the door. I also knew I need two solid hours of uninterrupted time. No contractors, no phone calls or texts or chasing the Inbox Zero dream.

So I put in my headphones and got to work. At 6:30 am, when the kids wandered into the office, I was done my main work responsibility for the day.

By 7:00 am, I was helping the kids get breakfast and prep their bookbags; we even fit in morning reading time around the table.

At 7:30 I hopped back in bed with some Magic Bags and dozed/rested until 8:30 while John drove the kids to school (it was raining, so we skipped the daily walk). I wasn’t feeling that tired, but I knew I’d handle the day better if I had a bit more sleep.

At 9:00 am I whipped up a batch of waffles for supper. By 9:30 I was on a virtual work meeting; it’s now 10:36 am and I’m heading down to the office to work for the next hour or so getting some strategic e-mails out the door.

At 11:45 am, I’ll head to the bus stop to get the kids (parent-teacher interviews, so it’s a half-day). Then we’ll have lunch, I’ll take them to drop off some local Christmas cards in person, and we’ll come home in time for me to finish off some week-end Friday work responsibilities, have supper (the waffles are all ready, hooray!), and then I’ll kiss everyone goodbye and head out the door for a Christmas pottery-painting session with a group of local girlfriends.

I have a lot of flexibility in my life.

For starters, I’ve been working from home for over a decade now. There are drawbacks to this – mainly the fact I never “leave” the office. Work and home management tend to blur and I don’t get to outsource the mess of working materials to another location.

But, for the most part, it’s a net positive arrangement. Long before COVID forced this lifestyle on the masses, my husband and I were doing it from our very tiny apartment (with two little ones in the mix).

And I’ve been thinking more about this flexibility lately. I have, overall, less than I once did in the sense that I have more working responsibilities, especially since I assumed another role at a local university. In another sense I have more than I once did – the kids are both in school and are increasingly independent outside of school hours.

Regardless of where the needle falls from one week to the next, though, this flexibility is only advantageous if I use it.

I’ll feel guilty about going to run an errand at 10 am on a Tuesday morning or fitting in a walk with a friend during normal working hours – but that’s the flexibility my life affords. I also have the flexibility to work a second shift from, say, 7 – 9 pm (or 4:15 – 6:30 am) to tackle a pressing work challenge. One family member, who works in a dental practice, has to be there – boots on the ground, so to speak – at specific times. There is no multi-tasking with home administration; she can’t switch out a load of laundry in between seeing patients (but it also means work doesn’t come “home,” so there is a tradeoff).

It can be challenging to work outside of normal parameters/social constructs (and adhering to them relatively closely has distinct advantages for staying on track), but when I give myself license to fit things in when it’s convenient, I make use of my flexibility muscles. And they’re a gift. When I don’t use them these muscles will atrophy – and what a waste.

Header photo by Michael Walter on Unsplash

10 thoughts on “Flexibility Is Only Beneficial If I Use It”

  1. I have loved the flexibility of WFH during covid. My company was completely opposed to it and even got rid of a remote work program in 2018 or 2019, which was a shame because we lost some great people as a result of that. I’ve been home since early March 2020 but will go back to the office 3 days/week in January. However, you have to certify your health daily and given how often we are sick, I feel like I will still be home about 1-2 weeks of the month! Plus I don’t think anyone is necessarily going to make sure you are there Tues-Thur so if I have a doctor appt that isn’t downtown by my office, I will WFH. My boss doesn’t micromanage us and trusts that we will make the right decision/not abuse the system.

    One thing I’m not looking forward to is the rush of getting dinner on the table by around 5:30 when we get home from work/daycare pick-up at 5… I had to do a lot of pre-work on the weekends back when I was in the office 5 days a week so that meals could come together quickly. I’ve enjoyed being able to chop things during the day when I had downtime, or having the hour+ leading up to dinner time to get dinner together (I’m usually done w/ work around 4-4:30). And I’ve worked out WAY MORE than I did when I was in the office 5 days/ week since I can squeeze a workout in whenever I have downtime. I’m sure I will adjust but I have definitely appreciated all the flexibility I have had over the last 20 months. I guess that is one good aspect of the pandemic!

    1. There have been some silver linings to it all! I sure wish we weren’t all experiencing a global pandemic but can appreciate that it has opened a number of conversations that would have been feasible pre-COVID.

  2. this is so true, flexibility has value if we use it when we need it. Kudos for working at 3am, I don’t know I can do that these days. I do get the feeling of guilty to do some non-work activities during the supposedly working hours. In my case, I work when I feel I’m more productive, either 10am or 5pm, and let myself to be unproductive even during working hours now that I am working from home. Next year we will be required to work in the office again, so I’m trying to take advantage of the flexibility that I have now as it won’t be there forever.

  3. I have a similar job in that I also have a lot of flexibility, can work on the weekends/ evenings if needed, etc. Overall, I love it- but it can be tricky!! There is something to be said for just “knowing” when you have to work, working set hours and days. I sometimes struggle with organizing my time or planning ahead enough to always utilize my time as well as I feel I should. It definitely requires some serious forethought, if you are going to take time off to exercise in the middle of the day, for example, or go out to lunch. When will I work instead? Will that window of time actually be open? Will I actually WANT to work then at 7 pm?? haha. I wouldn’t trade my job for the world, but sometimes I do envy my husband’s very set schedule! In a weird way. He goes to work, works and then is done. I feel like I have a lot more overlap in my job/ life- which again, overall is a great thing. But can be a little bit confusing to manage, too, for me. It can be hard to know where work stops/ life begins and vice versa.

    1. I do find it very hit-or-miss to work the second shift (7 – 9 pm). I’m usually very tired and the kids are still puttering around. When they were babies, I just worked every evening and was very used to it, but now it doesn’t always work as well!

      I am NOT a morning person, but I do find when I get work tasks done before the kids get up, it really sets my day up for success. I find it so much easier to concentrate and I’m not as distracted when I have to go back to “Mom” duty.

      I think there are huge tradeoffs and both types of working schedules have major advantages and disadvantages (obviously very related to personality types, as well), but I’m trying to embrace the flexibility because without maximizing it, I’m really only focusing on the disadvantages of working from home on a flexible schedule (it that makes sense?!).

      I actually tend to have the majority of my work tasks come in at the END of the work day, so it can be hard to fill my hours during regular 9-5 working hours (I know I can push them off to the following day, but it’s not always so cut and dry).

      So far today I’ve walked the kids to school, gone to the grocery store, done an outside run, and made supper; now I’m headed in for a work meeting, and later I’ll take the kids to a playground. I’ll almost certainly need to work a 7-9 pm shift tonight to get on top of work items!

  4. I like working from home because I can walk my dog in the middle of the day and I know she likes that. I feel a little bit isolated and I feel like I’m never “off the clock” because my laptop is always there though, so it’s not always a great fit for me. I sort of wish I had a more hybrid schedule where I did go in to the office once or twice a week and the rest of my team did, too. But, I honestly don’t know how hourly workers do life chores (haircuts? dentist appointments? picking up library books?) because so many businesses are only open during the day and I never take it for granted when I can do those things during “working hours.” WFH = some good, some bad.

    1. I completely agree that it’s a mixed bag and think, for most people, a hybrid approach would be the best. There are a few people who function much better if they’re always in an office or much better if they’re always at home, but I think that the pandemic has shown that we need some social interactions to really thrive in the workplace…while also recognizing that many of the constraints of a typical 9-to-5 make general life activities very difficult – like you mention, things like hairdressers, dentists). Having the flexibility to work around those activities brings a lot of freedom, but it is DEFINITELY a double-edged sword!

  5. I had a lot of flexibility (at least theoretically) when I still worked in an office, but I’ve very much come to love the flexibility of WFH since Covid, so much that I don’t want to go back to a full-time office job. I hope to be able to stay at home at last part-time when our office opens up again.
    While I do try to stick to my regular work hours, I’ve definitely made use of the flexibility to work late (or on the weekends, when time allowed or when it was necessary) and at the same time run an errand during work hours or switch out a load of laundry or start preparing dinner in the afternoon. It’s nice to have the option to use pockets of time more efficiently.

  6. I’m in academia too, as you know, and one HUGE benefit is the flexibility. I will have to teach in person in the spring (sigh) but all on one day. So while I will be absolutely exhausted after that (morning and late afternoon classes) it’s one day. Otherwise, I plan to work from home as much as possible.

    I like how you have the opportunity to pick up and / or drop off the kids, too – I bet that makes a huge difference in everyone’s days. 🙂

    I do the laundry flipping, food prepping, random household stuff too. And I do love it. But there are times when I wonder, is this keeping me from being more productive? I don’t THINK it is, but one focus for 2022 (not a goal, but something to focus on) is to make my work time very very, well, focused. I may go back to the Pomodoro method to ensure I’m really paying attention to my work for the entire time that I *think* I am working. Ha.

    1. It can be so hard not to multi-task; for most things this does NOT work (I do like to do various housework things at the same time; run a load of laundry while I vacuum the laundry-room floors, while listening to a podcast).

      Working from home can make it such a challenge to avoid multi-tasking. I try to carve out dedicated time, but some nebulous work tasks – like responding to tricky emails, can make it very hard to stay on task when the dryer stops (and I really want to shake out the clothes before they cool down and go wrinkled). I can’t make working stretches too long because I just seem to constantly be interrupted. I’ve thought about going to a coffee shop, but I like leaving that space open for creative work and think once I start taking “work work” – as I call paid work – there, it would make it not feel like such a safe, inviting space?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *