Tech Life Not normal times

The Housekeeping of the Intangible

I’m a manager type, which means the calendar is usually full of meetings. Now, it is my goal in life to make sure that every single meeting must actively defend its right to exist, but even with that constant fight going on, I am in a lot of meetings. 9am until 5pm is 85% meetings. This has been unchanged for a decade1.

In a normal time on the planet Earth, the majority of these meetings are face to face. We gather in various rectangular shaped rooms with mostly rectangular tables, and we discuss the topics at hand for 30 to 60 minutes. Towards the end of that time, we nod a bit, we gather our things, and move to a different rectangular-shaped space with a slightly different set of faces, and repeat. Repeat for the entire day.

These are not normal times.

A full calendar stocked with interesting meetings, and curious people fills me with productive joy. In these non-normal times, I am thankful that the calendar is full, but my most significant learning from the first full week of distributed work is the immense accumulated value of short breaks.

For the first three days of this week, I woke up, went through a reduced morning routine, and jumped into meetings. Knock on wood – the infrastructure support all the essential productivity tools has been solid. Excellent work, internet! Even better because there is zero time required moving from meeting A to meeting B, I am impressively on time.

But there are no breaks.

The experience was the same on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Wake-up, get ready, sit down for the 9am meeting and BAM it’s 6pm, I haven’t really eaten, the sun is going down, and I have a slight headache. Part of this focus is certainly a coping mechanism. I seek normality because everything else appears broken. The absence of calm that comes with standing up, walking across the building, being out of the meeting mindset, letting my mind wander, and unwinding is startling.

Starting this morning, I’ve:

  • Started adding chunks of blocked time to my calendar.
  • When it’s reasonable, 1:1s are now outside. Walking. Today I walked a path near the house and pulled Scotch Broom from the trail. It was delightful. The walk. Not the Scotch Broom. Scotch Broom is the worst.
  • When a meeting does finish early, I get up, leave my office, and do something else. Like, write this article.

During these strange days, I appreciate the work, but the work is secondary to health. I invest daily in the big three: sleep, nutrition, and exercise. Each of these investments is a long term insurance policy. While it seems obvious, there is a fourth, and that is time. Precious quiet and brief time. Our minds need periods of time where there is no focus, we wander mentally, and we perform essential housekeeping on the intangible.

Failure to do, especially now, creates stress, and the last thing you need your life right now is more stress.

  1. Again, not saying this is optimal, but it is factual. 

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3 Responses

  1. As someone who has been working remote for the better part of a decade now my single biggest advice is to always end a meeting early, just like you would if everyone had to change meeting rooms. Get up, refill your water, pet the cat, and then sit down fresh. It makes a huge difference.

  2. Thank you for this! Working in the software industry from home on a 97 acre farm has given me a deep appreciation for well-honed remote meeting skills. My rule is remind everyone that our goal is to as quickly as possible identify and assign the action items that are to be accomplished before we next meet.

    Also have learned to appreciate Scotch broom pulling chops. Pro tip: a long-handled branch pruner 10″ above the ground, followed by an Extractigator – Google it – make short work of the stuff. 🙂

  3. Hanan Youssef 4 years ago

    Timely & real. Thank for sharing your thoughts