Time Management Beyond the Task List

Imran recently pointed out a great comic from The Oatmeal called “Why Working from Home is Both Awesome and Terrible.” The panel titled “Degradation of Social Skills” really resonated with me.

It’s not that I’m scared I’m no longer able to converse with others (no, really, after a year in the cave, I still talk good! Me talk good!) but, it does raise interesting questions about how remote workers balance social time, colleague time and our own personal time. I’m curious: how do you manage this?

Social Time

To me, “social time” is time I spend outside work hours with friends. Those friends may be colleagues who have become friends, but the time is really “social” — we may talk about work, but it’ll be a small percentage of the conversation. For me, social time may also include going for lunch during the work day, for example, or breaks when I’m IMing or Skyping a friend just for fun.

One remote worker I know engages in very little face-to-face social time — he might see friends once a fortnight, or less. And he’s perfectly happy with this arrangement. It suits him. I like seeing my friends more frequently, and usually try to catch up with one or two people during the week, and spend a little social time on the weekends, too. How much social time do you need?

Colleague Time

Let’s call “colleague time” the time we spend dealing in person with colleagues or clients. Email and IM probably aren’t as relevant here as Skype or face-to-face meetings. There’s likely to be some social banter, but the purpose of this time is to address work.

In a typical week, I might have one client meeting, but some remote workers I know average a meeting a month. I like to see my clients where that’s possible, basically because I like to get to know them, and face-to-face meetings are usually the most effective — and, to my mind, fun — way¬† to do that. How do you manage your colleague time?

Personal Time

I see “personal time” as solo time — time when I’m not with anyone else — and that can be hard to get when your work-from-home partner works in the same space as you. For parents, it can be little more than a fantasy. For me, personal time doesn’t include time when I’m working from home and my partner’s out: that’s just work time. Personal time is mine to do with, as I please.

Despite the physical and psychological space that working remotely affords us, I still feel I need personal time, and plenty of it. In fact, one of the reasons I decided to freelance was that I wanted to have more personal time to do the things I want to do, when I want to do them. But some people don’t feel they need much, if any, personal time — and some actually balk at the idea of spending more than the shortest possible amount of time alone. Where do you fit within that spectrum?

Managing Balance

I tend to think that while we might occasionally strike a balance, it’s hard to maintain. As soon as you think you’ve got things where you want them, the game changes — and that certainly applies to managing my social, colleague and personal time.

Not so long ago I began scheduling the social time into my calendar, just as I do whatever colleague time I can predict (for instance, meetings). Although that feels a bit weird, I’ve found that working remotely can result in fewer social outings — at least this way I can make sure I’ll get some good, solid social time every week. I haven’t taken to scheduling personal time just yet, since I find it reasonably easy to achieve, but I can see how that might benefit people who are especially busy, and are juggling many demands or interests.

This is roughly how I manage my time. What about you?

Image by stock.xchng user candygrrrl

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