On March 15, 2020, I was a 36-year-old technology professional who worked for the State of Colorado. I was also a husband to my wife, Shanna; a father to our 4-month-old son, Jack; a parent to our two cats, Gidget and Herbie; and struggled with office life. I’m not a morning person, so I usually arrived late. I am gregarious in personality, so I tended to be loud and talkative in the small, quiet setting of the cubicle farm. And my taste for artisanal coffee clashed with the break-room Folgers.
The next day, managers sent everyone to work from home until that “COVID thing” died down. I thought it would be a few days before they called us back into the office, but as we approach the third anniversary of “the new normal,” it is clear that how I worked the previous 20 years is not how I will work the next 20.
Consistency was my first challenge. In the early days of the pandemic I would start working at 8 a.m.… or 9:30 a.m.… or 11 a.m. With a newborn, sleep came as a random luxury. So, it was important to be honest and transparent with my leaders about challenges in my personal life. We came to an agreement that I would complete my assignments with quality and on time – in exchange for a flexible schedule.
Learning how to prioritize tasks (when everyday is Blurs-day) was also a challenge. Between emails, projects, mandatory trainings, team huddles and a never-ending list of action items, it became clear my tasks were telling me how they’d be managed instead of the other way around. So I began to live-and-die on my calendar. Every evening, before I went to bed, I would block my calendar in a way that every task had assigned time. The 30 minutes needed in the morning to clear the inbox got scheduled. The two hours needed to complete that TPS report got put on my calendar.
I’ve had my share of successes as well. Flex scheduling allowed me time for personal growth. During nights, weekends and downtime I completed an MBA. Balancing remote classes, self-paced course work and truly enjoying the content, it took me 140 weeks to complete something that I thought was not obtainable (with a family and career). In short, we make time for the things that are important, and dismiss everything else.
It is my intention to take lessons learned since 2020, along with the knowledge that comes with a masters degree in strategic management, and chat with local business leaders. More than that I want our time together to serve as a mutually beneficial relationship of best practices and professional-life hacks.
Going Solo is a new advice column by Michael Whalen, MBA, for entrepreneurs or corporate employees working remotely out of their homes.