“Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.”
This wise adage, famously known as Parkinson’s Law, is coming to pass for the many who are working from home and getting constantly beaten by the clock.
Back in the good old days of nine-to-five office hours (make that nine-to-six, or even seven in the case of the companies demanding full bang for the buck they pay to their employees), we would hotfoot it to our offices every morning, and clock in for the day’s work, usually a quarter hour late. Like thoroughbred professionals, we would then apply ourselves to the job at hand, and – save for the overlong water-cooler chit chats and coffee-dispenser powwows – we would make the most of our time to wrap up the day’s work by the stroke of five, six, or seven.
After that, we were free souls – beholden to none.
But this blasted coronavirus pandemic has turned around our freedoms and work-life balance in ways we continue to discover anew each day.
Work from home (WFH), which once promised freedom from the grind of the daily commute and relief from having to work under the boss’s ever watchful eye, is the new normal that gives us piecemeal freedoms but takes away a whole chunk of our time.
Snug in our beds and couches, we log in to work in the morning with no less (or more) punctuality than before, but no sooner does an hour or so pass than we begin to feel the pull of distractions. Regular coffee and cookie breaks start to seem so essential to staying focussed on work. Power naps seem indispensable to maintaining work productivity. And if, by mistake, a nap stretches from brunch to lunch – and such mistakes may happen more often than not – nothing short of a cold and refreshing shower helps us find our bearings again.
Also read: We Need to Talk About ‘Work From Home’
Time feels like a surplus commodity when we work from home. A simple assignment that previously took no more than an hour now extends from lunch to evening tea, because we begin to take it easy. We put our feet up, we munch on muffins, and we think nothing of squeezing in a household chore or two between assignments. For instance, a dishwashing break may follow a call from the boss demanding immediate action on an urgent matter. Or a walk in the park may precede the writing of the all-important emails.
Thus, our WFH afternoons wear on. The clock ticks past five, past six, and past seven before we begin to notice the huge pile of the day’s pending work. My experience says that in such panic situations, a combination of chilled energy-boosting drinks and piping hot pakodas comes in handy. It perks up one’s spirits and rouses the thoroughbred professional in us. We fire on all cylinders and knock off one assignment after another with the efficiency of an employee of the year on steroids.
Rediscovering lost form is a deeply satisfying experience for any true professional, and we are no different. But what nags is that such satisfaction comes a little too late in the day. By the time we see off the last of our assignments, the clock’s hour hand is getting on for ten, and C.N. Parkinson’s sage words have come true – the work has expanded to consume the time available. All we are left with are few precious moments to dine, whine, browse through Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, and – while doing so – slip into the land of Nod.
When we next come to, a new morning is drawing in, and it’s time to brace up and log in for another day of work from home. As for the morning shower and laundry, there is no reason to worry. We can always sneak them in between the important assignments during the day.
Naresh Deoshi is a freelance writer from Delhi.