Great ideas and mundane work, part 2

One of the downsides noted in some research into flexible working that I read earlier this year is that people who are at work can get frustrated by being unable to communicate with workers who aren’t. Reflecting on my sense of busyness over the past couple of months, I realise that I might have been experiencing this problem from the flexible worker’s perspective: feeling busy even in my time off because I know there’s e-mails waiting to be answered as soon as I get back to work.

I’m also reminded of the explanation for why we feel like our lives are getting busyer and busyer even though our working hours have not changed since the 1970s: even when I’m not at work I know there’s e-mail in my inbox waiting to be answered (or, if there isn’t, there probably will be by the time I get back). I’ve come to wonder if I’ve spent too much of this busy period just waiting for it to end rather than working out a pattern of work that deals with it.

On the weekends, I can usually relax and do my own thing, because no one else is sending e-mail either, and I’m comfortable with not replying until Monday even if someone does send e-mail. But on my mid-week days off, I continue to receive e-mail at the usual rate and this contributes to a sense that I have things are piling up to be done (even if it turns out I can clear the pile within an hour or so of returning to work).

A while ago I noted a Conversation article arguing that shorter working days may be more practical than shorter working weeks, and I have indeed tended to work more this way since taking up the course advisor role that generates most of my e-mail. Spending half a day every workday responding to requests keeps the work ticking over in a way that working 2.5 days per week does not. And without the need to be in the office to do the work, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, I can work half-days without wasting a lot of time travelling to and from the office.

It can nonetheless be a little annoying having to spend good part of every day answering e-mail when, earlier in the year, I’d set myself to work one full day every week on A Little Research. (And perhaps A Little Research would have achieved more if I’d been able to stick to this.) What’s more, every now and again I’d like to take a day to go somewhere and do something other than sit in front of a computer. But, then again, full-time workers get by working all day every workday so I really ought not to have much to complain about.

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