Tuesday, March 17, 2009

What Working Part-Time Has Taught Me

For the first time in a long time, I do not have a full-time job (not counting being a mom because yeah, we all know parenting is more than a full-time job). I’ve spent nearly a year now working part-time, with a good portion of my hours from home. The perks? Obviously, I have fewer hours to report to "the man" which means more time for family and home responsibilities. Working from home is great, too. I can be with my baby while I work, allowing me to nurse pretty much full-time. I don’t feel guilty about going to the park for a jog with the kiddos in the afternoon. And, I have the great luxury of working in my jammies if I want to. (I usually don’t, though.)

Of course, part-time employment has its share of drawbacks, too. Knocking off some hours means that I took a pretty hefty paycut. I also locked myself into my current position (as far as status and money goes) because part-time at my employer means no raises and no promotions ever. Working from home is a little hairy at times. It’s not uncommon to find myself vexed with deciding whether to play with my infant who is wanting some attention or to discuss projects with a coworker who is also needing my attention. Doing both at the same time is a recipe for disaster. Putting either off for too long also equals disaster.

Working part-time, though, has taught me a great deal about time management that I never knew before. Here are my new rules for working efficiently:

Rule No. 1: Zoning Out Is for People with Office Jobs
My Past: It was my favorite thing to do in the morning: Get a cup of coffee, sit down at my desk, open my email/calendar program, and stare. I might zone out as much as 10 or 15 minutes, maybe even 20, mindlessly checking a few emails, or just staring at the calendar, thinking about the day.
My Present: If I have a few minutes in the morning before the children have awakened, it’s power work time. I log on to my company’s VPN, skip the email, and dive straight into the tasks I meticulously wrote down at the end of the previous day.
My Take: I have found that early in the morning I can get about an hour’s worth of work done in 20 minutes.

Rule No. 2: Lunch Breaks Are for Wimps
My Past: It’s not uncommon for folks at my company to take long, leisurely lunches as much as once a week. When I first started the job, I thought this was crazy. But, I soon learned it was part of our unique culture and settled myself down into it quite nicely.
My Present: Lunch is an opportunity for work. The kids are distracted with food. The laptop is portable, so I can work at the kitchen table while helping them with refills and spills. I eat my own lunch at the computer while the baby enjoys her post-lunch nap.
My Take: Lunch is the best time to check and respond to emails that do not require me to do much additional research.

Rule No. 3: Multitasking Is for the Unproductive
My Past: My desk rivaled the final rundown of a popular Christmas song: 12 computer apps running, 11 chat windows blinking, 10 edits I'm entering, 9 emails lingering, 8 webpages calling…
My Present: I do one thing at a time, and oh the glory! It’s easier to get something finished. It’s easier to come back to one task after something or someone interrupts me and remember what I was doing. It's easier to concentrate! I’d rather finish something and move on to another task than work on 12 tasks at the same time.
My Take: I’m actually getting more stuff done more quickly than before.

Rule No. 4: Get Rid of the Chaff
My Past: Anytime anyone asked me to help out with a project or do something at work, I would almost always say yes. The result was that I collected numerous extra projects that I had to keep up with and, well, do.
My Present: I’m getting rid of a lot of my extra projects, and I’m saying "no" more often. Recently, I had the awesome opportunity to chair a conference that my department produces. The old me would have climbed on that with spurs on. But I elected to say no. And, it felt great.
My Take: Taking two weeks to consider a project gives me more time to think through whether I want to add the responsibility and time commitment to my plate; it also lets the asking party know that I’m serious about checking out the offer before shouting “yes” or “no.”

Of course, being a full-time parent and primary caregiver for my children means that all bets are off very frequently. Even the best-planned day can turn into a whirlwind of inefficiency. That's when I break out my WCS kit: burn the midnight oil and pray.

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