Clock Watching During Quarantine

Earlier today, I sat on the couch with my wife, taking a break. See, in work from home mode, things are fluid. I’d been answering emails all morning (such tiring work, really.) I mentioned being hungry, to which she replied “then get something to eat!”

I checked my watch. 11:30 AM.

“I’ll get something when it’s lunchtime.”

“Well, it could be lunchtime right now! Why are you such a slave to the clock?”

Well…I’m not. I mean, okay, yes, I am a bit of a Time Cop™ in the sense that I absolutely abhor being late. In my mind, showing up “on time” is actually about 5-10 minutes tardy. It gives me absolutely real anxiety and stress to find that I’m running behind schedule. In that sense, my wife was 100% spot-on in her assessment. However, I also have always been fairly flexible with regards to the times things occur throughout the day. Is there a meeting at 1pm? I’ll take lunch early. Nothing on the books? Maybe I still eat early, in order to get to the gym for a bit. Maybe I’m there an hour. Maybe I’m there 90 minutes. Meh. Big deal. As long as the work gets done, who cares? A two-hour TV commercial shoot at 10:30 AM? Guess my lunch is going to be late. No big deal. Things are fluid, life at an advertising agency is always in flux. That’s where my small (five person) agency excels: we’re not rigid, confined by red tape and inflexible schedules. We roll with the punches and find a way to make everything work.

But now? Gosh maybe the spouse is correct. Maybe I have been assigning too much importance to when I take my lunch, or when I shut down for the evening. And maybe there’s a real good reason why.

See, before COVID-19, I had a routine. Not necessarily a hard-core schedule, because of the reasons I mentioned above, but also because during a regular school year I am at the whims of my children, and their school schedule. Father-son breakfasts, honor roll meetings, field trips, all these can play havoc with a hard and fast daily itinerary. Add to that a teenager who is supposed to be at school by first bell at 7:20 AM, but who often needs to be literally pushed out of bed on many cold, dark, January mornings, and it becomes obvious that a person in my position needs to remain agile and reactive.

But even so, there had always been a loose expectation of unfolding events, an order, a series of dominoes that clicked off one after the other.

Get up. Brew a cup of coffee. Feed the cats. Make sure the teenager is brushing his teeth. Get dressed. Check appointments for the day. Browse Facebook while having a bite. Get the kid to school. Drive to work. Open the office. Make sure the Mac is up and running. Make another cup of coffee. Check emails. Traffic meeting. Settle in to write some scripts. And so on. And so forth.

Now? There’s no such routine. There’s waking up, rolling over, checking the phone, and getting to work from my bed. Replying to an email on the way downstairs. Oh, there was a problem with a TV spot upload last night? Might as well get that sorted while the coffee is on. The cats can wait. Huh. A text from the boss. Client wants to shoot a COVID-centric commercial. What time looks good today? Hold on, let me check the weather. Yeah any time. Client says 1PM. Okay. Home by three. Editing until…oh, crap! It’s 7pm! Where the hell did the time go? Did I feed the cats? Are the children awake? Nobody knows. The world is a blur. There is nothing but my Mac and me. Hey, that reminds me of that great Paul Rudd running gag. Did I eat? Yes, I think…

I guess the point is that I’m discovering that on some level, yes, I guess I do worship at the church of the clock, but only as a way of applying some sort of structure to this whole miasma. Waypoints of sorts for a daily journey. Self-checks to ensure that I remember that there is more to this life. They say that in these WFH weeks…months…years? It’s important to try and act like you’re still at WORK work. Shower. Get dressed. Etc. Maybe it’s also important to remember that lunch is at noon, unless you have a meeting…in which case shoot for11:30. (And make sure lunch is more than a handful of peanut M&Ms, mmmkay?) Allow yourself a cocktail when you get “off work” at five. Or six. But just try and keep some sense of a “workday.”

And maybe when this is over, we’ll all take a moment to re-evaluate what a workday even is. Won’t matter, my kid will still be late for school.