Lessons from 2020: Protecting My Time

Setting work boundaries pre-2020 was not my forte. Being thrown into a pandemic that forced me to work from home helped me see the damage my lack of boundaries was causing, and I was able to course correct my behavior.

Pre-pandemic, I would willingly give my time away to any co-worker who asked for it. My desk was at the end of a row, right by the entrance, and all day long, community members would walk over, stop, and talk to me. Sometimes for minutes, sometimes for over an hour. Our conversations were often community-focused, so it counted as work. Right?

Being a community manager is a weird job because connections are part of the job. I felt compelled to make these connections and sometimes prioritized them over work that needed to get done. More and more frequently, I was finding I was staying late, missing my yoga class, or having to order takeout because I was too exhausted to make dinner. Compile that with all of the in-person events I was running, and I was on the road to burnout.

It was apparent to me in early 2020, there was an issue, and when people started stopping by, I would say, “I would love to chat right now, but it’s not a good time. Should we schedule a meeting?” It was helpful, and I was able to start reclaiming my time. People would often say, “It’s not important,” and off they would go. No hard feelings!

Then as soon as we needed to start working from home, I immediately became more productive. Communication structure had to be built around our community interactions because we weren’t in-person, and I realized that people started thinking before slacking me. In return, I had to do the same! All communications had to become intentional and have had to continue to be as such. Sure, I miss the water cooler chat, but not enough to sacrifice my productivity.

With all of the time, I was able to get back, and I focused on the work of enabling connecting our community members rather than doing all of the connecting myself. Suddenly our community felt more self-sustaining, which helped with our team’s goal of “not doing all the things.”

I was also able to decide to log off no later than 6:00 PM each day. Suddenly I was exercising again regularly, pet projects I had put down were able to be picked up, and I started chipping away at a backlog of TV series I had meant to enjoy. Last year, the world may have felt like it was melting down around me, but as a wise person once said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” So I didn’t.

You may be saying, “but why did that take you so long to figure these boundaries out?” And it’s a good question. In this scenario, I think it was a lack of definition of what my job and goals were. Of course, I had programs I was building and events I was rolling out, but my job was basically to keep the community happy. I wasn’t necessarily connecting and driving my work towards my company’s KPIs, and I weight the servant part of “servant leadership” above the leadership part. Big mistake.

A lot of folks are trashing 2020, and I can’t get on that bandwagon. Yeah, it wasn’t great, but the growth I experienced was long overdue. I have never felt more ready to tackle the aggressive 2021 roadmap that my team committed to executing. I don’t log off on Fridays with a lingering feeling of dread because I am behind on my work and feeling out of control. And, I have more and more time for myself, which is a win-win. To level-up, all I needed to learn was how to say no.

One day we will be back in the office, and I will carry this lesson with me. I can’t go back to “normal”, because “normal” wasn’t cutting it for me.

Published by April Lee Uzarski

Pittsburgh-based lover of adventure, and anything fun.

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