When you’re working from home, without a commute to signal the start and stop of the day, time can feel as slippery as a Salvador Dalí clock. Back at the office? Hallway chitchat can be delightful…or a distraction. In other words, different ways of working in this hybrid world mean different ways of managing how we work. Or, as Jared Spataro, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for Modern Work puts it, “We’ve changed the way work fits into our lives.”
To that end, we engaged six authors of books on productivity to share their favorite personal practices for being intentional and having a growth mindset when it comes to tackling the flexible workday and ensuring everyone can thrive. They all pull from different toolkits, a great reminder that everyone runs on their own clock.
Anne Helen Petersen, co-author of Out of Office: The Big Problem and Bigger Promise of Working from Home
In her fourth book, the former academic and BuzzFeed editor offers an analysis of workplace culture and a future vision for wellbeing.
How I’m thriving: “The big thing for me is just being less precious about where and how work can occur. I used to think I needed to be online all day, working every hour. Now, I am able to move things around with more freedom. Maybe I take some time off on a Tuesday to garden, and then I put in some time to work on a Sunday morning.”
Create guardrails, not just boundaries: “Boundaries are personal. They are the responsibility of the individual. Guardrails are policies that everyone in an organization buys into—like not emailing on a Saturday to prevent burnout—so they become part of the corporate culture. They protect everyone.”
Audit your job description: “People are doing a whole lot more right now, and oftentimes their manager doesn’t even know what’s taking up a ton of their time. The idea is to look at your job description and do some inventory. Has it crept into different work that requires more emotional labor or extra hours? Should you be responsible for this new work? Talk to your manager—they need to know when people’s jobs have changed.”
Redefine culture: “New ways of working require a new culture. People should know what’s expected of them. When is it okay to have cameras off? When are messages casual or more formal? There needs to be digital onboarding so people understand how things are done now. That’s vital.”
Laura Vanderkam, author of The New Corner Office: How the Most Successful People Work from Home
The time management maven, who has worked remotely for almost 20 years, tackles everything from building a team to finding your work rhythm in her latest book.
How I’m thriving: “I make sure that I’m doing the right work for the right place by understanding what the benefits are of in-person and remote work. For me, in-person time should be primarily social and focused on relationship building—not big-picture stuff or anything really difficult. I save those tasks for remote work.”
Take only what you need: “People generally ask for 30 or 60 minutes for a meeting, but those are not divinely decreed amounts of time. Try planning meetings that last 10 or 20 minutes. Don’t elevate the clock over what you need to do.”
Create collaborative hours: “Teams that collaborate closely need to be available to each other in remote or hybrid work. So you can designate a time, maybe from 10 a.m. to noon on certain days, where people can reach out to each other without an appointment.”
Think TGIF: “Planning your week on Monday morning or Sunday night is not the best option. Use Friday afternoon to map out what you need to execute the following week. This habit has a couple of upsides: a lot of people are kind of sliding into the weekend by Friday afternoon, so it’s really hard to start anything new around that time anyway, and by planning in advance, you can jump right in on Monday morning.”
“Loosen up. Be more flexible with the understanding that this new shift creates a new level of complexity for people. Show more professional empathy to everyone.”
Alan Henry, author of Seen, Heard, and Paid: The New Work Rules for the Marginalized
In his debut book, the WIRED service editor seeks to empower racial and ethnic minorities, women, and LGBTQIA+ communities in the workplace with a manifesto for success.
How I’m thriving: “The best advice I live by and would give everyone at all levels is to just loosen up. Be more flexible. Not necessarily with work assignments or work hours, but with the understanding that this new shift creates a new level of complexity for people. I feel like it’s important to show more professional empathy to everyone.”
Interrogate your work: “Stop working for a second and think about the impact of the work that you’re doing. Is it glamour work that will get you noticed or just busy work that won’t stand out? Keep a work diary and write down your big wins or when that co-worker makes you mad. Write down that time your boss said, ‘Hey, you did really well there.’ It’s cathartic for sure. But you’re going to look back over those notes and be able to identify points that need your attention.”
Check yourself: “Marginalized folks will have a better chance at thriving in this hybrid setting if they work in environments where social baggage is identified and addressed. We all need to examine our implicit biases so we don’t create more barriers for them.”
Monitor microaggressions: “Microaggressions are some of the worst forms of workplace discrimination that anyone can experience. They’re extremely disruptive. I think managers get tripped up when they deal with a microaggression because they focus on the intention—like, why did someone do it?—when it’s really about stopping the action.”
Dr. Alice Boyes, author of Stress-free Productivity: A Personalized Toolkit to Become Your Most Efficient and Creative Self
Boyes, who has a background in clinical psychology, has written a new self-help book that puts compassion before productivity and amps up work intuition with quizzes and personalized systems.
How I’m thriving: “I use meetings as a chance to really connect and develop trust. There’s too much obsession with being efficient in meetings. The purpose should be human interaction and discovery. And if I’m working remotely, I take a walk during a meeting. That should be allowed.”
Allow for incidentals: “If you have a deep work session, you can recharge the mind afterward by running an errand or taking a walk. After an intense task, I drive 15 minutes to this vegan donut shop near my house, and that time lets my unfocused mind resolve problems or even spark a new idea.”
Empower with inspiration: “People don’t realize how easy it is to increase creativity. But with the internet and how search engines funnel information, everyone is exposed to the same ideas and material. To be more creative, connect with your inspiration instead of industry trends. What are you doing or reading outside of work? Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote Hamilton after reading a book on vacation.”
Honor your habits: “Reese Witherspoon and Ina Garten had this funny exchange about healthy habits on Twitter recently. Reese listed going to bed early, and Ina listed staying up late to watch TV. It just shows that even the most successful people have different routes to productivity. You might thrive on routine but someone else thrives on spontaneity. Conforming to a stereotype makes no sense because we’re all fundamentally wired differently.”
“It doesn’t serve productivity for everyone to feel permanently like they are in a horrible kind of existential debt—like they’ve got to do tons more work. Keep a list of things that the team has done.”
Rick Pastoor, author of Grip: The Art of Working Smart (And Getting to What Matters Most)
The Dutch entrepreneur leans into how we should interface better with our tech tools and redefine work goals in the book he originally published in the Netherlands.
How I’m thriving: “I ask myself, ‘When do I do my best work?’ and ‘How do I do my best work?’ It’s fascinating to me that people who are amateur runners know more about how they function in their chosen sport than how they perform in the workplace. I create a professional playbook where I figure out my best hours in the day to connect with colleagues and what it takes to get in the mode for something more like troubleshooting.”
Start cooking: “Think like a chef. A chef works on only one task at a time and then cleans the work space. Turn off notifications and make sure there’s only one thing open on your computer so you can focus. There’s abundant research that says multitasking prevents you from getting to a higher level of creativity and quality.”
Schedule pre-op and post-op time: “To really know how much time it takes to do something, you need to have a learning loop that takes in the time before the work and the time after you complete it. You have to prepare for a meeting, for instance, and then get feedback. Add that to your calendar so you have that time scheduled.”
Use your toolbox: “Craftspeople rely on their tools—a good hammer is an extension of the arm. But that’s not the case for knowledge workers. I see people at work who don’t know how to use their keyboards. They don’t know there is a world of features behind a couple of menus. When people say, ‘I get lost in my priorities,’ I ask, ‘Did you explore your tools, which can provide insights to projects?’ Knowing your software can save so much time and take you to the next level.”
Oliver Burkeman, author of Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals
The British journalist and humorist focuses an existential lens on how best to allot time to work, love, and life in his third witty book.
How I’m thriving: “During the pandemic, I had little enforced reminders of what I care about the most. When I was living in New York, I spent much of lockdown outdoors in the park, getting to know neighbors, getting to know the streets I actually lived on. And I think lots of people have different versions of this, right? We figured out what matters to us.”
Intimidated? Wait it out: “Hard work brings us into contact with our limitations—and we don’t like to feel that, so we run away to a distraction. We shift our mind to an easier task, right? That’s because we have a low threshold for discomfort when it comes to work that is intimidating. When I hit writer’s block, I hang with it. It won’t kill you to sit with that feeling and see if you can work through it.”
Broadcast tiny victories: “Celebrating small wins is a very, very big deal. It doesn’t serve meaningful productivity for everyone to feel permanently like they are in a horrible kind of existential debt—like they’ve got to do tons more work. Keep a clearly visible list of things that the team has done because it provides huge momentum and suggests that you’re all doing something right.”
Just don’t do it: “As a society, we’re dedicated to endless speed and acceleration and productivity for its own sake. One practice I like is a ‘do nothing’ meditation where you literally attempt to stop doing anything at all for a period of 10 minutes. The deeper point here? There’s a muscle to be trained to resist the urge to rush through things and get it all done because that’s not the path to a meaningful end.”
WorkLab is a place for experts to share their insights and opinions. As students of the future of work, Microsoft values inputs from a diverse set of voices. That said, the opinions and findings of the experts we interview are their own and do not reflect Microsoft’s own research or positions.