The coronavirus, or rather our response to it, has had an impact on all aspects of life. Fundamentally it has had an impact on time: how (and where) we spend time, our routines, and the ‘cost’ of time. It has also had an impact on relationships: who we interact with and how we conduct those interactions. Such are these dramatic changes to our lives, many people are questioning what the ‘return to normal’ could look like.
Lockdown has forced us to rip up our usual routines. What we do, how we do it and where we do things – all of these have changed. We are spending more time at home. We are relishing the brief opportunities we have to spend outside the house. I chuckled at a comment I saw on social media, referring to Britons taking their daily exercise. The comment observed that seemingly the best way to encourage more people to take up regular outdoor exercise is to tell people to stay at home.
Spending more time at home comes with its plusses and minuses. Some people are enjoying the flexibility of time they have. Others are missing routine. For those spending more time with their family at home, this comes with rewards and pitfalls. Some of course are spending lockdown by themselves, also a combination of blessing and curse. The other side of the coin is of course the family, friends and colleagues who we don’t see – or don’t see face-to-face – which is taxing many people psychologically.
Some people are of course looking at the economic ‘cost’ of time. The old adage ’time is money’ is of course correct in that we do, in many activities, ascribe time with a monetary value – the hourly wage, the day-rate, etc. There is a nexus of relationships between time, money and productivity. With people working differently, or not at all, time is not being used productively in an economic sense. Or rather, it is not being used as productively as it might be under ’normal’ circumstances. More people are working at home. For some people this isn’t new, it is standard or perhaps just an increase in the proportion of their working week where they’re at home. For others this is new territory. Regardless of whether working from home is a new experience, this isn’t of course working from home as most people usually do it. Many people don’t normally juggle working from home with the childcare obligations that school closures currently require. There is much speculation about whether the increased working from home and greater use of technology to keep organisations ticking might lead to long-term shifts in how we work. This might well be the case, but those making decisions need to remember that current working from home habits and productivity isn’t in any way representative, for a host of reasons, childcare being just one.
Having been forced to spend our time differently many of us are probably going to reflect, if we haven’t already, on how we spend out time usually and whether we’re getting it right. While not perfect, I think the notion of ‘spending’ time is very appropriate. Not because of the monetary value mentioned earlier, but because it recognises that time is the most valuable resource which anyone has.
One aspect of that reflection will be how we might conduct our relationships – family, friends, etc – differently. Many have flocked to Skype, Zoom and the like to continue social contact. This is great where possible. For lots of people though, this enforced virtual contact might make them think again about spending some of that valuable time seeing people face to face. Or it might be that the people we’re calling, texting or messaging online with greater frequency than normal (‘because we can’) don’t get relegated down our daily or weekly priorities as soon as normal life resumes (no more ‘I never find the time’).
Humans are social animals and we all share a truth that time is our most valuable, finite resource. Decisions we take on how we spend our time and who with are fundamental to our happiness and the meaning we find in life. I hope that the lockdown makes us realise this more clearly and take some time to think about those decisions we make.