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‘People are more in control of their working day’: how lockdown changed the way we use our time | Fast master



Female student studying and listening to music at home

People perform better when they have control of their working day.
Photograph: damircudic/Getty Images

Lockdown changed our sense of space as our worlds shrunk to the confines of our homes. But it also messed with our sense of time, with the monotony of our days making them feel longer.

Even our most basic units of time sometimes seemed to change. Where we’d once typically divided our days into one-hour or half-hour blocks, some of us instead found ourselves scheduling in shorter snippets of time. Instead of sitting through drawn-out, boring boardroom meetings or labouring over lengthy tasks in our manager’s line of sight, many of us found ourselves working more flexibly, flipping between tasks at a faster rate thanks to the sudden merging of our work and home lives and the increased autonomy it affords us.

In short, many people have shifted to a new normal that involves filling bite-size units of time with bite-size tasks and activities.

Studies have indicated that during periods of ongoing stress and anxiety, the brain’s prefrontal cortex (responsible for our ability to focus on tasks) is significantly weakened. But a recent report from the American management consulting firm Boston Consulting Group found that 75% of employees reported being able to maintain or even improve productivity levels in certain tasks during the first months of the pandemic.

So could the shifts in our scheduling patterns mean we’re becoming more efficient in our work and in our day-to-day lives? Jane Piper, an organisational psychologist and business coach, thinks there are significant benefits to our new way of doing things. “People are more in control of their working day now, and we perform better when we have autonomy. Our days are more flexible to better integrate work and home lives, which leads to an increase in productivity and reduction in stress,” she says.

Taking responsibility for our own schedules also means there is likely to be a reduction in presenteeism, with employees no longer putting in unnecessary “face time” just to show that they’re working. “Working from home means managers have to trust people to do the work, even when they can’t see them,” says Piper. “It changes the question from: ‘Were they present at their desk?’ to ‘Did they produce what was required by the deadline?’ A real upside of the new working landscape is what we deliver, rather than when we deliver.” Of course, it won’t be the case for everyone, she says. “For some, it has been replaced by a digital version, with managers scheduling constant meetings in a bid to force staff to be ‘present’.”

David Ogilvie, who runs The Resilience Development Company, which trains and coaches organisations to optimise performance and productivity, says: “Humans just aren’t meant to focus for long periods – brains are most productive in ‘focused sprints’ compared with ‘marathons’.”

In the programmes Ogilvie runs, clients are advised to work for no more than 90 minutes and then rest for 20 minutes. “That might mean setting 90-minute chunks in your diary before breaking or switching to an easier task for the next 20,” Ogilvie says. “There are many variations out there, but the principle is always the same: watch for signs of energy flagging and then reset and start again.”

However, working in shorter bursts doesn’t mean multitasking. “Switching between tasks and multitasking is a feature of modern life, amplified by the pandemic,” says Ogilvie. “But this behaviour could be working against you – studies show that we can lose productivity if we multitask because our brain is switching focus.”

This distinction is key – and arguably explains why we can feel more productive when engaging in activity in short bursts, but less productive if we’re flitting between wildly different short-burst activities. It’s worth bearing this in mind whenever you want to make the most of handy, short-burst formats, such as the wealth of instructional videos on social media platforms. Short is good, but if you’re looking to learn a new skill or knowhow, focusing on that one subject or topic is also important. You could call it scrolling with intent.

So how do you retain the benefits of short bursts while avoiding the trap of multitasking?

Gemma Ray, a productivity expert and author of Self Discipline: A How-To Guide to Stop Procrastination and Achieve Your Goals in 10 Steps, suggests batching similar tasks to improve efficiency, and timing regular tasks to avoid falling prey to Parkinson’s law – the idea that work expands to fill the time available.

Minimising distractions is also key. “A study by the University of California states that it takes the average person 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back ‘in the zone’ once disrupted,” she says. “For some, working from home means less distractions in terms of colleagues or unnecessary meetings, which enables us to be much more productive.” Though, of course, others might fall into the unluckier bracket of domestic distractions, with children storming their 10am brainstorm or neighbours renovating their kitchen.

Explore the world of TikTok and discover the joy of learning new things in shorter bursts. What will you #LearnOnTikTok?

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Tamal Ray’s recipe for lemon cookie crumbles | The sweet spot | Food




January is, for some, a time for crash diets and exercise. I have some sympathy for the idea of new year rejuvenation (I had my list of resolutions drawn up in October), but putting a ban on all sweet treats, especially after the year we’ve just had, seems a little mean-spirited. Moderation is surely the thing we should be striving for, rather than abstinence? It’s in that spirit that this recipe came to be: a cinch to prepare and, sealed in an airtight container, something to be enjoyed over a couple of weeks.

Lemon cookie crumbles

If you want to get the lemon zest extra-fine, chop it up with a knife before adding to the mix, or, if using a blender, blitz the sugar and zest together first, before adding the other ingredients.

Prep 10 min
Chill 15 min
Cook 12 min
Makes 16

100g golden caster sugar
4 tsp finely chopped lemon zest
125g unsalted butter,
cold and cut into cubes
200g plain flour
1 medium egg
1-2 tbsp icing sugar,
to dust

The quickest way to make these cookies is by using a food processor. Put the caster sugar, lemon zest, butter and flour in the bowl and blitz for 30 seconds, until the mixture has a breadcrumb texture. If you’re making them by hand, stir the sugar, zest and flour together, then rub through the cold butter until it resembles breadcrumbs.

Whisk the egg in a small bowl, then carefully pour a little into the breadcrumb mix and blitz again, until you’ve added just enough that the mix starts to clump together without feeling sticky (you won’t need all of the egg).

Line two large baking sheets with greaseproof paper. Sprinkle the crumble mixture on to the baking sheets to form 16 8cm-wide circles, then chill in the fridge for 15 minutes.

Heat the oven to 190C (180C fan)/390F/gas 6. Just before you bake, sprinkle enough icing sugar over each of the cookies that you can only just see the dough underneath (use your fingertips, a tea strainer or a mini-sieve). Bake for 12 minutes, until the edges of the cookies are browned, then remove, leave to cool and store in an airtight container.

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Blind date: ‘I asked if he would sing to me. He refused’ | Relationships




Hannah on Morgan

What were you hoping for?
I run planet-friendly singles events in my spare time, setting other people up. I thought it was probably time to go on a date myself.

First impressions?
Friendly, sociable, great smile.

What did you talk about?
Cats, utilities (including water piping and electricity meters), plants, music, politics and sustainability.

Any awkward moments?
Takeaways don’t deliver where I am, so I had to watch him eat. He did let me pick what he ate, though.

Good table manners?
I was trying not to focus on how he was eating, to avoid making the me-not-eating thing too awkward.

How long did you stay on the call?
Four and a half hours.

Best thing about Morgan?
He was interested and interesting, super polite and (quite) charming.

Would you introduce him to your friends?
He’d definitely be a fun addition and could (probably) hold his own.

Describe Morgan in three words
Smart, cool, cat-obsessed.

What do you think he made of you?
He probably thought I was a little intense. I did ask him if he would sing to me at one point, and he refused. Fair play – I wouldn’t have done it, either.

Any connection issues?
I faked connection issues when it became clear he was a cat person. I’m more of a dog person myself.

And… did you swap numbers?
Apparently he doesn’t use WhatsApp (suspicious get-out strategy or genuine – who knows?). I did get some social media handles, though.

How did the call end?
We decided four and a half hours was definitely enough video call bonding for one evening.

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
A tiny bit of singing from Morgan would have been the cherry on the cake.

Marks out of 10?
It was a really lovely date. I don’t want to rank because he doesn’t deserve less than a 10.

Would you meet again in person?
Sure, I’m in. He did mention a high-speed train up to London.


Want to be in Blind date?


Blind date is Guardian Weekend magazine’s dating column: every week, two
strangers are paired up for dinner and drinks, and then spill the beans
to us, answering a set of questions. This runs, with a photograph we
take of each dater before the date, in Guardian Weekend magazine (in the
UK) and online at every Saturday. It’s been running since 2009 – you can read all about how we put it together here.

What questions will I be asked?
ask about age, location, occupation, hobbies, interests and the type of
person you are looking to meet. If you do not think these questions
cover everything you would like to know, tell us what’s on your mind.

Can I choose who I match with?
it’s a blind date! But we do ask you a bit about your interests,
preferences, etc – the more you tell us, the better the match is likely
to be.

Can I pick the photograph?
No, but don’t worry: we’ll choose the nicest ones.

What personal details will appear?
Your first name, job and age.

How should I answer?
but respectfully. Be mindful of how it will read to your date, and that
Blind date reaches a large audience, in print and online.

Will I see the other person’s answers?
No. We may edit yours and theirs for a range of reasons, including length, and we may ask you for more details.

Will you find me The One?
We’ll try! Marriage! Babies!

Can I do it in my home town?
Only if it’s in the UK. Many of our applicants live in London, but we would love to hear from people living elsewhere.

How to apply
Email [email protected]

Morgan on Hannah

What were you hoping for?
I’ve been single for around four months and I’m really enjoying it, so I wasn’t too worried about finding a relationship. I was excited to just enjoy the evening and see what happened.

First impressions?
Very bubbly with really pretty hair.

What did you talk about?
Politics, hobbies, our dreams for the future, the environment, where we’ve lived.

Any awkward moments?
It was a very smooth-flowing date from start to finish.

Good table manners?
When my takeaway finally arrived, I was four beers down, so I don’t think my manners were what they usually are. I had to have my earphones in, so the mic was quite close to my mouth, which couldn’t have been pleasant while I was eating.

How long did you stay on the call?
Four and a half hours, but the time flew by.

Best thing about Hannah?
I loved her enthusiasm for what she does and I really felt that she was interested in what I was saying.

Would you introduce her to your friends?
Yes, I would.

Describe Hannah in three words
Funny, engaging, bubbly.

What do you think she made of you?
I feel like she enjoyed my company. We had a lot of common interests.

Any connection issues?
It froze a couple of times.

And… did you swap numbers?
We didn’t, but we took each other’s Instagram.

How did the call end?
We thanked each other for a lovely date.

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
I’d like it to have been in person. Being flirty and having good eye contact is important in a date for me and it was hard to do that online.

Marks out of 10?
We promised not to score but I’m gonna say 10.

Would you meet again in person?
Yes – she seems a really great person.

• Fancy a blind date? Email [email protected].

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From deep-fried treats to curry: four ways with paneer – recipes | Food




While growing up in India, my mum, who sadly passed away in 2019, would always cook dishes that she thought were wholesome and would be enjoyed by the family or her friends. She made her own paneer but, years later, was very happy that she was able to buy it. On a very wet day, she would make us paneer pakoras, or shahi paneer on special occasions.

Paneer, as we know it, is easily available in supermarkets these days. If you’re making it at home, use full-fat milk: bring a litre to a boil, lower the temperature, add the juice of one small lemon and stir until the milk curdles. Remove from the heat, leave to cool for 10 minutes, then strain through a muslin cloth and squeeze out all the whey.

Palak paneer (pictured above)

Prep 10 min
Cook 25 min
Serves 3-4 as a side

350g spinach, washed
1 heaped tsp cornmeal flour
4 tsp ghee
1 tsp cumin seeds
7 tsp (15g) peeled and finely chopped ginger

3½ tsp (10g) peeled and finely chopped garlic
120g white onion, peeled and finely chopped
3 green bird’s eye chillies, finely sliced, seeds and all
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp heaped garam masala
1 tsp ground cumin
200g paneer,
diced into chunks

Put the spinach and 150ml hot water in a pan and cook for three to four minutes, until wilted. Add the flour and blitz to a puree with a hand blender.

To make the tadka, or temper, heat three teaspoons of the ghee in a saucepan and add the cumin seeds. Once they start to sizzle, add the ginger and garlic, and cook for a minute. Add the onions and chillies, and cook for five minutes on a medium heat. Add the salt, turmeric, garam masala and ground cumin, cook for a minute, then stir in the spinach puree, lower the heat and leave to cook gently.

Meanwhile, heat the rest of the ghee in a small frying pan and cook the diced paneer, turning it often, until browned on all sides. Add the paneer to the spinach mix, cook for three or four minutes more, until the paneer is soft and the spinach is nice and smooth, and serve with roti or paratha.

Shahi paneer

Romy Gill’s shahi paneer.
Romy Gill’s shahi paneer.

Prep 15 min
Cook 20 min
Serves 3-4 as a side

For the marinade
1 tsp peeled and grated ginger
1 tsp peeled and grated garlic
1 tsp tandoori masala
3 tsp water
200g paneer,
diced into chunks
2 tsp sunflower oil
(or ghee or butter)

For the sauce
3 tsp ghee
2 tsp peeled and grated ginger

1 tsp peeled and grated garlic
1 tsp salt
2 tsp caster sugar
1 tsp tandoori masala
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp ground turmeric
2 tsp me
thi (AKA dried fenugreek leaves)
green cardamom pods, crushed
1 x 400g tin
tomatoes, pureed
100ml single cream
50g cashew nuts, soaked in 100ml water and blended into paste

Put all the marinade ingredients except the oil in a bowl, then set aside for 15 minutes.

Heat the ghee in a pan and, once hot, add the ginger and garlic, and cook for two minutes. Stir in the salt, sugar, tandoori masala, garam masala, red chilli powder, ground turmeric, methi and crushed cardamom, and cook for another minute.

Add the pureed tomatoes, stir to combine, then add the cream and cashew paste and cook on a medium heat, still stirring so the sauce doesn’t stick to the base of the pan, for about three minutes.

While the sauce is cooking, heat the oil in a pan and, once hot, add the marinated paneer and fry, turning regularly, for three minutes, until cooked evenly on all sides. Transfer the paneer to the sauce and cook for a further four minutes, until the sauce is creamy and the paneer is soft. Serve with naan or roti.

Chilli paneer

Romy Gill’s chilli paneer.
Romy Gill’s chilli paneer.

Prep 20 min
Cook 20 min
Serves 3-4 as a side

For the marinade
200g paneer, diced into chunks
3 tsp (8g) peeled and grated ginger
3 tsp (8g) peeled and grated garlic
1 tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
4 tsp dark soy
1 tsp honey

For the base
6 tsp sunflower oil
1 tsp panch phoron
(you can buy this spice mix ready-made, but it’s made with equal parts nigella, fennel, cumin, black mustard and fenugreek seeds if you fancy doing it yourself)
2¼ tsp (6g) peeled and thinly sliced garlic

200g red onion,
peeled and thinly sliced
3-4 green bird’s eye chillies, finely chopped, seeds and all
1 tsp salt
2 tsp tamarind chutney
½ tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp honey
4 tsp soy
2 tsp tomato puree
6 mixed sweet peppers,
seeds removed, roughly diced into chunks

Put all the marinade ingredients in a bowl, toss to combine, then set aside.

To make the base, heat the oil in a wide-bottomed pan over a medium heat and, once hot, add the panch phoron. As soon as it starts to sizzle, add the garlic, cook for a minute, then add the onion and chillies, and saute, stirring often, for six to seven minutes.

Stir in the salt, chutney, spices, honey, soy sauce, tomato puree and 20ml water, and cook for two minutes. Add the sweet peppers, cook for another two minutes, then stir in the paneer and its marinade. Lower the heat, cover the pan and leave to cook for five minutes, until the paneer is soft to the touch. Serve hot with rice, roti or naan.

Paneer pakoras with mint and coriander chutney

Romy Gill’s paneer pakoras.
Romy Gill’s paneer pakoras.

Prep 35 min
Cook 15 min
Serves 3-4 as a side

For the batter
75g gram (AKA chickpea) flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp
garam masala
½ tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp chilli powder
Sunflower oil,
for frying
Chaat masala, to serve

For the marinade
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp chaat masala
220g paneer block,
cut in half through the middle, and then into square slabs

For the chutney
25g fresh mint
20g fresh coriander,
2 green bird’s eye chillies, roughly chopped, seeds and all
50g green apple, peeled, cored and cut into small dice
40g red onion, peeled and diced small
½ tsp salt
1 tsp caster sugar

Juice of ½ lemon
50-60ml water
2 tsp olive oil

To make the batter, sift the flour into a bowl, add the salt, garam masala, turmeric and chilli powder and mix to combine. Gently pour in 100ml water, mixing it in to form a thick batter – it should be sticky and not very runny.

Mix the marinade spices in a second bowl, add the paneer, toss to coat and leave to and marinate for 10 minutes.

Put all the chutney ingredients in a blender and blitz to a fine paste.

Pour oil into a deep pan or wok to come halfway up the sides and heat up carefully. Meanwhile, take one square of paneer, spread a thin layer of the chutney over one side, then put a second paneer square on the top like a sandwich. Transfer to a plate, and repeat with the remaining paneer.

Once the oil is hot, dip the paneer into the batter and, working in batches, deep-fry for three to four minutes, until crisp and golden brown on all sides. Transfer to a plate lined with kitchen paper, to drain off the excess oil, and repeat until all the pakoras are fried.

Transfer to a serving plate, sprinkle with chaat masala and serve with the leftover chutney and a cup of warming chai.

Romy Gill is the author of Zaika: Vegan Recipes from India (Orion, £20). To order a copy for £17.40, go to

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