Whether you are thinking of Winston Churchill or Rahm Emanuel, they both advise that “you never let a serious crisis go to waste,” meaning that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before. And, even in the face of adversity, life can be pretty good. The physical distancing caused by COVID-19 certainly provides us with challenges, but therein lies the opportunity.
Struggling to Make Working at Home Work?
Are you stressed about the COVID-19 work-at-home policy? Maybe it sounded good at the outset. Maybe it even sounded great, in fact. But now, after a few days, you realize that you are staying up too late, eating too many potato chips and too much chocolate (is there such a thing!?). Your neck hurts because you are sitting with your laptop, where else, but on your lap?
If you have kids, add to this that you are now responsible for their learning and development while you work. Yikes! There is a reason we don’t all homeschool. All this time, you and your spouse try to limit their screen time while you increase your own.
Finding Opportunity! Tips for Making Your Life Work
Transitioning to work at home while physically distancing yourself doesn’t have to be this hard. You will have to diligently create a new routine for yourself, but that’s the opportunity. Do you want to exercise more? Eat better? Spend more time with your significant other or your kids? Be thoughtful, and do it. Think about all those projects that you’ve wanted to get to, but haven’t because you are on the road. Simple tricks for making the most of your time include:
Set Yourself Up for Success
1. Create Your New Normal: Kids, pets, and all people need routines. Get up and go to bed at the same time; don’t sleep in. Follow as much of your old routine as you can while you make the most of the opportunity to improve it.
2. Use a Calendar: Since you are creating your “new normal,” you may need some calendar support. Use your calendar to block out everything you do. This will help you keep on track as you develop new routines.
3. Write It Down: Don’t forget to use the calendar for everything, especially if you are forgetting calls or to take breaks.
4. Proactively Create Co-Working Norms: You and your spouse/roommate need to agree to how you are going to work in the same space, especially if one of you is a talker.
5. Create Your Office: Designate a separate room to work in, if possible. If you don’t already have a home office, a guest room or another little-used room is perfect. If you live in a studio or one-bedroom apartment, you’ll want to keep your workspace organized and ideally picked up when you are not working. This allows you to enjoy personal time without feeling like you have to work all the time.
Take Care of Your Body
6. Ergonomics Matter: Your desk, docking station, and external keyboard in the office are all set up so that you don’t get a stiff neck or sore back. Your dining room table and sofa are not. If you can set up an external monitor or keyboard, great. If not, be sure to change position frequently to mitigate feeling the effects of poor ergonomics.
7. Potato Chips Are Not Lunch: If you are used to purchasing lunch or dinner, preparing food may be a challenge. Make healthy choices such as fruits, vegetables, yogurt, cheese, and soup, which are all easy. Don’t forget to make a PB&J, simple and yummy! I love quinoa with olive oil—high protein and super healthy. If you are not in a healthy-food routine, it’s a great chance to create a new and better one.
8. Be a Corporate Athlete: Is your back stiff? Neck sore? You can’t concentrate any longer? Use exercise breaks to break up your day and recharge. If fact, use this as an opportunity to create heathier exercise routines.
9. Substitute Commute: Whether it was walking to the metro or doing chores before work, your pre-COVID-19 routine actually helped you loosen up, which is now more important given what is likely a poor ergonomic situation. Consider going for a walk or doing yoga before starting to answer your email in the morning.
Maintain the Line Between Work and Personal Life
10. Compartmentalize Your Time: Now that you are working at home, don’t work all the time. Don’t goof around all the time either. Stick to a work/home schedule and establish boundaries. If you used to ignore your email after 7:30 pm, continue to do so. Otherwise you risk never having a break, becoming stressed and burned out. See #2 about using a calendar.
11. Set Your Pace: Be reasonable in your expectations about how much you can accomplish in a day. Don’t yo-yo between trying to do everything in day and doing nothing. You’ll feel better about yourself and what you’re doing.
12. Dress for Work: I know this might sound silly, especially since you’re just hanging with Spot or Mittens, but get dressed in the morning. Shower and put on something you didn’t sleep in, even if it’s just a different pair of pajamas or yoga pants. This helps you compartmentalize and create your new normal.
Have a Social Life
13. No Mascara Is A Good Thing: If you don’t like being on camera, get over it! No one really likes it, or thinks she looks good. Don’t worry about getting made up—mascara is not a must to video chat a friend—unless it’s uplifting to you. No one really cares. That said, be sure to wear your fancy jammies on camera!
14. Stay Connected: So, you can’t make lunch or coffee plans? Bummer! Schedule friend and colleague meetings via Zoom. We’re so used to doing everything by email and text, it’s time to be a little old-fashioned. Pick up the phone. If answered, know your call is a welcome connection. Do the same with colleagues. Flattening the curve requires geographic, not social, isolation.
15. Make New Friends: Did you just email with someone who you’ll get together with when “this thing is over”? Don’t wait, Zoom or Face Time! What a fun way to break up your day!
Nurture Your Nature
16. Not Non-Stop: Research shows that you can only concentrate for 90 to 120 minutes without overdoing the adrenaline that comes with flight or fight. Use these breaks to exercise, call friends and colleagues, or catch up on the news.
17. No News Can Be Good News: Limit your consumption of negative news. It’s helpful to watch a little brain candy to relieve the tension.
18. Mind Your Mindfulness: As counterintuitive as it may be, it’s better to acknowledge your feelings and unmet needs than to suppress them. Whether you are frustrated, angry, or sad, accept it, and be with it. Then, be in action.
19. Balance Your “E” and “I” Time: Whether you are an extrovert or an introvert, you need BOTH time to yourself (to introvert) and time with people (to extrovert). If you start feeling “funky,” and have been socially isolated, reach out to a friend. Use video if possible. It makes a difference!
20. Be in Action: During stressful times it can seem like there is nothing to do, no good choices, and that there’s no way out or through. You obsess, are pessimistic. Don’t. Instead, do something, anything! Go for a walk, alphabetize your canned goods, or call a friend.
Play Nicely with Others
21. Don’t Take Things Personally, Really: It’s not news to say that everyone is a little (or a lot) stressed out. It’s the implications that aren’t so obvious. Communication can be difficult and misunderstood in the best of circumstances. Don’t take seemingly-curt emails, failure to return calls, or grumpiness personally. We’re all dealing with a lot, and some more than others.
22. Discuss and Meet: Especially if you are a manager, stay in contact with team members and create structure. Perhaps you have a group Zoom with everyone in the morning. Keep your regular check ins.
23 Your Kids, Other’s Kids: These are extraordinary times, and we have to be flexible. Your colleagues with children (especially little ones) have different claims on their time now that they are “co-working” with their children. Discuss when is best to schedule calls, and don’t be embarrassed or put off by kid interruptions. I’ve also heard from those who don’t have kids, that they don’t appreciate being “dumped on” because they “have all sorts of time.” The point is, everyone has responsibilities and personal challenges, so discuss what is possible and empathize with your colleagues. We are all stressed. Don’t assume.
24. Secure Insecurity: It’s natural to feel stressed when life is upended. That’s why routines are so important—Tip #1. But if you aren’t feeling good about your job performance generally, or are concerned that you won’t be able to deliver on a particular project, talk to your manager. Don’t just look for reassurance, but for guidance and clarity about expectations. Second “don’t”: don’t apologize for calling your manager (it’s his or her job), but ask if now is a “good time” to discuss work or schedule a time by email.
25. Your Project List: Want to do spring cleaning, write an article, or blog? Make a list, prioritize, and get into action! Using physical activities such as spring cleaning are a good way of breaking up the day.
26. Entertain, Engage, and Enjoy Your Kids: Wow! People with more experience than I have offer great suggestions for keeping your kids going. Just like with any other challenge, anticipate, plan, be flexible, and keep your sense of humor.
27. Keep Your Mojo Going: Don’t lose your sense of fun. Some games are fun for kids of all ages! I love the suggestion to use household items to go bowling. If you’ve got some budding lawyers ages 6-12, check out my friend Jessica’s upcoming Facebook Live readings of her novel, The Briefcase of Juris P. Prudence.
28. Start a Book or Movie Club: Decide on a book or movie to watch and then get together virtually to discuss it. It’ll provide distraction, connection, and fun.
29. Take Up a Hobby: Learn a language, an instrument, or whatever has interested you but for which you haven’t had time. With YouTube, you can learn just about anything!
30. Pretend You Are French: France shuts down for most of August and people spend time with their families minus the travel. So yes, this is challenging, and we’re all focused on work, but focus on how nice it is to spend quality time with your loved ones, rather than thinking you’re cooped up with them. That’s the best opportunity of all!
We hope these tips have been helpful! For more, join me for a webinar on April 7 at 10 am on this topic cosponsored by Women in Government Relations and the Women’s Bar Association of DC on April 7 at 10 am. Men are welcome! Details forthcoming. Sign up to be sure you are in the loop!
If you’d like to arrange to have the webinar delivered to your team or organization, reach out to us at email@example.com or 202-449-9751. And, if you’d just like to chat, follow Tip #15 and schedule a Zoom call with me!
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