2 Kids, 1 Week, 0 Sanity: Working from Home in the Time of COVID-19
Over the course of my professional career, I have worked from home for years at a time.
In fact, during the entire first year of my son’s life, I was stationed at home, working for a new company, watching this tiny human life grow day by day. It wasn’t always easy, but I felt lucky to be around to witness it. To help out when I could. Even watching him for fifteen minutes in the middle of the day so my wife could escape to have a shower. And being around all the time helped our relationship grow, mine and my son’s; I was anything but an absent father – in fact, I was constantly present.
It was beautiful and something I will always treasure. And yet, it was also mostly a choice.
This week was not.
Millions of Canadians suddenly found themselves working from home this week, and, despite what I’ve just said above, there wasn’t anything beautiful about it for most. Not even a little.
If you’re like me, with two young kids (both under three), life has hard limits on a daily basis. While I certainly think about my kids often throughout the day, after the insanity that is a normal morning, I get to shift gears, rearrange priorities. I get to both literally and figuratively shut a door and walk away from a toddler and a newborn so that I can focus on the tasks at hand.
Ah, the good old days.
As I’m writing this piece my right leg is jutting out from my chair to bounce my four-month-old in her own chair so that she remains asleep. The lights are off. Upstairs my two-and-a-half-year-old is roaring loudly. He’s old enough to have figured out how to tell Alexa to play The Lion King soundtrack, but not old enough to understand that playing it 47 times a day might drive his parents toward becoming more like Scar than Simba.
The reality of suddenly uprooting your daily routine cannot be understated. If you’re one of the lucky ones, one of the ones who still has their job, it’s nearly impossible to manage both work and home lives at the same time. Or, as George might have pointed out, having your world’s collide isn’t sustainable for anyone.
So, if you find yourself struggling through your new-found quarantine, here are a few tips I’ve used over the years – and past few days – to both defy the feeling of isolation and remain (mostly) productive.
Make a List
Beyond the fact that crossing things off of a list is one of the most satisfying feelings, making a list – as obvious as it sounds – will keep you on track. It’s not hard to get pulled off task by every bad-news tweet that gets sent out, or any text from a friend worrying about the latest US moron still heading out on spring break. The list will bring you back to reality.
Years ago, when I first started working from home as a freelancer, I would make a list of everything I had to accomplish that day. I mean, everything. If I wanted to cut my nails that day, it went on the list. If I needed to pick up groceries or order something online, on the list it went. That way, whenever I found myself getting distracted or losing focus on work, I would turn to the list and accomplish something that wasn’t work-related but still needed to be done that day. I would get a break from work, still get something done, and then return to work more focused.
Find a Space of Your Own
Not everyone working from home right now will be able to find a room of their own, but a space of one’s own is vital if you want to get anything done. It can be half of a table, the end of a counter, or even walking out occasionally to take a phone call in your car if you have to, but you need somewhere you can claim as your own for the work day. Somewhere you can put down your phone and know you’ll find it when you return. Think of it like airplane seating, we’re all crammed in here together, but dammit, you’re entitled to at least have one armchair rest.
Don’t Pretend You’re Not Working from Home
Kids walking into a video meeting? No problem. Screaming in the background during an update call? Yup, sounds about right. The most stressful thing you can do to yourself and your family is to try and pretend that things are normal and this is just “another day at the office.” It’s not and nothing is normal. Settle into that reality alongside everyone else and it will make everything just a little bit easier to handle.
All that pent up anxiety and anxiousness you’re feeling? Get it out. There are tons of ways to do this at home. Also, you can always go for a walk or a run – just make sure you’re practising proper social distancing. Getting outside will preserve your sanity, and getting a sweat on will soothe your tensions.
At the office, I’m always getting up. Grabbing a coffee, going to talk to someone, heading down the hall to the bathroom. If you’re working at a computer, it’s easy to let an hour or to pass by without moving. Don’t let that happen. Set a timer to go off every twenty minutes as a reminder. When it does, get up, stretch, move, do anything that isn’t just sitting in a chair. You only need to do so for 30-seconds to a minute.
Help out with the kids, stare out the window, get away from the news. Do what you have to do to get through the day. It seems that every hour brings more heightened information, more reasons to worry. If you don’t step back from it once in a while it can end up consuming your entire day.
Read a Book
Reading a good old fashioned book will get you out of the headspace this pandemic is causing. Not only do you have the time to re-visit old favourites or finally get to ones you’ve always been meaning to (I – subconsciously, I swear – went with Things Fall Apart)), but stepping outside of the news of the day will give your brain a much-needed escape from the overwhelming onslaught of bad news currently flooding every outlet right now.
Hahahaha. Kidding. Just do your damn best. We’re all in this together, apart. And if we all play our cards right, we might even end up coming out of it stronger in the end.