The coronavirus pandemic affects everyone in different ways. Some families are struggling with loss or illness due to COVID-19. Healthcare workers and other essential workers are figuring out how to contain risks for other loved ones at home. And many people — more than half the workforce in several industries — have adapted to live, work, and care for family at home.
Or at least, sometimes it seems like everyone else has adapted. If you’re bewildered that some people seem to meet work deadlines, homeschool their kids, and bake fresh sourdough bread when you’re barely scraping by, pull up a chair! We’ve got ideas to feel more organized when you’re trying to fit all the parts of your life under one roof.
Start With a Schedule
You don’t need a color-coded calendar that breaks your day into 15-minute increments (unless you really want one). But you probably do need at least a rough guide to get you through the day.
It can help to keep the whole family’s schedule in one place, such as a whiteboard at the dining table with columns for each family member. Designate blocks for work time (or remote learning, crafts, or screen time for kids), outdoor time, family time, and quiet time.
Your secret weapon here is knowing what the game plan is, even if (or more likely, when) you go off course. Coming up with a plan B is easier when you had a solid plan A to start with. It may also be easier to find a parenting rhythm when you and your kids know what’s coming next.
You might find that, oddly enough, you’re more productive at home without office distractions. Or you may struggle to shake off a productivity slump, or feel bogged down with Zoom meetings. The amount of extra childcare or housework you take on also affects how much you can reasonably expect to accomplish each day.
Communicating with everyone around you is key. Tell managers what you’re up against and discuss which projects should be your primary focus right now. Coordinate with your partner about what times you both need for work sprints and meetings, and when you can keep half an eye on the kids while you clear out emails. Communicate with your kids about what’s happening next in their day, when they can interrupt you, and when you need to be alone to concentrate.
Chances are that everyone will need to make some compromises. You won’t know the best way to find an arrangement that meets as many needs as possible until you compare everyone’s to-do list.
Keep Expectations Reasonable
Even if you’re not on the frontlines, you may still be experiencing a sense of trauma from frightening headlines and distance from loved ones. Managing your expectations for yourself and your family can help you cope. The aim is to find a balance between “try to excel at everything” and “let life descend into chaos.” Here are our happy-medium tips for every sphere of your life.
If you’re working remotely, hopefully your workplace understands that your hours might be a little more irregular, or that there might be more background noise than usual. If possible, stagger schedules with your partner to maximize time that one of you is available to handle the home front.
How much flexibility you can expect depends on your job. But the more you can break down your usual workload into piles of essential tasks, “do if possible,” and items to set aside for now, the better prepared you might feel to make the best contributions you can.
Some kids respond well to the structure of school Zoom meetings and activities. Others are overwhelmed by distance learning assignments. It might make sense to drop participation in some suggested activities. Or you could expect your kids to complete a portion of their assignments, but not all.
The Illinois State Board of Education released a set of remote learning guidelines that have been making the rounds online. Notably, they recommend spending much less time on remote learning than some parents might expect. Most elementary schoolers should spend only 1-2 hours on remote learning, and the recommended attention span is only about 10 minutes at a time. High schoolers should spend 2-4.5 hours in total on remote learning.
If you usually work outside the house, you’ve probably noticed an uptick in household messes. Normally, your family would spend the bulk of the day at work or school. The increased foot traffic and meals eaten at home means more clutter, more dirt, and a sink that never seems to empty. There’s no custodian at home, so the work falls to you.
The trick here is to find a way to scale back on home expectations but to keep daily routines sustainable. That could look like having sandwiches or “breakfast for dinner” twice a week, and regular dinners the other nights. You could turn a blind eye to the kids’ bedrooms as long as the living room stays relatively clutter-free. Try giving each family member their own basket. It’s each person’s job to clear their own items out of the living room and dining room before dinner each day.
Set Work and Home Boundaries
One of the pitfalls remote workers know is that it’s all too easy to blur the line between work and home life. Trying to multi-task tends to backfire. You end up distracted by work email during family time, or missing a meeting because emptying the dishwasher snowballed into a pile of chores. Stay focused with these strategies:
Work in a dedicated space
Ideally, you have an office. If not, hopefully a quiet desk or table. If even that feels out of reach (because the kids are having meals or studying at the table, or you’re switching with a partner), find some way to make it clear that your space is for work. Maybe you have to work in the bedroom, but you can choose to sit in a chair, not your bed. If the couch is your best option, turn the TV off and use a timer as a visual reminder that you’re “on the clock.”
Give yourself a transition ritual
Your commute is usually a clear indicator that you’re shifting from one state of mind to another, too. When working from home, you might prepare a cup of coffee or tea or put on a more professional outfit to prompt yourself into work mode. At the end of your workday, close the computer, wash your face, or take a few moments to stretch to signal yourself that it’s time to switch off for the day.
There’s no one perfect solution that works for every household. If you haven’t found a “new normal” rhythm that makes quarantine feel easy, you’re not alone! Even the people who seem to have it all under control on social media probably have a messy sink, too. The best advice we can give is to use the tips that work in your home, and try not to compare yourself to other families. If you’re doing your best to keep your family safe and happy (at least most of the time), your focus is right where it should be.