We are living in unprecedented times. Of course, you know that. You may sitting at home right now in your favorite sweats, cuddling your third cup of coffee close, and eyeballing the Zoom meeting in progress on your screen, while simultaneously staring at your daughter’s homework and quietly wondering when 4th grade math became so difficult.
You can’t remember if today is Thursday or the fourth Monday of the week, and you’re not really sure it matters either way. “Social distancing” and “flatten the curve,” phrases you first heard uttered just a month or so ago, have now become common refrains. In the midst of your overwhelm and anxiety over current events, you’re trying to figure out how to balance working at home with all the other bits of chaos swirling around you. Sound about right?
We’re in This Together
There’s a certain comfort in knowing you’re not alone. Every one of us is currently trying to figure out how to keep afloat in the same set of circumstances. And if you think that those who had already cultivated a solid work-at-home routine have a leg up, let me assure you, even they are struggling to find their balance and footing.
Nothing about this is normal or familiar for any of us. Those who have previously established a home office for occasional or full-time work are now trying to balance their work time with a partner working at home, children schooling at home, a pet who can’t figure out why everyone is in the house at once all the time, and a litany of anxieties ranging from the financial impact of an entire country in some form of quarantine to the health and wellbeing of those they care about.
Be Kind to Yourself and Others
As noted, we’re all in some measure of disruption and that’s okay. In fact, it’s expected and normal. Give yourself space to feel these very real, very valid emotions. That little voice that says “Pull it together, you’ve got to be tougher” is going to make it harder on you to move into a better mental space. In a similar vein, if your kitten happens to wander her way into the middle of your video call with your team or your daughter accidently interrupts an afternoon client call, take a deep breath and go with it. The people on the other end of these calls are probably just relieved your personal life extended into the call before theirs did. They understand. They are managing the same things.
Give Space for It
Maybe you don’t normally start off team meetings with a dose of small talk and mental health check-ins, but these aren’t normal times. When you do gather your team for a virtual meeting, start things off by checking in with them – not their workload, not their progress…them. Even the best of us aren’t going to compartmentalize a global pandemic well. It’s going to be there dancing around our minds in some form, 24/7. Giving space to acknowledge the reality of our current climate and allowing your team to share their challenges is a good thing. You don’t need all the answers, just the empathy. Being a leader who supports her team matters, and right now, that support transcends the workplace.
Maintain a Routine
There’s a whole lot that has changed in your life. Among that list of things, you’re not putting on your professional attire and making your way to the office. You’re not helping the kids ready their backpacks, nor are you rushing them out the door. It can be tempting to welcome these shifts as an invitation to sleep in a little later. Don’t give in to that temptation. There is a benefit to holding tight to as many routines as we can in this time. On one hand, there’s comfort in routine. On the other, it can help establish the boundaries between school, work, and family time. Get up. Shower. Put on clothes that are different than whatever you slept in. Eat breakfast. Then move to your designated workspaces and begin your day. Take a lunch (and recess!) and end your workday at a set time.
Turn it Off
Yes, that’s right. I said end your workday at a set time. Work-at-home veterans can attest to this: It is too easy to let space between work and personal time bleed into obscurity. You’re holding enough tension across your shoulders. Don’t add overworking to it. Designate hours for working and keep them. The rest of your calendar may have suddenly opened up, but that doesn’t mean you need to fill those hours with more work. Fill it with family time. Fill it with that DIY project you’ve been talking about doing. Fill it with something that fills you up and gives you peace.
Know This too Shall Pass
Right now, it might feel like all this is our new norm, and that this is now the way life is going to be here on out. It’s not. This is temporary. When it ends, and it will end, things may not revert back to the way they were exactly, but they also won’t stay the way they are today.
Embrace the opportunity offered in the here and now. This is a chance to really evaluate what you’ve been doing and identify what you want to take back when we transition out of pandemic-response mode, and what you may have been holding on to needlessly for too long.
Those long work hours – were they necessary? You’ve kept your business alive in tough times without them. Do you really need them when things are back to normal? Those excessive meetings and practices? Were they all necessary or are they part of a flimsy ideal of “having it all, all the time, all at once” that we once clung to? Ask the hard questions. Take back what edifies and fulfills you. Let go of what was only adding stress with low payoffs.