Many of us have had our routines, in a matter of weeks, completely upended. Only a short while ago, we continued to commute to our workplaces. We still went to our gyms. We attended our weekly gatherings with friends and family.
But now, almost everyone is being asked by their employers and health officials to stay home, except to shop for groceries, go to the bank and other “essential” errands. While living and doing your job from home might sound more relaxing and manageable than having to actually go into work, your nearby bed and couch, combined with being completely isolated, can make it extra tough to accomplish much of anything.
I want to be clear, though, that despite what some jerks are spewing about how much Shakespeare and Isaac Newton accomplished while in isolation, being a slob in quarantine is just fine. In fact, it would be shocking if all of us were able to go about our lives, write masterpieces and discover entirely new laws of nature right after being shoved into our homes and told not to come out.
Nonetheless, while nobody should feel pressured to overexert themselves while stuck in quarantine, doing your best to stay somewhat productive — even if that means making more time to watch your favorite show — can help you maintain your sanity. And since learning how to get back into the swing of things during such an impactful lifestyle change can be tricky, I asked a couple of efficiency coaches for advice, which you can find down below.
Try to Adjust Quickly
I know your immediate response to working from home might be to panic, eat your entire pantry and curl up in a ball on the couch, but the earlier you can create some sort of routine, the easier it is to keep it up. “It’s easier to establish new habits at the beginning than to spend weeks watching Netflix every morning, get in trouble with your boss and then try to re-establish a new, efficient routine urgently, once a report is overdue,” says Nicola Brown, efficiency and executive coach. As for how to go about creating a new routine…
Maybe Just Stick With Your Old Routine
One of the tips you might have seen making rounds on the internet is to essentially do what you normally do to prepare for work, sans commuting. “One of the biggest things that’s helped a lot of my clients is staying with their regular routine as much as possible, meaning you get up at the same time in the morning, you go take a shower, you go get dressed, you go set those schedules, just like if you were going into the office,” says Yvonne Heimann, business efficiency consultant. “That helps you keep your mind in that same workflow. It gets you ready to actually do work.”
Brown has a slightly looser approach, at least when it comes to clothes. “You can probably get away with dressing more casually to work at home,” she says. “There’s no need to haul out the ironing board if it’s just you and your computer all day. But pay attention to what’s on the agenda: If you quickly throw on a shirt before an important business meeting via video conference, and then have to get up part-way through the event to referee a fight between children, you might really wish you weren’t wearing pajama pants.”
Create a Completely New Routine
While some people work well on their old routine, if you always found waking up early to be difficult or that you work better later in the day, now’s your chance to work the way you work best, even if that means shifting schedules. “Pay attention to your most effective times of day for focusing your attention, and try to schedule your trickiest work for those times,” Brown says. “Set up your work space the way you like it — you’re no longer in an open-plan office, so you don’t have to be quietly simmering about your work neighbor eating fish at their desk while chatting noisily on the phone about a social event you weren’t invited to.”
“If you like noise in the background,” Brown continues, “make yourself a great playlist. If you like quiet, maybe you have that at home (or maybe you have children). Remember to build in a way of decompressing after work time, too — you don’t currently have the commute home to do this, so include a way to transition between work and not-work. Have a living room dance party, play a game, get outside if you can or catch up with your favorite podcast. You’re in charge here: Create your ideal work environment and schedule and keep tweaking until it’s working for you.”
And while you’re at it, Heimann suggests scheduling time for chores and small things around the house, so you don’t end up being distracted when you sit down to work: “I need to take care of housework either in the evening before my next workday or in the morning before I start working, because I’m going to sit at the desk and be like, ‘Oh my God, I still have to do the dishes and need to get laundry done.’ I like a clean and neat place, and I’m very easily sidetracked if things aren’t where they’re supposed to be.”
If You Have Family at Home, Include Them in Your Routine, Too
“If you’re home with others, set up a routine that factors in everyone’s needs,” Brown suggests. “If you have small children with you, you may need to work at times when they’re napping, entertained by Peppa Pig or being cared for by another adult (if you have a partner at home working, too, set up a roster or schedule). Older children may be better at entertaining themselves, but need social time, too, and you may be called on to explain polygons or other impossible homework. You may need to set limits with a chatty housemate so that you both achieve what you need to in the day, but leave time for fun, too. Communicate about everyone’s needs; let your family or housemates know when you’re free, when you’re interruptible and when you’re in ‘do not disturb unless there’s an emergency’ mode — and let them do the same.”
One simple way to do this, especially with small children, is to write up a basic family schedule that includes everyone. “I’ve seen a lot of moms do a great job with just a big piece of paper on the wall and different colors: Here’s some screen time; here’s some play time; this is when we’re going to have lunch; this is when you’re going to leave me alone; this is when we’re going to spend time together,” Heimann says. “Having that visually in the house helps everybody figure things out. And if we don’t give kids structure, all hell is going to break loose.”
“Counterintuitive as it may seem, some people overwork at home,” Brown says. “Make sure you take regular refreshing breaks, and ideally, they’ll be opposite to what you’ve been doing — if you’ve been working on your laptop, flicking through social media on your phone is perhaps not ideal to give your mind and body a rest. If you’ve been sedentary, get active; if you’ve been solitary, get social. In isolation this may mean getting creative: Arrange to talk to a neighbor at a safe distance, throw a ball for the dog or join one of the many social events popping up online.”
Likewise, Heimann highly suggests taking advantage of technology to stay in touch with friends and family. “Don’t lose your social ties,” she says. “We have technology. For example, Zoom. You have free calls on there for up to 40 minutes, for up to 100 participants. You have more than that for one-on-one calls. Make use of that technology, and play games. I’m literally scheduled for Friday evening for a virtual Cards Against Humanity game. There are girlfriends of mine who jump onto video chat to have a glass of wine with each other. You can recreate these social connections and get-togethers virtually. People need to make use of that so we don’t go crazy.”
Also, Take Advantage of Free Online Tools
Because of what’s going on, many companies have taken it upon themselves to offer free versions of their products to keep people entertained and healthy during these tough times. “Headspace is opening up specific meditations and lessons to help people deal with our situation right now and the anxiety that comes with it,” Heimann says. “Planet Fitness is doing three or four exercises a day on their Facebook page so you can do your workout at home. There are schools and universities offering free online classes.” So if you feel motivated, by all means, take advantage.
And If You Need to Freak Out, Freak Out
Times are tough right now, and it would be totally understandable if you need to have a bit of a freakout. Heimann even tells me she just had an anxiety day, where she sat out on her patio for a few hours — that’s what she needed, and that was okay. But once you’re done freaking out, do yourself a favor and at least try to do a little something, just to stay sane.