A college professor friend of mine learned the other day that her campus will remain closed—and all classes will be online—until fall 2021—more than a year from now.
She has already taught her classes online since March. So by the time she gets back into a physical classroom, she will have been stuck at home for 17 months—and that’s assuming that the country will be fully open for business by then.
Seventeen months isn’t temporary.
Almost as soon as my friend started working from home, she abandoned her healthy eating routine, quit exercising because her gym is closed, and hasn’t even been bothering to put on a nice top or makeup for Zoom meetings. She has gained six pounds, feels tired all the time and has all but isolated herself from friends, except for chatting on the phone when they call her.
She figured it was just for a couple of months. She figured wrong.
It’s time for her to create a new business-as-usual for herself that will let her get back to being herself, even if nothing else is exactly as it was a few months ago.
Routine is key
Everyone is looking forward to the “new normal” that will reveal itself once the pandemic passes. But the fact is, we can’t wait. If we do, we risk that we will cement our new, temporary habits, no matter how unproductive and unhealthy—and they could be tough to undo if “normal” ever re-emerges.
It’s time to create new routines and make ourselves a new normal-for-now—immediately.
Even if you haven’t been slacking off on your eating and exercising, chances are good that your routine varies from day to day, depending on how much work you have, what your family is up to and whether you’re in the mood to work.
So creating a routine might be hard. If you’ve fallen into the habit of working until very late at night so you can sleep in every morning, it might not seem appealing to revert back to your work-a-day habit of rising with the sun and finishing half a workday by noon.
Talk yourself into it. Sell yourself on the idea that setting a structure for your workday will make yourself more productive and give you time later in the day and evening to spend time with family, work on hobbies and reorganize the closets—or whatever you would rather be doing than working.
Sell yourself on the notion that your workday can begin and end—just as it would if you were commuting to your office every day.
Without that structure, your work inevitably will bleed into the time when everyone else in your home is available to prepare meals, sit down to eat together, watch a movie or take a walk.
Create a plan
Even night owls often find that their most productive time is at the beginning of the day. Observe your own work habits: When are you able to concentrate, avoid interruptions, feel creative and get things done?
Plan to be at your desk, or your kitchen table or wherever you’re comfortable working, by that time. Plan to work for a certain number of hours every morning before taking a lunch break. Plan to limit the amount of time you spend on breaks. Plan to finish each day by a pre-determined quitting time.
Make a plan for each day either first thing every morning or the evening before. Write the plan down. Refer to it often. What you plan to do is what you will most likely get done.
Get ready for work
One private boys’ school in Washington, D.C., requires students to wear a white, button-down shirt and a dark tie when they log on to their Zoom sessions every morning. They attend virtual classes all morning, and they stay on Zoom during lunch so they have time to socialize with school friends. Then, it’s back to work.
The structure is working for the students, and it can work for you. You probably don’t need to wear a tie to work in your kitchen—unless you have an important video call that day. But it’s a good idea to shower, shave, fix your hair and put on a clean, respectable outfit—or whatever you would normally do before work every day.
That will help you separate home from work, even though you’re working from home. Plus, experts say we feel more competent and businesslike when we get dressed for work.
Create a productive environment
Next, sell yourself on cleaning up any clutter in your workspace.
If you’re working at the kitchen table, don’t squeeze your laptop in between cereal boxes, dirty dishes and piles of mail. Tidy up before you sit down—even if it’s not your day to clean the kitchen.
A cluttered workspace equals a cluttered mind. Free yourself from feeling annoyed that everybody left banana peels and bowls of half-eaten oatmeal on your “desk.” Avoid the distraction of feeling like you need to clean up before you can be productive.
The fact is, you probably do. So put that on your agenda for the beginning of your workday: Prep your workspace. You’ll feel better all day long.
The bottom line: Find your “at work” while you’re at home. It might take some planning, some asking for cooperation from family members, some organizing and some scheduling, and definitely some changes. In the end, though, you’ll have the structure you need to get back to being your “normal” productive, clear-headed self.
And you might just find that you have created a better normal than the one you were waiting to come back.