Flexible routines for everyone: keeping working well during lockdown

Two months ago, as we entered into the COVID-19 lockdown in the UK, I wrote this post about finding a daily routine for when everyone is at home. 

I wrote this post from the perspective and experience of a chronically ill mum who works online from home. Many aspects of my daily working life remain similar to ‘pre – COVID’ times. I have learned a lot from working with interrupted plans and feeling thwarted.

8 weeks on, the format of my work has not changed; but the atmosphere and why has.

I wanted to reflect on how many of the 5 tips I outlined 8 weeks ago still remain useful for us; and off the back of a week where my wheels came off. Where lockdown broke me.

Flexibility and reset

Chronic illness has made me learn to work with interruption and inability to make long term plans. I have to be able to flex, so I tend to plan along the lines of maximum I can do on any given day.

However, during lockdown and with kids at home, this maximum has decreased – or at least, had to be spread over a much longer period.

Getting used to flexing and resetting your plans is a big project of unlearning. Ditching that fear and guilt of ‘letting people down’ is both real – we have to do our job – and also amplified in our own minds.

Ask when you need to shift or pause. Ask early. Explain why. These are not excuses. You are going to do the work. You timeline is not the same as everyone else. And, it never has been.

Getting dressed for work

Shifting to working from home has changed my wardrobe. During lockdown, I still like to get dress for my on screen work.

However, much as I love a good dress and accessories, they are simply not functional or comfortable when you sitting, or running around after kids. And jeans? Why did I ever even bother? and I’ve embraced a 5pm pyjama.

Some days my kids have refused to get out of their pyjamas.  I haven’t pushed it. It just didn’t seem like the battle to invest lots of energy in.

Play and work for everyone

While me and my husband are still co-working in the tag-team system outlined in the earlier post, the kids are getting much more play time.

I’m ok with this. The school is ok with this.

These are unprecedented times and trying to simulate school is just not working for us. Our kids are learning a lot; reading, crafting, cooking, gardening, exercising, writing letters. Watching TV.

Screen time: when you need or want it

Working online and being in endless Zoom calls is exhausting. Don’t schedule them back-to-back. If you can’t control this, you don’t have to turn your camera and mic on in everything.

Just because you are at home also does not mean that you have to be available for every online meeting. You still have other demands on your time. Make boundaries.

If you have kids and they need a time out – or you need an hour or so – then letting them watch some of their favourite TV or film is ok for me.

As I’ve said before – I was raised on telly, have always been a huge telly addict, and watching TV has only ever complemented my other forms of learning.

Time out: little and often

This has become the only constant of our loose routine.

In fact, loosening off on writing time-tables and scheduling activities has made us all much less stressed. There is a new acceptance on seeing how we feel as a family.

When me or my husband have to work, we split the day and do what we have to otherwise, one or both of us, is on hand to play; or mediate the squabbles (I’m writing this to a soundtrack of the tears that come with playing Harry Potter Cluedo) .

We have worked some evenings, but this has not been a regular practice.

If we want cultures of overwork to change, we have to get comfortable with changing our own reflex on this and resisting. 

There is no right way to get through this

If this sounds privileged; it is. All of us able to work from home are privileged in varying degrees. However, that does not mean it is not hard.

We can be lonely if we live alone. We can feel overwhelmed if we have lots of people in a small space.

We can feel productive and able to show up, or we can feel absolutely numbed and blank.

We can feel all of these things on a given day.

So, to mark Mental Health Awareness Week, and a year since I left academia following burnout and depression, my underpinning lesson is learning to be kind to yourself.

This is not a trite slogan. Nor is it an excuse for self-sabotage or procrastination or putting things off.

Being kind to yourself is about recalibrating and giving yourself time to plan your time. To be able to show up to your work well. To do a good enough job.

To continue living through all of this.


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