AACRAO staff members are just heading into week four of mandatory telework—most of us haven’t been in the D.C. office since March 16—and, like many of you, we’ve learned a lot about coping with new demands from both work and home life amidst an incredibly stressful and uncertain time.
Below are some of the ways we’ve managed—some days better than others—to stay sane. (If you have unique tips, please share them with us. Since we’ll be honing these skills for the foreseeable future, we’ll share more tips as we learn.)
1. Move your body, and get outside. The number one most popular survival strategy shared by AACRAO staff was to get exercise—and many of us prefer to do that outside, when and where possible.
“Taking a walk outside at least once a day is helpful for the body and mind (and it makes my golden retriever very happy),” said Heather Zimar (Communications). Also an option: doggy social-distance playdates, as invented by Saira Burki (Marketing).
“We are lucky to be able to hike out in the woods of New Jersey on some remote trails,” said Tom Green (Consulting and SEM). “Social distancing is only an issue from squirrels and chipmunks!”
Michelle Mott, (Government Relations), also takes long walks in the woods with her dog. [See: The benefits of nature therapy, and strategies for urbanites.]
“Staying active during this time has proved invaluable to me,” agreed Christina Carte (AACRAO Intern), who likes to run. “It's helped to reduce my day-to-day anxiety.”
Both Fahduma Majid (Communications), and Kara Campbell (Membership & Publications) break up their days by scheduling short, 15-20 minute walks to stretch and refocus. To avoid too much sitting, Campbell even built her own makeshift DIY standing desk.
“In the office, I use my sit-to-stand desk a lot—I try to stand for four hours throughout the day,” she said. “It helps me keep alert and work on posture.”
Quintina Barnett Gallion (Communications) follows a more rigorous routine that may appeal to those missing their gym: at the top of every hour between 10 and 4, the family does an exercise circuit.
Many staffers, including Majid and Brooke Barnett (Communications), are avid gardeners. We find nurturing plants and flowers a meaningful way to ground and reconnect to what’s important. [See: Can putting your hands in the dirt can make you happy? and Tips for urban gardeners.]
“After staring at a screen for hours, it really helps to immerse myself in nature,” said Majid.
2. Set clear boundaries to head off interruption. As much as possible, work when you’re working, and don’t work during “off hours.” And make sure well-meaning family and friends respect your work time.
“Help family members and friends understand that "working from home" is working,” said veteran telecommuter LesLee Clauson Eicher (International). “Phone calls, drop-ins, requests to run errands, etc., can seriously disrupt your concentration and work flow!
3. But what about KIDS? Many teleworkers are discovering that working and parenting are both full-time jobs—and, particularly depending on the age of your children, the two jobs can be nearly impossible to juggle. This is especially intense for single parents.
Drew Carlisle (EDGE) suggests that, if possible, caregivers with young children could try staggering your days off so it's not 5 days in a row of work, which is a long time for little ones.
“In our house, Mom is working Monday through Friday and Dad is working Thursday through Monday,” he said. “It might be crazy, but everything is these days! Our kids never have to wait more than 2 days for someone to be off work, and it sure seems to eliminate the rough transition from the weekend to the work week."
Physical boundaries also help.
"Keep your kids out of one room in the house and use that space to meditate,” he added. “Our children perpetually work to "rearrange" and "reorganize" the rest of our home every single day, but at least our bedroom is peaceful and relaxing. Escaping the chaos is my moment of Zen."
Barnett, whose children are 8 and 10, has created a “Stuff to Do” poster which includes chores, physical activity, creative projects, reading, and more. Now, when kids complain there’s nothing to do, she asks directs them to find something on the sign so she can get back to work.
4. Start the day with purpose. “A writer I follow recently shared six words of advice to those who are new to working from home: Make your bed and get dressed,” said Zimar. “I like this tip because the intention of these two simple tasks is to begin the day with purpose. With so many distractions right now, having a general plan, with realistic goals, helps you run your day (rather than the day running you).”
In general, having some structure to your days and weeks may be helpful for self-regulation and focus.
5. Make plans to connect. Seriously, plan calls and videoconferences with loved ones, and put them on your calendar (because, in case you haven’t noticed, today is Blursday.)
“I've really enjoyed staying in touch with close friends and family, which has proved harder but more important than ever during this time,” Carte said. “I've made a point of scheduling calls with people and it's made all the difference in not feeling so alone in all this.”
6. Explore your hobbies and pastimes. Board games, arts and crafts, musical instruments, escapist books—and just plain keeping track of something—can also help replenish our creative reserves—particularly if they aren’t on a screen.
“One of the things I have been doing, which I am discovering that I love, is a paint by numbers,” said Julia Funaki (International). “I love to do jigsaw puzzles but decided to start this paint by numbers and it relaxes me and gives me great focus. This was a gift two Christmases ago from our Hawaii family.”
From all of us at AACRAO, we wish good mental and physical health to you and yours.