Your kitchen table used to be a place where you'd sit for half an hour to have your breakfast, and same again in the evening to eat dinner. Then three months ago it also suddenly became your office desk, your children’s school location, where you take your hour lunch break, and where you sit to do the weekly zoom quiz with colleagues or friends. You now feel like you sit at that table from the moment you wake up until late into the evening. Our ability to adapt has become vital in recent weeks.
For others, the bed used to be a place only for sleeping, but has now turned into the the office and also the place to unwind and get forty winks. The same can be said for the sofa in the living room.
Everyone has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and has had to make huge life adjustments as we went into lockdown. People have lost their jobs, been furloughed for months, or are still working part-time / full-time remotely from home, with schools and nurseries only having recently opened under restricted measures and times. Ultimately, this has resulted in no rest, respite (or escape for some) from those that live in your house with you. Work, home and school life have all collided in the same location. A location that, for many, is reserved for separation from work and a chance to switch off and relax. Now no such separation exists. Individuals, roommates, and family members have been doing their best to adjust to this ‘new normal’ of having no clear definition between different parts of their lives and having to be on top of each other 24/7.
An Enforced Multi-Purpose Space
The continued problem for many is that an area of the house that used to be for one purpose only - cooking, eating, relaxing, sleeping has now doubled up as a work space. Subsequently, people up and down the country have been struggling to define when their work day finishes and home life begins. The removal of being able to go to separate physical environments that (prior to lockdown) signaled the difference between work and leisure has been having a damaging effects on mental well-being. It's now become too easy to end up accidentally working 10-12 hour days, answering emails through lunch breaks, and aimlessly opening and closing the laptop in the late evening to do additional bits of work when it's time to be switching off and resting.
For those with children, this issue is further compounded. Workers who have been furloughed are now expected to become full-time teachers and energetically get involved in P.E class with Joe Wickes on a Monday morning. They're trying to simultaneously teach a frustrated teenager an algebra equation, help their seven year old with a piece of art (with paint going everywhere) whilst also keeping an eye on their two year old who is intent on wanting to climb into the washing machine and oven.
Then there are those parents who are still working remotely. Not only do they have to try and get work done, but are having to also teach their children at the same time. There's a reason these two worlds have existed separately up until this point. Trying to do both effectively is practically impossible and something has to give.
Some parents have created a rota basis with their partners and had accommodating managers who let them start and finish on a flexible basis. Others are simultaneously on their work zoom conference call whilst at the same time trying to appease a four year old who is adamant that he is a pirate whose make-believe treasure has been stolen, and that is obviously why he keeps jabbing their parent in the side repeatedly with his plastic sword even though they've quietly tried to reason with him to stop. This request falls on deaf ears because pirates won't stand for that kind of crap. He wants his gold back. Now.
The saving grace in this situation is that with everyone being affected by lockdown it means we all understand and appreciate the difficulties we're facing, and we're all just muddling through as best we can. Yet, although the world is slowly starting to turn again, for the most part it's still on pause whilst inside the house is non-stop movement and no space to step away from it all.
The majority of parents are understandably exhausted and feeling there's nowhere to catch a break. For others, the reduction of their commute to being only a few metres distance from their bed to their bedroom desk/kitchen table has meant that the time normally used to prepare for the day, to think of other things, switch off, take time to read or listen to music, have all but disappeared.
Why Am I Sharing This With You?
Many of our habits and strategies for managing daily life have been stripped from us and it is not surprising if you've felt the void that's been left. You've had to form new ones within a confined living space, and this has left us struggling to implement effective ways of managing ourselves, our well-being and energy levels as we had done previously.
Lots of people I've talked to in recent weeks have told me about the negative habit patterns they've unconsciously picked up. They feel like they're always ‘on’ and not able to switch off from one aspect of their life to focus fully on another. Another common problem raised is not being able to have guilt-free time to rest and relax and to recharge the batteries to go again the next day.
The main factor that's changed for everyone is the physical environment in which we are now operating. The environment itself is a familiar place, but all the actions happening within it are unfamiliar. Therefore, looking at what you can do to re-align your physical space to create a more balanced lifestyle needs to take priority.
How Can You Do This?
- Create A Signal Change in Your Environment:
Take a few minutes to think of what specific action you can take to let your brain know the room is either for work or leisure at certain times in the day. For example, I have a large black cloth that I put over my TV for when I’m in 'work' mode. When I walk into the room and I see this it signals to me that the room is only for work purposes and nothing else. By putting the cloth over the TV it ‘tricks’ my brain into not seeing it. Of course I know the TV hasn't actually disappeared. I'm not fooling myself into thinking I'm Houdini, but with repeating the covering of it everyday my brain has the now successfully practised the associated actions that go along with it, meaning it's time to sit down and do some work. As soon as I lift the cover off of the TV that triggers the switch in my mind that my work day is over and the room is now for social/relaxation time only.
- Question: What can you do/move in your physical space that triggers a cue in your brain that symbolises the end of work and the start of downtime?
2. Create Your Own Commute:
When discussing this blog piece with a friend she gave me an example of one of her team members who walks around the block a couple of times in the morning before sitting down at her desk to start the work day. She then repeats this action at the end of the day once she closes her laptop. The walking was her self-imposed 'commute' to and from work. Although not a real commute, it's an effective way to physically 'move' yourself from one space to another without actually going anywhere. By creating this artificial ritual it helps to bring back a part of your day and habit routine that you had in place when you were actually commuting to your workplace, such as listening to music or a podcast, or just using the time to clear your mind. It's an opportunity to shift your mindset into what needs to be achieved over the coming hours and get in the right head space for work. It also provides the opportunity to get a bit of physical distance from others in the house if needed so you can give yourself the best chance to start the work day off on the right foot. Equally, at the end of the day it's a chance to take a few minutes to debrief with yourself about anything that's happened or that's on your mind and leave it at the front door before you go back inside for the evening.
- Questions: If you want to create your own 'commute' at the start and end of your day, how long will you walk for and what will be your planned route?
- How can you spend that time setting yourself up for the day during the your morning walk?
- How can you spend that time wisely when you finish work so that you can leave it 'at the door' when you return home?
3. Practising self-discipline:
Ordinarily the physical action of leaving the workplace at the end of the day is the cue your brain needs to switch to 'out of office' mode. Now with that no longer being there you may find yourself saying in the middle of the evening ‘I’ll just go into my inbox and get those last few emails sent before I’ll allow myself to switch off for the night’ or 'It's okay, answering these couple of emails won't hurt' even when you've previously set this is time aside for you to be relaxing or doing other things.
- Questions: What does continually working into the evening/night cost you?
- How does it impact those around you? How does it impact the space they are sharing with you?
- How will this impact your energy levels?
- What are you losing during that time at the expense of sending emails that could wait until the morning?
- An additional question to ask is: ‘Would you be doing this prior to lockdown if you were working from your office?’
4. Practising self-care:
When you're able to have some downtime, the importance of making sure you take some time to do something that you need to refill your energy levels is more important than ever right now. Questions to ask yourself:
- Questions: What do you need to do in your day to recharge your batteries?
- If you can't do it right now due to current restrictions, what is an alternative you can come up with and do instead?
- Where in the house or outside do you need to go for it to be most effective?
5. This isn't permanent:
Remember, this won't last forever. Lockdown will be over at some point in the near future. It may not feel like it, but it will and soon this will all feel like a distant memory. Before you know it you'll be back to the grind and the chaos of the real commute and wishing you didn't have to step out the door to go to work!
So take a second to ask yourself:
- Questions: What have you appreciated about this situation?
- What have you learnt?
- Are there any new habits you've picked up since lockdown that you want to keep?
- How can you make sure you remember and take it forward with you into the future?
If you're still struggling to work out how to carve out some time for yourself to recharge your batteries then look no further than this donkey living its best life for some inspiration...
*If you would like information on the Business & Personal Coaching services that I offer and pricings, please do go to my Coaching Services page or email me via my Contact page.