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Managing Work-Life Balance While Stuck at Home

Apr 3, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken up our daily routines. Thirty-seven states, the New York Times reports, have issued statewide stay-at-home orders as of April 1, and many cities and counties in the remaining states are urging people to stay at home in an attempt to stymie the spread of the coronavirus. Millions of Americans are now working from home—and managing work at home becomes a little trickier when you have to juggle all the other roles and responsibilities you typically put on hold when you go into the office.

A conference call with your department teammates may be interrupted by a child's loud pleas for relief from boredom. Between work tasks, you're making your best effort to teach the children math and history. And your spouse or partner now shares the space where you used to catch up on reading or studying when you had the place all to yourself.

Here are some tips for managing work, parenting, and whatever else you're juggling now that you're sequestered at home.

Set clear expectations.

A boss who's accustomed to pinging you with a quick question whenever they have one might think that you'll be just as accessible when you're working from home. Kids who are used to playtime all the time when they're not in school might not understand why they need to be quiet while you're on the phone. Frank discussions about clear expectations are necessary to make this new normal work.

Ask your supervisor when they'll need you to be available for a phone call or via Slack, Zoom, or some other communication tool. Explain to them that your work hours might be interrupted from time to time now that you're at home with your kids or partner. Talk to the other members of your household and set clear expectations around respecting everyone's need for quiet time to study or work, sharing space, and pitching in with the chores.

Adapt your work style and schedule.

Managing work while also being a sounding board for your partner and a substitute teacher and referee for your children will no doubt put your time management skills to the test. When your usual schedule gets upended, it's tempting to forgo one altogether, but it can be more difficult to stay productive without one. If you try to wing it every day, you could forget things and lose focus on what's most important, and that can quickly leave you feeling overwhelmed.

But while it's important to have a schedule, your old daily and weekly calendars will probably need tweaking. Your home life and your family are now part of your workday schedule. Kids' activities, supervised study times, meals, essential errands—these things can impinge upon your working hours. CNBC suggests swapping work shifts with your partner; have them watch the kids during one part of the day while you work, then trade off for the other. You could also schedule activities to keep kids occupied during times you need to be most productive.

Keep kids engaged.

Anyone who has children and has worked from home will tell you that getting work done depends on keeping the kids occupied, whether they're quietly napping, studying, or playing by themselves. Use these moments to work on tasks that require deep focus, such as analyzing a financial report or writing a paper for a class you're taking.

The internet abounds with fun educational activities for kids; the website e-learning for kids is just one clearinghouse. One parent interviewed by CNN says that her kids play with their peers in an invite-only realm of the video game Minecraft. Your kids might have some creative ideas on how they can entertain themselves and give you space to work.

Take breaks.

When home becomes both workplace and schoolhouse, everyone needs the occasional recess. Taking a little time out to relax helps avoid burnout. Stress can make balancing work and home while at home that much tougher, so take periodic breaks from the news and social media for the sake of your emotional health.

Minding your physical well-being is also important. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends taking frequent breaks for deep breaths and stretches. And don't forget the mutual support that you and your partner—or a trusted friend or family member—can provide in helping each other enjoy some free time.

Work-life balance takes on a whole new meaning when we're forced to juggle work and life at the same time and in the same place. If you're in that position, following the tips above might make managing work while playing a host of other roles at home a little bit easier.

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