Everything is different right now, and being home with children while attempting to work and write is bonkers. We’ll just start there.
Within that, my husband and I are slowly beginning to develop new routines for working and childcare and sanity. We don’t have all of those things—in fact, we have zero childcare help beyond our own hands, and we have very little sanity—but we’re still doing our best.
One of the things that’s helped is setting up new patterns and routines. Rather than try to fight against reality and try to keep doing things the way they’ve always been done, we need to set up a new way of doing things. After feeling completely blown over the last six weeks, I’m starting to find a few rhythms amidst the insanity. Here are four things I’ve done to shift my habits, and why each has helped.
Exercise in the afternoons instead of in the mornings.
When I had the luxury of exercising in the morning and also going straight to work, it helped me get a turbo start to the day. Coffee, writing, journaling, exercise? That was the recipe for a brilliant day, full of productivity and energy.
Hahahahahahaha—HAHA—haha—okay, catch your breath.
Today? In the mornings I have one or two hours, tops, before I dive into the world of turning lights on and off with my one and a half year old, or help my 4 year old figure out his games and toys. Over the last few weeks I’ve learned that I prefer getting one main work-related or writing-related thing done in the morning, because I feel calmer the rest of the day knowing that one piece has moved. Even if I don’t feel like I have a brain in the afternoon, I can still move my body. Ergo, exercise has shifted.
Alex and I are pairing up to give each other a steady exercise habit, and we now allocate 4pm and 5pm for exercise hours every weekday. We each get one hour, full stop. We alternate based on whoever ate too much at lunch and needs more time before the workout.
We still stop our workday by 4pm, and one of us is on full-time kid duty for the first hour and then we swap. We’ll get on the indoor bike, lift weights, or do yoga. Even if we feel like a mental mess, exercise stitches us back together again, sometimes gives us a brain re-set, and helps us sleep better at night.
The important thing I’ve discovered is that I can move exercise to a later point in the day, but writing? I cannot find my brain again at 4pm. It has gone to mush, but my legs can still squat.
Change the Pomodoro settings.
I used to have my Pomodoro’s set to 40 minutes, sometimes 30 minutes. Now, with only 90 minutes at a stretch to work at any time (barely), and exhaustion filtering in at the 45-minute interval, doing a 40-minute stretch of solid work feels like a herculean effort. These are not normal times. I will not judge myself against pre-pandemic conditions. We are living into a new reality.
Earlier this week I changed my Pomodoro timer to 15 minutes. That way, I can modify my routine to find a small sense of satisfaction and progress. 15 minutes of emails, 15 minutes of writing, and then 15 minutes of reading a book. Then, I’m done. Why? Because a small child is clawing at the door, and my husband has a Zoom meeting. This is life now.
The same is true for Zoom meetings. Stop setting default meetings to an hour—WHYYYY. Hour-long meetings were already unnecessary and now it’s a drain on people’s precious time and energy. When you create a too-long meeting, you also rob the other people in their household of precious time, too. Set speedy meetings, do 15-minutes, 25-minutes, or even a 5-minute phone call. Respond asynchronously wherever possible. And if a meeting really truly needs to be an hour, it probably needs to be 90 minutes with a bio break in the middle. Most meetings don’t need to be an hour.
Set smaller-term goals
When everything changes so rapidly, it’s hard to even consider a plan for a year, or two years—it’s hard to fathom. So I narrow the focus and look to what I can reasonably predict, whether that’s a week or four weeks or a few months.
For now, suspended in between moving and daycares and the news, I can look to what we are able to do in the coming month. We’re going to go outside with the boys every day, even if only for a few minutes. I’m doing a four-week weights program that I’ve generously given myself six weeks to do (because some days all I can do is eat cookies, really). This month I’d like to see if I can read or listen to six books, because books calm me down and I want to read the news less. That’s it—those are the personal goals for the next few weeks. Get outside, read some of my books, and lift some weights.
Talk to friends while exercising or after the kids are in bed
Getting into the afternoon workout rhythm has also created space for a new habit: talking to other humans at 4pm. My husband and I end our work day at 4pm (a habit we’ve already had in practice for years, and one I wish the future of work would seriously consider adopting)—so I hop on the bike and dial up a friend. I’ve taken to texting some of my dear ones that I have availability at that hour, provided they are comfortable with me heaving and panting on the other end while on the bike.
It works like this: I talk during the warmup, for about ten minutes, until I can no longer maintain a conversation, and then I turn it over to them, saying “I want to hear everything, all your updates!” They must talk while I make it over the hills and HIITs of the ride, and then on the cool down, I can chat again. It’s my virtual-distant means of going on a forest walk with friends.
After the kids are in bed (they go to bed around 7pm), my husband and I will sometimes have Zoom calls in the evenings, hangouts with friends—mostly other parents, if I’m being honest—to talk about the madness of parenting and working during a pandemic.
These are the four things I’m doing to claw back some sanity amidst all of this:
- Find your new exercise time, which may be a completely different cadence and space than your pre-pandemic rituals.
- Set a shorter timer for productivity sprints and reduce work expectations. My Pomodoros are now 15 minutes instead of 40 minutes.
- Set goals with shorter timeframes. If you can only think a week at a time, that’s appropriate. This will change, eventually, but it might be where you are for now.
- If you can, find time to talk to friends—humans need other humans. I’ve taken to calling friends during my afternoon workout, which is keeping me sane.
What are you doing to stay sane? What routines have shifted—and do you have any routines yet, or is it still just a wild tornado of tasks and people and madness? Leave a note in the comments, I’d love to hear what’s working for you.
Pssst—Are you part of the SKP newsletter?
Join more than 15,000 other people who have signed up for my newsletter about personal development, psychology, and leadership.
What you'll get: thoughtful essays on how to make better decisions, ways to design your schedule, and ideas for rethinking the structure of work to be more human. I also write about the intersection of parenting and work.
If you're curious, seek new ideas, and appreciate some groundedness within the flurry of modern life, you will probably enjoy my newsletter. Don't see the form below? Head here to subscribe instead.