Creative Work-Life Balance During COVID-19

April 14, 2020

As I write this, much of the world is on lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Before sharing any work-life balance tips, it’s so important to remember that when experiencing a crisis, the routines, schedules, and productivity tools that may have worked for you in the past, might not be applicable or effective anymore, and it’s time to get creative. Now you might have your kids at home. Your home might not be set up to be a remote office. And like much of the world, that lingering discomfort or fatigue you may be experiencing is grief.

“You are not working from home; you are at your home during a crisis trying to work.”

@neilmwebb

Even if you’re one of the lucky ones to have a separate office space in your home, it sometimes isn’t enough to be able to shut the door at the end of the day and leave all your stress inside. And if you, like many who are now working from home, are working at the kitchen table, your couch or your bed (which can be a dream, don’t get me wrong) it can be all too easy for your work and home life to start merging.

Even for me: I’m thankful to have a career where I can work from home, and have a home office set-up. But with social distancing measures in place and a daily barrage of new pandemic developments, what used to work for me just doesn’t anymore. It’s all a work in progress as we work through this, but some tips that have helped me work smarter (not harder) during this crisis is:

Create a New Routine

Trying to do the normal 9-5 right now might be like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. It’s important during this time to listen to your needs and the needs of your family / household to create a new routine that works for everyone. If you have littles at home, you’ll need to work around their routines now. And even if it’s just you and your partner, creating a new pre- and post-work routine together is going to be key.

Work “Sprints” + Longer Breaks

During this crisis, I honestly swing between days where I’m hugely productive, and days where I have zero motivation. Trying to force myself into hunkering down and working a full day with very few breaks (my schedule prior to COVID) is not working for me whatsoever. Instead, I’ve found that trying 2 hour work “sprints”, followed by a longer wellness break has been helping my productivity.

The important thing here is the longer break. By “wellness break” I don’t mean taking a 10 minute break to check your phone, the news, and to scroll through Instagram. Work for 2 hours, then go outside for a walk if you can (while practicing proper physical distancing of course). If you can’t go for a walk, DO NOT get your phone out. Grab a book for half an hour. Maybe exercise if you’re feeling keen. Get out your knitting, calligraphy pen, or like… take a nap? You’re an adult, dammit!

Put Your Phone on Lockdown, Too

We all know that our brains are turning into mush from too much screen time. But truly, with the 24 hour news cycle wreaking havoc on my stress levels, I’ve had to take more extreme measures on my screen time. I’m an Apple gal myself, so I’ve been using the iPhone’s new “Downtime” setting to literally lock me out of my phone when it’s time to unwind for the night. I’ve even been extending this setting to the entire weekend, and have not regretted it one bit. The habit of checking my phone is so ingrained that this setting has been crucial to keep me on routine.

I’ve even heard of couples hiding each other’s devices on weekends to make sure there’s no sneaky work emails being checked!

Listen to What You Actually Need

Don’t force yourself to be productive. Don’t give in to pressures from the social media comparison trap. Take the time to adjust to what’s happening. Grieve the missed events, cancelled weddings, and lost time spent in-person with loved ones.

On the flip side, if you’re feeling inspired and productive, ride that wave! Just make sure you’re taking breaks and listening to yourself when you start running out of steam.

On the other side of this shift, your wonderful, creative, resilient brain will be waiting for you.

Aisha S. Ahmad, University of Toronto Assistant Professor

Set Yourself Up for Success

Think about what your environment has been like when you’ve been at your most productive. You may be a person who needs a clean, distraction-free workspace. Working from home won’t be perfect, but prioritizing tidying up the kitchen table each morning might be a good routine for you to start the day.

I’m somewhat the opposite — I’m the most productive when I’m surrounded by things that make be relaxed and happy. I like to light a candle, put on some chill music, and be surrounded by greenery and cozy, colourful objects that inspire me.

The Longhaul Workspace

Working on the couch every day may have been a fun phase for the first week of lockdown, but it’s time to accept that we’re in this for the long-haul. Taking better care of your body will do wonders for your mental health too. If you’re working with a laptop, hunching over and looking down at your screen can wreak havoc on your neck and shoulders, so I use this laptop stand and this bluetooth keyboard to make things more ergonomic. But you can totally use objects around the house like a box, crate or pile of heavy books to keep your screen at eye level.

Carve Out Space for Creativity

Of course, my last tip for creating successful work-life balance at home is finding a creative hobby. To me, in this digital age, it’s incredibly important to find something to create with your hands like knitting, embroidery, drawing, painting, and you guessed it — calligraphy. I so strongly believe that calligraphy specifically is the most relaxing creative hobby, I wrote a whole blog post about it.

While Netflix is great, bingeing Love is Blind is actually just distracting you from your stress. It’s not helping you decompress or dissolve that stress. For me, that’s where repetitive, slow and soothing calligraphy drills come in.

If you’ve always thought calligraphy looked fun, but thought you might not be the creative type or that finding the right tools was intimidating, I guarantee you anyone can learn with the right instruction. That’s why I’ve created a free mini-course for you to try your hand at modern calligraphy… and all you need is a pencil.

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