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Routines are important to daily life

Working from Home: Recreating and Reinventing Routines

Necessary restrictions to control the spread of COVID-19 have thrown a wrench in our daily lives. Shelter-in-place orders in nearly all states have removed the built-in structure of the routine that we each get from leaving the house. We all need to recreate that.

The multi-phased plan to re-open America confirms that our situation isn't an extended snow day. It isn’t a stay-cation. Nor is it a casual work from home day. Even if science can pull a rabbit out of their hat, those of us who can work from home will likely continue to for the months to come. This is a long haul. We each need to adapt our lives. We need to learn how to live a new type of life.

How can we do that? How can we live this new life?

First, let us examine what most of us have lost: the routine of our lives.

When I talk about routines with my patients, most of them deny having one. Though we all do. Routines aren’t just rigid schedules you follow; they are the flow of your daily life. Think about everything that you do to get ready to leave the house. Then, think about your commute: maybe you pick up a cup of coffee and listen to a podcast. At work, your day is filled with a mix of solo work time, one-on-one or group meetings, and spontaneous social interaction. On your trip home, you may call a friend or family member, go to the gym, or stop and pick up dinner.

These routines are important to daily life. Routines give all of our lives a sense of containment and structure. Further, following routines make our lives less stressful, as we know what to expect next.

As the Stay-at-Home order rolled out, many of us dropped our routines. For example, we canceled our social events, took some time off the gym, and stopped getting dressed for work in the morning. This change has turned daily life into a groundhog day with personal and professional lines blurred together. We all need to undo that. Recreating and reinventing your routine will make these next weeks and months more tolerable.

Here are some easy tips for re-inventing your routine:

1. Treat your work days, like work days:

  • Get up at the same time you would for work. Don't sleep in, even if you don't have any meetings until later.

  • Get dressed, like you would for work.

  • Use a separate room or create a separate work space in your home. Avoid working on the couch or in bed. The routine and ritual of getting ready will move you into a mindset that you are working and create some boundaries between work and home.

2. Bookend your work day:

With minimal boundaries between professional and personal life, it is important to place limits on our professional life. Firmly, end your work day with an activity such as a walk, a TV show, or just changing out of your work clothes.

3. Go outside:

Humans didn’t evolve to stay in houses all day and doing so will likely to lead to worsening of our moods, and anxiety. Fortunately, we are entering outdoor weather. At a minimum, go outside at least once a day, everyday, for at least 15 mins.

4. Schedule in Physical activity:

Even if you have never been to a gym or don’t consider yourself physically active, all of us are walking less than before. Find daily physical activity for yourself. If starting a home gym or online work out classes aren’t your thing, take daily walks. Use your smartphone to monitor your daily steps. 10,000 Steps = about five miles.

5. Daily Social Interaction:

Each day make sure to connect with someone else. At the end of the day, this is what will feel meaningful. Have one-on-one time with friends and family. Video based chatting is evolving, use Zoom or Facetime. If that isn't your thing, phones still work!

6. Bring Back Weekends:

Make weekends feel different than weekdays. Plan fun activities that you can do at home with others. I recently attended a virtual wedding on Zoom and have been playing chess online with friends. If you have access to outdoor space, such as a yard or local park, use it! Even better, take a social distance walk with friends or neighbors.

7. Self Care:

Life isn’t easy now, but try to bring joy into your day. Have something on your calendar that you look forward to each day. I’ve been watching the netflix show Ozacks and playing animal crossings.

8. Dealing with a crisis is a marathon, not a sprint:

In designing your routine, start thinking about this situation as a new life for yourself. Create a plan that is sustainable.

Make sure you have a support system that you can reach out to, it can be friends, family or neighbors. Communicate regularly with them - for yourself and for them.

We don’t know when this pandemic will end, but we do know that we’ll get through it!

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