What if quarantine didn’t bring you sudden extra time (or you’re not tackling that one project?)

I called one of our service providers today after receiving an email that there was an issue with the account. Normal hold times with this company are around 5-10 minutes, but I waited 120  before speaking to a person. When he did come on the line, he sounded so tired.

I could tell he was working from home. I’ve worked from home since 2011 and most of my colleagues do as well. The sounds are telling.

He took care of the issue, but it took a lot of pauses and holds. His exhaustion was even more apparent when he apologized for the delay. “They have us all working from home, you see, and … and everything takes longer.” I could hear his wince through the phone as he waited for my complaints, but I had none.

I know this dance. Even before I moved to work at home in my freelance writing career, I often worked remotely as a corporate manager. And I had staff who worked remotely too. Everything does take longer — especially when you set up systems quickly and aren’t ready for them. Suddenly people are working with smaller screens, different computers, slower VPN connections, and digital resources when they’re used to physical or in-person resources.

Working From Home Can Take Longer Than Working in the Office

Yes, it’s necessary. But that doesn’t make it easy. And, in many cases, it means the work takes longer to do. When I would work remotely in my old corporate job, it could take up to twice as long to perform the same tasks.

I see a lot of people who work from home regularly, like freelancers, handing out advice about how to make this work. And some of it’s generally great advice that would work for anyone, anywhere, in any situation. But some of it is advice that works for people who work from home as a normal fact of life.

I’ve honed my work-from-home skills for almost nine years. And I’ve honed them in the same type of work that entire time. I’m exceptionally fast at what I do because I have almost a decade of working out the kinks and building the necessary skills, workarounds, and tools.

Someone who suddenly finds themselves deposited into a remote work environment in the middle of a pandemic doesn’t have that luxury.

Plus, let’s add just some of the other things that might be claiming your time, energy, and attention:

  • If you have kids, they’re likely also home. And they’re trying to navigate schooling from home at the same time you’re getting a crash course in remote work. The same thing applies here: Homeschool parents who have been doing this for years have honed their skills and resources, and they don’t answer to teachers and school systems. Some of their advice will apply awesomely to your situation, and some might not.
  • You may need to make accommodations to how you run other aspects of your daily life. If you’re in an area where the stores are bought out, for example, the way you manage dinner might take more creativity or time than it normally does. Making sure other family members, such as at-risk older parents, have what they need can also take extra time and energy right now.
  • Stress and a constant state of awareness definitely takes a toll on time and energy, and most of us are dealing with at least some heightened factors in these areas. Yes, you can battle back against stress in so many ways, from meditation and exercise to family board games or hot baths. But those also take some of your time.

Even if you aren’t working from home, you might find that you generally have less time than you thought you would in this situation.

And It’s Okay If You’re Not Using Quarantine Time to Suddenly Seize the Day

My social media is pretty heavily populated with writers, other freelancers, and readers. I’m seeing a lot of posts about what you should be doing with this quarantine. “You should be tackling your giant TBR pile.” “You should be finishing your book.” You should be … insert whatever home, creative, or personal project is on your list.

And if you can do those things and they bring you stress relief, peace, calm, or welcome distraction from what’s going on right now? That is awesome.

But if you can’t do those things? Or you’re only able to do them a little at a time? That’s okay too.

Some Tips for Working From Home or Just Managing Time Right Now

So, how do you manage all this if you don’t have extra time or actually seem to have less time? Here are some tips that have worked for me. Take what you need and what works for you and pass on the rest.

Find what works for you and your family.

There are hundreds of ideas and tips circulating right now, so try some out. But don’t feel like a failure if those ideas fall flat for you. That’s something I’ve learned these past nine years. The productivity methods and tips that work for others don’t always work for me, and trying to fit myself into someone else’s formula just makes me miserable. Instead, if something doesn’t work for me, I move on to something else.

Set top priorities for each day.

You might have a long task list, but what on that list must be done today? If you can, pick three items on that list that would make you feel like you accomplished something at the end of the day even if that’s all you got done. Tackle those priority items first, but don’t stop just because you finish them if you still have time, energy, and other resources to get more done.

Work ahead whenever possible.

You’re going to have good days, bad days and those mediocre days that are indistinguishable from each other. On mediocre and good days, do an extra task to get you ahead for when a bad day comes calling.

Get ahead on work if you can so you’re prepared if the kids melt down or a sunny day comes up and you just all need to get out into the yard or sun for a bit. Make food ahead and freeze it so you can have healthy meals even if you’re swamped with other things one day. Clean the house sooner rather than later so you can enjoy that Netflix binge session come Friday night.

Prioritize selfcare.

You know the airline thing? When the oxygen masks come down, put one on yourself, because you can’t help others if you haven’t already taken care of yourself. It’s turbulence time, and the oxygen masks have dropped.

Find a way to put yours on so you’re more likely to have the wherewithal to help your children, your spouse, your neighbors, your employees, your internet friends, your church family — whoever is relying on you.

Selfcare can include some of the actions below, but you know yourself. Do the things that make you feel well.

  • Eating right
  • Exercising
  • Getting the right amount of sleep
  • Taking your meds
  • Taking a bath or shower
  • Washing your hands
  • Finding time to just be at peace with yourself for a few minutes
  • Fueling your creative side with books, audio books, movies, television, podcasts etc.
  • Feeding your soul with good spiritual things (for me, that means Bible study and prayer and talking with people who are good for me spiritually)

Don’t look for perfection in the mess.

This isn’t me advocating living more deeply in the mess than you have to. Cleaning your home, making healthy food, doing your work — these acts of normalcy help create a base that you can work from when a crisis is looming. This is true for many different crisis situations, including personal ones. But it’s also important to recognize that this is not normal, and we don’t need to try to force this messy current circle situation into our former square hole.

And it’s certainly not a time to bury yourself in goals that aren’t necessary —  unless that’s how you truly selfcare. Want to make it a goal to draft a novel in quarantine because that’s what gives you life? Want to give your entire house a spring clean because scrubbing the tub is how you destress? By all means. Tackle those projects. Doing is better than sitting and worrying about things you can’t control.

But don’t think you’re failing if you’re not getting through projects (or getting through them quickly). And don’t think if you’re not suddenly graced with extra hours that you’re doing this thing wrong.

Yes, we’re facing a common fear and crisis. Yes, it’s bringing people together in unexpected and glorious ways.

But you’re still the unique and singular you that God made. And what he has planned for you in this time isn’t the same as what he has planned for your neighbor.

And that’s okay.

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