Before the Covid-19 pandemic, many employees would negotiate to work from home a few days per week. The upside was clear: less time spent commuting, fewer expensive lunches, and more time with family. These days, those perks might sound like too much of a good thing. After all, you didn’t plan to spend every minute with your kids, loved ones, roommates, parents — or whomever you are sheltering-in-place with — all while staying professionally active. In addition, people who live alone face the eerie challenges of isolation. It’s essential that your days don’t become a treadmill of to-do items. Here’s how to humanize the experience.

Designing Your Experience

Many of the scenarios you experience in life have been carefully designed by teams of people, called experience designers. These designers work behind the scenes to craft moments of value and enrichment. Companies know you’ll associate those moments with their brand, and as a result will  return. (For example, Disney creates an image of “family” and “magic” with everything they do.)  But with most of the world in lockdown, you are missing out on those designed experiences. That loss of structure can create the feeling that one unremarkable day blends into the next. Here are some tips to design your own experience, so you can add a few intentional moments of delight back into your daily life:

  1. Plan a personal highlight every day. Yes, we each have a to-do list. But if that’s all there is in your day, it will begin to feel exhausting. Identify an hour for each day that you will set aside for yourself. The best time for you might be at 9pm, or 6am, or some other time. Block this time on your calendar and protect it. Pick something you’ll enjoy doing, and schedule it just like you would do for a meeting. This doesn’t need to be an Instagram-ready moment. The pressure is off. If your idea of a highlight is to wear PJs and have a glass of wine, go for it. If there’s a recipe you want to try, or a memoir you’ve always thought of writing, now is your chance. Just make sure it’s something you’ll enjoy that won’t feel like work. Set aside your personal time and respect it.
  2. Take your least favorite meeting as a walk. You know the meeting. It’s the one you need to go to for the five minutes you might need to say something. Give yourself permission to dial into that meeting with your cell phone while you’re taking a walk. Better yet, use headphones. Just remember to stay on mute unless someone asks you a question. Chirping birds and rustling leaves might give you away. But if anyone asks, here’s what you can tell them: Studies show that regular exposure to sunlight and nature will sharpen your focus during the day — and help you sleep better at night.
  3.  Set a reminder to ignore your phone. At some point in each day, such as dinner time, set an alert that reminds you to ignore your phone for a block of time. Make this interval as long as you can afford. If it’s at all possible, ignore the phone or turn it off until the next morning.  Your motivation to check email or apps is driven by dopamine receptors in your brain similar to the addictive effect of nicotine. With less repeat exposure to smartphones, your desire to keep checking them will fade away. The news will be waiting for you the next morning. All of your work email will still be there. This way there’s no chance of getting sucked back in before bedtime.
  4. Be intentionally grateful to the people in your life. Take a few minutes each day to reflect and appreciate the people around you. If you’re living alone, picture someone you care for and appreciate them. There’s never been a better time to call and say hello. Even if you haven’t been in touch for a while, this is the perfect opportunity to reach back out. There have been reports of people having long conversations with insurance telemarketers, so it’s safe to say people are ready to hear from you.
  5. Enjoy cooking food that you’ll enjoy eating. Many people see cooking as a chore. But that’s a missed opportunity. The process of cooking is a chance for you to slow down, and focus on doing something simple, such as cutting tomatoes or crushing garlic. Allow yourself to relax into the motions of preparing your meals. It’s the opposite of fast food. You’ll feel good knowing exactly what went into the food you’ve prepared. As long as you’re cooking, play some of your favorite music. Don’t feel any pressure to learn a fancy new recipe. You can if you want, but the time you spend cooking is about not striving any more than you choose.
  6. Forget multitasking. Try mono-tasking. For years, people have found ways to cram more tasks into the day, often layering tasks on top of other tasks. That’s a recipe for stress, which is the last thing you or the people living with you actually need. Instead, hold your tasks to a higher standard. Decide which of the three things you’re trying to do is most important and focus on that. Let the other two things go until you’re ready to focus on them.
  7. If you have kids, make time to play with them. Young children don’t know how to tell you that they’re stressed. While it is difficult to balance work and family life, it’s really important that kids have a positive experience during this time. Fortunately, children have a great sense of imagination and love to play and pretend. While we can’t go to a museum, we can imagine living with dinosaurs. Playing pretend with the kids is a great way to connect with them, and it also gives you a valid excuse to include play as a regular part of your day. Admit it, play feels pretty good right about now. 

Following this advice will help you achieve your goals even while in quarantine, while upholding a healthy work / life integration.