COVID-19 has tossed into the deep blue sea many of the concerns and values, not that long ago that we once held dear. For example, remember that catchy “work-life balance” concept that management consultants made small fortunes from rushing on to stages to teach everyone how to attain? Then remember when that wasn’t selling so much, so they changed it to “work-life integration”? Be careful what you teach…we are now way past “integration” and many are inundated with “work-life intermingling.”

COVID-19 has upended so many previously cherished ideals, but this façade of work-life balance in particular has been destroyed. With shelter-at-home rules in place, coupled with many companies moving their work online, the divide between home and work has withered. 

With one eye on the Zoom work conference and another trying to keep their children who are bouncing off of the walls out of camera range, from reporters and news anchors, sales staff, teachers, executives, physicians, customer service reps, and online fitness instructors, there’s a great deal of withering all right, mostly a discomfiting, wilting of patience for work and home demands that have melted into one large crushing mess of fragile, precarious emotional instability. Remote work depression is on the rise.

Are there any “work hours” anymore? This is not a “Wow, I get to work from home,” time. No, this COVID-19 quarantine has brought far more restrictions on life. There’s no more leaving the office and no more leaving the home, since the office is the bedroom, family room, basement, or kitchen table – alongside kids “attending” their online school, playing video games and spouses/partners melting down or competing for space for their work materials. Looking for “rules” to deal with this? There are none. Well, there are some good ideas.

Perhaps it’s time for another paradigm shift and with it a new catchphrase, “home-work borders.” From actual “private space” signs, to family discussions identifying each member’s need for private time, it’s necessary to recognize the real value of setting limits and boundaries in this seemingly boundary-less life we are now living. A family that discusses this and other emotionally challenging issues, in a problem-solving manner, is likely to thrive quite well through this pandemic. Create lists and post them with each member’s need for space, time and boundaries. Red and green lights, if you will, to be honored by all. 

Create a productivity plan built on a strong capability to deal with uncertainty. Particularly now, any plan is uncertain because sticking to a routine, a common piece of advice, is not realistic with young children in your workspace, demanding your attention. So, give yourself permission to experiment with what works for you and your family on any given day. It will change from day to day. 

No family? It may be easier for you to set blocks of work-related productivity, switch off, get some fresh air, and make weekends sacred time off. Or you may also find the wilted line between work and the rest of your daily life making it all too much of a blur.

A large gift to yourself during this work-and-live-at-home time is the gift of self-acceptance, always, but especially when your productivity plans goes awry due to home disruptions. Creating anxiety, stress and strain over the unanticipated needs of someone in your home space while you are trying to work, is an opportunity to put this all in a positive perspective. You can control your responses to events, not events. Demanding they do not happen is not the way to protect your emotional wellbeing during an already challenging time. It’d sure be nice if you could though, right? So. think in those terms instead. Prefer, not demand. 

The best idea I’ve come across, by far, to deal with this blur of life comes from Albert Einstein. In 1929, Einstein offered this formula for the work-life balance, integration, border issue, in order to gain success in life: “If A is success in life, then A =X +Y + Z.  Work is X; Y is play; and Z is keeping your mouth shut.”  Leave it to Einstein to understand life including the need to work AND play…and to stay calm. 

The real message here, the take-a-way for COVID-19 times, is to focus on life with its many components, family, work, play, social relationships, health-wellness activities, and mental perspective. Finding the right amount of steadiness and equilibrium in these arenas of life, regardless of external demands, requires agility, alertness, responsiveness, resilience and suppleness. Voltaire once observed, “Life is a shipwreck, but we must not forget to sing in our lifeboats.” 

What songs are you singing to help you move through this time in a steady, firm, unbroken way?