Pandemic blobiness is real, my friends.
Now, you may be asking, what on Earth do I mean by “blobiness”? At home, it’s easy to be pulled in a million different directions. You stop keeping a schedule. You don’t change out of your pajamas until noon (if at all). Your workplace becomes your eating place. Instead of specific places for specific things, and the corresponding mental focus and emotional clarity that goes with it, everything congeals into a weird and discomfiting blob. And as a result, your work output and your mental health takes a hit. You also might physically feel like a blob too.
I know this firsthand.
During the first few months of lockdown, all aspects of my life were bleeding into each other. Like many Americans, I felt extremely lucky to have a job in the industry that I love. But I was struggling to juggle everything. I was co-hosting “Morning Joe” from home with my husband. And when we weren’t on air, we were preparing for the next day’s show. Meanwhile, our pets were crawling everywhere, we were trying to meet the needs of our seven children, my ailing mother, etc. etc. etc.
It was all too much. Without even realizing it, I was trying to do everything at once, at all hours.
It was the perfect storm for burnout and a 15-pound weight gain.
I was stressed and was surrounded by food. It took me back to the days when I had toddlers, and I would mindlessly find myself picking at leftovers that were just lying around. I indulged in many sweet treats. (hello, brownies and Lucky Charms). And exercising felt like a chore, so I ended up slacking off.
As a result, my mental health took a hit. I was drained of energy, always feeling sluggish and not on point. I knew something had to change. There was a realization that I wasn’t going to just magically wake up one day and find the pandemic over and our way of life restored back to normal. Sure, you can kind of just slog through the days, feeling exhausted and torn apart. Or you can take proactive steps to stay on track.
Here’s what helped:
I made a work schedule that worked for me:
I realized Joe and I have very different needs. When I’m working, I need a completely clear desk, and a snack to munch on. It’s usually something healthy, like strawberries. But just the other day it was a small bowl of Nutella. This happens every once in a while, and it’s OK! I don’t judge myself. I also like the door open, and like to hear the kids and the animals in the house. If I have complete silence, I feel antsy.
Joe, on the other hand, needs total quiet, the TV off and no news. He also needs big breaks from social media, especially Twitter. He has found he has to add some discipline by refusing to use some apps during certain parts of the days.
I’m also helping my 88-year-old mom adopt a schedule as well. It’s important to all of us that she stays healthy, but also busy, which is important for her mental health. She swims in the morning and then works on her art in her studio. We also have lunch together and watch the news at the same time every day.
The bottom line is that it’s really important to know what environment YOU need to get work done and to designate blocks of time for very specific tasks. Even if you don’t have a job, set aside time for particular to-do’s, like polishing your resume, networking, or applying to jobs. Otherwise, the day will seem like a blur and you will have nothing to show for it.
I get my exercise done first thing:
After I finish “Morning Joe,” one of the first things I’ll do is put on my running shoes and get out of the house. I realized I need to exercise before the inevitable onslaught of phone calls and meetings. Otherwise, I feel off kilter and I’m wondering all day how I’m going to fit my run in.
Find the optimal time to fit in exercise for you.
I designated different places to eat, work, sleep:
You don’t want to work where you eat, eat where you sleep, etc. You need to keep your work and home lives separate. Otherwise, it can be difficult to truly disconnect from work, and your home life can suffer as a result too.
Designate certain areas for each of these things. Even if you are in a small apartment, turn a corner of the room to be your working space. Just make it feel as separate as possible.
I get dressed:
Yes, this sounds obvious, but it’s easy to avoid when you are at home 24/7. Even on days when I’m not hosting “Morning Joe,” I’ll get out of my pajamas right away. It's a signal to myself that it’s time to wake up and have a productive day.
You don’t need to dress as formally as you might for work. But wear what makes you feel confident and professional. Brush your hair and look presentable in case you need to hop on a video conference at a moment’s notice. And if you wear makeup, put it on. Do what you would to feel like your normal, best self.
I didn’t harshly judge myself:
Setbacks are going to happen. If you are mad or judge yourself, it will only hinder yourself getting back on track. These are unprecedented times. Give yourself some grace.