Creating a quarantine work routine: Good ideas for unprecedented times

Whether you're "safer at home," your employer has gone virtual for the time being, or you've always been a telecommuter, the pandemic places new demands on a work routine.

It's a joke that none of us know what day it is most of the time, but it's not at all amusing when everything's hazy and unorganized and you're trying to meet work goals on a regular basis. And with kids and pets as your new "co-workers" and other uncertainties looming, well, you're doing well just to hang in there.

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To reach that work-balance or go a bit further and rev up your work routine during the pandemic, try these tips from Harvard and everyday workers succeeding with the self-quarantine work routine:

Lower your standards. This may not be the advice you'd expect from Nancy Costikyan, director of the Office of Work/Life at Harvard, but that's what she said. "Maybe we can shift our expectations and think of balance as a verb, not a noun," she told Harvard Gazette. "Try standing on one foot for a minute or so. As long as you remain standing you are not balanced so much as you are "balancing" — you will feel micro-adjustments being made automatically by the bones, tendons, muscles in your foot, ankle, and other parts of the body that keep you upright...You aren't conscious of it, the body just does it for you. Every moment in everyday life is like that. Tiny, unconscious adjustments are taking place as you reconsider that testy email you just wrote, smile at a neighbor, call a colleague for support, reach for a child in distress. All this is balancing. And if you remain mostly upright, you are doing it well enough."

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Set a schedule. Not exactly revolutionary advice, right? But during quarantine and unexpectedly needing to work from home, this is crucial and may not be as simple to do or maintain as you'd think. "Rules like regular schedules, regular meals, regular exercise, and regular sleep patterns are essential," Costikyan added. "I'm struggling with all of these at the moment, but another rule is simply to begin again each day. I rely on mindfulness tools; these are increasingly available for free."

Make a chart and timetable for self-care and COVID-19 safety tasks, too, she added, including "wiping down surfaces, taking stretch breaks, washing your hands, or eating a proper meal at a proper time. Share it with others, maybe establish a buddy system for mutual time checks and reminders. We all need to find ways to exercise even as we social-distance; why not use your usual commute time to go for a vigorous walk when the sun is just right?"

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Start your day at the same. You don't have to undermine the wonderful benefits of not needing to commute to work or do your hair or shine shoes before you leave your home. But there's something to be said for sticking to the early morning routine you had before the pandemic hit, notes the newly homebound staffer from the Totally Boise blog. "Setting a reasonable time to wake up in the morning will help start the day. At Totally Boise, our goal is to carry out our normal work schedule. We wake up 30 minutes or to an hour prior to beginning work!"

Once you are awake, do the same sort of stuff you did to segue into your workday before the pandemic. "Let your first task be the same as before," TB recommended. "Look at social media, make coffee, wake up other family members, take a shower, go on a run, etc. Whatever it might have been, keep that habit... Next, make your bed and a tasty breakfast, then get yourself ready for the day."

Establish a work space. To separate mentally from the rest of the house, set up an office area, somewhere you can't see the dirty laundry that needs to be done, Lauren Kohl, an attorney and mom of two in Newton, Massachusetts, told Parents.

Consider dressing. This tip isn't for everyone. It's okay if you decide to continue wearing pajamas throughout the day as part of your quarantine work routine. But based on trial and error, Totally Boise gently pointed out the benefits of putting on street clothes. Mainly, the clothes might provide an incentive to be productive. "Today, getting ready might be staying in pj's but encourage yourself to wear something more normal," TB said. "Wear whatever might make you happy. We've found jeans and shoes keep us working extra hard. That way it's extra hard to sink into the couch or find ourselves losing track of time."

Make yourself comfortable. You can have certain creature comforts at home, and you should absolutely take that opportunity, Costikyan advised. "If you program your thermostat to turn down the heat [or air conditioning] during the day, reprogram it. Not only do we all deserve comfort at a time like this, but a Cornell study found that warm workers actually work better. Establish break times for a cup of tea, some stretching, reading poetry, or playing Angry Birds. Whatever works for you."

Don't let too much news upset your routine. This one's extra-tough. When you're working from home, there's little to stop you from constantly accessing the television news or all the updates available "as we sit at our computers with so much information at our fingertips," Costikyan added. "But it's really important to limit your intake of frightening information in terms of time and sources, even information from reputable sources. Limiting intake doesn't mean shutting it out, though; we need to stay informed."

See if you need to work extended hours. For some who have to alternate between providing child care and doing the work that pays the bills, it might be a good idea to consider a formal way of extending your work day, and add that to your schedule, according to Costikyan. "You'll need work-arounds for the impact on communication and collaboration with colleagues. And every meeting might need to begin with a disclaimer that there is a little one in the home and you might be interrupted."

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Leverage lunch time, within reason. "It may seem so much easier to have a snack or make lunch," TB noted. "The kitchen is so much closer, and you don't have to wait for your employees to heat up their food. With that, take advantage of these conveniences because they won't be forever! Always remind yourself of these small pockets of happiness. For instance, make a meal you may haven't usually brought to school or the office."

And try to avoid soldiering on all day without a break, even if you did that before you switched to a telecommuting position. "Maybe take your lunch break to check in on your family and friends," TB advised. "Facetime them during their lunch breaks! Have a quick chat to catch up, let them know you are thinking about them, and keep them company. This will create an 'office-like banter'! Then, get back to the working grind."

Close the door on the job at the end of the day. This is a signal to disengage from work and start your leisure time and family pursuits instead of letting work tasks drag on up until bedtime. "If you don't have an office, try making a list of everything you're going to do the next day, leave it in your work space, and walk away," Parents advised. And don't feel a bit guilty about it. Doing something to turn work off helps you be more productive during working hours, Christine Durst told Parenting.

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