Op-ed: Managing work, life and mental health during COVID-19

Fellow.app Director of Marketing Erin Blaskie shares her best practices for staying productive and healthy during the pandemic
working from home
Erin Blaskie's work-from-home setup.

It’s a disruptive time for many people right now as we navigate the waters of a province in a state of emergency, closures of all kinds and a new way of working with our colleagues. To say that we’re in uncharted territory would be an understatement.

However, even while we’re under the weight of an uncertain time, there are many positive things to look at as well. We’re spending more time at home with our families, we’re coming together as a community (virtually!) and we’re realizing that working from home, if you’re fortunate enough to have that ability, can be a viable option to keep businesses moving forward.

Personally speaking, I’m home with my fiance and my nine-year-old daughter and we’re doing our best to balance out each of our priorities. For my fiance and me, that looks like setting up offices in different parts of the home so we can both be on conference calls at the same time. For my daughter, it means staving off boredom, in between FaceTime calls with friends and relatives, while also keeping up with her studies.

In some ways, I’m extremely lucky to have a lot of experience balancing work and life. Prior to joining Fellow, I spent 14 years working from home running my consulting business. I had many unique work/life balance situations over that decade and a half including a pregnancy, the birth of my daughter, a battle with burnout and depression, the 2008 market crash and the general ups and downs of entrepreneurship.

Through those 14 years, I developed strategies that helped me cope with the ever-changing priorities that showed up in my life. The way that I’ve handled the ups and downs is by no means a perfect system, but it has helped me tremendously and if you’re navigating these new work from home waters yourself, I hope it may be useful to you.

Create a space you love working in

Whether this is an entire home office or a corner of your living room, be sure to set up a space that you love working from. In normal times, I have a computer set up in our home office in the basement, but I don’t enjoy spending my working hours down there where the natural light is scarce. So, when I’m working from home for long periods of time, I set up shop on the dining room table.

This may be difficult for phone calls though so it’s worth having a backup space to move to for calls – even if that means having them in your bathroom or walk-in closet with the door closed.

Reduce decision fatigue

When President Barack Obama was in office, he only ever wore blue or grey suits on a day-to-day basis. (I’m sure he made an exception from time to time!) Choosing from just two options made it a lot easier to move through his morning routine but it also reduced the number of non-essential decisions he had to make so he could focus on the important decisions.

We all experience decision fatigue and that can be heightened when we’re out of our normal work routines. Create solid systems and a routine that you can follow, even while working from home, so that you don’t end up exhausted at the end of the day.

Batch everything

I’m a big believer in batching my work and activities so that I can stay hyper-focused and not burn myself out. It’s also really helpful to turn off unnecessary distractions and right now, with the noise around COVID-19, it’s even more important to turn things off from time to time.

The idea with batching your work is that you do tasks in groups. For example, if you’re going to do email, sit down and do all of your emails at once to avoid the multi-tasking trap. If you’re going to focus on writing, do all of your writing tasks while you’re in a state of flow. If you are going to pay bills, pay all of your bills and balance your budget at the same time.

By batching your activities, you won’t be tempted to get up and do the dishes in-between conference calls or run an errand in the middle of a big project. 

Be kind to yourself and others

In high-stress times, it’s really important to ensure that you’re being kind to yourself and to others. Emotional states run high, people are distracted and your friends, family and colleagues may have a thousand other things on their mind right now. Remind yourself of this before moving into any human interaction so that you can lead with kindness and empathy.

Extend that same kindness to yourself. It’s going to be really difficult right now to get it all right. Your kids may be having a bit more screen time than usual, you might be fighting with your spouse a bit more than normal and you might find the unknowns a bit harder to deal with. All of that is, in my experience, totally normal.

Managing your mental health in uncertain times is also key. Take breaks, especially if you’re working from home, as work time can easily bleed into home time without a commute and get out into nature. While we’re all practicing social distancing right now, we can still go for walks in nature and breathe fresh air on a daily basis.

Apps like Calm or Headspace can also help as they can provide you with meditations that you can do at home and there are many yoga and fitness apps that you can use to maintain your health and fitness while at home, too. These are all ways that you can ensure that you maintain self-care while working from home in isolation.

Final tips

It’s really hard to stop scrolling on social, tuning into press conferences and reading the news right now, but I highly recommend that you give yourself a time limit to consume that information before taking long breaks from it, too.

Look to as many positives as possible in this uncertain time and know that the majority of people are understanding and empathetic right now. Reach out to friends and family through digital means, especially if you are isolated, and leverage technology to stay connected with your colleagues.

We will look back on this time as being monumental, because it is, but I think we’ll also look back on this time as being a time of rapid transformation and learning. We’re learning how to communicate better, how to support each other better and how to cope in highly chaotic times. We’re building resiliency that will be incredibly helpful in the weeks, months and years to come.

Erin Blaskie is the director of marketing at Fellow.app, a tool for managers to have more productive meetings.