As life gets busier, find ways to keep your time and mind in order
I am a planner — perhaps not surprisingly, given my occupation. So, when it became clear in early February that my family was going to take a safe, socially distanced road trip for spring break, I relished the idea of having something to plan and look forward to after not vacationing for a year. A relatively easy task, right? Not exactly.
As it turned out, my pandemic brain found planning and organizing the trip to be a challenge. Like a lot of people, I've been primarily focused on routine daily and shortterm decisions for the past 12 months. Changing my thought process to plan for something more complex, and with different considerations than I've recently had to contend with, was difficult.
The experience taught me that our minds have changed after a year of mostly staying at home. Our lives are about to get busy again, and many of us are looking forward to that. But ramping back up will be require some planning. Here are some ways to do that.
• Set priorities
In some ways, it seems as if resuming our pre-pandemic lives should not be that problematic. But it's not as simple as just picking up where we left off. As places start to reopen and we return to doing "normal" activities, how we approach them will probably take some relearning, extra mental energy and potentially extra time. Making some intentional decisions now can help prevent things from spiraling out of control later.
Talk to your family about the activities they're looking forward to resuming and the ones that no longer interest them. Perhaps you started habits or practices during the pandemic that you would like to continue. Write those down. Do you want to keep baking, taking daily walks, eating together as a family or doing virtual exercise classes? Maybe you've enjoyed working from home and cherish the time you've gained without a commute. You might consider approaching your employer and negotiating a partial work-fromhome schedule if that's an option.
Once you have your list of priorities, understand that there may be sacrifices in other parts of your schedule to make those happen.
• Schedules and systems
After you've done some critical thinking about how you would like to structure your time, grab your calendar, whether it's on paper or an app. I've always used a paper planner, but I didn't write everything down; a lot of things were on autopilot. But this past winter, as I struggled to focus and keep track of all the changes that were already happening (not to mention the ones for later this spring and summer), I found that writing everything on my calendar was essential.
There are new protocols that often require several preliminary steps: forms to be filled out before sending a child to baseball practice, daily checklists for sending kids back to school, questionnaires
before doctors' appointments. To keep track of tasks, I've been flagging emails that require action and setting daily — and sometimes hourly — reminders on my phone. Additionally, after not keeping a to-do list for the past year, because there wasn't much going on, I've started making detailed lists that I update daily.
It's also time to reinstate systems you used before the pandemic, such as making school lunches the night before, running the dishwasher every evening or preparing a shopping list each Sunday. Instituting routines and schedules will help keep everyone on track as the pace of our lives picks up. And if you've gotten caught up on an ongoing project, such as organizing your digital photos or updating your files, include those tasks on your calendar, so you can maintain that progress.
• Delegate and automate
Pandemic life helped us streamline some aspects of our lives. I started ordering groceries online and will continue doing that, because it saves so much time. If you felt more relaxed over the past year because you weren't driving your kids to daily activities, consider starting a carpool to school or practices. And if dinner has been less stressful because you started ordering fully prepared meals, maintain that practice. Automate as many deliveries as you can, including pet food, medications and household essentials. Or consider subscribing to a service or product that will help you take better care of yourself, enjoy a hobby or ease your workload. There are options for just about everything, including subscriptions for puzzles, spices, skin care and cleaning kits.
• Give yourself a break
Everyone has experienced a higher level of stress than normal in the past year. Routine tasks such as keeping time and thoughts organized have taken a back seat as we focused on getting through each week — or even day. Some things may take much longer than they used to, or you might feel overwhelmed. That's okay; cut yourself some slack.
Give yourself plenty of time to complete your list, and celebrate small victories. The ongoing stress and anxiety is going to mean that mistakes will happen and tasks will be forgotten. It's more important to be flexible than to adhere to rigid standards.
Although we're all looking forward to moving past the pandemic, it's not going to happen overnight. Don't expect that you're going to go right back to the way it was without sufficient sleep, time and self-care. As with all organizing tasks, the road leading back to our normal lives requires consistency, patience and work.