As someone who has worked part-time and mostly from home since 2016, I would like to share my tips for surviving this quarantine process. Not to brag, but I was also willfully underemployed throughout my twenties, so my experience goes back decades. For the brief periods when I did have an actual job working 40 hours a week in an office with people, I often sequestered myself by shutting my door and napping under my desk, reading books in my lap, or pretending to be on the phone, “I will drop everything and get you that spreadsheet by the end of the week, Sir!” I developed other important skills like always walking the longest route to the bathroom, perhaps taking a trip around the block or past the mall across town. I learned to carry supplies from the supply closet one at a time: in ten minutes I will go back for another staple.
I know how to get through two weeks accomplishing nothing. It is as if I have been preparing my whole life for this moment. This pandemic does present some additional challenges, like the fact that our children are also home. My kids are currently in middle school, so I do not have to incorporate them into my daily plan until after lunch and even then, I only see them for brief moments as they wander out of their rooms to forage for food. It is very similar to the office environment. The microwave smells like popcorn and ramen all afternoon, and nobody makes any real efforts to clean because they just assume the magic janitor will get to it eventually.
If you have small children, under age 8 to 10 depending on the child, you may need to consider more drastic measures than I can offer here, perhaps opioids. For the older kids, I cannot offer any advice about home schooling because I am not doing that shit. What I can offer you is a plan to make it to a reasonable time each day when it seems acceptable to make a drink.
Before the pandemic, even if working from home, I had to get up early to get the kids to school. Now since I don’t have that built-in routine, I try to wake up early enough each morning to catch the news so I can start the day adequately panicked. It recreates the anxiety level I usually face getting middle schoolers to school on time and thus creates normalcy in my mental health. It is like a patch. Then I go to the kitchen and make coffee and do household chores, like checking Facebook. Then, it is almost time for lunch!
You will definitely need a laundry chair or couch. I usually have two large chairs going at all times. When you were a productive member of society, maybe you had a laundry day or perhaps you were one of those people who did laundry in the evenings like some kind of ironman, but now laundry just happens at all hours randomly. Right now, I have a load in the washer of one blanket from the couch, one oven mitt, two towels, and the hoodie my son has been wearing for the last 72 days, including the entire week we just spent at the beach.
There is no real reason to fold the laundry unless you are having guests over, so I just fold one piece randomly as I walk by or as I am grabbing the remote to click, “Yes. I AM still watching Arrested Development.” Sometimes, if timed exactly right, people will grab the things they need from the chair before they ever need to be folded. However, never underestimate a teen’s ability to ignore the existence of the laundry chair by resorting to wearing clothes from deep in the bowels of his drawer. My son, who now wears a men’s medium, came out last week in a Minecraft shirt from elementary school. He looked like Shania Twain.
Eventually, on some days, I actually have to check in and do some work. For me that means responding to students and grading papers or reading and writing for other projects. I usually do this while I am eating my lunch. I eat a giant salad every day while I work and then at some point look down and realize the salad is gone, and I don’t even remember taking a bite, so then I go to the pantry and eat half a box of Wheat Thins. Then the working portion of my day is complete! I close my computer and wander around the kitchen, eat a handful of multivitamins, empty half the dishwasher, maybe fold a t-shirt from the chair. It is all about pacing yourself.
One thing that helps me is that I like to go for long walks. I will walk for between one to two hours—more like walkabouts than exercise. I listen to podcasts and make phone calls that I have been procrastinating. I like to make my calls as I am walking uphill so I am out of breath, and the person on the other end is generally deeply concerned about me and willing to accommodate my concerns, like that I ordered the wrong size.
If you do not like walking, maybe watch a yoga video. Sometimes I watch yoga videos while emptying the rest of the dishwasher, occasionally dipping down to run through a sun salutation before stacking the bowls. I keep my yoga mat rolled out near a sunny window and some days I will stretch out on my back, put on mediation music, and mediate with my eyes closed for about an hour. If you do not have a yoga mat, the bed is a good substitute.
By this point, it is time to get dressed for the day. I like to take baths. At 3:00 p.m. I bring my phone with me so that I can catch up on my stories, on Facebook. Normally, during non-pandemic times, I have to leave to pick up my kids from school each afternoon. I do not currently have this strict deadline, but I am still requiring myself to get dressed for the day or at least to appear like I am dressed from a car window by 4:00 p.m. During the pandemic, I have been using the afternoon time to run essential errands like to go get more hummus.
After getting home from the afternoon errand, it is officially happy hour. Now, you just have to open a bottle of wine or pour a cocktail and work on making dinner, like a regular person. One of my favorite recipes, from even before the restaurants went to take out only, is to create a survey monkey of restaurant delivery choices and text it to my kids from across the house. We wait for the food to arrive, I drink more, then fold one pair of shorts, and watch Wheel of Fortune. After that it is time to put your feet up and relax because you have earned it.
I hope this is helpful. After the pandemic, you should go back to your productive lives and look forward to one day getting back to the quarantine life through a beautiful thing called retirement. You can visit me at Trader Joe’s after your afternoon baths because I will never be able to retire.