Work life balance during a pandemic

Dec. 7, 2020 / By Rachael Howe, RN, MS

2020 has thrown plenty of curve balls at everyone. One thing that has affected many of our lives is transitioning from in person to virtual work settings. In addition, many of us are managing our children at home while trying to work. How do we manage our time and keep our balance when work life and home life are constantly overlapping if not downright merging? Working in terminology and informatics requires a fair amount of attention to detail and focus, as do many other jobs. How do we maintain this level of dedication while still caring for young children that need help with school, snacks and supervision? Here are a few things that have helped me maintain some semblance of sanity and balance this year.

  • Wake up 15 minutes before everyone else in the house and take a few minutes to just “be.” Be in the moment and breathe. Write in a journal or do some jumping jacks (I do both). This tends to help me gain focus and start the day with the right mindset. I have found that in these times, mindset has a lot of power on how your day will go. In my journal I start with one thing I am grateful for, then 3 things I will accomplish for the day. This helps me remember to be grateful for what I have and sets up the day with a focus in mind.
  • Plan your time. Block out when you will do certain things. In the past, schedules were more of a suggestion for me, but now they are a requirement. Blocking out and protecting your time is more essential than ever. Time blocks should include breaks for yourself even if it is only 5-10 minutes. Cuddle your pet, hug your child, drink some tea, walk around the block or do some stretching and breathing. A 5-10 min break is plenty of time to reset your mind. Time blocks should be made with the task in mind. For instance, a task that requires attention to detail and focus shouldn’t be started at lunch time when young children need to be fed, or during the time they need help with school. Save those tasks for when they are doing their “at home recess” or watching a movie so you can give your attention to the task.
  • Terminology and informatics work requires focus and communication. We can no longer walk over to a coworker’s desk and get answers quickly. To ensure the quality and accuracy of our work, collaborating with team members is essential. More communication needs to happen in the virtual setting than in person, to make sure everyone is available when they are needed. Sharing schedules is important so that we can all respect each other’s time and still deliver high quality work.
  • There is a fine balance between communicating and respecting time—both your own and your colleagues’. To find this balance, a good collaboration platform such as Microsoft Teams is helpful for communication. As everyone may be online at differing times, having a collaboration platform can help teams communicate with one another and not miss important information. Rather than scheduling meetings to address topics, try an email or a team post in the collaboration platform. As much as you are protecting your own time, you also need to be conscientious of your colleagues’ time. Meetings can become a nuisance to you and your teammates. Ask yourself if an issue can be addressed in email, and try to understand the difference between urgent (cannot wait) and important (must be noted but doesn’t have to be addressed right this minute). If you must have a meeting, try to be respectful of individual time needs. Implement a “no Friday meetings” policy so your team knows they have one meeting-free day to focus on tasks and end the week on a positive note.
  • Finally, do not let work take over. It’s so easy to sit at the computer for hours on end when it’s just in the next room. One of the reasons for scheduling and time blocks is to make sure you end work when you say you will. When work time is up, turn off the computer and go spend time with family or pets, or focus on self-care. Self-care is so easy to forget but makes a huge impact on how you can adapt to these turbulent times.

Our new “normal” may never be what it was before. It’s essential we figure out how to balance our home lives with our work and remember to focus on ourselves. Our mental and physical health must be a priority, to maintain the wellbeing and quality of life for ourselves, our families and our work teams.

Rachael Howe is a nurse informaticist with the Clinical Terminology group at 3M Health Information Systems, and is a member of the Healthcare Data Dictionary (HDD) team.