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How can I manage the COVID-19 changes to my family and work schedules?
By Maren Voss, USU Professional Practice Extension Assistant Professor
The COVID-19 restrictions have wreaked havoc on the daily routines of families and students. These disruptions to activities and schedules can cause a great deal of stress. On the one hand, it might seem like we should have more time. For example—kids don’t need to be dropped off or picked up, more jobs are working from home and reducing commuting time, and lots of people have unfortunately been entirely laid off from work, resulting in hours of extra time in a day.
Yet, many are finding that unscheduled time does not equate to getting more done. Instead, time is getting wrapped up in new stresses and responsibilities. The World Health Organization points out that in times of stress, children seek more attachment and are more demanding on parents (WHO, 2020). This means we need extra patience with family and with ourselves as we manage the changes.
So, what can be done to help my family during this stressful time?
Try to keep up with familiar daily routines (or create new ones to fill the gaps) as a strategy to minimize stress. This is also the perfect time for implementing a few time-management principles. Research confirms that basic time management behaviors are related to lower stress, better health, and feeling more in control of life (Claessens, et al., 2007). If you find yourself struggling with daily routines in your household, here are some tips and strategies to put time on your side.
Time management basics focus on the three P’s—prioritizing, planning, and pacing.
- The first critical step is taking the time to decide which items on your to-do list are most important. Try the ABC method, literally putting to-do items on a list and grading each on a scale of importance. This might mean prioritizing school work, house cleaning, or whatever makes sense for your family.
- Once you decide on the must-do’s for the day, the week, or the month—it’s time to write the goals down. Writing down a goal more than doubles the chance you will get it done. Only 8% of people complete a stated goal, but that number shoots up to 20% on average if you write it down.
- Sticker charts have been used for generations to offer immediate feedback on goals, but are even more useful during times of change and stress.
- Get an accountability partner. Goal attainment and task completion can shoot up to 40% if you have an accountability partner to report to.
- Prioritizing the important goals helps ensure that daily hassles and time-wasters don’t deter you from doing what matters most.
- Identify where your time is going. This is the most critical step to planning a schedule.
- Identify the time wasters (television, video games, social media, etc.) and set time limits in your schedule.
- Break bigger projects into all the smaller component parts.
- Plan a time for each piece of the project.
- Work on just one section or task at a time. Multitasking slows down progress.
- Remember to plan rewards for your accomplishments. Rewards make it easier to stay motivated and on task.
- Assign each task a deadline.
- Schedule for disruptions and set a time to manage email or check social media so it doesn’t overtake your day.
- Know the time of day when you are most productive and schedule your important tasks for when you are most alert and energetic.
- Employees get the most done during 9 am and noon, after that productivity declines the rest of the day. Your schedule may look different—but knowing the best time to schedule a task based on your lifestyle will help you get it done.
One fun way to manage time is called the Pomodoro technique. It combines all three of these time management secrets with small steps toward your goal.
- First, you pick an important task (prioritize)
- Next, plan a time to get started and then set a timer for 25 minutes to work on it (plan)
- When the timer goes off, take a 5 minute break (pacing).
Whether you pick this method, a simple to-do list, or any other strategy—conscious choices in time use will put order in the day during the COVID-19 disruptions.
- World Health Organization (2020). Mental health and psychosocial consideration during the COVID-19 outbreak. Accessed May 11, 2020 at: https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/331490/WHO-2019-nCoV-MentalHealth-2020.1-eng.pdf
- Claessens, B. J., Van Eerde, W., Rutte, C. G., & Roe, R. A. (2007). A review of the time management literature. Personnel review. Vol 3:2 pp. 255-276.