How We Survived The Pandemic Year
I woke up to the cry of my 8-month-old daughter calling from her room. I sat up groggily, squinting at the side table where I last left my phone, my wife was already on her way out to attend to our daughter.
“It’s 7:04am, that 1, 2… 5 hours of sleep.” Reluctantly, I got out of bed.
I start my mornings with a cup of hot tea—cheap Earl Grey from the local supermarket. Then I sit in front of my computer with a couple of crackers. It’s hardly an optimal routine, but one that I’ve eased into somehow.
I look back at the past year or so with mixed feelings. The Pandemic Year. That’s what I call the past 18 months or so. Time conflated into one period: Covid period. I used to keep myself updated with the daily number of new Covid cases in Malaysia, but I’ve long since decided to keep my mind on more edifying thoughts.
The Pandemic Year has brought about many new things. I cherish the good ones, and could definitely do without the bad ones.
One of the good things was that I retained my job despite the economic downturn where many lost theirs. Even though there was a pay cut for a couple of months, thankfully, we managed to ride through the storm and was even refunded the pay cuts made earlier in the year. It is at moments like this where I am truly thankful, not only to God, but also the good people he has placed in my life.
Another good to happen was the birth of my daughter. My wife and I welcomed our little bundle of joy in January, when she weighed 3.57kg. Being new parents, the first month was rough on us. We had to learn so many new things about caring for a child, all while being isolated from family and friends due to the lockdown. The fact that our daughter had Jaundice for almost a month added to our distress. Thankfully, we also weathered that storm and are now riding the waves of her developmental milestones.
The next good(?) thing to happen was work-from-home. But this is something that I reflect on with mixed feelings.
Before the Pandemic Year, I’ve always viewed working remotely as something to be desired for. Images of people on their laptops working from cozy, trendy cafes come to mind. They are free from the constraints of a 9–5 job; unshackled, free. This romanticised idea was what I’ve always had in mind in the past and I wished very much for that.
Then the pandemic hit. Lockdowns. Suddenly we are all forced to stay out of the office. Thus began working from home for us.
Working from home brought with it many good additions to our lives as a family such as being able to spend much more time together. We had meals together, laughed and enjoyed observing our daughter together, and most of all we enjoyed the times we could spend together in the park when the lockdown eased. Working from home enabled that because we were both now freed from the office environment which tended to suck us in. It’s easy to “just do one more thing…” or “stay on for just 15 more minutes…” and end up loosing track of time.
On the other hand, working from home also meant that our home is now the new office. We are now practically at work 24/7. I am aware of what others have said about this, that we should designate a separate space for work at home, and that we should have clear boundaries in our time daily. I.e. “Clocking in and out” of work, even when working from home. But this didn’t work out for us practically.
The primary reason for this is that we have a newborn at home.
Our daily routine consists of us juggling feeding her, giving her our attention, and putting her to bed for naps, all while trying to be reasonably productive with work. I think any work-from-home parent with young children will agree with me that it’s challenging. Not because it is difficult to care for a child but because of all that interruption that takes place during the day. It takes a toll on your productivity. Concentration, once broken, is costly to re-establish. That had a ripple effect on the rest of our day.
Instead of being more productive while working from home as this article suggested, we seemed to be less productive because of all the interruptions. This led to us trying to catch up with work after working hours, which then led to us staying up late because we wanted to spend time doing things for ourselves such as catching a movie, reading, writing, and etc. It’s a feedback loop that will would have driven us to burnout if we had not made some adjustments.
How did we cope then? We took it one step at a time. The first issue to surface was on productivity, so we began there. It just seemed obvious to me that we would not be able to keep the same expectations as before in light of our new circumstances. So we had to reevaluate expectations that we imposed on ourselves. That meant accepting the fact that we would be less productive during the day, and that was alright.
When our daughter needed our attention, we attended to her and took the opportunity to take a break as well. When she was 6 months old, we started her on solids and that meant sitting her down with us at the dining table for meals. That meant that lunch and dinner times are now slightly longer. All these meant that there is less time for work during the normal 9–5 hours. However, looking at it from the bright side, we got to spend time over meals together daily, and that was something we didn’t do much before even though we were working in the same office.
Reevaluating and adjusting our expectations freed us up mentally to be present with our daughter and each other.
But what about the reduced productivity? Surely that’s not acceptable for your workplace? Of course not. So, with the adjusted expectation came adjusted schedules.
One of the benefit (and curse) of working from home is that we are constantly in our “office”. On the plus side, we could be working any time of the day (or night). It wasn’t necessary to ensure that work was only done from 9–5. So, we spent some of our nights to catch up on work while our daughter is asleep.
Of course the danger here is that we might lose track of time and end up working all our nights away. But I think one paradigm shift that was crucial for me was: since the office and home is no longer separated, work and rest shouldn’t be separated too.
Coming from a company whose work culture glorifies staying back past work hours, skipping lunches, etc., it wasn’t common practice for people to take regular breaks in the office. People who are seen to be glued to their desks are deemed hardworking and praised for their dedication. In such a culture, the bloke who took a walk every 25 minutes would be labeled a slacker.
However, with this new paradigm there is no guilt in taking breaks during the day because we would use the evening to catch up (actually, there shouldn’t be any guilt in taking breaks anyway, but that discussion is for another time). There needn’t be a clear separation between work and leisure time—it can all mix.
I realise that this a popular opinion, and there might be studies done to show how it is bad. But at the moment, this is working for us. Adjusting our schedules has allowed us to give our daughter the attention she needs, spend time with her intentionally and not miss precious developmental milestones in the formative months of her life.
At this point, it seems like we start and end our day with work, and that sounds like a perfectly crappy way to live. Yeah, I would agree if it was just that. Work from day to night, even with lots of breaks in between, is undesirable. So, with this readjusting of schedules, we also adjusted our routines.
It was necessary for us to establish non-work routines at home for ourselves, so that we continue to nourish our soul, mind and body. This was particularly important since there is no longer a physical and temporal boundary between work and home. Establishing personal care routines allowed us to keep ourselves re-energised. I remember reading somewhere that we really should be managing our energy, not time. When our energy is depleted (be it mental, emotional, physical, etc.), there is little that can be done even with time in abundance.
Although we had some routines before the pandemic, the new circumstances meant that we needed to establish new routines, get rid of old ones, and be flexible with the timing of it all. These routines—such as working out, reading, watching a movie together, working on a passion project together—allowed us to not feel as if all our time and energy is spent on work-related tasks. It allowed us to experience a semblance of work-life balance, whilst working seemingly longer hours than before due to our adjusted schedule.
One More Thing
So that’s why I think of working from home with mixed feelings. It’s bad that it messed up our productivity and schedules a little, but the benefits it brought about are undeniable. If you’ve read thus far, I thank you for your attention. I feel obliged to leave you with one final takeaway: do not let prevailing wisdom or culture define what you can and cannot do with your time and energy. Let your values shape your decisions. Some might disagree with how we have decided to adapt to the change imposed upon us by the pandemic, but it doesn’t bother me because I know I have done so in light of what is most important to me at this point in time.
God bless you.
Creative Lead by day, writer by night, husband and dad throughout. I write about things that interest me and lessons I’ve learnt. My views are my own. Check out other things I’ve written.