How We Are Staying Sane in This Time at Home…And How You Can Too

Ok, so this is now our new normal…kids at home, off school (though not entirely), working from home, husbands working from home, parks, playgrounds and other spots not accessible…it’s a lot of “at home time”. Now, I’m a homebody and introvert as it is, so this isn’t necessarily a huge deal for me, but I recognize that for some people it can be quite jarring. Throw in kids being home from school, but not able to go do anything and then have to do homeschooling, along with trying to work from home or just keep the house clean and the laundry done…it’s a lot. So, how do we stay sane?

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I’ve both worked from home and been a stay at home parent (doing both of those for about 3 years) and have come up with a couple of things that helped me. I also have found a few resources that helped out with educational purposes (for our age/grade level), boredom, and just general resources to have and today I’m going to share it all with you in the hopes that it can be helpful to someone else.

Tip #1: Get dressed. This is probably one of those things that I just preach about all the time. I’m a firm believer in how you look/carry/take care of yourself plays a direct role on your outlook and productivity. So, every morning get up and get dressed. I don’t care if that is putting on leggings and a sweater, your comfiest jeans, or dressing to the nines with heals and a smart outfit, just get dressed in something OTHER THAN your sleeping clothes. While it may seem like we don’t have a lot to do during this time, getting dressed will have a huge affect on your mood and outlook. Start doing this and you’ll feel less like just a bump on a log.

Tip #2: Get Active. We can’t do a lot right now. In our area all of the parks, hiking spots, and outdoor activities have been largely closed off as an extra precaution. That doesn’t mean that we can’t move our bodies. We are still able to go for a walk in our neighborhood (which we are doing as long as the weather holds out for us), we can do indoor at home workouts (which we do), and we can have spontaneous dance parties (which we also do…a lot). Being active, getting your body moving and your heart rate up, releases those feel good endorphins in your brain and helps you stay uplifted.

Tip #3: Eat Properly. I think this is the one that I probably struggle with the most (especially right now), but what we put in our bodies plays such a role, similar to what we wear. This is not the time to just eat junk food, pig out because we are bored, or snack all day long. It’s tough because we are at home all day and have easy access to whatever we would like in our kitchen, but avoid it. Eat as you would if you were not home and you will feel infinitely better. Personally, I find that if I am eating a lot of junk or crap food, I not only want to eat more of it (seriously who ONLY eats the recommended portion of chips?!), but I also end up feeling even more like a bump on a long afterwards. Stock your fridge and pantry with healthy options (I’m still working on this) and leave the junk food for special moments that you really need them.

Tip #4: Set a Flexible Routine. This one applies more to those of us with kids (specifically preschool/elementary school aged), but I find that a flexible routine really helps when it feels like everything has been upended. What I mean when I say flexible is that I try to be understanding when the boys have had enough of an activity. Let me give you an idea…Our days breakdown like this:

9AM : Everyone is up, dressed, fed/eating

9:30AM-12:OOAM: Indoor Playtime and School Work. The boys will play throughout the house and I will try and squeeze in worksheets, coloring, reading, etc. to continue to stimulate the brain activity and learning that Colton at least has gotten with school.

12PM: Lunch

12:30PM-2:00PM: Outdoor Play. It’s been much warmer and more spring like the past couple days to in between lunch and naptime we will run outside and play. I’ll take a book out there and read as well.

2PM-3:15/30PM: Andrew Nap Time. Colton and I will spend about 10-15 minutes reading a book and then he will get a little online educational screen time. If he has done a lot of “schooling” already then he can have some screen TV time. This is also when I get on the computer and do some writing if needed OR I’ll do a bit more reading. Overall it’s quiet time across the board in our home.

3:30PM-4:00PM: Afternoon Snack. We didn’t used to do an afternoon snack, but since school has started up it’s been instituted.

4:00PM-6:00PM: Walk/Bike Ride/ Outdoor time. Again, trying to soak up the weather when we get it, this is just another extension of playtime. If the weather is bad we will do some indoor activity or snuggle up for a movie.

6:30PM: Dinner

Post Dinner the boys have playtime in their rooms until it is time to clean up and get ready for bed. This is important as it gives my husband and I a chance to catch up and have some time together as well as a little quiet just in general.

Now, I just use blocks of time within the day. I found that I prefer planning in these types of increments (that’s a whole separate post), BUT it gives for flexibility. If Colton is really struggling to focus at times, I can let him do what he likes, and we will come back to that particular activity later. However, it’s also not just a free for all in our day. The boys know when they are going to get to do something within the day (i.e. Colton knows that we will do “school” in the morning, but he can play the computer school in the afternoon). This obviously changes based on what your school is actively doing about online learning, but for us this works. They get a chance to both learn school subjects that they need to, but they also get some real world learning too.

***For educational needs we are using a couple of different resources. First off we have a workbook that we brought with us for preschool aged children that works through prewriting skills, shapes, letters, numbers, and other necessary skills. We do a couple of work pages out of that along with the other resources listed below.

I print out math worksheets from k5learning.com. Most of these are geared towards K-5th Grade (as the web address would imply), but there are a couple that can be adjusted to the preschool age level as well. I have printed a couple of letter worksheets from this site as well.

Scholastic has a site that breaks down a daily guide HERE. They supply a book, a movie, and then some fun interactive games that include both and stimulate brains. We’ve only done one or two days through this, but Colton has really enjoyed the entire process. It brings some of the things that his teachers are working on in the classroom into our home (the little quiz about first, next, last was a big thing).

Abcmouse.com This has been a big one for us. We used this prior to the closure, and both of our kids absolutely love it. Colton has learned so much through the site and Andrew has loved watching them read the books to him. It makes me feel a little bit better for them having screen time since they are learning something (beyond just the Paw Patrol theme song and missions).

Youtube has some great educational options to choose from as well so you can turn that screen time into something too AND many zoo’s are doing Facebook Lives or Videos talking about their animals while the zoo’s are closed (Cincinnati has been a great option). I have also printed off the Discovery K12 homeschool sites preschool “syllabus” or learning guide just to make sure I touch on all the different options for what the kids need to be learning.

There are so many more out there that I haven’t even touched on. We are in a unique situation with only having one in school and it being preschool, so it’s pretty easy to work with. I know a lot of elementary schools (and upper level) are doing an online learning program and may have different requirements. My only suggestion would be that if it falls into their rules and parameters that you work with your kids. If they are really struggling to focus and they can take a little break, let them.

Tip #5: Keep in Touch. I came across this on Social Media and thought it was a great idea. If you are an extrovert, or someone that just needs adult contact beyond your significant other or roommate, or parents, then video chat with friends! Technology is a great thing and we have such an opportunity right now with the ability to very easily have face to face conversations over our phones. Set up “phone dates” with your friends and chat with them over the phone or through video. It may not be exactly what you picture, but it’s better than absolutely nothing.

Tip #6: Keep Your Brain Engaged. Another big one just in overall terms of feeling “productive”. Here’s the gist of what I am going to say…don’t spend all of your time binge watching Netflix, or scrolling Social Media, or watching YouTube. Look, I’ve got nothing against a good binge watch, wasting away a few hours watching a show that is just that addicting. I’ve done it many a time and will probably do it quite a bit over the next bit of time. BUT don’t let that be the only thing that you do. If you are spending that much time looking at a screen, letting your mind lull, it’ll start to play out in other areas of your life. Take this time to get your brain engaged in something you love or something you’ve always wanted to do. I know that I plan on catching up on a lot of reading, which serves as both a brain engaging activity AND a means of escapism. I also plan on doing a fair amount of writing (even though my posting schedule is drastically changing- more on that soon). There are so many options to keep your brain engaged, pick up a book (need ideas? HERE is a link to my goodreads where you can look at what I’ve been picking up), start a blog (this blog post by Helene In Between is a great guide if you are lost in that process, but want to do it), learn a new skill, take an online class (here’s a good option to search classes, but there are SO MANY free college courses out there and sites like SkillShare that charge a monthly subscription, but give you such a broad scope of tailored classes). All those things that you’ve been saying of I don’t have the time for this? NOW you do. So, use that time. Engaging your brain will make you feel productive, it’ll make you feel like yourself, and have you feeling positive about staying home all day.

Ultimately my tips can be summed up into ways of making this time at home, this abrupt change, into something positive. Keeping our spirits up and our outlooks positive is about the ONLY WAY we are going to get through this with our sanity. As always, caffeine is our friend (except when it disrupts our sleep), music is a great way to bring a smile all around, and checking in on friends and family is a must. Do you have any tips to add?

Tips for Working From Home

I worked from home with part time hours for a smidge over 3 years. During that time I learned quite a few things, both about myself and about creating a work/life balance. I don’t consider myself an expert in any of this, but I figured I would share some of the things that I learned over the past few years in case it could help someone else.

Working from home is a bit of a unique struggle because you want to set boundaries, a time/space for your job that is separate from your everyday life. A lot of times, when that physical space of the office is in our own home, you feel as though you are always at work. Boundaries are much more likely to get muddled or not exist at all. You may feel as though you are never not at work, or like you cannot disconnect from your job.

I learned the hard way on how to make working from home work for me and from time to time I struggled with those boundaries. But, I’ve made it through and I’m hopeful that if want to work from home, you can too!

Tip #1: Create a space that is able to be separate from your home for your office.This may seem like common sense, an office or a desk set up in a quiet corner of your home, but this is probably one of the hardest tips to stick with. When you have that space, you ONLY do work in THAT SPACE. You do not do work in other area’s of your house and you do not bring “non work” into that space. This space would also preferably have a door or some way of sectioning it off from the rest of your house. Think of it this way, when you work in an office, the best part of the day is being able to leave the office and leave your work behind for the evening, right? So, why would you not want to create that same illusion at home. In our previous home, our office was downstairs and was cordoned off by both stairs and a baby fence (as there were times when I would have to contain a child while working).

A note on creating your office space: You do want to make sure the space is welcoming and set up the way you want and need. Make it a nice space that you want to work, not somewhere where you feel like you dread going to. Natural light is a big help, as is small pieces of home décor.

Tip #2: Have specific times set aside as work time.Now, this tip only matters if you have flexible hours, but I wanted to touch on it as I found this was another thing that really helped me and is a hard one to stick with. It’s the same concept as the separate space in your home. You need to have certain hours that are set aside each day (they don’t necessarily have to be the same hours everyday, but should be the same week to week, e.g. M/W/F 8-12, T/TH 1-5) and those are the only hours that you do work during. Now obviously if there is an emergency or something that comes up that changes (as it would in a normal work environment), but the important fact is that you have the stability of hours. You work during those hours and when it is not those hours, you are not working. This is good not only for yourself, but for your coworkers as well (if applicable).

Tip #3: Get Dressed.If you’ve been around here long enough, you know all about this tip. This is a tip that I just apply to life in general, but is even more important when you are working from home. You are not going to feel the same motivation and high productivity level while working if you are in your pajamas or sweat pants that you will if you take a little bit of time in the morning to put on jeans or slacks and a nice top. There is just some sort of way that we all feel when we are in sweatpants that we don’t feel when we are in actual clothes. If you want, you can change into sweats after you’ve finished working to “signal” to yourself that the workday is over and you can relax.

Tip #4: Take breaks, eat your lunch somewhere else, get outside. This is an important one because a lot of times when we work from home, we don’t take the breaks that we need to. We need to get away from the desk, away from the computer (or phone) and out into the world. Realistically, this tip applies if you are working in an office as well. Do not take lunch at your desk, do not skip out on breaks, make sure you are stretching your body out throughout the day. If you don’t, you’ll either feel much more tired come the end of the day or you will be a little bit more short tempered in stressful situations. Take a step away, that is what lunch and breaks are meant for.

Tip #5: Take time off.Another one that feels like a no brainer, but it so hard to do. Here’s the thing, when we are working from home it is actually much harder to take time off than you would think. You’re office is right down the hall and since you are in the comfort of your own home, it is easier to work through a sickness or through a time where maybe you shouldn’t be working. It can turn into a problem and while I wouldn’t say take time off all the time, make sure that you are taking vacation time and if you are sick, take a sick day if you can. Don’t over work yourself simply because you work from home and it’s “easy” with no commute.

Those are my top tips for working from home. If you hadn’t noticed the theme, it is mostly to treat working from home much the same way that you would treat working in an office. You need to have a set space, set hours, and the ability to take breaks. The hardest thing about working from home is that instead of going to and from an office, having a separate space from your home, you are simply walking down the hall (or down some stairs) and there you are. It is so much harder to feel disconnected from work when it is just right there. It can be done though, it just takes patience and discipline as you figure out what works for you.  I hope that these tips will help you if you work from home!

Real Talk : Time Management

Earlier in the month I said that you do not have to be a morning person to be successful, you just have to be good at Time Management. I stand by that statement and today we are going to jump into a brief (ish) rundown of Time Management. If you think, “Mia, the year is almost over, why are we just now talking about this?”. Well, a)it’s never a bad time to start something new, and b)if you are wanting to feel more organized or productive in the new year, this is the perfect time/place to start.

Time Management is not some crazy, complicated, scary concept. It is just simply knowing how best to use your time. Knowing when you work the best and how to use that knowledge to your advantage. You don’t have to go any further than that. In fact, I’ll bet that you already do some sort of time management already and don’t even realize it.

Do you know that you write best in the morning, therefore spending your morning responding to emails, writing posts, or writing in your journal? Do you know that your brain functions better in the afternoon/late evening, therefore spending your morning doing the more aimless tasks (cleaning, laundry, etc) and then concentrating on work related items in the morning? That’s basic Time Management. Not so complicated, huh?

Time Management can also be taken a step further by setting limits on things that you need to accomplish for the day. This isn’t as complicated as it sounds and it is actually what I do for my weekdays to ensure that I can accomplish everything that I want to throughout the day without feeling overwhelmed, overworked, or like I’m spinning my wheels and going no where.  I usually set a limit, for example respond to emails/write posts for an hour and a half mid morning. This allows me to have a set time limit, gives my brain a chance to focus on what I am doing, and I find that I get quite a bit done in this time period.

I’ll give a brief run down of what I do in a separate post (stay tuned!) but first I want to touch on the easiest, simplest form of this and how you can apply it to whatever you are doing, from being a stay at home mom to the workplace.

There are two key ingredients to Time Management, the first is what we’ve already talked about. Knowing when your brain functions the best. Morning or Afternoon, it doesn’t matter. If you know when you feel at your best, then you can work around everything else.

If you are someone who just works better in the afternoon, that is fine! You’ll simply want to adjust your task list to be a little afternoon heavier, focusing the items that will take the most of your attention to the afternoon, rather than the morning. If you are someone who is bright eyed and bushy tailed first thing in the morning, then you’ll want to put any tasks that will take a good amount of your focus to the morning.

The second key ingredient to Time Management is going to be your priorities. Knowing what is at the top of your list on each day is key to success. I’ve talked about Priorities HERE. Within those priorities, you’ll want to have a general idea of what is going to take the longest, what will be the hardest, and what will require the most of your attention and focus. You’ll want to look at your first ingredient, when you work best, and lay out your priorities for that time.

If you work a 9-5 job, in an office, you may not be able to re arrange things completely (for example if you are a Night Owl, that probably will not work with your job), but you can still apply the same principles to allow yourself the most success in getting everything done.

If you are a Stay at Home Parent, you can still apply the principles of Time Management to your every day tasks and chores. Spending your “most productive” hours starting any tasks that need handled and playing/being with your children.

For example, let’s say you have a to do list of 5 items, 3 of them involve your immediate attention (aka due today or tomorrow) and 2 will take a good amount of focus and time. Those 3 assignments are your priorities and the 2 that will take the most focus and time are the ones that you will want to do when you are at the height of your brain function.

Not so complicated huh? Time Management at it’s simplest is just laying out what you need to do, figuring out when you work best, and then implementing both of those items together.