Running an Effective Quarantine

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn

I am currently on day 45 of my self-imposed quarantine. I have recently had some time to sit down and reflect on this whole ordeal and how I am getting through it.

Before I get into the details I wanted to let you know that this is my personal experience and is in no way meant to come across as me knowing more about this stuff than any of you. I am just taking things one hour at a time.

Speaking of taking things one hour at a time. I remember sitting in my car 45 days ago having just decided with my wife that I would be staying at home with our 4 year old son, Gavin. I have the great fortune of working for Habits at Work, where thankfully we have a very flexible work from home policy. This was before the stay at home order was introduced and I felt lucky to be able to put my family first when so many others did not have that choice. Anyway, I was sitting there in my car, full of anxiety, not only because of the impending pandemic, but also because what was I going to do to entertain an energetic 4 year old for the foreseeable future, all while keeping up with my work responsibilities. I am not sure exactly how the idea popped into my head, probably because just that morning I had edited a Habits at Work promo video on how to run effective meetings, but I realized I needed to run my life like an effective meeting. I have been working at Habits at Work for a year in May and I have seen first hand what an effectively run meeting looks like. There are many tips and tricks, but these three have helped me the most with running an effective quarantine.

Step 1: Make an Agenda

For me this was the one thing that really curbed most of my anxiety. Thinking of the day/weeks in 30-60 minute increments really allowed me to be less overwhelmed by the magnitude of it all. Having to entertain Gavin for 30 minutes is a much easier pill to swallow than having to entertain him for the next 90 DAYS! More importantly, having an agenda helps me build into the schedule time for me to get my work done.

Before we go any further, I should mention that the amount of screentime in our house has gone up about as fast as the amount of “dad in sweatpants” time. Which is to say exponentially. It is not something I necessarily want to brag about but it is what it is. All I can say is we try to keep things educational, for the most part.

Back to building the schedule. I like to keep things pretty simple while also trying to establish some sort of routine. For instance, we have been watching the Brookfield Zoo live streams every day at 11 am. Gavin looks forward to this and gets super excited the closer we get to 11 am every day. The bonus for me is that I know I will have at least 30 minutes to get small work tasks done or check emails.

I typically like to build out the schedule the night before, usually right before I go to bed. This allows me to look at exactly what my day will look like from a work perspective and to build around that. For example, if I have a work call from 1-2 on my schedule, I know that Gavin will be on the iPad, or watching a show during that time, so I will try to limit his screen time in the morning  before that.

Having this agenda every day allows me to keep my day on track and keep Gavin happy. Routinely throughout the day you will hear him asking me “what’s next on the schedule” Which says to me that he likes it! At least that is what I am telling myself. Another thing we like to do, is to go over the entire day’s schedule while we are eating breakfast in the morning. He really likes to hear everything he is about to do.

To me, this has a direct correlation to running an effective meeting in your work life. Agendas give a sense of structure to a meeting, and they make people feel more at ease, especially if you can share it with them ahead of time. Meeting attendees will have time to prepare themselves for what is about to happen and using a clear, detailed agenda will make your meetings run much smoother.

Step 2: Stick to the Schedule

This step is the one I have the hardest time with. Unfortunately I always have my phone on me, so if an important email comes in, there are some times when I have to put Gavin on the iPad or watch a show so I can respond appropriately to whatever work thing pops up.

What I have started to do to help with this is to have a couple of “play by yourself” activities in my back pocket that I know will give me enough time to respond to unexpected work stuff. Building a wooden train track or coloring: things like that.

Just like in a work meeting, when I do get off schedule, it is really hard to get back on track. As the person running the meeting, whether with Gavin, or at work, it is my responsibility to keep things on track. In work meetings, things sometimes tend to wander off topic and the meeting leader needs to be aware of that and pull things back on track. With work meetings I like saying things like, “this is a great discussion happening right now, let’s put it in the parking lot and we will come back to it if we have time at the end of the meeting, or schedule a new meeting to address this issue.” This lets people know that you are listening to them, and that what they are saying is important, but it is time to get back to the agenda. An expert move would be to add a parking lot time slot to your agenda. This way you can put topics in there as your meeting progresses and address them when the time comes. If no parking lot items come up during the meeting then you will be able to end your meeting early, which brings me to my next step.

Step 3: Finish your Meetings on Time or Early

At Habits at Work we LOVE to end the meeting early. It is something I noticed immediately when I started working here. It gives the meeting attendees the gift of time. Which in my opinion is one of the most valuable things you can give to someone. Not every meeting goes perfectly. If you are getting to the end of your allotted meeting time and you realize you are not going to be able to end early, you should start to end your meeting 15 minutes before the meeting end time. This gives you plenty of time to wrap things up or schedule any followup meetings, if that is necessary.

With Gavin, ending the day early is not really an option. I can’t just send him to bed. However, I love getting to the end of the day and telling him that he has been such a good listener that we are going off schedule to do something that is completely up to him. It gives him a sense that he has a say in what is going on, which he loves, but it also gives the gift of time, just

like in work meetings. Most days he chooses to wrestle with me, one of his favorite activities,  or sometimes he tells me to choose. It is a great way to end the day.
Everyday I am getting better at scheduling this quarantine thing. A lot of it is thanks to the information I have gathered from working with the great people at Habits at Work who run such effective meetings. I feel very lucky to have such a great son in Gavin, everyday he wakes up ready to attack the day and he is honestly an inspiration to me. Also, I’m grateful for my wife, I would not be able to do any of this without her. Thank you to both of them!

Chris Underdown

Creative Director

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