Maintaining a daily routine (and sanity!) when isolating with a full house
April 9, 2020

Let’s go back to three short weeks ago…Jody and I were humming along like a pair of well-tuned sewing machines living and working in our Connecticut home. Our three daughters, two of which are currently seniors in college and one living and working in Philadelphia, were fulfilling their daily life the way they always did. Our three sons, one of which was in London with his fiancé, the other was working remotely in Peru with his wife and 14-month-old son and our youngest son was living and working in New York City with his partner. Life was as normal as ever, as we all plugged away at the daily nuances of life.

Then COVID-19 came in our lives like a snowstorm in June. Shocking, unknown and life-stopping.  Sparing you the details of the journey I am sure most of you have had as restrictions began to be placed through the United States, we encouraged our children to make their way back to the USA and/or home and get settled into this new life we now know as “shelter in place.”

Today, we find ourselves sheltered in place in our Connecticut home with a lot more residents than we are used to in our retired life.  Because of university closures, two of our daughters are home from college indefinitely.  Our oldest daughter and her roommate have also bunked up in our home for an extended stay.  While we love them being around, it has taken some time for all of us to rethink and adjust our day and daily schedule.

Last week included a bit of chaos, coming to the realization that they were not going back to school and then the news of no live graduation. Jody and I would be the first to tell you that they are handling this new life better than we imagined, and now after about 10 days of trial and error, we have all fallen into a new routine, which includes some amazing family time and conversation.

When the kids were in high school and living at home, they were younger, and their priorities were different. Heading out for nighttime activities, weekends away with friends and the stress of homework and getting into college. The conversations today have shifted into deep meaningful talks about all kinds of topics and real-life issues we never discussed much before. The family time has been truly remarkable.

As for working from home, that has been the biggest adjustment by far. Living together in a small house and adding onto that six people needing to spread out with laptops and paperwork has its disadvantages and challenges. ZOOM conference calls, questions, interruptions and conversations all become a distraction and we had to find a way to have some ground rules.

Some of our challenges included:

  1. Where will everyone sleep? Our home is a two-bedroom house built-in 1780. With pullout couches and trundle beds, we have room for 12 people to sleep, but usually, it’s just for a long weekend. This is different and we always want everyone to be comfortable.

  2. With all of us needing workspace, where would everyone set-up shop for the duration of this way of life?

  3. What would our days look like between 9:00 and 5:00 as we shuffled people around in the house who need privacy for work ZOOM calls and conference calls?

  4. Would it be like a typical family weekend where Jody and I do all the cooking as we host family and friends? Could we keep that up for weeks on end? Including cleaning the house and food shopping? This is no longer hosting, this is living.

  5. Should we be splitting up the chores and responsibilities now that we are all here for the long-haul?

  6. How would we keep spirits up and maintain a positive attitude with limited personal space?

  7. And finally, how would Jody and I maintain the daily routines we have worked so hard on for the past few years to maintain our personal health and wellness, our work time and our personal connectivity with these big changes.

Of course, our family’s health and wellbeing are the most important. But Jody and I were honest with each other when we expressed our concerns for the last bullet point.  What about us and everything we have worked for to make this retirement life the life we want? We quickly reminded ourselves that this isn’t forever, and we are blessed to be in the situation we are in.  Changes happen, hurdles exist, and it is the way we respond to those challenges that shape us for the rest of our lives.

Here are the steps we took to build a new routine:

  1. First and foremost, Jody and I had to be in alignment on our thoughts and strategy so that we were both comfortable and made our children feel comfortable.

  2. At first, we treated this adventure as if it was a normal family visit with Jody and I do the heavy lifting. But without much asking or prodding, everyone felt the sense to want to help and it was Jody and I trying to do more as our children took on huge responsibilities.

  3. Chores like shopping, cooking, cleaning the house, emptying the dishwasher and taking out the garbage are attacked by everyone.

  4. We have set up times for everyone to have some personal space.  Being together is great, but sometimes you just need a break!

  5. We have established a schedule for work hours and are very flexible if someone needs to change it up for a Zoom call or two.

  6. We have actually grown professionally because we have been able to have group discussions on some work topics with input from everyone in the house.

For me personally, I have worked hard on an early morning routine that provides me with grounding, clarity, and energy to handle whatever comes my way. Once everyone came home, I had to adapt. The first week was rough, we did not know how long this would last, so I just skipped my routine. Once the reality set that this could last a while, we made adjustments. I will tell you this. DO NOT SKIP YOUR ROUTINE. It is one of the only normal activities you can still do at this point. You owe it to yourself to treat your mind and body the way you have grown accustomed to.  Even if it needs to be adjusted slightly.

I still get up at 5:00 am, but I now start with some reading and journaling then read the online papers. Jody and I have our morning coffee from 6:00 to 7:00 am. We then work for a while, waiting for the kids to wake up. We both take a break and workout, as that keeps us mentally sharp and our stress levels at a low. This is different for us, but we now have settled into a new routine and it is becoming our new habit.

We spend some time talking with the kids, then they spread out and go to work. Then Jody and I get ready for the day. We shower and dress for work to make us feel more professional and in a strong work ethic. We tried sweatpants and more casual clothes and it felt too relaxed for us. Do what feels right for you. Everyone is different.  Take this time to learn what it is that makes you feel like yourself in such an unknown time in our lives.

We sit down again around 9:00 am and work pretty hard until 12. Then we grab some lunch and maybe some downtime, then work again until about 3:00 pm. Once 3 pm hits, it’s time for our daily 3-mile walk with the girls. This is new for us and it’s become a special time for us to walk for an hour and take turns in pairs chatting.

From 5:00 on it’s a different story! Very relaxed and chill, our appetizer feast prepared by Jody, then a delicious dinner. The end of the night has also changed dramatically. Jody and I eating alone was always nice as we chatted about our day and the kids. Now we sit down and eat and talk for about an hour, talking with the kids, instead of about them!

We do the dishes together (when in high school, they disappeared to do homework), and continue our conversation. Then its game time. We have been having a marathon daily game night of “Code Names”. A fun game if you have not played before. This is our time to laugh, de-stress and enjoy this family time together.

All of this took some work, flexibility, negotiation, and laughter. When living in tight quarters, it can be rough on everyone so keeping our humor up is important.

We established some ground rules as we worked through the best way to live and work together for our situation.  I encourage you to find yours.  It won’t happen overnight, but it’s worth taking the time to determine what works for everyone’s wellbeing.

This clearly is a different time in our lives that will continue to be a reminiscent topic of conversation in the future. There will be plenty of funny stories to tell our grandchild one day. Just today, after three attempts of finding toilet paper, I hit the dirt at Walmart at 6:00 am. Never in my dreams would I think something as necessary as toilet paper would be hard to find. But one day, I hope we will laugh about toilet paper, cramped working spaces, and all the joys in between in this time of global crisis.

We have all maintained a positive outlook and look forward to a future where we can once again be with our entire family (including those who live further away and can’t visit during this time), cooking, sharing a good bottle of wine, playing games and telling stories about this time.

How have you been adjusting to this temporary, new normal?

Have you been able to maintain some type of daily routine with sudden changes in work and home life? 

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Retirement Transformed is dedicated to developing meaningful, transformational journeys for career-oriented professionals when they’re facing—or anticipating—retirement. He serves as a guide for successful individuals who, up until now, have built their identity around their business and professional successes. Markham helps entrepreneurs and executives rewrite their story of retirement so that it is filled with purpose, passion, and clarity.