Post-COVID: Balancing work, life, and running in the "new normal"

Post-COVID: Balancing work, life, and running in the

Lily Trotters brand champion, Samantha Bobo Woodworth, shares some insight on her quarantine experience and hopes for the future. 

It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic turned life upside down. We’ve all spent the past year or so trying to navigate a multitude of challenges: adjusting to new working conditions or not working at all, trying to keep our friends and family safe, trying to establish a new day-to-day routine, just to name a few. And now, with a vaccine developed, there seems to be an end in sight. Many states are lifting their restrictions and re-opening has commenced throughout the country, and while it seems that things are looking to return to normal, it’s not going to be exactly the same normal as before. 

So, what is this “new normal”? What will the world look like when vaccines are in enough arms that mask mandates, capacity limits, and distancing guidance is lifted? Well realistically this is likely to vary person to person. 

For me, along with many other lucky souls, my job went fully remote in the pandemic. I kept telling myself nothing really changed for me, just the location of my work. I know this was a lie. Looking back over the past year, I’m reflecting on one of isolation and burnout, one of uncertainty, mania, and pure, unadulterated exhaustion. I missed the silly things about working in an office, the water cooler chat, face to face interactions, even the totally stupid but equally hot office gossip. I missed leaving the house and seeing friends and family, I missed being social and not distant. I missed having my Sundays eaten up by group runs with my Trail Sisters, spent casually jogging through the woods and chatting about whatever popped into our heads and sometimes going to get a beer at a local brewery after because it’s Sunday Funday.

But I think most of all I missed having a work-life balance and a healthy daily routine. Things I’ve struggled with for over a year now, since work was suddenly in the same location as life. Early on the balance wasn’t as hard. I was able to close my computer promptly at 5pm, grab my sneakers, and get in an 8-10 miler before sunset because I no longer had to waste time on a commute. It was wonderful. But as time passed, I found myself more and more often waking up and immediately responding to work emails, skipping my runs or workouts to work until 10 or 11pm. Rinse and repeat. Suddenly my weekends became one day off to clean the house, grocery shop and otherwise do all of the household tasks I had ignored during the week, and MAYBE get in a run if I was lucky, just so I could dedicate my second weekend day to work that I’d meant to finish during the week but didn’t get to. I was incapable of switching off. And it wasn’t just me. I worked weekends and late nights because my colleagues were working weekends and late nights. It became a vicious cycle of feeling as though I was bad at my job if I wasn’t available to answer my colleagues who were giving up their free time. This has led to so many days lost to burnout. Inability to focus or function. Feeling like I’d never be able to leave the house or have time to myself ever again. 

This is still the case. I still haven’t entirely figured out where to draw the line. The irony is not lost on me that after I finish writing this, I will be logging on to work to, once again, feel like I’m not behind. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job. And maybe that’s part of the problem. I care too much and feel like I’m doing it a disservice if I don’t commit to it fully. Maybe it would be easier to have that balance if I hated my job. But this brings me back to the “new normal”. Our office, along with so many others, has elected for a hybrid model going forward. Plans are already in place to downsize office space as they are expecting that most people will continue to work from home indefinitely and only come into the office as needed. So almost overnight, finding that work-life balance has become a necessity. 

So now that working from home is about to become my “new normal” for… well, maybe, forever, I’ve taken a step back to really think about it. Realistically, I will be heading into the office maybe twice a month, to mirror the cycles my colleagues are planning, which means I will have more social interaction than before but realistically I will still be living out of my home office more often than not and my current approach is wholly unsustainable. So how do we fix it? How do we successfully establish that work-life balance, when work is going to be in the same place as life, potentially forever? 

Forbes suggests such things as having separate areas for work and play, making sure you’re not using your work computer in your free time, and going to do something active immediately after your workday is over. These suggestions are all well and good if you can bring yourself to actually close the computer at the end of the day and aren’t suddenly looking up to find it’s 9pm and you still haven’t had dinner. So, for those of us that fall into the latter camp, here are a few things I’ve started doing that have moved me towards a healthier balance. They’re not perfect, and I’m not there yet, but you have to start somewhere, right?

  1. Set an alarm. I’ve started setting an alarm for noon and 5pm to break my concentration and remind me to get up, stretch, eat, and take stock. While the 5pm alarm doesn’t always mean I will close my computer for the night, it at least facilitates me taking a break and a step back.
  2. Don’t eat where you work. I used to take breakfasts, lunches, and occasionally dinners at my computer. DON’T! Take your mealtimes as a break away from work. Studies have shown that eating at your desk can adversely effect both your mental and physical health. Also, try to eat around the same time every day, disordered eating can also hurt your mental and physical performance.
  3. Make a list. This seems simple but putting together a daily to do list helps keep you organized and on track. I color code mine to denote priority, it helps me triage during the day and helps me feel less upset if there are some things I don’t get to. 
  4. Prioritize your runs/workouts. This one I still struggle with a bit. Between feeling like I just didn’t have the time and the perpetual exhaustion from burnout, running/working out has the first thing to go when I started overworking. Instead, I’m trying to be mindful and view them as the priority; the #1 on the to-do list. And when I get out of my own way enough to do so, I find I’m much more productive at work as a result. 
  5. Make plans for your free time. I’ve found that as often as I work in my free time because I feel I need to, it’s also as much because I’m bored and really have nothing better to do. SOOOOOO unhealthy. Even if it’s just to sit and read for an hour, planning relaxing, distracting, and fun activities for my free time has helped me feel less drawn to opening my computer. This piece will also get easier as time goes on and we can visit with friends and family and have social gatherings again. 

The definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over, expecting a different result. If that’s the case, then I definitely should’ve been committed over the last year. Knowing now that my “new normal” will look very similar to my current life, I know I need to put in the extra work to make a change.  These five things might seem small and almost inconsequential, but you know what they say, “little things can make a big difference.” Which is why, instead of finishing this blog and logging immediately on to work, like I said I was going to, I’m going to hop on my treadmill for a few miles first instead. 

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