How to Turn Off, Tune Out and Enjoy Downtime During a Pandemic

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Learning how to enjoy your downtime during a pandemic.
Oona the Wonder-Dog exhibiting her secret talent.

I’m fortunate that I’m still employed and have the ability to work from home. The benefits of working remotely have been enumerated by many bloggers (no commute, flexible hours, pants-optional conference calls.) Bad humor aside, when working from home, it’s easy to blur the line between office hours and personal time. It’s important to learn how to enjoy downtime during a pandemic.

Just this past weekend, I found myself ducking into my makeshift home office and turning on my computer. Did I have a tight deadline? No. Was there a problem that only a dashingly handsome web designer could solve? No. It was a basic equation; boredom—combined with proximity—equaled, a wasted Saturday afternoon.

Survivor’s Guilt

It’s hard to watch friends and family get furloughed (or worse) while still drawing a paycheck of your own. Blame it on survivor’s guilt. Immersing oneself in work seems like a fitting punishment for having avoided the hangman’s noose. Yet the feeling of guilt isn’t warranted. Additionally, working 10 or 12-hour days will most likely lead to fatigue or burnout. And what will that accomplish? How does that help your company prepare for what comes after this?

Mental fatigue is very real. Living post-Corona means a trip the grocery store can feel like navigating a minefield of germs. We now have to weigh considerations like, “Even though I may not get sick, could I infect someone else?” I used to have a difficult time choosing between Chinese or Indian food for dinner. Now everyday decisions appear to have life or death consequences. Literally. I never realized how stressful the decision of when, where and how often to purchase toilet paper was.

#MentalHealthDay

Here at Trueline, management saw the writing on the wall. They declared this past Monday a mental health day. Our only assignment was to get outside and see the sun. In retrospect, it was the best thing for us and the company. That morning, walking past my darkened computer felt weird. While sipping coffee, I leisurely read the newspaper leftover from Sunday. Eventually, I decided to take the dog on a long walk.

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That’s when it happened. I was overcome with a sense of unease. Surely there were things I could be doing. Should be doing. My mind started prioritizing a list of things I could do as soon as we got home. I quickened my pace as the list grew longer and longer. And then I heard a voice tell me to stop. All the work I had created for myself could wait until tomorrow. I silenced my phone and picked up the frisbee.

Appreciative coworkers shared their activities via social media.

Pay it Forward

To assuage the guilt I spoke of earlier, I’ve chosen to support worthy organizations helping healthcare workers and volunteers. Feeding the Frontline is a great option that helps both local restaurants and hospital staff. In addition, an Otto gift card was much appreciated by our postal carrier.

My Mental Health Day resulted in a day spent with the dog and a night spent with the Tiger King. I awoke the next day to find the world hadn’t ended. I had work to do and the time with which to do it. I felt refreshed. I had discovered the Zen of downtime. More importantly, I felt appreciative to work for a company that put employee wellbeing ahead of profit.

Believe me, I’m ready to get back to the office. Discussions with coworkers over break room donuts have been replaced by long-form conversations with my dog. I really miss those donuts. Until it’s safe to return to the office, I’ll be working—from home. But I’ll also be resting, shutting the office door and turning off my phone. I’ll probably even take the dog out for a long walk or two.

For more Trueline tips for how to navigate the mixed up, topsy-turvy business world, click here.