How to manage your workload and goals amidst a pandemic
The pandemic and shelter in place orders have been a massive stressor on all of us. Personally, this Spring I was carrying 20 engineering units at Stanford while caring for my 4yo and helping my two teenage kids with their sudden online learning. This Summer I started a new job, moved back to LA from the Bay Area, had to find schools and register my kids, and experienced remote work for the first time. These stressors have a compounding effect as it adds to stress you already had.
Needless to say I was stressed. Stressed to excel at work while managing all of my parenting responsibilities. Stressed by the move (we did it all ourselves to minimize contact). Stressed to find a new doctor and therapists. Stressed about dental work I had to get done.
Stressed, stressed, stressed!
Stress caused weight gain, troubled sleep, difficulty unplugging from work, and it made my memory and recall slower, short temper, and a constant feeling of no matter what I do, I feel like it’s not enough.
Stepping Back and Assessing Your Situation
My brain felt cluttered, unorganized, and slow. I felt like I was at risk of burnout. I finally asked myself, what do you feel? I made space for those feelings which allowed me to approach the issue with some distance and curiosity. I then wondered, why was I living like this?
I realized that I have lived under extreme stress my entire life. Since my childhood, to being a single mom of two, to working at high pressure companies, to studying CS at Stanford – it has been nonstop go go go. This made me realize that some of my stress was self-induced. I was working at capacity needlessly. I had to adapt to my new situation and find my sense of agency. I pushed back on meetings, delegated work, reassessed timelines, and most importantly I was kind to myself. At night I tell myself, “Yes you’re right, you have a lot do do. You also accomplished a lot, just look at your checklist!” This allows me to reframe the panic in my brain to a gentle self-assurance that I will get to it tomorrow.
Structure & Routine For Ambiguity
Reflecting on what was on my plate made me realize that I had to think big picture and invest in myself. I thrive under structure and routine – probably because I didn’t have any as a kid. I’m also really good at dealing with emergencies, projects with ambiguity, and am a great strategist.
By planning ahead and setting up my framework and processes, I created structure that maximizes my capacity, allows me to remain creative, and gives me the intellectual and emotional capacity to deal with issues that come up unexpectedly.
Creating Structure At Work
I love my work. It’s my first job where I feel valued, mentored, and like I belong. It’s also comes with the high investment of self and juggling of responsibilities that startups are associated with. To manage my long term and short term goals I did and led with the following:
- Create a work plan. Excel template here. The goal at the top of the sheet is to find out what you want, what you need, your goals, and generally come up with your North Star and Mission. I go over this with my boss during our daily check-in and update the goals I have at the top, as well as changing priorities and progress. It makes it easy for them to see that I am handling things and what my capacity is. It also makes it easy for me to remember any questions I need answered.
- Daily Checklist. I use my notes app as a daily checklist and include everything I hope to achieve that day. I copy over items I didn’t get to the next day. I love checking off things I get done. I also include a short blurb on what I did for exercise, what I did to prep my daughter for school, etc. This allows me to remind Myself What My Capacity Is. It’s helpful to see everything you do and reminds you that you are managing a lot and doing so amidst a pandemic.
- Gauge Priority Level and What is In Your Control
- Ask Is this a Priority Today?
- Ask Is it in My Control to Push Back the Deadline?
- Communicate your priorities and updates to those involved.
- Use your work plan to show everything on your plate.
- Tracking Your Growth, Communication, and Transparency: I use a google doc for my Update and Insights Report. This includes the milestones, wins, and learnings (e.g. what went well, pain points, and ideas) from the past week and the Next Steps for the week ahead. I keep a Susana Notes doc for daily notes on meetings and projects, my daily priorities, and brainstorming sessions. Everyone in the company has access to both docs. Both of these documents, along with my work plan, help me track my progress and my professional growth. It communicates what I am up to and provides full transparency into my output – This is especially important for companies (and startups in general) new to remote work.
- Calendly. This is critical for me since I average 20 client-related meetings a week.
- Add 10 Minute Buffers to my calendar so I can take a bio break, stretch, get a snack or coffee. Before I did this, I was regularly ending up with solid back to back meetings from 9AM – 5PM with no opportunity to do any of the above.
- Block Off Time for Lunch. I’m going to admit I am not good at taking breaks but it, at minimum, allows me a break from meetings and calls.
- Respect your Needs. I have therapy once a week. I have a Hard Block for this time with a buffer on each end so I am not late and to provide a break for me to process. I have to pick up my 4yo from preschool by 5PM so I schedule 30 minutes so I can walk over and get her. I avoid early morning meetings because I exercise, work from bed with my daughter cuddling next to me, and get breakfast and my daughter ready. I like to shower and get ready unrushed as well as have everything on my desk that I need (coffee and a lot of water). I burn my palo santo, meditate, and do my affirmations. It’s important to know what works for you.
- What Activates You. I have a heavy workload and take a lot of video calls. To stay energized and reset I:
- Brush my teeth (The minty flavor is revitalizing)
- Satisfy any bio, food, or water need: when you meet your body’s needs, your mind has a lot less to worry about.
- Run cold water on my wrists: shake off sleepiness
- Play 90s Hip Hop: I mean do I need to explain? 😀
- What Calms You. When I find myself starting to get overwhelmed and anxious I:
- Walk out to my balcony and people watch
- Think of a specific memory with someone I love and loves me back
- Hug someone or something you love
- Call my sister or husband, talking it out or just hearing their voice is soothing.
If you’ve read this far, you’re a go-getter, a hustler, a chingona, a manifestation of everything Little You could never dream you would be. You may be mining for ways to do even more. But I hope the above serves you and everything you want to accomplish while not losing your sense of self, your boundaries, and your health.