Getting Started: One way to avoid the rabbit hole…

Stop sign with crossroads signs above it that say "Homework Avenue" and "Procrastination Parkway"
Not a corner you want to hang out on…

One of my favorite mantras that I learned from Dr. Peg Dawson (Smart But Scattered) is “What are you going to do, and when are you going to do it?” Lots of us have suddenly been gifted/cursed with hours of unstructured time since this outbreak began and schools closed. Many parents are suddenly managing time for kids and teens in the house, as well as trying to keep up with the demands of their own jobs working from home. Teens are suddenly gifted with hours of extra sleep (not actually a bad thing!), but also the lure of Netflix binges (well, adults too – Tiger King, anyone?). And college students are unmoored, often trying to figure out how to manage their time in a now less familiar and less flexible environments – their parents’ homes.

So, when you roll out of bed in the morning (afternoon?), do you get a shower and hop right into work and assignments? Or do you lounge in front of an iPad eating random food (because who knows what meal it is right now) while taking in *just one more* episode? “What are you going to do, and when are you going to do it?” can help. The answer to this question is not, “I’ll do some work later.” The answer needs to be fairly specific. Maybe not a “To Do” list that covers every project you’ve wanted to do since you didn’t finish your first child’s baby book (parents), or every assignment your teacher has uploaded to Google Classroom in the last two weeks (teens). But maybe, “I’m going to get up and take a shower or exercise every weekday by 10am” might be an answer. “I’m going to completed the third math assignment today after lunch.” “I’m going to decide on what to make for dinner and make sure we have the ingredients today at 4pm.” You get the idea – specific task, specific time. Just make sure you don’t choose a task that you’ll never actually finish in the time you have! (More on time estimation in a later post…)

Timers are your friend. You can teach your kids (and yourself) “Hey Siri/Hey Google/Alexa, remind me to do my math assignment today at 1pm.” Or you can add it to your online calendar with a reminder. Or you can just set a timer for 20 minutes from now. Or, if you want to go old school, stick a post it on the refrigerator or the bathroom mirror as a reminder.

One caveat is that in times of unprecedented stress like these, don’t expect productivity to be high. Do what you can do and give yourself a break. No one is coming to inspect your closets when the quarantine is over. For some of us, if we’re managing to keep track of what day it is, that’s a win! This is an opportunity though to pick up small habits that could make a big difference once we return to “real life.”

By: Lisa Ahern, PhD