Managing schoolwork, daily work, and the responsibilities of adulthood are hard enough on a typical day. But what happens when you add in overseeing the studies of a child or children now taking classes from home, and a spouse or other family members now working from home, too?
Well, you might want to take some tips from a couple of people with experience in Shenandoah University’s Occupational Therapy program, which has a significant online component. La’Shandra “Elle” Russell ’19, MS, OTR/L, LVT, who owns Occupational Transitions, LLC, is the D.C. coordinator of the 2020 Mom-Congress, and a mom and spouse who worked part-time during her OT studies; and current student Craig Rollyson ’20, who lives with five family members, can offer some advice born of experience when it comes to keeping life in balance while learning online:
Figure out when you learn best, Rollyson said. “For example, I am most productive in the morning. Prioritize that time for studying and working on assignments, if possible, and try to make it into a routine.”
Dedicate one day to organizing the upcoming week, said Russell, who planned study days, family functions, work, meal preparation and other household management tasks on that day. “I fortunately had the flexibility of working for a company, JoAnn Fabric & Craft Stores, in which I was able to manage my own schedule and could adjust according to my life needs. I served as the education coordinator, where my responsibilities included working a mandatory 12 hours per week (I could work more if management of other life responsibilities permitted), scheduling and managing program classes and six instructors, teaching sewing, crochet, jewelry making and Cricut classes, and more. I worked during the hours in which my son and spousal unit were at school and at work. I limited the amount of time during the week that I would be away during what I considered ‘sacred family hour’ time.”
Purchase pre-prepped/already prepared/pre-packaged food as needed, Russell said. “Walmart’s rotisserie chicken was a staple at the dinner table, as was microwavable food such as sweet potatoes, rice, etc. This reduced the amount of time spent cooking, as well as provided an opportunity for my then-6-8-year-old son to participate in the meal preparation routine, as well as safely and independently prepare his own lunch meals throughout the week.”
Prioritize your own physical and mental health, Rollyson said. “Your work and your relationships with others will suffer if you don’t take care of yourself.” Russell also noted the importance of this. “At least three days per week, I intentionally participated in a mindfulness-based activity (meditating, journaling, yoga, etc.) for either the first 15 minutes before the start of day or the last 15 minutes at the end of the day. Having this self-care practice helped to organize and regulate me emotionally as well as helped to set the tone for the day and/or upcoming day.”
Set time aside for your favorite leisure activities or rest. “If you like to wake up slow, then save the mornings for yourself and do your work later,” Rollyson said. “If you need the evenings to decompress, then allow yourself that time.”
“Don’t stress out if you see the rest of your peers posting assignments before you. Everyone works at a different pace, and as long as you’re meeting the deadline, you’re fine!” Rollyson said. “Turn off push notifications from Canvas,” he added. “You’ll be quickly overwhelmed with announcements from professors and submissions from peers. You’ll have plenty of time to catch up the next time you get on your computer to work.”
“I engaged in my studies on an average five days per week/four hours each day, limiting my studies to the content of one class per day,” Russell noted. “This allowed me to not feel pressured to study continuously in a given day as well as gave me the opportunity to process and reflect on what I had read/learned for that day. And this made memory recall, when I needed to apply knowledge, much easier. Prioritizing which class content to study was primarily based on assignment due date.”
Maintain as much of a daily/weekly family routine as possible in an effort to provide some level of consistency in your home life, Russell advised. That includes a consistent schedule for Monday through Friday, as well as certain routines for weekends. “At least two or three consistent routines helped to maintain a level of connectedness and organization in which to schedule other activities,” she said.
“I am a person who thrives on established routines,” Russell said. “I can certainly say they helped me maintain a functional level of organization and balance during my studies at Shenandoah, while also adding another full-time program (Georgetown University’s Certificate in Early Intervention) during my last year of my Shenandoah OT program. As much as I was looking forward to having some down time once I graduated, I maintained this same routine and implemented these same tips as I studied for my Board Exam. It served me well, as I passed my Board Exam on my first attempt.
Be mindful to maintain as close to a daily routine as possible during this COVID-19 shutdown. Occupational therapy practice has shown that having and participating in an established routine supports both physical and mental health and well-being, even when there’s been changes in access to occupations/activities that once made up (y)our day.”
“Find your tribe. Aside from immediate family, there was no way I could have gotten through this time without my tribe,” Russell said. “Your tribe can be someone/people you know personally whom you can reach out to if you need to talk; or even a subject-matter expert whose book/blog/podcast you enjoy reading and/or listening to. Connecting in some way with like-minded people keeps you focused and moving toward your intended purpose and life goals.”