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Before the world shut down, you probably had a morning routine. While it may not have been perfect, most of us had a certain way we started the day and got to work. Enter COVID and that went out the window. Commutes vanished and responsibilities changed, virtually overnight.
“We went from having a routine to asking, ‘What day is it?'” says Lisa Zaslow, owner of Gotham Organizers, a New York-based organization and productivity consultant. “Morning routines were cut loose, and we were being thrown curve balls. The transition was hard.”
Creating a new morning routine—albeit a fluid one—was dependent on your circumstances. If you were single, you might reclaim your commute time and start working earlier or ease into the day in a more intentional way. If you had kids, however, you likely had to get them settled into homeschooling.
“The pandemic put the burden on many women who took take care of the kids,” says Maura Thomas, author of Attention Management: How to Create Success and Gain Productivity Every Day. “Getting them situated in their classes could take the better part of the morning. They might not be sitting down to work until 9 or 10 [a.m.]”
Add in flexible work hours that many employers offered, and mornings took on a new meaning, with people working at all hours of the day. As a result, fewer people established a reliable and steady routine. “And just when you think you were finding some semblance of normalcy, something would change, such as schools creating new hybrid schedules with kids in classrooms some days and home others,” says Thomas. “The one rule during the pandemic is that there were no rules. This made mornings so challenging for some of us.”
One of the morning routine challenges was losing the clear-cut transition between personal and work life, says Zaslow. “It created a mental blur and some people stopped showering or getting dressed, which made it worse,” she says. “Without the clear separation between work and home, we had to switch focus in an intentional way. Rolling out of bed and turning on your computer is not the same as a 20-minute commute to the office where you regroup and get in gear.”
People were always halfway working, adds Thomas. “The catch to everybody feeling connected all the time is that there is no distinction between time off and working hours,” she says.
You also had to be intentional about leaving the house, since you were working from home, says Zaslow. “I had to make a conscious effort to build that into my day,” she says. “A lot of people got pandemic puppies, which became a good motivation for getting outside.”
RECLAIMING MORNING ROUTINES IN THE FUTURE
As people start reemerging into the world, Zaslow suggest taking advantage of the upcoming transition time.
“Moving into a post-COVID world will be different than when first hit, which was more sudden,” she says. “Companies shut down and schools closed. It happened so abruptly and was more frightening because people were unprepared. Now that we’re going in the other direction, we can have a better sense of what’s coming.”
Review how your mornings have evolved and note the more positive changes. Maybe you had time to cook a good breakfast instead of grabbing something on the go because you weren’t running out the door. Even though there were challenges, some aspects of your mornings are probably better now than they were before, says Zaslow.
“This is a real opportunity to look back and identify positive changes,” she says. “Maybe you used your commute time to create new habits like meditating or checking in with your partner or family?”
Be intentional about your morning routines so you don’t return to old habits, adds Zaslow. “It would be easy to drop out of those new positives,” she says. “You could also make changes to bad habits by trying out new ones, such as getting up 15 minutes earlier than normal.”
And if you’re going into a hybrid arrangement, you may need multiple routines. “You may work from home one morning and go the office the next,” says Thomas. “This will require flexibility.”
While the pandemic has been a challenging time, there’s an opportunity to regain some of the control we lost as we move forward, says Zaslow.
“We all know the best ways to have a productive morning is to get a good night’s sleep, wake up at the same time every day if you can, have a consistent start time for work, and have a plan for the day,” she says. “Even if you’re not a morning person, you can create a routine that helps you transition into the workday. Think about what you want your mornings to be like in the new phase. We’re not going back to way things before, because nothing will be exactly the same.”