Sending my best wishes to you, your family and your friends to remain healthy and safe at home during these crazy and uncertain times.
As you probably already know, the Honorable Harold D. Melton, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia has declared a Statewide Judicial Emergency, effective through April 13, 2020, at 11:59 p.m., unless otherwise extended. The Order provides that Georgia courts should remain open for essential functions only. This includes emergencies with immediate liberty or safety concerns, and domestic abuse temporary protective orders and restraining orders. All other non-essential functions shall not take place unless they can be conducted by video or teleconferencing. In addition, deadlines, including but not limited to those pertaining to discovery, service of pleadings, statutes of limitation and appellate filings shall be suspended, tolled or extended. See attached Order Declaring Statewide Judicial Emergency
These are challenging times for all of us. The courts may be closed to non-essential business, and deadlines may be postponed, but your responsibilities to your clients are still ongoing. Their issues are probably becoming more problematic during these tough times. It is also likely that they are increasingly frustrated because of the additional delays in their cases. And, now, you are working remotely from home, with the children and other home responsibilities. All of this creates more work, and more stress for you.
Social distancing means that many of us are cutting back on office hours, and/or we are working remotely from home. This transition can be difficult, both physically and psychologically. The kids and all of your other daily responsibilities are now huge distractions that cut into your work day. More work, and more stress for you. And, suddenly, your own home is starting to feel downright claustrophobic!
So what to do? I’ve worked from home for many years. So, I’ve put together some thoughts and suggestions that have worked for me. I hope they help you too!
- To the best of your ability, keep to your regular hours and routines…. and stick to them! Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be even more difficult when working from home. The fewer changes you make to your schedule and routine, the easier it will be for you to make the transition. But, distractions abound. So, cut yourself some slack if you break your work routine to play with your restless and distressed child. However, don’t let the daily distractions make you feel compelled to keep working into the evening. Know when to stop, because if you aren’t careful, you’ll wind up letting your work run your life.
Make appropriate adjustments to your morning routine. What is your normal morning routine when you go into the office? Keep that same routine in place as much as possible. But do you really need to put on a suit and make up your face and hair? Not necessarily. If it helps you to feel more inclined to sit and be productive in your new office space at home, then yes, dress as if you are going into the office. But, contrary to popular belief, some people can work productively while still in their pajamas. So, do what is right for you.
- Maintain a dedicated office space, and do your work there. Not all of us have offices in our homes. If you don’t have the extra room, create office space. This is only a temporary arrangement, and you can make it work. The dining room table that your family rarely uses can serve as your desk where you can spread out your papers. Or, with more limited space, you may need to set a table up in your bedroom. And, remember, a good chair is important. You will be more likely to stay seated and continue working if you are comfortable.
Keep your work and personal computer time separate. I, for example, do online crossword puzzles and research for my next vacation while sitting on the sofa in front of the television with my laptop in my lap. But, doing my work like this in front of the television is an absolute no-no! Sometimes it’s hard to resist the urge, but don’t check e-mails, or start working on something just because your laptop is right there in front of you. Work is reserved for your office, and during office hours only!
- Set boundaries with the children and share responsibilities. Be clear with your children about what they can and cannot do. And, share the load. However you choose to divide up the domestic responsibilities among the members of the household, don’t set yourself up for overwork and burn-out by doing all of the work just because it’s easier to do it yourself. Other family members can walk the dog and take out the trash. This may be the time for the children to learn that they need to take responsibility for their own space. They can clean up after themselves and keep their own rooms in order. You cannot focus and be productive with your work if you are spending too much time doing for others what they should be doing for themselves.
Close the door to your office, and put a thumbs up/down sign on it to let the children know when they can enter. Your children should not be able to hear the things you discuss with your clients, opposing counsel, the guardian ad litem and others involved in your cases I’m not just talking about confidentiality issues here. So much of our conversations in our practices are about issues that your children don’t understand, and they are too intense for their delicate ears. Keeping the door closed will also enhance your ability to concentrate on your work so that you can get more done, and then spend more time with the children. I know that it can be tough to keep the door closed, as you feel the need to check in on the kids. Instead, set up a baby monitor or a camera so that you can keep an eye on things.
- Create alternate strategies for work focus. Work out a schedule with the other adults in your house so that each of you can have a significant chunk of time to devote to work while the other cares for the children. Plan conference calls during the baby’s nap time. Coordinate the children’s daily screen time with your work time. Use sound-cancelling headphones. Or, for me, classical music always works! Studies show that Mozart, Bach and Beethoven are great for concentration, focus, relaxation, and even memory.
Take advantage of those times in which you have your highest focus. I, for example, am a morning person. So, after my regular morning routine, I dive immediately into work. Writing usually requires my greatest focus. So, I try to schedule my writing times for the mornings, and phone conferences and other tasks for late morning and afternoons.
- Just as you take breaks at the office, take breaks at home. If you normally take two 15 minute breaks and a one hour lunch break every day, keep that pattern. Instead of walking to the coffee shop to grab a morning coffee and muffin, take the dog for a walk around the block while the children ride their bikes. Or, turn up the music, and dance with the kids. Or, take some time to meditate, stretch or do some exercise. Don’t forget to get outside for some fresh air. Play fetch with your dog in the back yard. And, maybe for a change in scenery, take your laptop outside and work under the trees.
Don’t forget to socialize with your colleagues. Under normal circumstances, you’d just walk over to your partner’s office and sit down to shoot the breeze. Now, pick up the phone. Connecting with others is vital when working from home, especially if you are in quarantine. Feelings of loneliness and isolation can take over, and this ultimately affects productivity. Checking in with co-workers by way of video calls can also help to maintain cohesiveness. E-mails work too. But, remember, so much gets lost in translation with the written word. Communicating face-to-face (via video) is so much more effective, and it has the added benefit of creating a sense of togetherness when, technically, that isn’t possible.
Stay out of the kitchen! When I’m in the “avoiding-work-mode,” I find myself standing in front of the refrigerator debating on what I should snack on next. Not a great diet strategy! It takes some discipline, but don’t do this. In fact, this may be when other distractions may be a good thing. I also find that keeping a big glass of water and a small bowl of nuts or other healthy snacks on my desk helps to curb the urge to sneak back into the kitchen.
- Stay positive, and laugh a lot! Working from home can sometimes feel claustrophobic and lonely. Be aware of this tendency, and focus on the rosy side of things. You now have more time to do that project you have been putting off for the last year! And, you and your family have your health, and so many other things. Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t do. Stay away from the compulsion to keep an eye on the news updates, and check in only periodically. If there is an urgent message, rest assured, you will get a text on your phone. And, always remember, that what they say is true: Laughter is the best medicine! A dose of “joke time” with your children, or your favorite sitcom or comedy movie is always welcome relief.
And, lastly, don’t hesitate to ask for help!
mdg Custody Litigation Consulting remains available to support you and your clients through these challenging times. And, remember, we can work remotely!
- Litigation Support for Attorneys Let me take some of the stress and load off of you. I can assist you with tasks ranging from preparation for depositions and trials, to drafting motions and briefs, to reviewing discovery documents. And, as issues arise that call for different approaches during these uncertain times, strategy sessions are most valuable. This is my favorite work, as finding creative solutions in difficult situations is one of my strengths. Read more.
- Litigation Support for Clients: No doubt, with the children home from school, your clients are experiencing greater stress and frustrations with issues such as coordinating schedules with the ex. And no doubt this is taking its toll on you. Allow me to assist you with client management and accountability through one-on-one coaching support for your clients. And, this time away from court is also a good time for your client to work on better articulating his or her custody goals, and doing what needs to be done to achieve those goals. You can’t build a good custody case without a good client. Let’s work on this together. Read more.
- Independent Custody Assessments Especially now, with limited court availability, settling your cases is priority. An Independent Custody Assessment can be the reality check and tipping point your client needs to bring fresh perspectives and reasonableness to your settlement discussions. Let’s explore all of the options. Read more.