3 Steps to surviving lockdowns with your family like a BOSS
Struggle. If there is one word that defines in one breath what we are all going through right now, it is this. Struggle to find order, peace, comfort, health, food, money, work, certainty, sanity. I kid you not, even the process and time it took for me to write this post and choose that first word was such a struggle! And it was right there in front of me yet I could not see it. Have you noticed that when challenges or problems arise in your life, oftentimes the best solutions are the most simplest things? They were so simple that our brains could not comprehend or rationalize that in fact they were the right answers, because we seem to be programmed to think that complicated or complex equals gold. For myself, it took about a month into Fiji’s restriction period that begun in late April before I finally saw some light in a very long, dark tunnel.
And just like how most stories begin, I found myself at the bottom of a deep well – stuck in that never-ending spiral of madness, of trying to make homeschooling plus housework plus working-from-home with a 9-year-old and a 3-year-old while my other half who works in an ‘essential’ business is at his office on weekdays. I broke down one evening to my Mr Sexyguchi and I felt down, depressed and drowning!
Things were so out of control at home. The daily mounting laundry because our machine decided to break down at the same time restrictions in Suva begun; my son taking advantage of long stretches of screen hours while I try to catch up on work and business calls; my screaming daughter in the middle of an infinite Zoom meeting who is craving one on one time as expected from a little 3-year-old tot. I could not respond to so many emails and even calls, the amount of backlog and pending tasks kept growing, and I started physically feeling the load of expectations not being met becoming heavier and heavier in my mind. It had to stop.
I had to pause.
An interlude is almost always a gateway to clarity. And in my case, I found a brief semblance of peace as I gathered my thoughts and shared my worries, fears and concerns with my life partner. Sometimes this momentary hiatus is all it takes to reach a tipping point for creative problem-solving. Before I could make sense of anything, I lifted my spirit first through my go-to Proverbs verse, “She is clothed in strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.” I printed this and stuck it on the wall. I looked at myself in the mirror and started seeing the bad-ass woman, boss momma again. Set. Time to get started.
If you know me you’re probably used to me using entrepreneurial concepts with my personal and family life, and vice versa. So you will not be surprised that my 3 steps to surviving lockdowns with your family like a boss below are inspired by the Lean Startup Methodology! So yeah, here are the 3 steps that I took to finally get some sense and sanity, order and organisation, for myself and my family:
The words of Jim Collins, author of my fave business book of all time, Good to Great, came to me. All good-to-great companies and leaders, have the discipline to confront the brutal facts of their current reality, whatever they might be. This allowed them to truly assess the situation and find the best ways to address root causes of problems. And I knew this is what I had to do. Nothing is ever going back to ‘normal’. In my humble opinion, people are kidding themselves when they say, ‘when the restrictions lift and everything opens again’ or ‘post-COVID we can resume like before.’ It’s time to wake up. Things have changed and it will never be like it was. Accept it. Arundhati Roy has a brilliant line about change, she says, “Either way, change will come. It could be bloody, or it could be beautiful. It depends on us.”
After that butt-kicking, face-slapping wake-up call, it was time to get creative. So given our limitations, given the current reality, what can we do? How can we make this work for our family? I scoured the internet to do my research – reading articles, tips, hacks, and lessons on organising families, supplementary learning activities for children, working from home and what-have-you by mothers, women, and people everywhere since the pandemic began last year. Who has the time though to do all this research and reading right? At that time, I was barely sleeping to catch up. However, I knew how critical this step was, so I prioritised it. I read stuff during my daughter’s nap times, while eating lunch, after the kids have gone to bed – I was on fire! It just had to get done. There’s so much helpful information out there that I filled my Pocket app with innumerable links to read, and my Evernote got saturated with so many ideas! (If you are interested in some of the apps I mentioned and other resources as well, I have listed some at the end of my post.)
Creating a master plan of action in a way of something as simple as a list was what came next after all that research. Based on what I have learned, what would work for us as a family? What strategies could we use? For us, some checklist items looked somewhat like below:
- We redefined our family ‘bubble’.
By expanding our bubble to include my mother-in-law and father-in-law, we were able to create a schedule where they could help us with our little one for a number of days every week.
- We set rules to protect our family.
With the escalating numbers of COVID cases in Fiji, staying home and getting vaccinated are the best ways to stay safe. So these rules included things like, for our redefined family bubble, only my husband steps out of the house to go to his workplace. Everyone else stays put and we will only step out of the house with masks on to go for a walk or for medical emergencies. All our food, groceries, and essential shopping are being done online. (Websites and services we use can be viewed at the bottom of my post.)
- We created a flexible schedule to trial.
Using time-blocking on my Google Calendar, a technique I learned from Laura Vanderkam’s What Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, I blocked hours during the day for specific activities for myself, my son and my daughter. ‘Drop off Mayari to Mum’, ‘Adventure Academy time for Maui’, ‘Create meal plans for the week’, ‘Movement and exercise hour with kids’, ‘Order Groceries from Cyber Groceries’, or ‘Work Sprint Priority (no-distraction focus time for work projects)’.
Every family will have different activities and a master plan of action that is unique to them, the most important part to remember here is to allow flexibility to the plan after you execute it.
The first step, Find, is the longest step but you will see that it is absolutely necessary so when you are ready to execute your plan, you are well prepared to see and test whether it actually works.
Another critical thing to remember in this step especially for the family is to ensure to get everyone involved. Have a family meeting and discuss everyone’s roles and responsibilities. Go through the new schedule, the new family rules, and the details of the plan. This clear communication has really strengthened our bond as a family because we are each contributing to make it work. Mr Sexyguchi is doing more housework duties so we can cover all of them together, and my 9-year-old is learning to do his age-appropriate chores without complaints like feeding our cats every morning and folding his blankets. I have seen him mature so much – whether that’s watching over his little sister when needed, or helping himself with a sandwich for lunch, or following his set schedule that we printed as well. Our little girl waters our vegetables and cleans up her toys. Well… that’s still a work in progress!
In the Lean Startup approach for businesses, this last step is all about getting and learning from measurable and quantifiable data after testing a product early on in the process, and with the minimum possible effort. This phase taught me all about ‘pivoting’. If it doesn’t work – pivot. So for our family, this last step was about getting feedback from everyone so we can make changes to our plan and schedule based on our findings and experiences. It took us two weeks to ‘validate’. After two weeks of making variations, I am so happy to finally reach a point where we are actually in the groove of things!
Albeit so many new things and challenges come up daily, we are still better able to deal with them because we have a baseline to follow. During this validation period, we have found some helpful hacks:
- Simplify, simplify, simplify! Steve Jobs was famous for wearing a black turtleneck and Obama his blue suit as their uniforms. Apparently, Albert Einstein did the same as he did not want to use brainpower to choose an outfit every morning. I have started doing this using a capsule wardrobe – these days I only wear either my black travel tube or my origami travel dress with my dark red lippy during my workdays (Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays).
- Make some boundaries. These boundaries could be metaphorical or physical, to help you navigate the different areas of your work and personal life all happening within the walls of your home. For example, you can create a no-distractions zone in the house where no one is allowed to disturb you at a set time, or it could be creating boundaries for your own self-care and mental health like going on a media fast (limited media consumption) or cutting ties with emotional vampires who are certainly not good for you. In our family, our son wears his school uniform daily so he makes a mental boundary that weekdays are school days even if he is at home. We have also set up separate work tables in our ‘office’ so we have a clean and conducive space – this creates some invisible boundaries that help when we jump from home duties to work or school duties. I have also blocked my Friday lunches to be scheduled lunch Zoom calls with best friends, Sunday evenings are catch-ups with my Nanay, and my husband and I’s date nights have transformed into wine nights on Thursdays.
- Start and end your day with peace. It is granted that the day will be filled with stress, chaos, and uncertainty, so some prayer and meditation for some strength, guidance, and direction at the beginning really set the pace of the day. Our little man has also started a tradition of praying together at night as a family after bedtime reading. It’s a beautiful and peaceful way to come together as a family and be thankful at the end of each challenging day.
To wrap it all up, some lyrics from Sarah Mclachlan’s song, ‘Fumbling Towards Ecstasy’ come to mind –
Peace in the struggle
To find peace
Comfort on the way
This brings me back circa the year 2000, over two decades ago when I was a nerdy and self-conscious university student listening to this song, and I remember having an epiphany. If you are looking for something, whether that’s joy or love or something else, you will find it in the struggle of looking for it. So embrace the struggle, and you might just find exactly what it is you’ve been looking for.
Useful Links and Resources:
As above mentioned, I am listing some links, apps and resources that you might find useful. I would love to hear from you if any of the steps above or the resources below help you in one way or another, so be sure to connect with me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Linkedin 🙂
Tools and blogs to help you simplify and organise things for the family:
- Any.Do – my go-to free to-do list app that I have on my phone and syncs to my laptop.
- Pocket – a free app that can save any article you find online which you can simply pull up when you finally have the time to read (like waiting in line or any other moment).
- Evernote and Google Keep– These are both free note-taking apps, and anyone with a Gmail email account can also use Google Keep. Our family uses these (although my husband is more of a fan of One Note) interchangeably for our meal plans and our shared recipes.
- Google Calendar – I love Google Calendar! Even my son has a Gmail account and we have created his schedule using Google Calendar. I use it to time-block my hours and place all my meetings and appointments whether for home or for work. It’s that one central command centre for all our schedules.
- Google Docs, Google Sheets, and Google Drive – As these tools are shareable and editable in real time by multiple people, we use Google Docs to create our grocery lists, Google Sheets for our family financial planning, and Google Drive to store copies of our family documents which only my husband and I have access to.
- Kindle (Android / iOS) – I have the free Kindle app on my phone where I read downloaded books from Amazon (usually cheaper than printed books) including my son’s books as he has started getting into reading children’s novels like Matilda or The Last Kids on Earth series (also now on Netflix).
- Pinterest – For all those virtual boards to store home storage hacks, home organization ideas, kids activities, bohemian styling and decor, and anything really.
- Zen Habits – Leo Babauta is an awesome human and his thoughts and writings on minimalism and living life simply are a must-read.
- Travel Fashion Girl – I found Alex and her community a couple of years ago and it is in this blog where I learned all about capsule wardrobes, and minimalist travel.
- Diane Kroe – I love Diane Kroe’s ethically-made, minimalist travel pieces. Slow fashion philosophy and made to order too,. Which is why my two ‘uniforms’ are from her collection.
Online Shopping in Suva:
- Cyber Groceries (same as Cyber Food) – Not only can Cyber Food pick up and deliver food from any restaurant (Rotisserie, Mad Hatter Hut, Mana Fiji, Ginger Cafe, and any other you can think of), they can also buy your groceries for you from any supermarket or store. They can even run errands for you. Every other week we send a very specific list of groceries from Extra, Cost U Less and New World to the Cyber Groceries team and they communicate via Viber with regards to availability of items on the list. Real-time comms with photos for options just in case! They accept online banking or cash on delivery. Just speak to Majid: 9477050
- Fresh Choice Supermarket – We have been impressed with Fresh Choice’s deliveries, they email you an Excel sheet that gets updated with current products on their shelves which you then have to email back to order. After that, they send you an invoice which you can pay via internet banking. Then they let you know when to expect the delivery. The only downside here is that they do not include frozen goods, items from their butcher or the bakery in the list. Email [email protected] if interested.
- Bula Market and Aggie Global – I just heard some great recommendations about Bula Market Fiji and Aggie Global for fresh food deliveries as they connect directly with farmers, but we have yet to try. Thinking of doing this soon.
- Freshet – Same thing for Freshet, I have heard good things but we have not yet tried their online service.
- Talanoa Consulting/Talanoa Treks – For local and fresh oyster mushroom deliveries in Suva from the Naitaisiri Women in Dairy and also Mama’s Mushrooms, Marita is the person to message for orders, email her at [email protected]
- Shop Online Fiji – We got a toy for our 3-year-old from The Merch through this online platform and happily received the goods via CDP. Seriously thinking of getting a few items from 8Mountains in the future!
- Vitikart – We bought a mobile wifi for my father-in-law through VitiKart, EMS does the deliveries for Vodafone’s online shop. Sadly it took quite a while for my father-in-law to receive his package (he desperately needed to go online especially at this time), and disappointingly the item that was delivered was the wrong item. We had to go to the headquarters to get it replaced. I guess as a new ventre, there are still teething issues within. Hopeful that they learn from these customer experiences!
- New World IGA Supermarket – Disappointed that their online platform does not have much products to choose from so we simply get Cyber Groceries to go to the supermarket and shop for us.
- R.B. Patel Fiji – I heard that they are pretty good, but we have not yet tried the digital platform.
- MH – Had a bad experience with MH and I hope they can fix whatever issues they have in their processes. So I was excited and ordered online, there were a lot of choices and I was happy about that! I paid using my debit card so the payment went out of my account as soon as I confirmed my order. I chose delivery from MH Superfresh which is close to us. However I got a call later that most of what I ordered online were not available, after which I asked, can I get a refund then? She could not answer. This was over $100 worth of shopping. So I was not impressed. I waited for any other calls, updates or hopefully a delivery. When I did not hear back about a refund or a delivery after more than 3 days I emailed saying I might have to escalate the matter to FCCC. Finally got a call after that and in fairness I like the staff at Superfresh as we used to shop there regularly and they are friendly. But whatever system they are using is quite flawed. So frustrating! Only $36+ worth was delivered – the rest was not available, so I am still waiting for a refund of the rest that I paid for. Obviously, I have not used their online platform again.
Learning Resources for Kids:
I could perhaps do a separate blog post later talking more about these learning resources we have found and can give you more details on which ones we now truly regularly use. For now, I will just link the resources below. Some of them are free and some are paid.