In a series called My Hot Mess, inspired by the Wall Street Journal, we’ll speak to communicators around the globe about the things they’re doing right now to get through this hot mess we call life.
Today we talk to Rob Biesenbach about how he’s coping during a pandemic. Check back every Friday to learn about a new
victim communicator and how they’re coping during this crazy time.
I’ve been happily working from home for 20 years now and there’s never been a single moment that I missed being around people. (I suppose I am Laura Petrolino’s mirror opposite.)
Now I’m suffering through a home invasion. The culprits: my wife and two children, who flagrantly strut around here like they own the place. Which, technically, they do.
They have disturbed the peace, disrupted my routines, and violated my strict sense of order.
Welcome to my own personal hot mess.
For me, “coping” means barely hanging on by my fingernails. The stress will surely do me in long before the coronavirus will.
The Great Home Invasion
I love my kids more than I love myself (a pretty low bar, to be honest).
But now they are HERE. In the house. ALL THE DAMNED DAY.
They are a few months shy of turning five and three. Yes, yes, “a wonderful age” they all say. But let me reveal to you the dirty little secret about young children that nobody ever tells you: THEY ARE NOT RATIONAL CREATURES!
Luckily Karen, my wife, is pretty patient—with all of us.
Our So-called Work-life Balance
Work-wise, both of us are carrying a pretty heavy load.
Karen is crazy busy. Not only is she an attorney for a major pharma company, she’s also part of a group at work that’s seen a good bit of action lately: the companywide crisis task force. (Lesson: NEVER VOLUNTEER!)
As for me, I’m a professional speaker and workshop leader, among other things. You may have heard that a lot of events are being canceled these days.
So my business has taken a bit of a hit. Some of my engagements have been postponed and some moved to virtual, so I’m still managing those. Dealing with that AND the kids would have kept me busy enough, but I thought it might be fun to really complicate things.
“Pivoting” being all the rage these days, I started aggressively promoting my expertise with virtual presentations, and creating tools to help people navigate this strange new world. All the marketing and media activity around that has kept me as busy as ever.
So how do we balance two (or more) careers and two kids while preserving some shred of sanity?
In the parlance of the pandemic, since I can’t contain them, I’ve resorted to mitigation.
The Not-Ready-for-Pinterest Family Schedule
I laugh when I see how other families have created these Pinterest-ready weekly schedules with color-coded time blocks and adorable icons representing work, playtime, screen-time, etc.
We take things day-to-day around here. And while we try to maintain some routine for the kids, our work schedules are anything but. We usually do a morning huddle to figure out when we’re going to pass the “hot potato” of child rearing back and forth.
Karen’s schedule is generally less flexible than mine since her calls involve big groups of people and mine are more of the one-on-one variety. So I’m fine working around her schedule and checking in to clear last-minute commitments.
The hand-offs aren’t always easy for the kids, so we maintain that family unit spirit by coming together for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Working the Wee Hours
There’s never enough time to get all our work done, so we’ve taken to filling the odd hours.
With the kids waking up at 7:00 to selfishly demand food and attention, I get a jump on the day by getting up between 4:30 and 5:00.
It’s not fun, but I’m a morning person. That’s when I tackle my biggest, most thought-intensive priorities of the day.
(Unfortunately I’m also a night person, so getting to bed before 11:00 is a challenge.)
By the time they’re awake I’m feeling accomplished and much less stressed and distracted when my time is theirs.
For her part, Karen puts in a couple more hours at night, trudging up to her office after we get the kids to bed.
I use that time to catch up on email and convince myself that the brimming glass of wine in my hand is a standard pour.
Naptime = Our Time
The best part of our day is the two to three hours in the afternoon when the kids nap.
We revel in the ability to schedule anything without checking with each other first.
It’s also when I do an intense, 21-minute workout in the basement, which energizes me for the afternoon stretch, keeps me in reasonable shape, and makes me a little less resentful of the home invaders disrupting my life.
(Karen does her workout at 6:00 in the morning. Seriously, we are living our best, fun life right now.)
Keeping the Kids Occupied
Our four-year-old really misses the structure of pre-K. He misses his teachers, his friends, and the activities.
So we do our best to maintain a tiny bit of normalcy. Here’s how:
- We’ve had a couple of Zoom calls with his classmates, which are as chaotic as you’d imagine.
- We’ve helped both the kids send old-fashioned “letters” (notes and drawings and things) through the U.S. mail to friends and family. Of course, waiting literally DAYS to get a reply is torture for the older one.
- Karen has also apparently plundered every craft kit supplier in the tri-state area to keep the little ones occupied. (In fact, with the way she has provisioned this household overall, she may have missed her calling as an ace quartermaster.)
- We’re lucky to have a decent-sized backyard, so every morning before lunch is recess, where we try to run them ragged.
- There’s also “Miss Megan’s Camp Kindergarten.” She’s a former kindergarten teacher and a bit of an overnight online sensation. She does a daily Facebook Live every morning from her basement where she leads her two adorable girls and 85,000 followers through activities, lessons, stories, and songs.
- Finally, the kids have watched more movies in the last month than over the course of their combined lifetimes. (I finally saw Frozen!)
Finding a Sense of Purpose
For this tip, a disclaimer: I totally agree with Gini that nobody should be made to feel like a slacker for not using this time to create a 20-part online course or become fluent in Urdu. Many of us are grieving, and we all grieve in different ways over different lengths of time.
Me? I am a world-class compartmentalizer and rationalizer. I tend to adjust pretty quickly. If that is not you and you are having a seriously hard time right now, please skip this section.
But if you are in a relatively decent place mentally and emotionally, try doing what I did. Find a new project to focus on. Bonus points if it’s something that might yield results for your business.
I started by thinking about how I could use my particular expertise to help others right now and came up with this crash course on virtual presenting, which clients and others have found pretty helpful.
So take an inventory, match your skills with the needs out there, and get started creating great solutions or content that’s RELEVANT to the current situation.
Promote it in a thoughtful, non-spammy manner. Consider giving it away—free of cost and hoops for people to jump through. That will help you build goodwill in the short-term and more business in the long-term.
Other ideas: dust off that book idea that’s been bouncing around in your head for years. Plan that podcast you’ve been itching to create. Or just take care of all those nagging administrative tasks that you’ve put off because you’re always too busy.
For me personally, working on an exciting new project has been my salvation— in this crisis and others (this will be my third recession!)
Bonus Tip: Spreading the Wealth
Speaking of recessions, one thing I learned from the last two is to hoard cash. That, along with diversified sources of revenue from books and others lines of business means I’m in decent shape financially. For now.
I recognize that this is a luxury. So I’ve been finding ways to help others out. In the past few weeks I’ve hired experts in graphic design, web development, media relations, and more to help me accomplish my goals.
The way I see it, things are going to get worse before they get better, and one way we can take a few steps toward recovery is by keeping others gainfully employed.
If you have the means, please try to feed the pipeline for the contractors, freelancers, and others who depend on us.
It’s good for the economy, good for your business and, if you believe in such things, good karma for you.
Fighting Despair During My Hot Mess
Honestly, these are terrifying times. If the experts are right, we are in for many, many, MANY months of on-and-off isolation.
I have moments of despair and times when I’m so stressed out, I’m far from the father I set out to be.
But by taking things days-to-day, focusing on work that excites me, leaning on Karen, and helping others where possible, I manage to occasionally turn my hot mess into a tepid one.