Whether it’s our daily routine, our team’s structure, or our ability to remain productive outside of the office, the pandemic has fundamentally transformed many aspects of our lives. And while many of these changes have been negative—including layoffs, business closures, illness, and lack of childcare—some people have implemented positive lifestyle changes, too.
From connecting with neighbors to feeling more confident in setting boundaries, six executives share the surprising new habits they’ve found during the pandemic, and, why they plan to keep them going once the storm has passed:
Embracing a more fluid schedule
With her kids away from school and still in need of care (and entertainment), Deborah LaBudde had to accept that her day was going to be interrupted. As the CEO and founder of jewelry brand Memo, she was used to a rigid work schedule to keep her business streamlined. But rather than sticking to these strict personal guidelines, she leaned into the uncertainty and gave herself—and her family—flexibility.
Even though her board gave her marching orders to push forward aggressively, she decided to keep perspective. “I tried [to focus] more positively about the value of being with family and the excitement that I felt for seizing an important opportunity for the company,” she says. “I learned that in order to not let the anxiety of running a business in my ‘new normal’, I had to let go and not try to control every aspect of my schedule.”
While it was perhaps a forced lesson in giving up control, LaBudde has learned it’s okay to have a more fluid day-to-day. “It not only removes a fair amount of stress, but it also forces me to prioritize the most important things at home and at work. When I’m able to balance the two, I’m more productive, happy, and successful.”
Connecting with neighbors
Like many others, when Claudia Allwood realized there might be a scarcity in online grocery ordering, she went into action. She’s no stranger to organizing teams, especially since she’s the vice president of digital and brand marketing for Kinship. Her circle of family and friends would ask each other if they needed anything from the grocery store when they ventured outside. While it may not seem like much, it’s provided a cohesive, supportive community during a dark time that’s expanded far past trips to Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s.
Recently she discovered a Black-owned pie shop and bakery that delivered to her neighborhood. “Pooling together friends, we have placed orders for four different households at once on more than one occasion, helping both contribute to small businesses while spreading delivery fees amongst one another,” she says.
She hopes this sense of neighborhood unity will continue even when life returns to its faster pace. “It gives us a break from our routines to think about each other and find a way to connect to share what we’ve collectively purchased,” she says. “It makes me want to share discoveries, shop more locally, and with intention. It’s a change I look forward to keeping—though I should probably start moving away from a biweekly pie habit.”
Celebrating everyday moments
As the pandemic unfolded, Elizabeth Fauerso, the chief marketing officer at Pearl, a mixed-use space in San Antonio, asked herself “How are we going to stay engaged and energized?” Though she’s gotten used to it, Fauerso’s not a fan of working remotely, since she enjoys getting up and heading into the world every day. Without the ability to go into headquarters, take her kid to school, or eat at a restaurant, she found herself spending day in and day out in her pajamas. When her daughter Josie started opting for long periods of nudity, she thought it might be time to change their quarantine habits.
“We decided to get dressed every morning—like really dressed up, and make a game of it,” she says. “Josie has started creating an accessories table and a ‘fashion area’ in her room where she constructs a morning look, a lunch look, and a Happy Hour look.’”
We have learned to value the time we spend with our own family and treat that time with respect.”
Fauerso subscribed to Rent the Runway as a way to have fun—and experiment with looks she usually wouldn’t wear. Now, this small ritual has become a celebration of life that has become meaningful to her family. And it’s encouraged them to bond in other ways, too, such as decorating the table with fresh flowers on Friday, or decking out the whole house for the Fourth of July.
“Dressing for dinner, using the ‘nice china’ regularly, treating the time we spend together with as much importance as we treat our time with other people—that has been one of the unique gifts of this really heartbreaking and challenging time,” she says. “We have learned to value the time we spend with our own family and treat that time with respect.”
Every day in Nerissa Zhang’s household, during the inevitable midafternoon slump, a family member ventures to the speaker, pulls up a playlist, and turns the music way up. Then, no matter what everyone’s doing, they pause and have a family dance party in their living room.
Along with her husband, Zhang runs their company The Bright App, and since the pandemic started, they’ve been cooped up with their three children, ranging from 1.5 to 10 years old. She’s been feeling more exhausted than before, but her kids have more energy than ever. One afternoon, she tried a dance party to help them burn some of it off. She thought it would be a one-time thing, but the next day, her middle child asked if he could pick the next song.
“I think the whole family feels much less anxious about a summer with fewer fun activities to do out and about since we’ve started our new routine,” she says. “It’s been a perfect remedy in our time of need, but we’re definitely going to keep up our afternoon dance routines when we can after this crisis is over.”
Letting balls drop
Sometimes a lifestyle change isn’t something tangible, but a shift in perspective. For Whitney Hutchinson, the group vice president of data science and analytics at marketing agency Razorfish, the newfound ability to let herself off the hook has been a game-changer. At the beginning of quarantine, she made a large list of what she wanted to accomplish while quarantining: clean out the closet, go on weekly hikes, wake up early, expand her garden, spend more time with her team at work, be a better mentor, and ride her Peloton five times a week.
But she quickly discovered all this wasn’t possible with meetings from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and kids at home. Rather than putting more pressure on herself, she’s let it be okay when one of the many balls she is juggling drops. “It’s okay to have that second glass of wine each night and put off the diet and not beat myself up about it in the morning,” she says. “Life is bigger than my to-do list—bigger than the expectations I set for myself—and now more than ever, a lot is out of my control.”
Now, she prioritizes what is essential for her job and for her family, and she tackles what she can. If something slips by, she acknowledges it, forgives it, and moves forward.
Not working through dinner time
Though Sandra Duff cycled in and out of changes during lockdown—baking frenzies, workout out kicks, adopting a puppy—there’s been one habit that’s stuck. (Along with the dog, of course.) And it’s one she has attempted to master throughout her career without success: setting clear, firm boundaries between being on and being off. Like clockwork, she is away from email from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.—no exceptions. As the senior vice president of strategy activation and operations at Jackman Reinvents, she checks in on client needs around 9 p.m., but then is away from email (and text) for the evening.
At first, the shift came out of pure exhaustion. She was home, sure, but her children weren’t getting any more time with her. “Instead I was locked upstairs in my bedroom with my laptop on the ironing board and churning through Zoom meetings all day with just enough time for the occasional bathroom break. I realized I needed to create an artificial boundary and it just stuck.”
Saying “no”—without apology
While the pandemic has taught many professionals about their boundaries, Kelly Chase, the director of content marketing at Fracture, has put those lessons into action. With an extremely demanding job and family health hurdles at home, she has learned to say “no”—without an apology or guilt-trip follow-up. To balance all of her responsibilities, she had to put first things first: staying focused and productive, caring for loved ones.
I’m learning to separate my self-worth from my ability to do things for other people.”
“I don’t like disappointing people, and having had many amazing mentors along the way, I feel obligated to pay it forward and help other people—especially other women—out with their careers whenever I can. However, the pandemic has made me get real about how much gas I actually have in the tank on any given day. Sometimes I just don’t have any to spare. And that’s okay,” she says.
Some examples of her lifestyle change in action? Saying “no” to the after-work Zoom happy hour, helping someone with their business plan, taking a 7:30 a.m. meeting on a Saturday, and so on.
“I will definitely keep this up post-pandemic,” she says. “Once I realized how strong my compulsion is to say ‘yes’ when my mind and body are screaming ‘no’, it made me take a step back. I’m learning to separate my self-worth from my ability to do things for other people. I am worthwhile and worth taking care of on my own. And the more I learn to put my own physical and mental well-being first, the more I actually can take care of others.”