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Hazlett: How pandemic is changing routines

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Remember when people had predictable schedules to do ordinary things, like get out of bed, go to work or eat lunch?

My friend Kathleen and I used to text each other early in the day, before we saw one another at the office. But now that she’s working from home, I can’t say with certainty what time she wakes up.

One day last week, around 8 a.m., I decided it was safe to text. “How about lunch?”

Before the pandemic, we regularly ate lunch together. We enjoyed stepping away from our desks for a break; her favorite noontime meal was grilled chicken strips.

Now she doesn’t even stop for lunch.

“I’m working longer hours than ever,” she said.

That’s no fun. What’s life without grilled chicken strips?

“How about dinner?” she suggested. “Just let me know what day and I’ll be sure to put on real clothes.”

Something is definitely different. And apparently Kathleen is not alone.

The pandemic-related shutdowns have changed how women, from moms who run households to executives with corner offices, manage their time.

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“I am eating a bowl of cereal for lunch right now,” said Lindsay, mother of two, at 2:30 in the afternoon. She spent the entire morning rushing to finish chores before picking up her kids from their shortened school day.

“Our whole schedule has changed. We used to eat dinner together at the table at 6 p.m. and talk about our day. But when the schools closed and we were cooped up in the same small house 24/7, everyone was worn out by dinner time and needed a break. I let the kids eat in front of the TV. Now, we’re starting to return to eating at the table.”

Kristin, a professional female who previously worked full-time in an office building, also has a new routine.

She gets up an hour later and heads straight to her work laptop. Around 9 a.m., she brushes her teeth. Instead of showering at 6 a.m. like she used to, she bathes at 4 p.m.

Beth, a former road warrior who spent the past 12 months working from home, also hits the shower in the afternoon.

“I work out in the morning and end up wearing dirty gym clothes all day.”

We lamented her beautiful career clothes hanging in the closet, unworn for a year.

The women work longer hours at home, they said, because they can’t escape it. The laptop is always there, beckoning them to finish one more email.

Mary, however, completes all her calls and assignments in a shorter amount of time because there are no distractions at home, like chatting with co-workers.

She lives with her cat and says she talks to herself a lot. (She answers herself too, but the cat does not.) Sometimes Mary pops over to a coffee shop just to interact with people.

None of my friends is required by their employers to return to the office full time.

Diane, a financial services professional, went to her office in downtown Chicago last week to empty her desk. Her employer is moving to a “hotel concept” for office space, meaning desks and cubicles are not assigned, but reserved by random users.

“I filled an entire recycling bin with papers I’ve collected for 25 years,” Diane said. “My boss gave me a small cloth tote to hold work stuff and lock in a drawer at the end of the day.”

Diane is a bit of a rebel, however. Instead of leaving her stapler and tape dispenser out for others to use, she stuck them in her tote. (By chance, is it a red Swingline stapler?)

Along with morning bathing, the traditional lunch date seems to have gone by the wayside.

“I just eat in the kitchen, standing up,” said Beth. “Or I go outside for change of scenery. I get tired of seeing myself on-screen all day.”

Every woman I spoke with misses being near co-workers and friends. I miss them, too.

Things are definitely different. Who knew chicken strips and staplers could mean so much.

Contact Susan Hazlett at susanrhazlett@yahoo.com or write to her in care of The Pantagraph, 205 N. Main St., Bloomington, IL 61702-2907.

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