Self-Care for Essential Designers

I don’t know about you, but these past few months have been crazy for me. The week before the coronavirus (COVID-19) started picking up in my hometown, I was out of the office focusing on my first residency for my doctoral program. When I returned, my inbox was full of emails about projects that were already in progress before I left as well as emails from instructors asking me to help them transfer their face-to-face courses to online using web conferencing and our university’s LMS, Blackboard. So, March 2020 was pretty much a blur.

Once I began working from home, I discovered it was more difficult to maintain a balance between my work and personal life. My daily schedule and routine remained the same, but it was all within the comfort of my home. Throughout March when people asked me how I was doing, the analogy that I liked to use was I felt like a steam engine or a bullet train and I wasn’t slowing down. Herein lies my problem:

I wasn’t slowing down.

When COVID-19 hit, for countless people the world stopped. However, for essential workers like medical personnel, grocery store employees, educators, and IT personnel, life got busier, more muddled, and more stressful. The same is true for eLearning professionals, who found themselves rushing to help professors and students finish the spring semester.

This COVID-19 season has been humbling and challenging at times, but it’s also been a season of growth. Today I want share some lessons I’m learning in this season.

  1. You’re not a superhero, and don’t put pressure on yourself to be one. When COVID-19 started picking up in March, I felt like Peter Parker in the newer Spiderman movies. I was asking all kinds of questions, which sometimes led to making a few mistakes. For example:
    • I wondered how I was going to be able to connect with instructors, many of whom prefer to call me or meet in person.
    • I’ve also worked with several instructors who had never considered eLearning to help them with their courses before and hoped that the ideas I presented were the best fit for them and their students.
    • When our university moved to solely virtual and asynchronous learning, our team was inundated by an overabundance of unusual and urgent requests from professors who were trying to navigate unfamiliar territory. A couple of times, in a rush to answer someone’s question or fix a problem, I sent an email in haste without truly thinking through the right answer and solution. By the time I ended up doing that, I had to go back and rework the problem again, eventually arriving at the solution that I should have considered originally if I would have just slowed down long enough to think it through in the first place.

Thankfully, like Spiderman, I’ve been learning from my mistakes. These lessons, as well as my questions, helped me become more confident in this challenging and unfamiliar territory. So in this season, don’t pressure yourself to know everything and save everyone. We’re all still trying to find our footing, and no one has all the answers. But on the flipside, don’t be afraid to learn from your mistakes and the unknowns—and then use them to your advantage.

  1. Give others, and yourself, grace. We’re all learning and adjusting in this season. However, I’ve picked up on something: If other people are gracious with me, it’s easier for me to give myself grace, and vice versa. As someone who is very strategic in my time management, and somewhat of a perfectionist, this season has been difficult. In the beginning, I had to adjust to doing my normal work activities at home.

Even before COVID-19, some workdays ended with projects having loose ends and unanswered questions. Normally I’d leave work at work, sleep on it, and tackle those issues the next day. Now that my office is at home, that’s harder to do, because there is no longer a separation between my work and home environments. I’ve been learning to give myself grace, and I’ve also been reminded to extend that same grace to others, not only in this COVID-19 season, but beyond. If a project doesn’t get done exactly when I thought it would, that’s okay. If there are more questions than answers at the end the day, or even at the end of a meeting, then we’ll work through them to find a solution that works for everyone. One of the best things we can do for each other is to remember that we’re all in the same boat and trying to figure how to navigate life the best we can in this new normal.

  1. Rely on your team. Words cannot begin to express how thankful I am for my team, including our student workers! If I’m overwhelmed with multiple projects that need to be completed in the next week, I know that I have the ability to focus on my top priorities and delegate other tasks to my team. Knowing that we can still bounce ideas off each other, collaborate on projects, and problem-solve together, even from a distance, has been a huge comfort. If you know there are tasks that your team members can help you with workwise, or you just need to catch up with a coworker and share how life is going in this season, don’t be afraid to reach out. We need our teams now more than ever!
  2. Take a break. One of the most important things I’ve been learning in this season is that it’s important to take breaks. About 90% of my day is staring at a computer screen working on projects for my job or my doctoral classes. So it’s become both life giving and grounding for me to take a step back from all that at least twice a day. Some of the ways I do this include getting out for a walk in my neighborhood or going for a drive after work or on the weekends. I also enjoy reading and baking. Most importantly I love spending time with family and catching up with friends over the phone or via virtual platforms like FaceTime, Zoom, or Google Meet. Whatever gives you life and joy in this season, make sure to take a break and do those things. Your mind and spirit will be very thankful that you did.

In these days, those who work in eLearning and Instructional Design are needed now more than ever. Since the future of COVID-19 is still unknown, it’s critical that we take care of ourselves so that we don’t burn out and that we’re better prepared for what lies ahead.

What are some ways you’ve been taking care of yourself in the midst of COVID-19? We’d love to hear about them!

Author: Ann Broda, Instructional Designer

Ann is pursuing her PhD in Communication through Regent University and also teaches speech online at Olivet Nazarene University. In her free time she enjoys spending time with family and friends, participating in theatre, drinking coffee, biking, traveling, and reading.

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