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Community members share tips for working remotely, teaching kids at home, and supporting your community

PMG PHOTO: ANNA DEL SAVIO - Neighbors Jenny Haug and Amy Lomnicky chat from twelve feet apart, assisted by a tape measure. The two say they sit outside every morning and sometimes for happy hour. 'It depends on our anxiety level,' Haug laughed. As the COVID-19 outbreak has closed schools and workplaces, many adults and families are forced to reinvent their routines. Community members have shared their tips for staying sane and productive while working from home, educating children on short notice, and doing both.

Create a dedicated workspace

"It's really important for you to have separate space that you go into," says Chrissy Marquardt, director of the South Columbia County Chamber of Commerce. Space limitations at home can make it difficult to find a dedicated space for working from home but having a small separate space can help you transition in and out of the workday.

Maintain a schedule

Tamy Paulus, who is working from home, says she keeps her usual work schedule. "I am lucky to be able to work from home. I treat my workday the same, get up at the same time, make some coffee, get dressed (it felt weird interacting with my co-workers while wearing my pajamas), begin and end my day the same time as I did when in the office," Paulus said.

Be open to adapting

Maintaining a schedule can help you stay productive, but with kids at home, your normal work schedule may not be feasible. "I'm working from home (which is so much harder than I imagined with the kids home too) so I find myself working in shifts" of two hours before the kids get up in the morning, two hours while the kids play mid-day, and two hours in the evening once her husband is home from work, says Jill Tarpley. Marquardt said she is most productive in the morning and early afternoon, so she tries to find activities for her three children during that time. Finding a schedule that works for you, your job responsibilities, and your family can be challenging, so allow for some trial and error.

Minimize distractions

To the best of your ability, set expectations with family members. Close your office door, tell family members that you need to focus and can't be interrupted. Marquardt said she and her husband, who is also working from home, take turns watching the kids and working.

"I work from home: I make sure I have my snacks and drinks handy, and don't allow anything to disturb me except the phone which rarely rings," says Sara Smith.

PMG PHOTO: ANNA DEL SAVIO - Plastic cups stuck into the fence outside Grant Watts Elementary School spell out 'WE MISS YOU' along S.E. High School Way. Students last attended school on March 13.Be patient with yourself and others

The abrupt changes to schooling, employment and access to the outside world during a pandemic can be hard to handle.

Marquardt said that when she found out that schools were closing, she quickly called a friend who homeschools her children. The advice she received was to "take it one day, one child, one hour at a time."

Manage expectations

With children, recognize that you don't need to have six hours of academic instruction every day. Working on packets from school and taking advantage of free digital learning resources can be part of the day, while time outside or learning life skills occupy more time. Marquardt says her family just does 1.5 hours of academic work each day, plus time outdoors, time on creative activities, and reading time. "Right now, given everything that's going on, it's probably fine if they're using more than two hours of screen time," Marquardt says.

Chrissy Hanlon, who works at Otto Petersen Elementary School and is now home with her two children, says her kids have been reading more and both started journals for creative writing. "Routines and schedules help a lot," Hanlon says. "Kids thrive on routine and predictability." Hanlon also started live art classes on Facebook at "Art with Ms. Chrissy from OPE!"

Other families have focused on hobbies and skills that aren't always given much time at school, like gardening, music and more.

"I am so thankful for our teachers," Tarpley says. Many teachers are "having phone conferences and sending out tons of free links and teaching materials, so we are doing morning 'class' and afternoon life learning (helping with chores, dinner, gardening, etc.)"

Find ways to connect

"Having a support system is huge," says Kristen Proffit. "I'm currently 35 weeks pregnant and auto immune compromised, and I can't even begin to tell you the amount of friends and family that have reached out to help my husband and I during this time. From checking in, to running errands, to a listening ear. It has restored my faith in humanity. At the end of the day, we all have to work together for the common good of people and try to remain positive. Now is the time to lean on one another and focus our energy on our families."

Paulus says she joined a Facebook group where friends and family share what they're making for dinner. She also reaches out to loved ones daily, checks in on ways to help, and stays home as much as possible "to do my part to stop the spread" of COVID-19.

Ashley Liggett said her family decorated the street with chalk drawings. Some families around the country have used colorful chalk displays to remind passersby to follow public health recommendations like maintaining social distancing.

Say 'thank you'

Whether it's an extra "thank you" to grocery store workers, medical workers or teachers, or donating money or time, expressing gratitude can go a long way during a stressful time. Dolly Johnston says she has been sewing masks to help medical personnel. Jeff MacDannald of NW Paint Pro's LLC is donating pressure washing services in exchange for donations to local food banks and senior services. Kirsten Harris says she's supporting her community "by continuing to work full time as a RN caring for some of the most vulnerable adults."

"It's extremely challenging to balance a healthy home/work life, and I feel so guilty being away from my 4-year-old son," Harris says.

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