5 Ways to Survive Back-to-School

Posted on September 14, 2021

Scrabble tiles that say "back to school"

Today’s Buzz is by Samantha Roberts– connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter!

What I’m listening to:  Olivia Rodrigo, Brutal

What’s I’m watching: Tis the season for Stranger Things!

What I’m excited about: The first year of fall sports for the eldest – bring on the camp chairs and thermos!

Ok, here’s the thing.

We spent months talking about the “big day”. After his Kindergarten dreams were dashed by COVID, my kiddo’s first day of 1st grade was going to be his premier. We talked about new friends, new teachers, homework, and maybe even flag football practice if we were lucky. We read books over summer, managed a few math worksheets and our babysitter, the budding entrepreneur she is, brought dinosaur curriculum to her Wednesday-Friday visits. School is kind of our thing.

Imagine our surprise then, when with only 1 day into the school year, little brother brings home RSV and we are all home, again, for the first full week of school.

Lemon smiling awkwardly



One day in and we’re back to square one.

I’m not too proud to admit that those first moments of coming to terms with this were not my finest. I’d spent months on the edge of the mental clarity seat. I looked forward to sitting down to wrap my head around my hardest projects without having to strategize around naps and zoom classes. I realized that back-to-school was not a silver bullet for productivity like I’d hoped.

But somewhere in the fog of doing the kids-suddenly-at-home-again scramble, I realized:

This doesn’t have to be this hard.

Unlike March 2020, we know exactly what this COVID thing is. We’ve learned so much in the last year and a half about ourselves, our work, and our world. We are more empowered than we’ve ever been to do life better. More than anything I’ve learned that we’re all just doing our best, and sometimes not very well. Shocking, but life goes on.

In light of this, I thought I’d share some things I’m working on doing to keep my sanity during the sick days and beyond.

Take heed: when the Gods of Tissues coming a-knocking, remember these 5 things…

#1 You are not your outbox

I once had a boss that measured my productivity by how much I communicated my progress on projects. Now, there are some obvious issues with that metric, but chief among them is that so much of our work isn’t done over email. It’s in the conversations that build community. The tidbits learned by taking “brain breaks” to read other’s research or case studies. It’s in the latent emotional labor of sensing and networking. So much work happens outside of your inbox that results in zero deliverables for the day. But it doesn’t mean your not working.

I also, more recently, had a boss who said “No one’s asking you to be superwoman…keeping your kids alive is more important. Miss the meeting”.

Sometimes good enough is enough. Sign in, but miss the meeting. Boom.

#2 Autoreply that sucker

Early on in the pandemic we started seeing wild Auto Replies that frankly took many of us to church. They were so honest and to the point –decades of refrainment that suddenly couldn’t be filtered because there was just no time for filters. Here’s a now famous example:

Sassy auto reply from a mom


Since those early days, I’ve learned to take great advantage of this underutilized tool. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to not using this. I can’t fully describe this magic, but on the days when you need it most, auto replies give you the permission you need to step out of the trench and take a breath. On days like today when my virus-ridden toddler is crying hysterically because I gave him the wrong sippy cup, I can set a clear boundary with those around me. While I am doing my best, I can unfortunately only be one person at a time, and it may not be co-worker Sam at any given moment.

The work will always be there, your mental health isn’t so easy to come back to when it’s been split into thirds every waking moment of your day. That’s not a fault, that’s on being human.

#3 Pivot

I’ll be the first to admit that much like my work on my 8th grade basketball team, pivoting isn’t a naturally occurring strength of mine. I tend to either over correct or remain so rigid in my systems that I make things way harder than they need to be. But, when I get the pivoting thing right – it’s visceral. I feel ease in my systems and flow in my process. I feel the tension release from my jaw and my shoulders drop.

Pivot scene from Friends


Not just one of our all-time favorite sitcom moments, pivoting is essential when life throws a wrench in our plans. This concept is especially true for those that are or rely on parents in the first month of back-to-school.  We can draw out our best-laid plans in our fanciest planners but we really can’t stop the norovirus train when it comes barreling into our house at 2 AM. We have to adapt.

Adapting isn’t a sign of weakness – it’s the mark of intelligence.

#4 Let yourself be helped

Let me tell you that there is a whole system for parenting small children in the background of a public meeting. There’s an art to prepping your meeting and your family to do both things at once. It’s a wild, thunderous dance that leaves you feeling either invincible or like you got kicked out of a tornado. There’s no in-between.

As I prepped to do this once again, a coworker met me with a lifesaver: “Let me help you – I can do this one for you”. At first, I felt a physical relief, but sooner after shame. Shame that I was seen. That my limits were noticed. That I was human.

Shame until I realized that as much as this person was helping me in the moment, not two days prior I had agreed to take on a project to lighten her load. Why should I feel shame when accepting help, but feel joy in helping others? Teamwork is reciprocal!

Obvious but overlooked truisms: Accepting help and asking for help does not make your work less quality. It doesn’t mean you’re not pulling your weight or doing enough. It doesn’t mean your work is lesser than your colleagues’. It means that you have high enough emotional intelligence to recognize your own limits and lean into your community.

#5 It’s all going to be ok

These suggestions fit in light of my family’s recent bout with illness – relevant to say the least – but this can go with so many other challenges that arise with kids returning to in-person school or remaining home and continuing distance learning. No matter- these same principles apply:

If nothing else, even if all the things come crashing down with all the deadlines and all the needing of all the things at all the times…like anything else, this will pass. The sun will set and a new day will arise. And hopefully this time there are donuts.

It’s all going to be ok.

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