How to establish a new routine in a time of social distancing, according to an organisational psychologist

new routine coronavirus

Often, we think of transitions as things like having a baby, starting a new job, or moving cities.

But this pandemic is demanding that we quickly transition to a new way of living and working.

Rapid change can be very challenging, and we need ways to harness our strengths to find our new normal. Never in our lives have we had to face anything quite like this, and we can be at a loss to know how to respond. 

Schlossberg’s transition model provides a practical and versatile approach to working through life changes. In the age of COVID-19, taking stock of our routines and relationships to create a transition plan will be a good place to start for many of us.


As humans, we find comfort in the rhythms and routines of life. Routines help guide our days and provide a sense of normalcy and control.

Right now, routines are changing for many people. Perhaps we’re working from home, or can’t care for grandchildren, or the club we attend regularly has temporarily closed.

It’s important to recognise how our routines have changed and then take steps to create new routines that create good habits and familiarity.

To do this, think about the following questions.

1. What parts of your old routine should stay?

Maybe you still set the alarm and get ready for the day, even if what happens during the day has changed.

2. What needs to be replaced?

Perhaps your gym has closed, but there is another form of exercise that you can do from home, such as a virtual exercise class or setting up a home gym.  

3. What needs to be added?

Now might be a time to learn a new skill or start a new project. Maybe there’s a home DIY project waiting to be finished, or an online course you can sign up to for free.

Many of the world’s famous institutions are also putting their collections online, offering online tours and live streaming, such as Melbourne Zoo to The Louvre

Connection and support

Distancing ourselves from others is not natural for humans. We are creatures hardwired to connect and live in community.

Even in times of physical distancing, we need to connect socially with others and ensure we feel supported.

Be conscious that relationships and support meet our human needs for assistance as well as affection.

So, as you think about these questions, reflect on what you need emotionally and practically.

1. Who is going to ask you if you’re okay?

Reach out to them and put something in place that gives you confidence they’re there for you. Use technology in new and creative ways.

2. Who do you need to watch out for?

Ask them how they’re feeling, and make arrangements to stay connected.

3. Who do you want to connect with from work?

How will you do this, and how often?

4. What contingencies do you need to put in place?

This can be hard to think through given the scale of the unknowns, but that’s precisely why knowing our supports is important.

We’re in this together.

Transition plan

Creating a transition management plan is key. Here are a few ideas about how to write a plan for navigating these changes. 

1. What’s your priority?

During this time priorities may have changed. Taking some time to get clear on what your new priorities are (as an individual, family, team or organisation) can help guide you. For example, a team’s short-term priority may have changed from meeting a certain target to trying to figure out how to operate and communicate effectively as they work from home and self-isolate. 

2. What do you want to achieve in that area?

Once you’ve listed your new priorities, start to create ideas about what you would like to achieve in that area. Maybe you want to rethink the balance between family, work and other interests. Try to articulate clearly what that new balance looks like, or how you go about making that decision. 

3. Knowing that things are changing rapidly, what’s the first thing you can do to achieve that?

What’s a change, an action, you can take today? The reality is that things are changing very quickly and knowing that forces us to make short-term goals aligned with your priority and being flexible if they need to be adjusted. See this as a challenge to make small meaningful steps, rather than feeling overwhelmed and unable to act.

4. Think about your answers to the previous questions about routines, connection and supports.

What else do you need to add to your plan to embed healthy routines and reinforce your support network?

Practice gratitude 

Most importantly, practice gratitude.

Whether you write a journal, tell a loved one, or just think it,  make a habit of being thankful for three things every evening.

Take a look at this video with advice from an expert if you’d like more guidance.

Research demonstrates a strong association between practising gratitude and a person’s overall wellbeing.

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