Between her roles as publisher for Little Rock Soirée and Little Rock Family magazines and founder of the Soirée Women's Leadership Symposium, plus her two kids, three dogs and a husband, somehow Mandy Richardson found time to have a candid conversation with us about life in quarantine — the good, the bad and the Zoom-powered.
What does a typical day look like now in the Richardson house?
MR: Friday, March 13, 76 days ago, was our first day of quarantine and my first official day of working from home with the kids, as it was for many of you reading this. I couldn’t honestly tell you what the date is today without looking at my calendar, so just by that you can tell I by no means have it all together over here.
Pre-coronavirus, I worked from home at least a half day each week because I could get so much more done at home when the house was empty, quiet and disruptions were at bay. I’ve never minded working from home and have the self-control to successfully do so. Working from home with the kids here and the husband and the three dogs makes for a bit more challenging day, but we are making it work. Most days.
Mornings are quiet at the Richardson house. We're all night owls and the need to speak to one another before noon is basically nonexistent. My husband has been working from home since the end of March and spends his day upstairs in his makeshift WFH office. I fill my mornings with calls and virtual meetings from my living room desk while the girls sleep. When they wake up, they know of three things they can have for breakfast and know how to make them on their own. They've learned they need to entertain themselves until I break for lunch, which typically means they spend this time roller skating around our house. My poor wood floors.
I make us all lunch, and on Mondays and Thursdays I take my youngest daughter to get her allergy shot (the only outing she gets to make each week). Sometimes we do school work during lunch, and if we don’t, then we log in to school at 5 p.m. when I stop working. Now that school is out, my intent is to have them do at least 20 minutes of reading each day and one worksheet from a workbook I ordered each of them last week. We’ll see how that goes.
I break from work to make dinner and then for a few hours each night to hang out. Dinner ranges from homemade spaghetti to frozen pizzas to bowls of cereal. Me and the girls spend a few hours together taking walks, going on bike rides or sometimes vegging out and watching TV. I find myself checking email a lot during this time, but really try my best to check out for a few hours. Post bath and bedtime for the girls, I hop back on the laptop until it’s time for me to start my own bedtime routine.
How have you established boundaries — with work, your husband, your daughters — in a way that still allows time for you to recharge?
MR: I am the worst with boundaries and even worse at finding time for myself. I'm sure a lot of working women, specifically working moms, find themselves in this situation. I do everything to keep everyone in the household — dogs included — on track and eventually find myself worn down and exhausted.
Day 62 of quarantine, I hit my wall and physically started feeling sick. I wasn’t sick, I was just tired. I realized it, but when the husband realized it, I knew it was serious. So I have started doing two things for myself each day.
1) I’ve started taking at least 20 minutes to work out or go on a walk each day. Sometimes it's at 11 p.m. and sometimes it's at noon when everyone else is working or zoned out on a tablet. I let everyone know what I am doing and that they are not to speak to me or look for me or send me a Google Hangout. They are to pretend I don’t exist for 20 or 30 minutes. It's super helpful for my head and hopefully my body.
2) I have started taking a bath every night. If I do this when the kids are awake, I lock the door and don’t feel bad about it. At the start of quarantine I was listening to podcasts while I took my relaxing bath, trying to continue to educate and inspire myself. The past three weeks, I've been watching Netflix. Forget the knowledge, I just need some good entertainment. (Thank you Christina Applegate a la "Dead to Me.")
Both things have helped me realize how important it is to take care of myself so that I can continue taking care of the others. Plus, I’ve really reconnected with myself creatively. Even before WFH I realized how little time I spent just thinking about things and brainstorming or dreaming up ideas. Both of these rituals have really helped me re-engage my creative thinking. I think that’s so important for all of us, but especially in my role as a magazine publisher.
As a leader who prioritizes listening to and helping her team, how have you continued this practice?
MR: Typically I meet with my editors once a week and all other team members every other week, but during our WFH time, I’ve tried to make weekly meetings with each of my team members. It’s important to keep ourselves engaged and motivated, and I don’t know how to do that if we aren’t seeing each other and talking on the regular.
We use Google Meet to connect and typically each virtual meeting is started off by chatting about something funny that happened since last week, asking how they're doing, seeing how their families are holding up. I love seeing their WFH space and seeing them in that space. I want to know which kid they're frustrated with, what their neighbors are doing to drive them nuts this week, what workout they're trying or how long it’s been since they washed their hair. Checking in on them as humans first is so important. Then we tackle the work.
I have always felt my job is to guide the work that everyone is doing and make sure that each team member knows I'm here to do whatever they need to be successful. That hasn’t changed while working from home, it just looks a little different. Sometimes that means I'm pulling items for a photo shoot, picking up things from the office when I run in or dropping off soup, juice or wine when they're feeling down. Hopefully my team feels that we're in this together, and I'm more than willing to help get the job done when they need an extra set of hands.
You've shared that listing your top three tasks each morning helps you stay on track. Do you have any other daily habits that help keep you sane?
MR: The last thing I do before I go to bed is spend a couple minutes looking at my calendar for the next day. Thinking through the upcoming day helps me mentally prepare and also dictates what time I set my alarm for the next morning. If I’m being completely honest, I am trying to figure out if I have to shower before I start working or if I can wait until lunch to get clean and dressed.
I threw out the idea of keeping my girls on a schedule weeks ago when I realized how much work I could get done in the morning if they slept in. I am confident this will come back to bite me, but for now it’s really amazing to wake up at 6 or 7 a.m. and work for sometimes five hours without a child in sight.
I’ve started moving my laptop around to different places in the house. I was trying to post up in one spot, but I am really bored with that wall in the living room. Now I work from wherever feels most comfortable. Sometimes that’s standing at the kitchen counter, yesterday it was the front porch swing, last Tuesday it was the table in the foyer, two weeks ago I found myself hiding in my husband’s office upstairs sitting criss-cross-applesauce on the floor. I’m open to working wherever seems to be the most productive spot at the moment.
What are some local voices that have provided comfort or support in all this?
MR: Simply keeping up with so many of our local businesses and nonprofits through social media over the past weeks has kept me energized to continue finding ways for Soirée to help support our community.
I have a phenomenal group of women who I used to see once a month for dinner. We have replaced our monthly meal with a monthly Zoom call and ongoing text string. They help me stay grounded and we are good about reminding each other that we aren’t expected to do it all. They were awesome in my few days of negative self-talk as I watched what felt like everyone on social media tackle home improvement projects while I felt like I was barely getting by tackling school work, work-work and the laundry.
I’ve also really enjoyed the memes that have emerged during coronavirus. Daily humor is a must.
What’s the first thing you’re doing after quarantine?
MR: That’s a toss up between getting a chopped salmon salad inside Samantha’s with my girlfriends or getting a manicure.